“Do you ACTUALLY think you are going to change anything?”
I’ve been replaying this question in my head over and over again since last Saturday. It was a random conversation with a local that happened to speak English. I found the conversation rather enjoyable until he asked me that question. A question that quickened my heartbeat and left my brain scrambling for something to say in my defense. It wasn’t only the question that bothered me. It was the fact that he sat waiting for a real response, wondering if I was so naive, so idealistic to believe that I, little old me, could do something worthwhile in his country.
After a long pause,
Me: Sir, you can’t talk to me like that. I’m giving up two years of my life to be here. I have to believe it means something.
Man now grinning at me: Our problems are too big. Go back to America!
He then spent the remainder of the bus ride telling me about how “big” the problems are in Moldova, and how incapable I am of addressing them.
Man: You told me earlier that you were teaching the kids about goals and aspirations and they found the idea of goal setting and future planning difficult. It’s not so much that it’s difficult, it’s that there is nothing for them to aspire to. The students finish university and the end up working in construction in Italy or Russia because there are no jobs in Moldova. You tell them to dream, but dream about what? Their only hope is leaving Moldova.
Me: But the world is changing, and when opportunities present themselves my students will be better equipped to seize them than other students.
Man smirking: What you are doing is good. I just don’t think it will change anything.
I’ve dealt with opposition before. I’ve dealt with cynics and nonbelievers in various other situations, and I had no problem moving forward in confidence. The problem with this conversation is that deep down I constantly wonder if there is truth to what he said.
Will I ever make a big enough difference to justify this experience? Am I learning more than I am teaching? Furthermore, am I doing it all in vain?
For example, I had my 8th grade students do a project in place of a formal written test. They were given a week to do a simple project, which came with an example. I even gave them class time to work on it and ask questions. The projects were due today, but only five of 16 students completed the project. Five. I used this a project based evaluation because too many of the students failed the written tests, and I thought it would be better for them to analyze and apply information rather than regurgitate it, but now the outcome is even worse.
My partner suggests that we just don’t give out a grade for this semester, but I asked her… “If we don’t grade them, why are we teaching? They don’t do homework. They don’t do the tests. If we don’t give them a grade the students that DO participate are going to stop. Then all of our work will have been in vain.”
Our work will have been in vain… What are you doing here?…Do you really think you can make a difference?…Go back to America.
Some may wonder why I give these statements so much power. To be honest, I’m not always confident that what I am teaching my students will help improve their future. I’m not sure if by teaching them to set goals, to dream, and to plan is going to aid them or set them up for greater disappointments, when after graduation they are doing manual labor in a foreign land. I speak of opportunities…but what opportunities?
If a man were to start a business in Moldova, and it were to become successful; it is only a matter of time before the government comes and takes it over. Where is the opportunity in building something only to have it snatched away by an inefficient, power hungry government? There isn’t any.
Thus, for the last 4 nights, I have laid awake in an insomniatic like state, trying to conceptualize my service up to this point. I’ve concluded that I’m discontent with this experience thus far. While it is hard to acknowledge, I stay committed to my service by believing that I am helping in someway. So when a random stranger tells me my work doesn’t matter, when he discounts the very idea I cling too, well…it makes for sleepless nights wondering if he’s right.
That is all.