By Jo Franklin (Pseudonym)
When 12-year-old Tiffany first came to me for English tutorials, she had just arrived from Xi’an. So in Lesson One, I explained American greetings.
“Here in the U.S., we say, ‘Hi, how are you?’” I explained.
Tiffany is clever, but she never learns to say, “Hi, how are you?” She just throws the door open, starts talking about nail polish, wraps her arm around my waist, and walks me toward the kitchen table to study.
One day she announces, “I’m starting FLASH class. FLASH stands for Family Living and Sexual Health.” Her questions fly at me like machine gun bullets.
“You need to talk to your mother,” I say, but she protests, “Mom doesn’t know English for these things!”
I emailed her mother, who says, “Just answer Tiffany’s questions. Don’t give her more than she asks for.”
Tiffany’s mother and I feel lucky that she prefers her tutor’s dry facts to her friends’ silly gossip.
Then one day, Tiffany opens the door and says nothing.
At the kitchen table, on a Post-it, she draws a body with outstretched arms and legs. Between the legs, she draws a long, skinny letter, “U.” She tears up the Post-it.
“Eason drew these all over my social studies homework.”
“Did you show it to the teacher?”
“That’s OK, I will report Eason.”
“Please don’t tell the school! I can’t make trouble there!”
I gave Tiffany’s mom the contact information for the school counselor who I know will stop Eason. I also think that Tiffany’s mom will take care of this immediately.
A few weeks later, when Tiffany opens the front door, she has red-rimmed eyes.
“Eason rubbed my back. It was icky.”
I write Tiffany’s mom again and arranged to meet her at Starbucks. Usually warm, she is cold and silent. Confused and surprised, I tear up.
“Why didn’t you tell the school counselor?”I asked.
“She will think we are troublemakers. This matter will stay on Tiffany’s record. She will lose scholarships,” said her mom.
Our coffee date ended abruptly.
I think to myself, “I enjoy tutoring Chinese children, but now it’s over. I will obey the law and stop Tiffany’s harassment, but I will ruin my reputation in the Chinese community.”
Before I hit “send” on my email to the counselor, I call Tiffany’s mom to say that I will send her a copy.
Long silence. “OK.”
Immediately, the school counselor removes Eason from Tiffany’s classes.
Mom decides to continue my tutoring. “I told Tiffany that you were working in the background at the school, to help her. I want her to keep trusting you.”
“Thank you very much. I couldn’t watch Tiffany get harassed,” I said.
“She loves you, Jo. So do I. The problem is that I don’t know the right words for FLASH in English.”
I told her, “I’ll get you a FLASH comic book written for middle school kids. Then you can learn the English you need to talk to Tiffany.”
When grades come out, Tiffany gets four A’s and two B’s. Clearly, she’s receiving no punishment for “making trouble.”
Tiffany and her mom are still not convinced they can report problems without harming Tiffany’s academic records. So now I call the school. Tiffany gives me details—names, clothing styles, class room numbers—that make my reports believable. Her name is not used, the school counselor believes me, and the problem is solved. It would be better, however, if Tiffany, her mom, and my other Chinese students could talk directly to the schools without fear.
Names and specific details in this story are changed to protect the family’s privacy. Jo Franklin is the pseudonym of a private tutor who works in Puget Sound’s Chinese American community. She wants to help children, especially new immigrants, to feel safe in reporting sexual harassment to school officials.