I am going in 8 months strong in teaching English and believe it or not, this is my first full-time long term job ever.
Teaching is not my background, but if you don’t know..
English teaching is the most common job to have in non-English speaking countries due to the appeal and access to all types of resources if one was to master the English language. Also, it is an easy gateway for foreigners to move countries and experience something different. And with that, Taiwan has a lot of options, if you’re looking.
Now with my job, I shared here of the process I went through in getting it.
But when I first started, it felt very foreign; almost out of my element. Let’s be real here: I am not crazy about the job itself. BUT It pays the bills, helps me get by, and I get to live in Taipei carefree-ish, but it is not something I plan to do or look to doing long term, but its good for the time being.
I teach kindergarten (also known as kindy) and elementary/middle school level with HESS (largest English teaching company in Taiwan) or as they say in Chinese, 何嘉仁. They have hundreds of branches across the island and they got money. But they are stingy and don’t give a single f about their employees’ well-being. , pleasing the parents, sucking up to the bosses, and making them their cash money. At least it pays the bills right?!
Surprisingly enough, this job is paid hourly. So the more hours you work, the more money you can receive. So I have contracted 21/22hrs a week (one class alternates between 1-2 hours a week). I make 630nt/hr (~$20USD/hour) So if I want to make more, I can potentially substitute a class and/or take over a class if someone leaves. It’s great to be hourly paid in a sense (especially if you want to make extra money). But, also a lot of work needs to be prepped and done beyond the teaching hours. To many, they may think it is not fair, but it is what it is. Foreigners are taxed at 18% of their paycheck for half of the year and as long as they stay in the country for at least half of a year, the tax goes down to 5% and some of that money can be returned in the following year.
But the job itself is tiring.
When you teach both kindy and cram school, its an all-day type thing. My schedule runs from Mon – Fri. I have kindy every morning from 9:15 till 11:15. Cram school varies, but typically its either 2-7 or 4-8/9pm. I have never been so tired to work a job like this till now. Some days have long gaps in between, which is nice, but also reminds me that “Well damn I have to actually go back to work soon?!”
I came to Taiwan to get away from the standard 9 to 5, but teaching is on a whole another ball game. You need to be in high spirits at all times. Otherwise you can lose your students focus and momentum in class. It can be fun from time to time, but otherwise it’s aaaight.
In kindy, I teach the youngest of the little kids. They are typically 2 (which is illegal but hey that’s not my concern) or 3 years old. This level is their first year in school and exposure to English (which I find quite too young, weird flex Taiwan but ok). Teaching instruction is normally 4 hours, but students are actually at school for almost 8+ hours a day. They do their two hours of English in the morning (with me) and two in the afternoon (with the Chinese teachers). With Hess, they have a curriculum that you have to follow which is not too hard to keep up with for the youngest age level. But, it’s quite limiting and you rarely have time to go through all of it.
During certain times of the year, we celebrate holidays spanning across one week such as Valentine’s Day and Christmas. We dedicate a whole week to it full of the curriculum. And then during the Springtime, we have these major performances (Mother’s Day and/or Graduation Performance). There are additional tasks in preparing the songs, order, chants, scripts, and dance moves which in fact, takes up a lot of time on top of teaching the curriculum.
The job most of the time especially for this level feels more of a daycare than teaching for my kids particularly have a lot of needs. Also, they are babies. They are still learning and figuring everything out. And then I have a few students who have special needs in which requires even more time being spent with them.
There’s one in particular who has ADHD, yet manages to be super cute. She makes the funniest facial expressions when reacting to certain things and when she speaks English (which is rare) it is always a tiny whisper which I find quite adorable.
Knowing Chinese really does help me in the classroom setting. Although ESL teachers are not supposed to speak Chinese at work, I do listen and respond to both the Chinese teachers and students in English. So for example, if the students say something like 「你的水壺裡面有什麼？」which translates to: “What’s inside your water bottle?” I would respond by repeating the question in English and then answering the question: “It’s Ice.” Then another student will add on to it saying something like “ Ice 是冰塊嗎？(Which is just the student confirming the Chinese word translated in English is the same)“ And I will go: “Yes.”
A lot of them too after awhile learn a lot and pick up on what I say. Even if they don’t know how to answer the question in full sentences, they can easily respond “Yes or No” to Yes/No questions over time. Some good examples are:
“Are you hungry?”
“Do you need to go to the bathroom?”
“Is it time to line up?”
“Are you the little teacher?”
And then you can tell if they don’t understand for they respond “Yes” to every question. One student I have, she was born prematurely so her learning and speech are a bit delayed. But she’s the cutest thing ever. She’s always smiling and laughing for no apparent reason. She can understand and do a lot. So when I ask her a question, she always responds “Yeah.” Ahahaha no girl, it is not time to go home.
Then I have another student. She’s an absolute tattle tell. It’s as if she makes it her goal to tell on everyone in the class. “你看，他放那個水壺在那邊“ “Look, he put that thing there!” Damn, You can’t look out for your classmates for not even once? And on top of that, she’s so dramatic too. Someone would accidentally bump into her and she thinks that they are provoking a fight. “他弄打我” “He hit me!” And her favorite thing to do is to go on a rant talking about this and that about who did with what, where and when at exactly what time all in Chinese. I just look at her like Girl shut it. This girl is only 3! Who does she think she is? And on top of that, she’s super loud for no reason. Her favorite thing to say is “沒有位子啊” “There’s no space!” for the blue line where they line up is almost filled and the empty spaces are not in places she would want to stand. Girl bye. I am pretty sure she could be on a reality TV show someday, for she’s that girl that will start drama and make everyone mad at her by the end of the episode.
And then I have naughty ones of course.
There’s this one particular student in which her English is so good for a 3-year-old ESL speaker. She can speak in full sentences, use sentences in the correct tense, and learns new words fast. If I say something once, she can pick it up and then repeat it in a different scenario. That’s why people always say that you have to be careful around children. You probably don’t think they aren’t paying attention, but they are. She’s also one of those students I have that I find it hard to read her face. Sometimes she’s cheerful and other times, I am not sure. But I can tell that she understands and knows a lot. So I always try to test her.
Classroom teaching and management is an interesting subject that needs to be mentioned. I am in class with 2 other Chinese Teachers all the time. One is the assistant and one is the head. Essentially, this class belongs to the head, but I am more of just the teacher that comes in and exposes the kids to a Native speaker or as I would better describe it, “the prop.” So even if I want to do certain activities with the students, I have to run everything by the head Chinese Teacher before I can go ahead and do it. It feels a bit off-putting from times for some teachers may overstep their boundaries and try and direct you and teach the class while you are teaching, but it is the way it goes around here. I am the minority here in Taiwan, there’s no way I would think in power-tripping even if I don’t feel like what she doing is right. Taiwanese people in general don’t go around openly expressing their feelings, and I am not about to embarrass myself or look down on them as if I am a token member here.
Also, the way they discipline the children here was a bit unpleasant as well. But like I said, this goes back to the culture thing. What they do in Taiwan is different from back home. I am in no way in any position to say how they should discipline a child. They seem to do it within reason, but it’s still shocking going in eight months at the job. They love making them stand in trashcans, stand outside the classroom alone, put their hands against the walls, sit in the classroom in the dark, and most importantly verbally abuse them. It can be hard to look at, but once again, I am not in charge, whatever the Chinese Teachers say, goes.
Here are some sayings I hear a lot from them:
「時間寶貴」- “Time is money”
「正常一點, 可以嗎?」- “Can you calm down a little bit?”
「我想尿尿」- “I want to pee”
「我想大便」- “I want to poop”
「老師Nnedi聽不懂，講英文」- “Teacher Nnedi doesn’t understand what you are saying, speak English!”
「你很好笑」- “You’re so funny!”
And also fat-shaming is normalized in the school setting. For example, I have some students on the thicker side of the scale, but to me, they just look very cute. Nothing wrong with a little extra meat. But to my Chinese Teachers, they are like “Fatty” “Look! Your clothes are too tight, you are getting fat.” “Why are your pants hanging off your butt?” The comments are absolutely endless and I am just sitting there in my mind like :
English teaching to me overall feels like a very gray area. In one way, it’s a job that’s easily obtainable by people from Native English-Speaking countries in many countries English isn’t the native language. We get paid way more than most locals living in Taiwan for very little work. Particularly for my job, I just need to show up, teach and once the time hits, I bounce. But I also know that many people relocate to Taiwan and many other countries solely to do this type of work, so the higher pay is well justified in a way.
Whereas locals get the shitty low wage, have to work long hours every day (and most of the time, unpaid overtime) and deal with the more strenuous parts of the job (chatting with parents, changing diapers, cleaning etc.). So in another way, I feel bad for them, and being here serving as a teacher in these circumstances, I feel as though I am supporting the cause. But also, it’s not my fault nor do I have a say or can push for a change in that within the system.
Cram School Teaching
Now moving on to cram school, teaching in cram school is quite different compared to kindy. I see it as more as a very monotonous type of work while working with Hess. The lessons are all set up for teachers. I just need to follow the teacher’s book strictly and teach certain lessons every day. Unfortunately, you can’t just skip or overlap for no one ain’t got time for that. In a way, it’s bad at this level, for every week we are pushing out all different types of grammar points and vocabulary for the students to comprehend. If students don’t understand, there’s no time in the classroom to correct or review the points. We just have to move on.
I prefer the teach this level for I get to talk to the students and get to know the kids and have fun/mess with them (from time to time). I teach 1st, 3rd, and 7th graders.
Also in these classes, there is a Chinese Teacher assigned to this class as well. They mostly take the backseat, sit in the back, and check the communication books that go home every day while I teach. They only interfere if they are having something special planned for the day and/or need to deal with behavioral issues. They have quite similar duties to the Chinese Teachers in kindy. The only difference is that the kids in this area are a bit older and more is expected from them.
3rd-grade is my favorite class to teach for its the sweet spot. They are not too young where I don’t have a ton of things to not say and them not to understand. But also, they are not shy and can express how they feel quite freely. My 7th-grade kids are too shy and quiet and never want to talk. The 1st graders are still fresh into cram school and can carry very basic conversations, but not well enough to chat extensively.
There are some really bad and challenging kids in this teaching level as well (not as bad as kids back in the US) but they can be bad alright.
My 3rd graders class especially has many people with very strong personalities. There’s this one girl where her spoken English is really good. She takes the time to yell, talk out a lot, and feel the need to pour out her feelings about everything. I learned that her birthday is on Christmas, but she is lowkey a child sent from the devil. She can be quite rude and forward in her manner of speech when conversing with her classmates with matters such as calling out someone in class for being gay to expressing her dislike on certain classmates. I have had to give her several talks about her behavior and how she carries herself. I know a lot of these types of behaviors are not called out or not discussed enough in Asia on why it’s unjust. I don’t want to see it or encourage anyone to express that type of behavior, especially in my presence. She has calmed down a bit since I have started teaching, but it’s all still a work in progress.
I think also that most of them dislike going to cram school for they already spend a lot of time at their actual school and doing other extracurriculars giving very little time to enjoy themselves outside of it. So I try not to give them too much trouble and let them be free for a bit.
They also really love to mess with me especially the 3rd grader class. They love to mock what I say, write silly things on the board, even take my markers. The class can sometimes be a mess from time to time. But it’s partially my fault for I am a very goofy person (and show that a little too much), but I also can be serious. So, they take advantage of that fact and I let them go with it as long as its within a reasonable amount. So if they want to name their team “The pig,” I let them.
Overall, the job is ok, I am not crazy about it, but it gets me by and can be entertaining from time to time. I plan to leave after my contract ends, but now with rona taking over the whole world, I might just have to wait it out or look into doing something else.