Steve Schertzer

The flame of hope

The optimistic goodbye and our living legacy


"It is by teaching that we teach ourselves, by relating the we observe, by affirming that we examine, by showing that we look, by writing that we think, by pumping that we draw water into the well." ----- Henri-Fredric Amiel, 1821 -- 1881. Swiss writer known for his "Journal Intime."

I am leaving Thailand. In fact, I'm leaving Asia. Not for good I hope, but for a while. It happened very quickly. I knew it would. I woke up one morning and suddenly felt that I had had enough of Asia. It happens. After seven plus years in Asia I was almost expecting this jolt. Don't get me wrong. I've loved my time here. Most of it, anyway. I've had some great times in Asia, especially Thailand. Times I will never forget. But when it's time to leave, it's time to leave. And we all know when it's time.

I have titled this column "The Flame of Hope, The Optimistic Goodbye, and Our Living Legacy." I'm not sure why. For the most part, I'm not a very optimistic person. And the times I feel hopeful, I mean real hope, are few and far between. As far as the glass being half empty, that would be wonderful. On most days, I barely see a drop of water in the glass. The world is full of horrible and beautiful things. I suppose it's up to each of us to find our way. It's like that old saying: Some people look out at the world and ask "Why?", while others look out and ask "Why not?" I suppose the worst thing would be to refuse to look out at the world and not bother to ask questions at all.

The flame of hope lies in all of us travellers and expatriates: Teachers, doctors, missionaries, and anyone who tries to do good; who tries to make the slightest positive difference in the lives of other people, and in so doing, makes the world just a bit more livable. The flame of hope lies in us all as we struggle to connect with our fellow man and bring him some peace of mind that seems to have escaped him and most of us for so long.

Inherent in the flame of hope is the profound belief that we EFL teachers can alter the course of human history simply by sharing ourselves with others. We many not be able to move mountains, but we can touch people's hearts and move their souls. Never doubt that a group of dedicated people, however small or seemingly insignificant, can change the world for the better.

Why? Because throughout history, that's all it took. We may be a small group of EFL individuals, but we are very capable of making profound and positive changes in so many people's lives worldwide. That is the flame of hope. People don't have to live in dire poverty. People don't need to feel hopeless. We can help by guiding our students into a far better and more prosperous future.

We EFL teachers are not doing this to make the rich richer. We should not be wasting our time, money, and energy padding fat businessmen's bank accounts. We're doing this to make the poor richer. We're not foot soldiers fighting some proxy war for business interests. We're not educational puppets on a string being made to dance by the school administration. We're EFL teachers trying to make our students lives better. And the respect that we deserve should be, and must be, on our own terms.

As EFL teachers, there are always two major obstacles constantly in our way: The school management, and the financially upper class of the societies in which we teach. Some schools, with its repressive and archaic teaching methods, as well as their greedy business practices, are not always working with the student's best interests in mind. While the upper class has absolutely no vested interest, financially, socially, or otherwise, of seeing the poverty stricken of their own society rise to the ranks of the middle class. In fact, the upper class needs a certain number of its citizens to remain poor so that they, the upper class, can remain rich. I fully realize that I'm saying absolutely nothing new here. I simply point this out as a reminder of what we EFL teachers are up against.

Living and working in Thailand and other Asian countries offers us foreigners so much. It gives us the chance to see a different part of the world through, not only our own eyes, but through the eyes of others. It offers us the wonderful opportunity not only to teach, but to learn. It gives us the chance to experience life, in all of its multitudinous and wondrous facets. Life in other countries will make you angry, lonely, joyful, pitiful, afraid, glad to be alive, nostalgic, homesick, and sometimes, just plain sick. There are times when we experience so many of these emotions together. And if you're lucky, living and working in a foreign country will humble you. Although most of us want so much to help others, there's only so much we can do. That's hard to take, but accepting our limitations is a large part of what it means to live and work overseas.

I have so many people to thank. Firstly, my friends, mentors and fellow teachers at AUA. Although I had some disagreements and irreconcilable differences with the management, my fellow teachers and mentors at AUA not only helped to make me a better teacher, they also helped to make me a better man. And for that, I'm eternally grateful. Secondly, the people of Thailand. I have always felt welcomed here, whether as a teacher or a tourist. I look forward to coming back one day. Third, Philip at ajarn.com for giving myself and so many others the opportunity to express ourselves through columns and an open forum. His contribution to Thai TESOL community is very important and serves a great purpose. Keep up the great work, Phil. Forth, the readers and teachers on ajarn.com for letting me know when they think I've gone too far. Never underestimate the power of the free exchange of ideas and opinions. The great TESOL debate is what is sorely lacking in this part of the world. So thanks guys. And, saving the best for last, the students. This is why we're here. I have been blessed in Thailand for some of the best students I've ever had the pleasure of being with. Their smiles have touched me deeply, and their outlook on life has inspired me to continue. They are truly our living legacies.

I will be going home to Montreal for a month or two. Then it'll be time to continue the journey.
I've been thinking about South America for a while. Brazil seems exotic. Maybe Peru or Argentina. Mexico seems like an interesting place to try and make a difference. I hear that a secretary in Mexico City can earn up to a thousand pesos a month more just because she can speak English. With this extra money she can help feed and clothe her family, and perhaps send her children to a better school. She can have a better future. And it's the same just about everywhere else. More English means more money for those who learn it. And more money means a better future. This is our gift to the world. And the students that we help are our living legacies.

Schools must continually remind us of our living legacy. We must be shown how we EFL teachers are making a positive difference in the lives of our students. The management of most schools shy away from this, and they shouldn't. Although in most cases we can see this for ourselves, it would be nice to be reminded of it every now and then.

One of the reasons I write this column is the plain fact and honest truth that as foreigners living in a foreign land, we're all in this together. Whether we like it or not, whether we accept it or not, all of us are in the same boat. We all share the same goals and objectives for our students, or at least we should. Success, freedom, liberty, and knowing that with a lot of hard work and perhaps with a little luck, our dreams will come true. This is everyone's birthright, and as EFL teachers and TESOL providers, we all share in the responsibility to ensure the birthright of our students. A little support and encouragement does go a long way.

I hope to continue with this column wherever I decide to go in the world. Not necessarily because I have so much to say, (that may be partly true), but because I still have so much to learn. I'm continually learning from other teachers and readers on this website, and I am grateful for that.

My flight home leaves on the 17th of this month and where I will teach and learn next, I don't know. A map of the world gives us many opportunities, and we EFL teachers are extremely fortunate to be in the position we're in. Before I go, I'd like to leave you with one of my favorite quotes.

"A day dawns, quite like other days; in it, a single hour comes, quite like other hours; but in that day and in that hour the chance of a lifetime faces us." ----- Maltbie Davenport Babcock, 1858 -- 1901.




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