Hello pretty people of the internet. Long time no talk. I’ll soon fix that. If you miss me more though, you can always follow me @mintmiss on Instagram. ;) Once I finished my practicum with Ellen, life trickled into the responsibilities Fulbright intended for us to have. Far fewer pretty swing nights in Taipei enjoying the bright city lights.
Since our very long goodbye last post, I’ve been settling into my new schools, Cheng Gong Elementary and SanXing Junior High. Let me tell you, school here is no joke. When one of my LETs (Local English Teachers) led me around the first grade classrooms, I saw 3 out of 5 teachers disciplining their first graders. Wow. My LET told me first graders experience extreme “culture shock” when entering the higher grades, especially when they essentially get to do anything they want in kindergarten. I mean, the kids have a ball pit on school grounds, for goodness sake. So, when they enter the hallowed gates of first grade, the teachers berate them into the good model citizens they mean to be. Perhaps berate is not the right word…more like scold or lecture to death. It might seem harsh, but most students here are incredibly well behaved and prone to respectfully addressing others, a far cry from the crazy kids in my classes back home. I teach mainly 1st and 5th at my elementary, though I do have cultural exchange programs in every grade, 1st through 6th. Hmm…need to get on that.
School days in Taiwan read quite differently than my elementary days in the States. At least two class periods are devoted to cleaning classrooms and hallways. Students also take turns serving each other lunch (ridiculously cute). This past week of school, I didn’t do as much as I hoped to. The principal introduced me to all the kids, so now they’re a bit more cautious in the hall when they see me. I love it when they say, “Hello, 教師” if they happen to run into me.
My LET Joyce will be in Thailand for another week, so the days have been slow with only my two 1st grade classes. Instead of letting my free time run rampant, I work on creative classroom rule posters. They let me infuse a bit more American pop culture into my lessons through well known TV series like Adventure Time and movies like Monsters, Inc. One of the 5th graders has already accused me of tracing my artwork instead of creating it. I’m not sure if I’m flattered or annoyed just quite yet…oh, well.
In terms of future progress, hope to develop more of my guided reading lessons and focus on cultural exchange topics. I’m thinking dance lessons might be fun, or at least showing American dance clips through the decades. I’ve promised my very eager 7th graders an exclusive Beyonce lesson the next time I see them. I happened to stumble into the class elective assembly when I first scooted to SanXing. Theresa, my LET, ushered me last minute into the crowded gym into a bunch of wide eyed junior high students. I blabbered something in English, but my translator (as they want to pretend I only speak English) basically told them I would teach them about Beyonce…great. I actually said I would teach a bunch of popular music, including Sam Smith, Beyonce and Lorde. Lost in translation, for sure. Anyways, they swarmed me for Q&A and the rest is history. I love how eager and hyped up they are about the elective. It really surprised me how quickly the space filled in my class. At SanXing, students must stick their number onto a board for the elective they want to take. Imagine the ensuing angst and chaos.
After the whirlwind of a quiet English elementary classroom, a dip into the madness of junior high and hectic poster making, my LET Joyce gave me a surprise break Friday with a trip to the Asian Rowing Junior Championships in Yilan County. Barry, Albert and I found ourselves accompanying our LETs to the Shangrila Hotel in Dongshan where a hoi polloi of rowers from all over the world gathered. The locale amazed us with the crystal clear Dongshan River and the gem that is Shangrila.
We managed to attend the special Welcoming Ceremony which featured some amazing Er Hu elementary school players and a Hakka dance troupe. The rest of the ceremony involved quite a bit of pomp and circumstance which I did not find that interesting. Fast forward an hour later, and we said our goodbyes in the twilight. I scootered home on my pretty bike, only to find out later I had my brights on. Whoops.
This weekend, we partied hard at the Fulbright welcoming party. More on that, and our Taichung trip last weekend, later. Otherwise, this will be another one of those TLDR; posts you never read.
In brief, I’d like to introduce a little subtopic I’d like to call..
How to Survive School in Taiwan
1. Try to become friends with at least one other teacher that is not your LET. Otherwise, you will find yourself very lonely at lunch and eating really quickly to avoid the awkwardness.
2. Do not, I repeat, do not lie to the students and tell them you only speak English if you also speak Chinese. Sure, the other teacher will probably want you to lie, as will the principal. I’m not a fan. Instead, just insist in speaking English in the classroom. That’s all, keep it simple. No sneaking or two-faced teaching involved.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask for an all-access pass to the supply room to up your teacher game. Once I got up the courage to ask for supplies, I could make any colorful poster my little heart desired. With my artillery of oil pastels, markers and endless reels of pastel papers, my imagination knew no limits.
4. Get to school early to know the area. I’ve had the opportunity to walk around and find hidden breakfast places in the morning. If I didn’t get to school so early, I would have never found my secret handmade Bao Zi place found on a side street just past the school entrance. Noms.
5. Pack toilet paper. Lots of it. None of the school’s squatty potties will have any. Did I mention the squatty potties? Better strengthen those leg muscles. Also, try to #2 at home, your body will thank you if you’re not used to the smells and acrobatics of squatty potty dynamics.
6. Make mistakes but learn from them. This goes for all of life, but especially as a teacher. You do the wrong TPR motion? It’s alright, just make sure the students learn from your mistake. Make sure to spell things right together if you or your LET do it wrong the first time. Better yet, correct it with the students so they learn as well.
7. Make time to de-stress. Teaching is hard. Co-teaching is harder. Set aside some alone time to just breathe and adjust yourself. Life will not end if your lesson plan is not as creative as you want it to be.
8. Practice your scooter, train or walking route. No one wants to get lost or be late on their first date, especially if you’re the new foreign teacher.
9. Befriend your Soldier Boy. Elementary schools often have alternative soldiers working for them as security guards. These guys are usually chosen for their English skills, so be sure to find ways to get to know them and the local culture. They are awesome! We just barbequed with our soldier boy friend James tonight for Mid Autumn Festival.
10. Have fun. So much can get lost in translation or the stress of planning. However, if you know how to have fun and get others to do the same, you’ve won half the battle.
Hope your classrooms weren’t empty like this the first week. My academic dean kicked out all the kids because my LET wasn’t there the first day. I was so very lonely.
Here’s to love, life and lots of mango ice. Noms. Here’s a treat from the Luodong Night Market.
More posts to come on Taichung and Taipei (Fulbright edition)!