Everything You Want to Know Plus One Long Rant about Teaching in Texas

25 Jun

I am at an internet cafe near my apartment. While I’ve been at work these past three days, Carrie has found many useful places near us! We knew of many places to eat near the hostel we like so much, and those places are still fairly close (a 10 minute walk), but Carrie has found that if we walk the other direction, toward the Linguan MRT station, in 5 minutes we can be at a delicious breakfast/lunch restaurant that has the menu in English!, a laundry mat, and an internet cafe. The internet cafe is kind of humorous. It costs about 70 cents (US) per hour; this is not the humorous part, but a good part. The chairs here are gigantic, and unless I keep my backpack on, I am slouching back like a beer-drinking older aged man watching sports and eating cashews. It’s actually not that comfortable when typing. And the computer monitors are HUGE! I’m not going to guess the size in inches, but imagine two computer screens put together. And the funny part is that it is packed in here with gamers, young Chinese guys playing RPGs. Think Zelda in 2011. And they are shouting things to each other when their character dies or when they defeat the throne master or something. It is not loud in here, and since I cannot understand them, I am never distracted, but the overall atmosphere is more like being at Dave and Busters.

Anyway, Carrie also went shopping at the house of a foreigner who is going to move back home soon so needs to get rid of all her belongings. Carrie saw her add on Tealit, called her, and took the MRT to go to her home. She rode the MRT back, during rush hour, with a pot, two skillets, two plates, two mugs, two bowls, two bowlish plates, a very large metal container that has a spout (we are using it for our drinking water after we boil it), hangers, and a huge blue ball (the kind people use to excersize with). There was probably more, but this is what I remember. She said it was very awkward to carry, and that people stared at her even more than normally. This shopping spree cost her $500 NTD (under $18 US). I paid for it since she is doing so much of the legwork that benefits us both. She has also gotten other things for the apartment, cleaned the bathroom, helped us get the internet set up, etc. The other day, Eric from the central office of our company asked her if she wanted to take a substitute position from 1pm -6pm at one of the Head Start schools (the kids who are in Chinese school during the day and come to Head Start in the afternoons), and she said yes. She got paid a good bit of cash at the end of the day. Until we have our ARC (residential and work permit basically), we cannot get a bank account or get paid legally. We just get cash, and if the government people come, we have to run out of the classroom, so they cannot prove we were actually “teaching”. Once we get our ARC though, we are able to work at Jump Start legally. Many of the language schools are not this way; the foreign teachers have to run out all year when the government visits. We are not sure how JumpStart is able to pull this off, but my coworkers who have worked there for 2 plus years assured me that we do not have to run once we get our ARC in a month or so.

Speaking of my coworkers, they are really great! I am going to give them code names to conceal their identity. One of the girls, Delia, is from Canada, and she is moving back at the end of this year (August) because her grandpa has been recently diagnosed with cancer and her sister is having a baby. Otherwise, she said, she would stay here indefinitely. She lives with her boyfriend (who she came here with two years ago) in an apartment south of us. She has a backyard (unheard of here) because she is so far south by the zoo. She is very talkative and informative. She has none of the you’re-a-girl-and-I’m-a-girl-so-we-are-weary-of-each-other-at-first attitude that many girls I’ve meet (back home) have. Delia teaches the oldest group of students at Jump Start. This group graduates from Jump Start this year, so she is very busy planning the ceremony and teaching the students their dance moves and speaking lines. She had to make up many talking scenes so the students can show the parents their English speaking skills. Each student has to have an equal amount of talking, so it’s not like she could use a play or skit that already exists. When they rehearse, my little students have to be down there, too, so that I can help watch the older students who are waiting on the sidelines. It is very interesting because the older students are put under a fair amount of pressure to remember what to say and do. They take a lot of pride in their performance though, so it is cute.

There are only four levels at Jump Start. Delia has the oldest students and so does Kevin because there are enough of them to have two separate classes. A girl who is on vacation has the second to oldest. Then, my friend Tabitha has the level above mine. Tabitha is also very nice. She reminds me soooo much of the Klausner family (my cousins, aunt and uncle) because she has a simlar sense of humor, a New Hampshire accent that has faded a bit, and majored in theater production in college. When she talks to the students she sounds exactly like I remember my cousin Jessica sounding when she gives people directions, enunciating well in a sweet high-pitched voice. By high pitched, I don’t mean the annoying kind that makes you want to cover your ears. Anyway, last Wednesday we went out with Tabitha and her Taiwanese roomate Celia. Celia used to live abroad in Europe and speaks very good English. They took us to a really cool bar that Carrie and I liked a lot. Finally we found a place with people we can relate too, and beer prices we can afford. I don’t know if I blogged about it, but the other day Carrie and I went by ourselves to a bar that our friend recommended; the prices were a bit high and there was a minimum to pay with cash. It was a much better bar than the first one we tried to go to, though. And better than the one in Kaohsiung that the couch surfer guy took us to because that one was expensive too and trying to hard to be an American sportsbar.

I really like Delia and Tabitha! Tabitha is staying another year at least. I think she considers herself to live here, and is not planning on moving back, but neither was Delia until family stuff came up.

About my students, I have to clarify a bit. I made them sound like angels, and that isn’t really accurate. MY students are because they’re young and like I said, adorable, but as they get older, even a year older, they change, or well, the system does. In Tabitha’s class they are only one year older but are expected to act much more mature, and much more is expected of them academically. She happens to have a very rowdy, incorrigible class this year, too. Her class size is somewhere around 13 and only ONE is female! Many of the boys have bad behavior for the following reasons:

1.) Some parents don’t know how to discipline (one four year old kid shaved his 1 year old sister’s head with a razor, cutting it all up, and did not receive a punishment because the mom said he just doesn’t know any better… um, yeah, he doesn’t because you keep forgetting to teach him perhaps?)

2.) The kids begin to learn to get their parents on their side because this will lessen the teacher’s control. Since it is a business, the parents are always right. Our director is pretty sympathetic to our needs, but she is MORE sympathetic to what the parents want because that is the only way she’ll keep her job.

3.) The kids are expected to have more patience than is typical of their age sometimes. Sitting still for a long amount of time is hard for any kid under the age of 7 (the oldest age at our school), but it is especially hard for 2-4 year olds. For example, this past week, there were one or two times per day that the students were expected to sit still and quietly in a line for 30 minutes or more while some event was going on. Of course, no one was mad when my 2-3 year olds weren’t exactly sitting still (one kid is not even 2 years old), but I did have to keep them from being a distraction. Since it is toward the end of the year and their teacher is obviously very good, they knew the drill and were not too much to handle, but it was interesting. When I ask them to sit nicely, they know exactly what to do, sit with legs crossed and face the person talking. When they begin to lie down or move away a bit, I call their name and ask them to return to their spot, and they do it with a smile. It’s not like they get up and run off, making me chase them or anything. Even the little one doesn’t go too far. Yesterday when they were doing graduation rehearsal and the awards ceremony from 4:15-5:00, my students were taking turns sitting in my lap. They would look and see if there was room on my lap, and if there was, they would come over and plop down. It is so much fun with these little ones. They are adorable! Oh, I already said that. I wish you could see their little faces! SOOOOO cute.

The older students push the limits much more. It is a trade off though because these older students do not require as much help with eating or using the restroom. I have to remind some of my students every 2 minutes to keep eating because they will stop and stare. Sometimes I have to spoon feed them so they can eventually finish. The students have to finish their entire meal by the way. The Chinese teachers and cook get really angry if food is wasted and bellies aren’t bulging. It is also because the parents are paying for them to get two snacks and a meal everyday, and we have to make sure they actually eat ALL of it. The kids will look so full and miserable, but you have to shove the food in. Anyway, the older students don’t wear bibs and all that, so meal times, washing hands, water time is so much easier.

I will probably have the second group of students, the age Tabitha has now.  About four of the students I am teaching now will move up into that class which will be nice since I already know them and they are so smart and cute. This is not set in stone, though, so I was told not to go around telling people this. I hope you can keep a secret, blog readers. Thanks. Carrie will not be at the same school. We found this out a day after we decided to take the positions. She will be at the Jump Start near the Guting MRT station (on the green line). I am near the brown and blue lines. Carrie can bike to work just as easy or easier than me, but she cannot take the MRT as easily because she would have to take the brown line, transfer to the blue line, and then transfer to the green line. She wanted to bike anyway, and doesn’t really like the MRT for daily commutes. I might bike to work too. Oh, and Carrie’s students’ age level will most likely be the oldest or second oldest group we have heard.

I will have to develop a new classroom management/discipline system because without a very consistent, clear one, the students might be difficult to handle. I cannot use the same system I used at my old job because of the age difference and because it’s not like I can have the third and fourth steps be to write a referral or call the parents like before. The goal is for the parents to be as happy as possible, and I can tell we will be discouraged from involving them in anything negative. Not that you cannot tell them negative things, just that you avoid it as much as possible since it is a business. It’s not like the parents of most of my students back home were much help anyway, so it’s not hugely different. And it’s not like some of my more difficult students cared a lick about getting a referral; the person in the office was so sympathetic toward them. PULEEEEZ! These kids were stealing from me, cussing at me in Spanish, and NOT doing ANYTHING all period long, but the person processing the referrals would blame me. He did this with almost every single teacher. In fact, many teachers were more fed up than I was.

I went above and beyond in order to have a good rapport with each student and with parents. I sent regular emails, and when situations arose, I called parents even if they spoke only Spanish. I would write out a script in Spanish and read it to them. They were usually very appreciative. But, it wasn’t enough according to this one administrator. This one kid, for example, had a horrible attitude, and obviously came from a sad home. He entered my class well after the year started because he was in the alternative school for something he had done wrong in 6th grade. I was extremely patient with him, giving him extra chances and joking around with him, so he’d stop seeing me as an enemy. But one day when we were lining up to go to the library, he decided to mouth off to me, saying, “YOU put it in the tray” when I asked him to turn in the little vocabulary drawing we had just completed. I asked him to walk with me as we went to the library, but he wouldn’t. I said he needs to come talk with me or else he’ll have to go to the office. Without a word, he walked straight to the office. I dropped my kids off at the library (sorry mom, but it was a special circumstance), and I went to the assistant principal to explain why my student was in there. He didn’t say ANYTHING about how he’ll deal with it or anything. He just told me that I handled it wrong. He said I have to understand that I cannot get in a power struggle with this student. We had to shut the door because I had to tell him that I do not agree, that I did my best in handling the situation and I’ve handled him for many months without needing to send him down (because I knew it wouldn’t help HA), but that when a student talks to me that way in front of the whole class, I cannot just do nothing. The administrator was obviously frustrated probably because this student was in the office so much lately, and he wasn’t making progress with this student. He told me that when the student is out of the room I could explain to the rest of the class that I treat him differently because it is a special circumstance. The students are smart enough to gather this on their own. I have been giving him special treatment the whole time. This kid is not in special education or anything by the way. And, as the year went on, I had two other major discipline problem students in that class period, and I can with much certainty say that it is somewhat due to them watching the other ornery student get away with doing nothing.

One time I asked the students to practice this dance that we do to help us remember when to use a comma with a coordinating conjunction and when the comma is left out, a skill heavily tested on the Writing TAKS. The two kids who were beginning to turn bad stood up and were about to participate until they saw that the ornery student was not going to do it. They sat down and refused. I kept trying to encourage them to participate and even had the class do it a few times and told them they have a bit to decide to participate or else to speak with an administrator. They wouldn’t budge. And, I’m not surprised; there were three of them, and if one of them gave in, they would look weak in front of the others. These are guys who you can imagine joining a gang, though I hope they never do of course. Anyway, the administrator came and basically did nothing, giving more power behind their decision to not participate in class.

That was one of my most challenging classes not only because of those three students but because the rest of the class was so quiet and took forever to understand concepts. By the way, the ornery student eventually went back to alternative school because of his behavior in many classes.

Basically the office just wanted the problem to be someone else’s problem, someone else’s fault. If it was the kids fault, that meant they had more work to do. Or maybe he really believed most of the teachers were against the kids best interest, and so he had a moral obligation to save these kids from the big bad teacher. I don’t know. Maybe the kids here at Jump Start have too much control, but the same can be said about poorly run schools back home.

Sorry, I went off on a long rant there.

Dear breakfast place near my home,

Thank you for having delicious french toast with cream cheese in the middle. I like that I was able to choose my cream cheese flavor. Blueberry was quite delicious. And, your egg with cheese in the middle was good too even though the cheese tasted like Velveeta. I am very glad that you are close to my house with a large menu that is English as well as Chinese. I hope to see you often.

-Emily

As my mom and I know, the above entry copies the style of this girl Leah who has a great blog called ThxThxThx. You should check it out. Adrienne, can you please tell our friend Leah at Chapa that this blog reminds me of her, and that I think she would like it, and that I think students could copy this format when doing QuickWrites. They could say thanks to a reading strategy or a grammar rule or a character in a book. That’s an idea I had last year that never quite made it out of my own head and into someone else’s.

Dear internet,

Thank you for helping me get ideas from my head to other people far away in Texas.

Love,

Emily

Well, we got our internet hooked up today, so I’m off to buy a wireless router! I can’t wait to chat with you all! Adios.

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3 Responses to “Everything You Want to Know Plus One Long Rant about Teaching in Texas”

  1. Linda June 26, 2011 at 1:21 am #

    Great newsy blog Em! So glad that you all are out from behind the moon!!! I didn’t like feeling outta touch for what seemed like an eternity!!! Thanks for keeping so filled in on Carrie’s doings as well!
    Love ya’ll!
    Momma Linda

  2. Lynn Fichtner June 27, 2011 at 7:47 am #

    I soooooooo identify with your long rant! And your “Dear breakfast place” letter reminds me of the thank-you letters that Jimmy Fallon reads on his late night show. Funny stuff!

  3. Marian June 30, 2011 at 9:23 pm #

    Hi Emily,
    I’ve been reading your blog to Grandma! She loves it! Thanks for the interesting updates. I continue to look forward to your experience.

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