Why Not Right Here?

As you might imagine, there are a fair number of people who have listened quietly to the stories of my Nepal trips, and thought me crazy. I don’t expect everyone to understand it, but I especially thank those of you who do and I love hearing from you. So the other day, one of these quiet-but-judgmental types asked me a very good question. “You know, your own school district’s schools struggle with teaching the students English… Including your own home school (neither of my kids go to my home elementary). Why don’t you just save all the trouble of flying across the world and help the people here? If you can teach English to Nepal teachers and students, surely you can do it here.”

I thought it was a very valid question, so I pondered it for a moment before I answered as politely as I could. I said, in a nutshell, “It’s easier to help people there.” But that mostly dodges the question, or leaves it open to too much interpretation, so here, dear readers are my other answers.

First the obvious answer: Because travelling to the far reaches of the world is actually fun for me. I love new experiences, I love new food, new landscape and new culture. I don’t mind sleeping on someone’s floor, eating rice and beans and struggling through language barriers (and 22-hour flights) to do that. An occasional AK-47 combined with political disagreements does spark my adrenaline but doesn’t send me into fits. Again, I don’t expect everyone to understand. If we all wanted to do this, then a larger number of us would do it, and well, it wouldn’t be the remote little village experience that I loved encountering so much, now, would it. So if you don’t want to go, or if even hearing about it is confusing, frustrating or unnerving, then, please don’t torture yourself further. Your couch and TV are waiting for you.

Now the more difficult answer: I tried to volunteer in my home school when my oldest was in Kindergarten, six years ago. I asked to teach math to the top five students who had finished the entire year’s curriculum before Christmas (my son was one of them and the Kindergarten teacher adamantly stated “I don’t teach math!” at our new parent orientation on that lovely September evening). I was told no. I asked to teach the kids who excelled in English the same way (my son was one of them). The teachers and the principal didn’t want me in the classroom and no amount of pleading, pounding fists in the office, or showing them “prodigal son” would deter them from their protocol. Fact is, I don’t have a teaching degree and as such I am useless in the classroom in the US, unless it be to cut up paper snowmen or use a 3-hole punch on too much paper. They limited my options to coulting pages in notebooks and pre-cutting paper for art projects. Because I am not a certified teacher.

Writing between the lines here, and more to the point: I can’t help here because our system gets in the way. Our rules say “Classroom teachers must have teaching certificates, no exceptions” and I suppose that’s for the best in most cases. But in my own local elementary school, where a majority of the student body comes from Romania, Russia, China, Vietnam, India, Cambodia, Mexico and about 7 other countries that don’t speak English as their first language, I am useless for teaching English. They won’t let me in. They won’t let me teach.

So I’ll go where it’s easier to help. I’ll go where I can make a difference.