Name: Jane Doe. (Fictitious.)
Age: 16. (Fact.)
Physical Condition: Seven months pregnant. (Fact.)
Family Situation: Mother deceased, father's whereabouts, unknown. One younger sister. (Fact.)
Occupation: High-school student/prostitute. (Fact.)
Dreams for her Future: Unknown/put on hold indefinitely.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. This picture is alright. I took it towards the end of May, 2009 while on holiday. Does it matter where this picture was taken? This picture could have been taken anywhere. Jane Doe could be anyone. I am between teaching jobs right now. I am looking for a school where I can make a positive difference in the lives of my students. That's what I've been trying to do for years. That's what every dedicated and committed teacher strives to do.
I was walking down the street one hot and humid evening gazing at the beach on my left and the seemingly endless parade of stores and hotels on my right. This place is full of very good pubs and restaurants from all over the world. German sausages and schnitzel coexist alongside mutton vindaloo from India, burgers and fries from America, Gammon steak with Yorkshire pudding from England, and various soups and spicy salads from Southeast Asia. A gastronomic paradise. My only problem that night was deciding what I was going to eat.
Then I saw her. First out of the corner of my eye before she came into my line of vision. "Hello mistah. I go wit you short tahm."
I continue walking. Then I stop. Something about her just wasn't right. Not one of the usual, run-of-the-mill prostitutes that are seen plying their trade along the main road. I walk back to her. "Yes, mistah. Short tahm."
"You look very young. How old are you?"
"Really? Can I see your ID card?" She takes it out of her pocket and hands it to me. I look at it and calculate. "You're not 18. You're 16."
"Okay. Short tahm, mister."
"And you're pregnant. How many months?"
We sit down and talk. In broken English she tells me a bit about her life. "Mamma, die. Pappa, I don't know." She seems lost, but she knows where she is. I ask her if she goes to school. "High school last yea. Now baby, I don't know." I ask about brothers or sisters. "One sistah." I ask what her dreams are for the future. I don't why I ask her that. I like to ask all my students that. She didn't understand my question.
"A doctor? You want to be a doctor? Or a nurse?", I ask pretending to take my blood pressure. I must have looked like an idiot to the passersby.
"A teacher?" Now I'm writing on an invisible blackboard.
Okay, I drop the subject. We can safely conclude that this 16 year old pregnant girl, who should be in school and dreaming about her wedding day some 10 years away, may not have a future. At least, not a good one.
Is there something wrong with this situation? Maybe it's me, but I don't think 16 year old pregnant girls should be on the street selling their body (and soul) to strange men. I am not going to overwhelm and bore you with statistics about how many children in the world never see the inside of a classroom or have their education cut short by social, cultural, or economic circumstances. I've dealt with that in past writings. And I'm not going to mention the problem of child prostitution, especially in countries with a large amount of financially poor people. That has been dealt with before as well.
So let Jane Doe symbolize the face of failure. Not her failure; our failure. Our failure as parents. Our failure as teachers. Our failure as educators. Our failure as guardians of the poor and vulnerable. Jane Doe, and millions like her, are our failure. It hurts, I know. It is something that we still refuse to acknowledge. And what we refuse to acknowledge, we cannot and will not change.
I mentioned that I'm between teaching jobs right now. In my introduction letter that I send to schools along with my resume, I tell school directors and recruiters that I am a serious teacher with a burning desire to succeed. I tell them that teachers cannot succeed until their students succeed first. Why should you hire me, I ask them. Because I am purpose driven and results oriented. EFL teachers must have a purpose that is related to the success of their students, and any results that teachers and their students work towards must reflect that purpose.
So far I have received a few bites from all the fish in the sea, but not that many. I suppose if I had said in my introduction letter that I am a teacher who likes to have fun and play games with the students, then maybe I'd get a few more bites. Who knows. Perhaps if I had mentioned to the school directors and the recruiters that I'm just in Asia to kick back, enjoy the sunshine, the cheap beer and the cheaper women, (and pay off a student loan while I'm at it), then the job offers may come pouring in. Who knows. But that's not why I'm here.
Let's take a good look at Jane Doe again. She's one of the reason's why I'm here. She's one of the reasons why many dedicated EFL teachers do what they do. Because we don't like to see 16 year old pregnant girls selling themselves.
So my message to all the school directors and recruiters who pine for 25 year old hippie backpackers that love their beer and Asian women: Stop it. Stop telling me and other dedicated EFL teachers to forgo real teaching for fun and games. Stop telling me and other dedicated EFL teachers to forget about teaching reading and writing; that we only need to talk to the students. Stop telling me and other dedicated EFL teachers to throw candies at the students and dance like a clown. Stop telling me and other dedicated EFL teachers that we don't have to be dedicated and committed to the cause. Because we do. We all do.
I am currently looking at a few places in which to teach next, including Shanghai, China, and Taiwan. Some of the offers I've received are from schools who offer low hours for matching low pay. Taiwan is famous, (or shall I say infamous), for telling EFL teachers to come as a tourist first without mentioning, of course, that it's a possibility that in a month or so you will be kicked out when the job you were offered was never guaranteed. When I inquire why and check their websites, I am told that being free most of the day will give me the chance to study Chinese. I can also learn about Chinese culture or learn how to cook Chinese cuisine.
Excuse me, Ms. Wang. I am going to your country to work. And work hard I might add. I want to teach 30 or more hours a week, (including any overtime or extra classes), and be well compensated for my efforts. I want to dedicate most of my waking hours to teaching at your school. I want my students to actually learn something and to succeed. I want to succeed. What part of that, Mrs. Wang do you not understand or accept?
There are still far too many people in the TEFL industry who love watching young foreign monkeys dance. Young foreign monkeys may be a dime a dozen, but these ignorant school directors and their recruiter lackeys show their bias against dedicated EFL teachers by their perverted preference for young, inexperienced, and unmotivated English speaking Westerners. These young and unmotivated native English speakers are not seen as a threat either to their schools, the establishment. or the status quo.
Study Mandarin? Learn about the life of General Tao? Or the Ming Dynasty? Learn how to cook Chicken Chow Mien? Fantastic. Nothing wrong with that. As long as I do these things on my own time. After I finish teaching my long hours. After my students succeed. After I have made a positive difference in the lives of my students. After I make sure that not one--- NOT ONE--- of my students end up on the street selling her body like Jane Doe.
There's a lot of work to be done. There's too much at stake. I hope you understand that, Ms. Wang.
Take a good look at Jane Doe all of you school directors and recruiters. She may not be your daughter or sister, but she's someones daughter and sister. She may not belong to your family, but she's a member of someones family. A family that is just as important and as valuable as yours. So show some respect for those hard-working and dedicated EFL teachers.
I am reminded of a bumper sticker I've seen so often on the back fender of so many cars; the one that proudly proclaims, "Jesus Saves." It's not Jesus who saves, it's teachers. It's good and dedicated teachers who save. It's education that saves. I realize how dangerous it is to compare teachers to Jesus. I would never do that. Jesus tried to save others too and look what happened to him. If I dared to compare teachers to Jesus, I just might be--- well--- crucified.
We may attempt to deny the fact that millions of Jane Does exist in the world. We can try to ignore the problem, but only to our own peril. Education is not just a privilege for the rich and middle-class. Like food, clothing, and shelter, education is a basic human right and need for all the world's children. Especially girls. This we cannot ignore.
This may sound biased, but it's far more important to educate girls than it is boys. Girls are the carriers of the next generation. They are the keepers of the family and cultural flame. To fail to educate girls is to fail future generations. It is to say that girls don't matter. It is to say that culture and society and God and country don't matter. A failure to educate girls is to acknowledge before God and country that we are all failures. To educate a boy is to educate an individual; to educate a girl is to educate humanity.
I have seen Jane Doe a few more times while writing this. One evening she seemed particularly sad. I don't know why. She wouldn't say. I asked her where home was. She told me she lived in an apartment in the capital city.
"Who do you live with?", I asked.
"Jus me. I live alone."
"You live alone." It was more of a question than a statement. I didn't want to believe it. I was about to ask her the next question on my mind, but I caught myself just in time. I wanted to ask how she supports herself, but we all know the answer. A 16 year old pregnant girl living alone. What kind of a world do we live in?
Before moving on and continuing my evening walk, I hugged Jane Doe. She didn't seem surprised by my sudden affection for this vulnerable 16 year old pregnant girl. But I was. I wish that she was in one of my classes. I yearn for the opportunity to teach her. I dream of the chance of helping Jane Doe, and many other Jane Does, turn their life around through education. Education is the key for a better life.
Before continuing on my quest for a good restaurant for dinner, I asked Jane Doe when she plans on going home. (I prefer on using the word home instead of the reality of an empty room.)
"In one month. I go home one month, hab my baybee."
One month. I have no idea how this will turn out. I can only hope and pray that Jane Doe and her baby are healthy and happy. I can only hope and pray that Jane Doe can turn her life around. But we all know that the odds are against her.
To educate a boy is to teach an individual; to educate a girl is to educate and raise humanity to a higher level.
Yeah, that sounds about right. The message on Jane Doe's T-shirt is as interesting as it is perplexing and paradoxical. "The Woman of the World." Jane Doe may very well be a woman of the world. An uncaring and cruel world that treats its female children as expendable commodities to be bought and sold. A vicious and barbaric world that hates its children and eats them up and spits them out.
Those of us, such as myself, who are fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to teach children in countries where daughters are not among God's most valued beings know what's at stake. It is children like Jane Doe who teaches us one of our most cherished and valuable lessons. Children are on loan to us--- from God, from a Spirit we do not understand, from their parents, from their society--- our young students are a gift we can never repay. To teach them well and to the best of our ability is the only way caring, dedicated, and committed teachers can hope that their students can reach their full potential and achieve their dreams.
Jane Doe teaches all of us what is truly at stake.