When A Good Intention Turns Into An Epic Fail

Remember when I talked about getting roped in to teaching English?

After a rocky start of missed classes and communication problems, things started smoothing out. In spite of myself, I loved giving the classes, and the students were excited about learning.

When the kids’ parents and I finally got around to talking about payment, I made a proposition that didn’t involve money. At the beginning of this year, I set a goal to do some type of volunteer work. My genius idea was to give English lessons, and instead of receiving cash, they would do something nice for someone else. I let them choose, and said it could be anything from buying lunch for a homeless guy to donating old clothes to a children’s shelter.

The weeks passed by, and the family still hadn’t held up their end of the bargain. Finally, I marched across the street to give them a stern talking to and reiterate that the English classes are not free, and that I would stop teaching if they didn’t pay me in good deeds.

Kindness via coercion…  nice.

J'Ouvert Trinidad Carnival

Last week, the neighbors called me over and introduced me to a young boy of about eight years old. He had a growth over his retina and couldn’t see, so he and his brother were going around the neighborhood asking for money. The father of the two kids I teach told me that this would be their good deed. They would get in touch with the mother and find out how much the surgery costs and ask for donations from everyone they knew and do what they can to help this family.

I was so overwhelmed and happy, I almost cried.

A week passed, and I heard nothing. This morning, I went to pick up the kids for class and the dad tells me that the mother of the blind child is in fact exploiting them, and she’s really not interested in the surgery because a child that can see would earn much less than a child who is blind. If her child could see, she might have to get a job.


Not only was I presented with this disappointing news, but was then informed that there wouldn’t be a class this morning because one of the brothers didn’t show up. They gave me no kind of advanced notice, and this is the third time they’ve canceled class with no warning.


I feel taken advantage of. I feel jaded. And I’m really pissed off that such disrespect is being shown for my time, especially since I’m giving them classes because they asked me to.

My dad said that I should charge for the classes because people value what they pay for more than things that are given away for free. I see that now.

Maybe I should have charged a nominal fee and used the cash to help others? Maybe the idea was completely unrealistic to begin with? It’s possible I’ve watched Pay It Forward a few too many times.

At this point, I’m unsure if I should just cancel the classes altogether, or stick it out and hope that they start respecting my time. But probably not.

What do you think? Have you been in a similar situation? What did you do?

  • You got yourself in a bad one and to be honest you only have a few options:

    1) Stop teaching, walk out.  If they haven’t paid you cash already, then they never will.  Colombia is very macho and as a lady dealing with men over money could prove to be nothing but a heart ache for you.  The only bad part of walking out are the kids, as they won’t get that education you were giving them and who knows what difference in their lives you were making.

    2) Keep giving classes and teach the kids only bad words to use against their parents!  This is what the kids really want to know anyways! lol

    Those are your only two options! :)  I think this will be more of a life lesson on business for you rather then so much as how to deal with it or what the out come will be.  What happened has already happened, move on and readjust.  From what I read you haven’t done anything wrong and only good things have been done on your part.  There is no shame on stopping and you can still feel proud of your accomplishments there.

    I’m not sure how long your planning on staying in that area but if it’s for much more time then you’ll be sending a message of being weak and a pushover if you keep doing it for free.

  • Don’t give up just yet. Maybe change the terms… Say you’ll give then a
    % discount if they show you ahead of time that they paid it forward, or
    maybe buy 4 lessons and the 5th on is free if they pay it forward? I
    think this might cater to both the people who need the discount and
    those just looking for a lesson. :)

  • I feel your pain and frustration, Jasmine. It seems the world needs honest “channelers”, people who willingly live with the bare minimum and choose to help others with whatever extra they receive. I would suggest taking the money and then turning around and using it for charity yourself. 

    Just as you cannot teach someone who doesn’t want to learn, you cannot ask someone to be charitable if they’re not willing to be selfless. Money corrupts and it requires a strong hand to do good deeds with it. We’ve got plenty of money floating around the world, but very few strong hands able to resist temptation or selfishness.

  • Hmm. You’re right, I’ve actually had two aggressive talks with the parents – the first of which about notifying me before canceling a class – and my message obviously didn’t stick. You’re right, the experience has been a life lesson on how to conduct business in the future. I also learned that I kind of like English teaching.

  • The problem is I had already asked them to let me know what they were doing for someone else before class at least three times, and the answer was nothing. I might have to try the system you suggest the next gang of kids I teach.

  • Good points. If I’m ever going to market myself for teaching English again with no interest in financial profit, I’ll probably stipulate that 100% proceeds go to charity and accept payment. That way, the good deed part will be guaranteed because it will be my responsibility.

  • Jason

    I think all is not lost. Make your next english lesson a field trip with the kids and maybe even the parents to where you can help someone. Maybe get the kids to teach other kids as you supervise. It’s not just English you have to teach here it’s how to pay it forward, make them proud to do it. If that doesn’t work go have a drink and forget!

  • I don’t know, Jas. You got yourself in a tough one there. It’s probably really awkward now to start asking for money. If you could, and use it for charity yourself, that would be the best option. I mean, walking out now seems unfair on the kids if they enjoy it because really it’s probably the parents who are not holding up that part of the deal. Maybe you could find some kind of charitable deed that you could do with the kids. Maybe go on a field trip one day and help out somewhere, volunteer with them? Or help get them started on some sort of project. When we were kids, we made cards for people in nursing homes and we loved to be crafty. Maybe something along those lines. Did you set a certain number of classes you agreed to teach or is it just assumed to be an on-going thing? Maybe you could get the kids involved as penpals to a couple of American students and use your classes to help them write letters (or emails). It’s not really charity, but it teaches all of them something and I’d say it’s a worthwhile experience to have a penpal in another country when you’re younger. Anyway, good luck. I hope things can be sorted out in a way that doesn’t involve any bad feelings. 

  • Normand Boulanger

    You intentions were the greatest I think, but I would agree with your dad. You’re second idea is not a bad one, to charge a minimal fee and help in some other way. Pay it forward idesa might work better in some part of the world than others. Just a guess. But I repeat, you’re intentions were great.

  • The Father

    I’m really sorry to hear about this Jas! But I think that while you can foster and encourage charity and that altruistic impulse in others, you can’t force them into it. People who do real good in the world do so through direct action, leading by example and encouraging others to do the same and it’s all motivated internally or through some spiritual intervention. In this case, there was value in your efforts, and things like that shouldn’t be judged by just the outcome – it’s kind of like how the value is in your travels, not what you produce when you get to a new place, right? 

    Anyway, you can’t foresee what may come of your efforts. You may have changed something in the boys outlook. Something that won’t show up until they’re older. Or maybe someone just hears what you tried to do, or reads your post here and it changes them. 

    Charge for your lessons and invite them to volunteer somewhere WITH you if they want to!

  • I was willing to hold out on the good deeds part, but missing 3 classes in 2 months? I talked to the dad today and told him there won’t be any more classes because it seems really disrespectful to not show up so many times without notice.

  • I think the other party has to be really interested in the arrangement, though the next time I will charge and donate the money myself.

  • I ended up canceling the classes! I was irritated they were just showing up whenever they wanted. Especially when I had to wake up early to prepare for the class (not my fav thing) and then have them not come at all? No more.

  • Jason, definitely good ideas for next time!