Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Personal Story

Just a bit of a personal background informing the exchange I had with Scott Sommers a week or so ago:

For years now, I have frequented, on vacations, one of Taiwan's beautiful, and rural - and unserviced by foreign English teachers - locations. I've had the opportunity to make many Taiwanese friends in the area, but never met a foreigner who lived there. For many years, my Taiwanese friends have encouraged me to move there, and, indeed, it has been a bit of wet dream of mine to do so. But, of course, it was completely impractical. There were no legal, visa-supplying schools in the area.

Two years ago, a Taiwanese friend told me she and a foreign woman (married to a Taiwanese) were starting a school down there. Well, I admit, I felt a bit jealous. There was another foreigner, living out my fantasy. Then, this fall, my friend called and made me a sweet offer - their school was expanding, they needed a third foreign teacher, and they would love it if I would come and fill the spot. Great! A few weeks then went by when I had a hard time contacting my friend, and I started to worry. Then, she called. This was her message:

The foreign woman who was her partner (we'll call her F.) only had a high school degree. She had married a Taiwanese man in the area several years ago, and was for years the only foreign English teacher in the area. She started with one-on-ones, built to group classes over years, and ultimately found that she had enough students to start a proper school. What she and her husband didn't have was enough capital to go through the whole, elaborate legalization process. So they sought out my friend, who did. In the end, they started their school, as "partners" - the foreign woman's students, and my friend's capital. Business was good, because by all accounts she was a very good teacher. Within a year, they hired a second foreign teacher - one with a BA -, but a close personal friend of F., so no threat.

The next year, they were ready to hire a third foreign teacher (that would have been me), but as my friend explained: "When F. saw your resume, she freaked. First, she said you couldn't come, then she demanded to buy us out. We got angry and told her, 'no, you are not buying us out; we are buying you out, and all the papers are in our name.' That is to say, we are firing her. What that means, John, is that you can come in and start immediately, be our English Director, and have the power to hire two foreign teachers of your choosing." Hey, I admit, I thought about it. But, truth be told, it would have been a pretty creepy thing to do, and in the end, I didn't pull the trigger.

It all depends on your point of view, I suppose. A government functionary would say, "The law is the law, and she was breaking the law by teaching without a BA." A parent from the area might say, "Rural areas are egregiously underserved for English instruction in Taiwan. This is someone with a high school degree who proved herself as an excellent teacher over many years, when others (with BA's) were unwilling or unable to come here. What's wrong with that?" I suppose I could empathize with the government official, but my empathy is with the parent and the teacher, because their case seems more convincing.

Now if someone - even in an underserved area - was building bridges or doing surgery with only a high school diploma, I'd want to put an immediate stop to that. And if I was a "qualified" bridge builder or surgerer (excuse me, my editor informs me I must use the formal term "surgerizor"), I would have no qualms about bumping her aside. That's my point. Teaching English to seven year olds ain't brain surgery. I'll sleep fine making the choice I made. After all, some of my friends in the area are the parents of kids in that school. They're pretty clear about where their loyalties lie.