Catching up on current articles in the blogosphere I came across two which were very similar and I had a strong reaction as I flashed back to a question I was asked twice in my life and the consequences of telling the truth and not telling the truth.
I used to teach teens and I really, really, miss them - of all the types of students I've ever had over the years these were my absolute favorite: teens push you, challenge you to rethink and find new ways to make their lessons interesting - their music, their interests becomes yours as you hunt for ways to make the class content all about them...
Anyhoo, I've made a vow to keep my posts short so on to my stories:
Me: 27 years old
Student: 16 years old.
She corners me as I'm leaving the classroom.
"Miss Karenne, can I ask you a question?"
The Filipina cleaning lady was coming into the room at the same time. She glances at her.
I look at the cleaning lady and she walks back out.
"Yes, Jenny, what is it?"
"How do you stop yourself from getting pregnant?"
Instant panic set in but I sat down. I looked at her eyes - saw the worry, the fear and the bravery in them - knew that it took guts to wait for me like this and knew that it was not easy to ask a grown-up such a grown-up question.
I told her.
The next day I was called into the headmistress' office and immediately fired. The cleaning lady hadn't completely left and had reported me. It was a good job which paid well and I was gutted: stupid me for telling the truth. Luckily, very soon after that I got an even better job being Director running a charity.
Me: 32 years old
Student: 16 years old
They cornered me as I was leaving.
Angie and her sister, two of my absolute favourites but I was always careful not to let this show.
"Karenne, if someone wants to sleep with their boyfriend, what do you do to not get pregnant?"
Angie was taking part in our year-long cultural exchange program and would be leaving for the US in six weeks. I had heard that partners of these teens often put a lot of pressure on them to prove that their love, confirm their relationships were serious...
"Don't they teach this at school?"
Angie's sister rolled her eyes. It was a dumb question, I knew that when they weren't with me learning English, they were taught by nuns.
"Oh girls, I'm so sorry - I think you need to ask your mother that question."
I'd learned my lesson and I didn't want to lose my job.
"NO - my father would kill me. I have to be a virgin - please. My boyfriend, he doesn't want to use a..."
Her voice trailed off, there were tears in her eyes. I saw the same bravery I saw in Hong Kong. I remembered the consequences of crossing the cultural border of what is deemed appropriate information for a 16 year old.
"Sorry, Angie, I can't tell you. I'm so sorry."
Five months later Angie was sent back from Colorado.
A brilliant, A+ student on a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity was sent home because she was pregnant.
A job is a job and that is easily replaceable.
The truth is the truth and that is never replaceable.
I have never forgotten those lessons. Has anything similar ever happened to you?
As ambassadors, as global rovers trotting throughout this planet we TEFL teachers will be faced with questions and cultures which easily clash.
We teach real people not machines - sometimes they will come to us with problems they want honest opinions on/ situations they want to receive real solutions for - they look for real, alternative ears to listen to their thoughts and they want real voices to answer them.
History has been littered by those who are afraid of speaking out honestly: small crimes committed and world-changing evil perpetuated, allowed even, all because people protect themselves and don't express their yeys and nays.
Who are you - who will you be?
*names and some locations changed to protect the innocent.
The two posts which inspired this piece:
Sometimes Less is More by Anita Kwiatkowska
How open is too open? by Eisensei