With moving and starting a new job I took an unintended hiatus from blogging. Hopefully now that I have been through the first three weeks of my new hectic lifestyle I can still make the time to post each week. This year, I will not have as much time to travel so, I wanted to focus more on different aspects of living abroad as a foreigner,(with specificity to Taiwan obviously).
Three weeks ago, it seems like a lot longer now, I made the jump from the part-time buxiban lifestyle, to a full-time junior high school teaching position. Primarily I have 7th through 9th grade, with one sophomore class thrown in there. I am no longer Ms. Colleen, now it is Teacher Colleen. In Chinese “Teacher” is an appropriate title like Mr. or Mrs. It is proper to address your teacher as Family Name Lǎoshī (teacher) but, with the English twist and since most of our last names are quite difficult for the kids to say we go by Teacher First Name.
Looking back now the first day was messy. I was handed a schedule and told,by the way you have to go find your classes, they are not all in the classroom you took a whole day to decorate during summer vacation. I was late to several classes, walked into several wrong classes “Teacher this is not your class” I felt like a college freshman all over again, and the campus is close to the size of that of my university. Now, after week three I think I’ve finally got it down. My favorite part about any teaching I have ever done is that I am always on my feet, never at a desk. This job especially does not allow me to sit for a second, and I love it. The days fly by. I see about 200 students in a day, some are good, some are terrible. I am constantly planning and organizing for the next step, I have an eighth grade final exam coming up, soon I will be teaching Saturday classes, and we have a school anniversary fair coming up in October to plan for. Oh yeah, and next semester I have to write a play apparently. Aside from the ESL department, there is an international program for accelerated students that will go to universities abroad, between our two departments there are about 30 foreign teachers at the school, making a nice little international community in our section of campus.
So let me give a brief comparison of how this is different from cram school. I have my own classroom:
We all have English-speaking countries, mine is an old science laboratory they turned into Ireland,an appropriate choice for me. This classroom is my domain, there is no Chinese co-teacher like the cram school system, which is both a good and bad thing.
I have a real curriculum to follow, no more Noddy books with grammar mistakes. I can assign homework, which I love doing. Yesterday I told my students how American kids finish school at 2 PM and told them I would hate to grow up in Taiwan, then gave them vocabulary homework and said “Have a good weekend”.
I can speak Chinese if I need too (they think its funny when I try), and I have picked up some words from my students. This week I learned perfume and potato. Many of the lower level students will only speak in Chinese and I just reply in English. The one drawback of not having an “English Only” policy is that they swear and tease each other and say things about me in Chinese and there is really nothing I can do. I know my basics but they like to test me and see what I can recognize as a curse word and what ones I don’t know.
I have a set schedule of 8:30 to 5:10 and no one is breathing down my neck to see what I do when I have periods off. How much I work and how I run my classes is on me.
I am the baby of an eight person department, and soon to be (when one of my coworkers goes out for maternity leave) the only female teacher. This has certain drawbacks. The students try to take advantage, especially the younger boys (In Taiwan women are still considered second tier citizens by the majority of society. Compared to my older male co-workers, as the new young female foreign teacher I get little respect. That is going to be a post topic soon). This is discouraging and motivating depending on the day. I have to work twice as hard to get students to listen to me than my coworkers. The older girls are kind of fascinated, they just stare and smile and ask me stupid questions about my nose ring and “do you have a boyfriend”. The younger girls are still quite respectful and I still haven’t gotten used to the ones who give a slight bow when they see me and say “Lǎoshī nǐ hǎo”.
I bike to work around 7:30, get there at 8. Have a class at 8:30, leave by 5, if I am lucky. Then I have discovered all sorts of things in Taichung to keep me busy after work.
I finally put my mind to taking a Chinese course. I have a one on one lesson for two hours after work every Monday and Wednesday. Tuesdays I am continuing my Muay Thai at Taichung BJJ.
My partner Shelly and I posing for a picture to show her university class.
Thursdays is open swim for teachers after school and Fridays my friend introduced me to a yoga class. I’m not a yoga person, I never have been, I hate stretching and have always found yoga too slow for me. But this class is amazing, it’s the perfect end to my work week (and I say work week because Saturday mornings I’ve designated for long runs until I run a half at some point this fall). The class is all in Chinese, in the upstairs of the instructors house, it’s mostly older Taiwanese women (plus my friend and I) and it’s a mix of stretching, yoga poses, weird Chinese slap Kong Fu, and really slow Pilates. My first class was ridiculous, I couldn’t move the whole day after, I found muscles I didn’t know I had. Though I am still inflexible and uncoordinated I am slowly improving and I count it as practice for my Chinese homework.
Aside from being insanely busy I am still trying to meet people and discover what Taichung has to offer. I’ve heard the Taichung ex-pat community is great, and it has been so far. I have met a few friends through my roommate, and am joining the Taichung Hash Harriers today on a run to see if I can discover some more like-minded people.