There comes a time in a young person’s career when choices must be made. Important choices, choices that matter immensely and can change the course of your life. I would argue that this choice both is and isn’t what school you get assigned to in the process of narrowing down a school you want to work in as a Fulbright ETA.
Okay, sure, you want to find somewhere that suits you and where you can help out the most, but anything can happen in a year. Typhoons, co-teacher relationship problems and disputes with students may influence the experience of an ETA in a Taiwanese school. Touring locations is kind of like buying a house– the framework is there, but you never know what might happen in the house, and it’s completely up to you to make the house into a home.
We toured over 20 schools in under 3 days, which gradually just blurred all the schools together despite all of us collectively taking extensive notes. We also listened to hours of school presentations, made with care and accompanied by lots of complimentary snacks. However, once you visit a school, it kind of speaks for itself. You see exactly what it lacks and what it offers, its vibrancy and its small town charm.
Will you ever know if a school is the right fit, right off the bat? No, not exactly. You might prefer local to aboriginal, or short commute to a long one, but that can mean jack squat if you fail to connect with your students. What I began to really pay attention to were the LETs, the co-teachers ETAs must work year-long with. Unlike the students, ETAs usually get to meet the LETs in advance, allowing them a short trial of their teaching philosophy and preferences. Within every presentation and side conversation, personalities bubbled to the surface. Some were fun, others creative and some just a bit mean. It comes out even in a short 10 minute school tour. Instead of taking notes explicitly on the schools, I began focusing on the teachers and how they cared for their students. This narrowed my choices down immensely.
I wanted to single out one particular school for their earnestness. It won’t be named just yet, but I just wanted to show you what they showed us—namely, their phenomenal students.
It’s never about the gifts or the attempts to woo, it’s really only about the students. Do you care about them enough to sacrifice your time, money and love? Can you live selflessly and teach without worrying about making a fool of yourself? Can it not be about your comfort and more about an impact?
It’s never really about me, or us. The whole program centers around the differences we can make. In a reaction, a catalyst only sets to change things and shake things up, often quickening processes. ETAs share that trait, somehow invigorating local schools. However, by ourselves, we can do nothing.
“Words without action are worthless.”
Regardless of what we ETAs decide, I hope we can make a difference in the moments we have with students.