Wow, the last few days have felt like a few months. I am going to give a detailed account of our job hunt experience because I think that enough people (two) will appreciate the details. Feel free to skip to the end of this post though for the result. In the last post I told you about our interview at JumpStart a day after we arrived. It went well, but the administrator who interviewed us didn’t yet know if he had 1 or 2 positions available.
Then, this past Monday Carrie and I went to a prestigious school in northern Taipei called Wego. We took the MRT train system, transferring at least four times. It wasn’t very expensive, though, just about 2 USD each. Carrie gave a twenty minute teaching demo to a class of about 28 five year olds while I sat out in the lobby in a teeny tiny chair, watching the Taiwanese students transition from bathroom time, to park time, to library-in-the-lobby-next-to-me time (because Carrie’s subsequent interview took place in the official library). Mom, you’ll be sad to hear that most of these schools do not have a librarian; one of the teachers or the director takes care of the library, and the library is really just a room with books, not a whole little ecosystem like in the U.S. The books are sometimes famous ones like The Hungry Caterpillar and many or all are bilingual. I did not have an interview at Wego. The recruiter, Felicia, who was the go-between had said the director of the elementary school wanted to interview me, but the night beforehand she said that they are in the second interview phase with another candidate, so are not setting up an interview with me afterall. I planned a demo teach anyway, and hoped that Carrie’s potential director would think I look teacher-y and send word, and somehow I, too, would have a chance to work at this awesome school. It worked! The next day Felicia said that they wanted to interview me!
So a little about Wego: the students are learning more than just English there, each class comes to one of three English teachers every day for 40 minute lessons. When not in English class, they are doing yoga, walking a line to practice gross motor skills, hammering nails into wood, cooking, learning about the Chinese culture etc. It is a great curriculum. When Carrie was finally allowed to leave, we couldn’t even continue onto our next plan for the day (the river); we had to stop and sit in the park and talk about all the new info. The pros to the job are a bit obvious; it is a top level school, and the pay is good. Here are the cons to Wego: only a little over a week of vacation time total, large class sizes plus having several classes means over 100 young students to keep records of (and remember, these are very wealthy, particular parents who WILL call and ask why their son is pronouncing the word “dolphin” differently than their older daughter is pronouncing it. I watched this scenario play out at a school yesterday. This is no joke folks; conversing about dolphins is serious business. And I don’t think I need to mention the con of the pressure due to the school’s status. My mom and I read a thread about a teacher at Wego having a heart attack, with the pressure of working at Wego being his only risk factor. This is just one person’s experience, but we got that vibe a bit. The school is AMAZING though, and the people were, of course, friendly. You are going to get sick of hearing that because it is true EVERYWHERE here.
Also noteworthy is that even though the pay is high, no matter where we work , we are getting a very high salary by Taiwanese standards. When we tell people how much we make so they can understand our housing price needs or something, they always have the same surprised look on their face. Then they will say, oh, well, with that amount you don’t need to worry about the rent. And we are realizing that this is true. If Carrie and I get a nicer two bedroom place in a nice area of Taipei, only 1/4th of our monthly salary will go towards rent. And most likely it will be a bit less.
Okay, so the next day we had the longest day of our lives. We got up at 6:30 am which is actually very easy these days because of our adjusting to the days being flopped here, and we hopped on the HSR (High Speed Rail) to Chaiyi. We found out that morning that what the recruiter of the recruiter wanted us to ride the rail with him. He works for the MOE (Ministry of Education or in other words the public school system). This Taiwanese University student took photos of us the whole day under the pretense that he had to prove his fulfillment of his job assignment. I pointed out that he is not in any of the photos, and that there will be no proof that we didn’t just send the photos to him. “Oh!” he exclaimed, “Thank you for helping me, let’s take a photo together.” So, we did. I believe he was really taking the photos for his class or job; it just felt odd to be photographed while getting a 2 hour tour of a school in a rural area.
Chaiyi is not large, but it does have a few main streets with shops and restaurants. I could not tell you if I would like to go to any of these shops or restaurants, but they do exist. There is also a famous temple that people spend 10 days walking to each year. I’m not sure who these people are exactly, but the temple was quite a sight to see. Photos to come. Anyway, the school isn’t even exactly in that city. It is about five minutes away by car. Five minutes is quite a lot when you have only a bike, which we don’t even have yet. It is a beautiful school, large and fairly modern looking, except the no air conditioning part. A very sweet and pretty lady named Natalie (not her Chinese name) was the teacher/admin/ librarian/calligraphy contest coordinator who showed us around while the students giggled and stared at us through the huge windows that take up two entire walls in each classroom. Natalie teaches 6th grade English. Even though she is not a native speaker, she is quite fluent and very smart in general. She showed me the curriculum (two work books) and explained the schedule. Basically, I would have about 300 students or more from grades 1 -7, and they would come to me in my own classroom. I would only give about 3 grades per six weeks which can be completely based on progress in the workbooks. Even though this is a more secure and higher paying job, it sounded quite boring. I could spice it up a bit, but I wouldn’t want to get behind in the workbooks, so I’m not sure how plausible it would be. Also, the reason working for the MOE is higher paying is not because the monthly salary is so much higher, it is because they reimburse your round trip airfare and give a stipend towards rent every month which covers all your rent or close to it. Especially in a small town such as Chaiyi, there is almost no way I would spend even a fifth of my salary on rent, bills, and food. I would have a hard time spending a fifth of it on anything, in fact, because I’d be so isolated.
Natalie then took us to a restaurant, but since it was, by chance, a spring cleaning day for that place, we went to another place. Without reservations, we could not eat there either. She was somewhat forced to take us to a very fancy place they frequent twice a year for special occasions. Our party of 11 got our own room, and platters and platters of food were brought to the turntable we were seating around. The meal lasted at least an hour, probably more. I didn’t know what anything was until I ate it, and even then I couldn’t always figure it out. It was delicious. I’m glad I’m not vegetarian because poor Carrie had to pretend to enjoy the FIVE special plates of food they brought her. She was pretending because they had meat chunks in them. What they did not understand about “vegetarian” we could not figure out. Earlier that week, a girl had done Carrie a favor and written some Chinese characters saying something along the lines of: “I am all the way vegetarian; no sneaking in meat chunks or fish sauce, please”. But, Carrie didn’t show this card at the time because Natalie and Terence seemed to have understood.
I really did enjoyed almost everything, but it was a bit difficult because of how awkward the whole affair was turning out to be. First of all, this English teacher named Rita, who is going back to New Mexico soon, was sitting next to me telling me all the school gossip. She had mostly good things to say, but when the director of the whole school came to join us, there were only bad things to say, and worst yet, she said some of these bad things to the director’s face. One thing she said only to me and anyone who’s not deaf was, “Oh, great here SHE comes; get ready for the cameras!”. At least Terence kept his camera in his bag during dinner, so her fear didn’t come true. Second, strange conversation took place like this one that was translated for us at the VERY beginning of the meal, “Carrie and Emily, are you single?” Rita yelled at that guy, “It is none of your business! And, they don’t want to date you anyway; you’re too old.” Third, we had to catch the train back to Kaohsiung very soon for a 3pm appointment with another recruiter, something we were completely dependent on them to help us accomplish. Fourth, at the end of the meal, Terence asked me if I will accept the position. I know this is probably standard for business deals, but I was not prepared to answer because I needed to talk it over with Carrie, preferably away from meat chunks. We just have so many factors to consider when deciding on a job. By the way, during the lunch we were told that there are actually two English Teacher positions, and Carrie could have the other. I told Terence we will call him at 6:00pm that night, a plan he reconfirmed with me 5 more times after that. I called at 6:14 actually, and gave him the bad news. He called back at 6:20 to make sure he heard me correctly. Then he emailed me and asked me to put it in writing that I am done working with the MOE. Anyway, once they dropped us off at the rail station, Carrie and I sighed in relief that the whole ordeal was over. We knew we could not live there. It is just way too small. It might be fun for Rita who is much older than us and from a small town originally anyway, but not for us. And when I asked about commuting from Kaohsiung, I was laughed at because it would be way too pricey; they’re right.
After 30 minutes on the HSR, we came to Kaohsiung and looked for the Starbucks where Leon Ranger said he would meet us. He went over all the details of how KNS language school works, then we went with him to one of the schools. The director, Kevin, told us three times that he has been waiting for us for a long time because Leon Ranger has said such great things about us. This is similar to many other schools; they are really excited to have certified teachers work there because many teachers are not certified (JumpStart, I believe, requires their teachers to be certified). I also have 3 years formal teaching experience, another thing they do not see as often. Kevin wanted us to do an hour long demo teach right then and there, but we said we were too tired today and would do it the next day. For the demo, they give you an hour with the workbook pages that are that day’s assignment, and you design the lesson and give it to the students right then. KNS is a chain of 6 very organized schools. The hours are very different from all three previous schools we visited; it is what people call a cram school for sure. We would teach a class of younger students (grades 1-3) from 2-4:30p, a class of older students (grades 3-6) from 5-7pm, and another similar class from 7:10-9:10pm. Only forty minutes of break in 6.5 hours of standing on your feet delivering phonics, grammar, and sentence structure lessons is just not enough. This style of curriculum was also rote memorization, leaving little room for creativity and fun. The students are coming after their regular school, and the two hours you have with them is very structured. There is a quiz at the beginning over previous day material, and the Chinese assistants downstairs grade it while you teach. They have at least 5 workbooks that you do with them EACH time. So you do a page or two from each one. The workbooks are actually really good- very colorful and well made, but the content is still fairly dry. Then at the end of the two hours, you turn on all their tape recorders and read their Cambridge Test Prep Vocabulary words into them as well as the passage from that day’s lesson so they can study the pronunciations at home. It is a very good school as far as I could tell, and I really wouldn’t have minded working there since the grammar lessons etc. were very similar to what I taught the past three years, but Carrie was pretty strongly against it. One of my objectives in coming here was to get away from the pressure that was involved in my past teaching position. But I was wondering if the KNS position would be perfect because the curriculum is so determined already to the last detail. The very small class sizes meant I would have 60 or so students under my belt which is totally doable. But the night schedule and the standing on your feet while the students just sit like zombies in their seats were not that appealing.
The KNS director, Kevin, gave us a tour of Kaohsiung, and as Carrie put it, it was almost annoying because we were hoping it would be unappealing, making our decision of where to live simpler, but it’s not. The city of Kaohsiung is great! It has a very pretty skyline (see photos in next post probably) and the roads are much wider, making walking and biking much safer and enjoyable. By the way, when you walk around in Taipei, much of the time you are literally walking where the cars drive and where the mopeds drive, so you are dodging them, they are dodging you; it is quite chaotic. The Kaohsiung downtown area looks lively enough. But, it definitely lacks that busy (like NYC) feel that Taipei has. Comparing Taipei to NYC is unfair though; the latter is so much faster paced and serious feeling. Then again, I’ll get back to you on that because we have not spent much time in the very center of Taipei except in the MRT station. Taipei has about 7 million people and Kaohsiung has 3 million. The best thing about Kaohsiung, to me, is the weather. It is about 89 degrees which is five degrees or so warmer than Taipei, but much, much less humid. The humidity in Kaohsiung is similar to Houston (Houston is much hotter though, so Kaohsiung is more pleasant).
Here is the breakdown on salary differences at the different schools:
Jumpstart 60,000 Wego 70,000 Chaiyi public school 60-70,000 (plus 5,000 rent stipend/month and flight reimbursement.) KNS language school 68,000 (but a sizeable chunk is withheld until you finish out your contract)
Oh, and we cancelled our interviews at Sunshine Kuo Language School in Kaohsiung and our meeting with the public schools (MOE) in Taitong County.
Our decision was difficult, but we decided that JumpStart was the place for both of us. We especially liked the administratorwe interviewed with, Eric Ma. He lived in New York City for a period of his life, so communicating with him is simple. He also just gives off very good trustworthy vibes. The school year starts September 1st, and Carrie and I will be placed at the same school! They are going to wait to decide who gets which age. At JumpStart they have ages 2-6. We will arrive at 8:50, work three hours, have a two our break, and work another three hours, M-F. We would also have FOUR weeks of paid vacation time scattered throughout the year, and I might even get SIX weeks because Eric wants me to take some substitute positions starting next week! They will be all day, and since I will basically be helping close out the school year in these two different classes at two different schools, he is going to put me on salary now. That means I get 60,000/month starting next Wednesday, AND when they have their two week summer break, I get off too! And, best of all, Carrie and I will each have ONE class of about 12 students. We will spend our day doing activities such as: taking them to a “large” room for yoga or other P.E. activities, using the computers, the library, teaching them dances and songs, making food with them, taking them to the park, etc. We will not ONLY be teaching them that the silent “e” sneaks over and makes the vowel say its name, though that will be part of it too. Getting used to the idea was a bit more difficult for me than for Carrie. I am used to a reading and writing heavy curriculum that I create and that takes over my life, but I think this is what I need now- to have fun with kids, to laugh with them, hug them (without fear of being sued…maybe just fear that their parents will wonder why their kid hugs because it is not a common practice here- more on my hugging faux pas later), and watch their eager, little faces soak up my phonics lesson before they go off to the basement for nap time while I go eat lunch with a friend, maybe you. 🙂 Then, of course, after Carrie and I decided this and celebrated with a day at the beach (today) and an ice cream that came in a toilet (more on all that later), I see an email from a new MOE recruiter saying that Kaohsiung has 3 English teacher positions available at public schools. Sigh.