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Space

4 Mar

I still love my job because my students continue to be adorable and well behaved. I have five additional students now, though, so what was once tiring is now exhausting. Many of them have just turned four or will soon, and two are closer to age three. Besides the fact that there are usually at least five students trying to tell me about what their mom said or that they found the smallest piece of lint ever on the floor and would like me to inspect it to see if they should earn some kind of reward for having saved us all, this many students proves a challenge because of the lack of space.

A 12 x 10 room with 15 three and four year olds is one crowded place. I am teaching them a kindergarten curriculum, so we have circle time spots, centers areas, a reading corner, math books, phonics books, handwriting books, and we eat lunch in there. Fortunately, the Taiwanese are great at making the most of small spaces. When I feel like all is lost and there’s no extra space for me to put something like the huge box of new curriculum that just arrived, my boss will come in and say, “Okay, what if we put this shelf on top of that shelf, scoot your desk over like this, and then I’ll get you another shelf to go here?” We do it, and viola! It does fit. Never mind that the recycling box is virtually inaccessible or that little Leo’s floor spot is now under Samantha’s chair. It works. Leo is short.

The level I and my co-worker teach has become so popular that they offered us the opportunity to switch to larger rooms. We turned it down. If you’re a teacher, I’m sure you can agree that taking everything off your walls and out of your cabinets mid-year to set it all up again somewhere new is an almost impossible and definitely scary feat to perform in one evening after school. As you might remember, we have to put up butcher paper to cover the walls because of the unfinished plaster and years of tape stuck to them. Therefore when anything is removed from the walls here, the butcher paper has to be replaced or covered up in those exact spots to hide the tears and discoloration. Remember the years of having to wallpaper? I do, I remember watching my mom do it in several rooms, and though the bathrooms looked like little perfect explosions of flowers, we were all relieved when she hired that one lady to do the kitchen.

No matter which room I have, I know I would continue to feel cramped at work. I’ve never given much thought to claustrophobia, probably because I lived in Texas. As a warning, if you consider yourself claustrophobic now, do not come to Asia unless you plan to be rich and choosy with your work environment. It’s not just when the kids are around that I feel squished; it’s during my breaks because it’s these times when some people need quiet and space the most. Let me give you the privilege of understanding lunch time in a Taiwanese kindergarten.

When the year first started, the youngest class came to my room to eat with us. A few months in, the lunch set up was changed. I began taking my students and about eight chairs to a different class to eat with those students while the big kids brought in ten chairs and a table to my room. When nap time was over, they retrieved their furniture from my room. They often left at least a few chairs behind, though. And just one small chair can block an entire passageway in this type of environment. Recently the lunch situation has changed again. A class I’ve yet to mention comes to eat with us in our room, bringing an extra table and several chairs.

After the kids eat, it’s the teachers’ turn. Luckily our company lets us eat the school lunch for free, saving us a lot of money and time. At noon at least five of us are standing up in the kitchen eating from small metal bowls. Standing and eating may not sound that strange especially to my dad, but except for Chris, who somehow manages to get in there first every time and stand in the safe spot in front of the closet, everyone else is in someone’s way approximately seven times throughout their meal. Either you’re standing in front of the sink where Auntie is trying to wash the bowls between her trips to clean rooms, or you’re standing in front of the cabinet of bowls and need to move when someone needs a dish, or you’re in front of the fridge and someone needs garlic, or you’re standing in front of the door to the kitchen, and I don’t think I need to explain why that one is inconvenient, or you’re standing in front of the food itself. When I say you have to move, I mean you have to find a new spot entirely. And the only spot you can move to is often the very middle of the kitchen where someone else is eventually going to need to be.

So just imagine the smallest kitchen ever and that’s where the Auntie prepares the meals. She doesn’t cook them; they are delivered by a man wheeling a cart. As he glides down the hallway to deliver the food in the morning, he taps on the metal containers so students and teachers get out of his way since the hallway is, as you might’ve guessed, not that wide.

After eating, most teachers leave the school because other than the basement, there is nowhere for them to go. I’m lucky in that there are no kids napping in my room, so I can get some work done in there. The hard part is that I’m in Auntie’s way yet again. She’s trying to mop and such and I’m traipsing around trying to get things done. She’s very nice about it, even when the gunk stuck to my shoes is making footprints on the floor she just moped. I haven’t accidentally worn my inside shoes outside in like five months, so I’m not sure where all that dirt comes from, but anyway, she taught me how to wipe them on the mop. When she leaves, she doesn’t close the door, which is about two feet from the office, which quite frequently houses conversations or a screaming kid. I don’t know what the screaming is about since they always yell in Chinese (plus the upset ones are always newbies who don’t know much English yet), but I know that I need peace and quiet, so I go and close it. Five minutes later Auntie comes in again and wipes the tables down. She leaves the door open again, so I go and close it. I start working again on creating some lesson or cutting, and Auntie comes back in to mop again. She mops twice because, well, school floors are dirty. And when she exits, she leaves the door open. The kid isn’t crying anymore, so I don’t notice until he comes in and starts rummaging through our toys. I ignore him, but then he approaches my desk talking to me in a forlorn voice. Once again, I don’t know what he’s saying. So I just nod and say, “It’s okay” while using my herding skills to get him out of the room. I close the door right as he starts crying again. Oftentimes comforting someone has the opposite effect. Or maybe it was because I closed the door in his face? I’m not sure, but I’ve learned not to get all compassionate because the bandage has to be ripped off at some point. I can only pretend we speak the same language for so long.

Now it’s not that I’m complaining. These breaks keep me sane, and I feel extremely lucky. Who gets two hours off in the middle of the day? Who gets to be sane these days? The breaks and holidays in this company are gold. But, sometimes I go down to the basement where it’s dark, musty, and relatively quiet and dream of the wide open spaces in my previous life. Sometimes that Dixie Chick song starts playing. “Wide open spaces, room to make her big mistakes…” Ironically, it’s a lot easier for me to let go of mistakes here in cramped spaces than it was in the wide open spaces of Texas. I think people here are so much nicer and forgiving because if you don’t learn this skill early on, you’re going to start hurting people for being in your way all the time. And I bet the prisons here are even smaller than Auntie’s kitchen.

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Big or Small?

7 Oct

Thank you for this post Aunt Olivia:

________________________________________________________________________

Is it true that there is no scientific evidence that smaller sized classrooms are a better learning environment for students? An example was provided that classes in China and Japan are very large and those students achieve at a higher level.

Just wondering. Thanks

_________________________________________________________________________

I have just finished doing a bit of research on the benefits of smaller classrooms and the reasons why American students are consistently outperformed by students from almost anywhere else. Interestingly, Taiwan was mentioned in several articles since students’ math scores here are among the top in the world.

So, I will now sloppily paraphrase the research while intertwining it with my own ideas. The effect will be a bunch of conclusions you cannot trust.

It has been proven that smaller class sizes do increase test scores, but the class size must be between 13-17 students. You cannot just reduce from 28 to 25 and see any positive results. Also, smaller class sizes only help in the lower grades: K-2nd grade. And, the only real worthwhile increase was seen in minority students, not as much in white students. But, as Aunt Olivia says, many other successful nations have much larger class sizes. So, why do many school districts in the U.S. reduce class sizes for all grades, especially since it costs so much money?

I don’t know. I think they incorrectly believe it improves scores and/or they want to help their teachers survive.

I believe U.S. teachers are spread thin, and the culture in America does not support this job or this type of living. Here is what I mean: In Taiwan, people work long hours. They know how to balance their lives and stay healthy, though. I’m generalizing hugely, but overall most Taiwanese don’t go out drinking, especially not late, their diets are healthier on average, and they can get medical services cheaply with their national health insurance (including a chiropractor or massages from the doctor). It doesn’t seem like many people have a lot of free time, but when they do, they spend it doing valuable but relatively easy things. I wouldn’t describe them as sporty or say that their motto is “live life to the fullest”. Changes in Taiwan are handled smartly and efficiently, and people like to conform to standards and rules.

In the U.S. there are heated arguments and changes with growing pains. People avoid slowing down, eating right, and going to the doctor… or they take too much medicine or self-medicate with certain addictions like sugar, marijuana, etc.

So, when I picture a class of 38 kids here, or in Korea, I picture an organized unit where almost every kid wants to excel even if they fall asleep on their desk from exhaustion once in a while. The students are not as needy because the majority of families here take child rearing very seriously. The birthrate is .9 here because people only have kids if they have enough money and enough time.

When I picture a class of 38 kids in America, I imagine either a good teacher doing a damn good job, but being run down little by little because of the issues listed below or a teacher who has given up on doing things well and just let’s a certain amount of chaos reign, living in a sort of la la land, waiting for retirement. Or, I guess there’s also the teacher whose students don’t take a state test for that subject… and this teacher might be great or not great, but probably a little less stressed which means a better retention and sanity rate. Most of these scenarios sound unappealing for both the teacher and the student no matter if the class is large or small.

The four big issues that used to weigh on me (and I suspect others) as a teacher in America:

1.) Many students need to be taught how to act and convinced that it’s in their best interest to try hard and act decent (basic things that parents could be helping out with but often times aren’t). This is a prominent problem in a Title 1 school that receives government funding due to the high percentage of low income students. This was not a huge problem for me, but it does take more of your energy than you realize at the time.

2.) The curriculum is lacking or crappy (this did the most damage to my teaching experience).

3.) Pressure to focus on too many goals at once. The lowest achievers always win because of the push to not “leave them behind”, resulting in the average and gifted kids being left behind.

4.) Teacher psychological and/or health stress because of a general feeling of being pulled in too many directions and not succeeding at or completing all tasks.

From my observations and instinct so far, Taiwan does not have the above problems in the magnitude America does. So for America, the class size is critical in terms of teacher sanity. If we give teachers more students, we are just exacerbating what is already a stressed system even if it is not the class size that directly determines student success. Would you rather grade 140 or 200 two page essays every six weeks?

Today I almost punched in the digits 140 onto the copier; that is the number of students I had last year in Texas. I had very small class sizes. This year the teachers there have significantly more students per class due to the budget cut backs and growing numbers in general. Remembering, a couple seconds later, that I only need 10 copies at this new job was kind of like waking up at 6 am on Saturday morning and realizing you can go back to sleep indefinitely.

And, I won’t even grade that worksheet that I was photocopying. I will just be encouraging success, and helping each student achieve it right then and there because I can. I honestly think adding more students won’t change our class drastically unless the range of abilities is widened considerably. But if my curriculum was lacking, my students were starving for positive attention (or addicted to negative attention), or I myself was stressed out because of the pressure of it all, I’d have a hard time being a good teacher regardless of whether I had two students or 20. The reason my school will only put 16 students in my class at the most is because it is an expensive private school that can afford to believe in a small classroom size when teaching a new language at this young of an age. Also, our rooms are very small.

Disclaimer: Taiwan does have difficult students. In fact, there are some students at my current school who are considered difficult to teach, though it is NOTHING compared to the neglected or bitter students I encountered in Texas or that I hear about from my sister, a first grade teacher. My class, though, happens to have awesome students right now. I only have one student that wanted to test the rules over and over, and he’s mostly stopped. Thank goodness for my good luck; it’s helping revive my spirit.

It might be smart to provide all teachers with a thorough curriculum that matches state tests and real world skills. Since I was teaching all day, I didn’t have time to write quality curriculum; I tried to write it after school, but there were 30 other duties to do after school as well. I did succeed in writing a pretty decent writing curriculum and had a couple good strands of reading curriculum, but it cost me a bit of sanity and an active social life. Weaving both writing and reading together more is what I would’ve worked on during my fourth year if there had been a fourth year. The school leaders said, “The curriculum you have been given is the one used in the majority of school districts in Texas.” They were trying to justify its merit, but all I was thinking was, “How Sad!” My heart cries because now I know the frustration that this lack of foresight causes in the lives of the students who want to learn and teachers who want to help all over this huge state!

You know, I think I’ll add this to my list of my next year’s possible career goals: help Texas improve its 6th, 7th, and 8th grade language arts curriculum. CSCOPE just doesn’t cut it. Too bad the combination of the words “curriculum” plus “write” still sounds like crunching metal to my ears.

Photos of My Students and Classroom

2 Oct

My students are amazing! I’ve said this many times and will probably continue all year. Here are some examples of what it’s like teaching them: I sing, “Who is sitting nicely, nicely, nicely. Who is sitting nicely, nicely, who?” and they all scramble to their name spots on the floor, cross their legs, face the board, and put their hands in their laps. Their cute little faces make me so happy. If during the lesson something distracts them, and I need their attention again, I say, “One, two, three, all eyes on me” and the students say, “One, two, eyes on you.” They take pride in this little chant and it’s really working so far. I, too, feel very fortunate that we can be so productive with our time despite their young age.

Every morning we go over what day of the week it is, what the weather is like, what season it is, and what the date is, repeating the answers chorally in complete sentences. When I first introduced the concept of seasons last week, about half of the students really needed to know why it is fall time. Telling them that the leaves fall off the trees and it is getting colder is not enough. They needed to know why it gets colder. “Well, so uh, we are getting a little farther away from the sun, ” I tried. They all looked out the window, and tried to see if what I am saying appears to be true. “It’s still shining, but it’s not as close, so it’s not as hot.” This is all very difficult for me to explain, especially to the students whose English is not very good and are barely three years old. So, I begin to make facial expressions and hand gestures to explain that when the sun is very close, we are hot; I wipe my hand across my face and talk about how the sweat drips down our faces, and our shirts get sticky. Then I say that the sun is very close in the summer, pointing to the picture of the summer season. “Then, it starts to get colder, burrrrr,” I hold myself and shake a little. “This is because the sun is a little farther away, and it turns to fall and then winter.”

One of my students, Yi-chen, is especially interested in conversations like this. He’ll repeat it at any given chance. If we are eating snack and someone mentions that it is raining (which happens about every day… knifers or not, taxi drivers in Taipei make a lot of money), Yi-chen will say, “The sun is farther away?” He says it as if it’s a question because he wants me to confirm that he’s correct, but he also wants me to add to this concept; I can tell he’s not quite satisfied with simple answers. I find this absolutely adorable. Here is Yi-chen:

I took this on my phone, using the rear facing camera, so Yi-chen was looking at himself as this was taken.

Yi-chen

I took so many of Yi-chen because this day he was hanging around me for a long time which is a little uncharacteristic of him actually.

"Teacher Emily, look at me!"

In the photo below Miussia is acting out “hot” the way she’s seen me do in class. Miussia is a very happy, excited girl especially when it comes to kinesthetic activities. She excels at remembering dance moves and song lyrics.

Miussia

Daniel is very eager to participate and learn. He’s also a natural leader. The students love copying him and following him around. He also loves explaining what isn’t correct or isn’t allowed. For example, if I say we are going to all practice saying, “This is my grandmother,” Daniel will shout out, “Teacher Emily! No ‘sister'” He wants me to say, “Yes, that’s correct, we are not going to say, ‘This is my sister.'”  It’s gotten a little out of control, the “No  ____” game. When I tutored one of my students after school the other day, we were going over each letter and its sound, and he repeated the sound and then insisted on thinking of a random noise that the letter doesn’t make. I figured it doesn’t hurt and at least he’s paying attention.

Daniel is always wearing awesome clothes.

Marcus is only at school in the mornings, but he’s very smart. In the background of this photo, a little girl is lifting up her dress, but I don’t think that’s a JumpStart student, neither is the kid on the rocking horse.

Marcus

Below are Ethan and Miranda, two of the sweetest kids I’ve ever known. Both are very careful and detail oriented. Though shy, they are beginning to participate much more. Miranda can follow directions to the T, like the student who gets not just an A but a 100% on every paper (we don’t give grades btw).  Everyday it seems she is becoming more beautiful, too.  Ethan and I have a special bond that I cannot explain, except to say that we trust each other a great deal.

Ethan and Miranda

Ryan is one of the youngest, but he is very smart. Despite turning three only a week ago, he pays attention to things he creates like art or creations with manipulative blocks. He squeals with delight when he hears a song or rhyme that he thinks is funny.

Miussia and Ryan hug.

Below is Kai. His nickname is “Happy” for a reason- his smile will last for twenty minutes at a time. He learned all the numbers (better than my other students) as well as colors and animal names from television his parents said. He has begun to feel more and more comfortable speaking in English, and even repeats English words without me prompting him. I predict that because of his great memory, he’ll catch up to the other students’ English level at super speed.

Kai

Kai

Below is the most talkative and helpful girl at JumpStart. She’s the most talkative both because she likes to talk and because she knows English so well, better than she knows Chinese. The students are not allowed to speak Chinese at school, so sometimes they are quiet when they would otherwise be chatting away, not Lizzy though. She grew up in America though her parents are both Taiwanese. Her positive, energetic attitude is contagious.

Lizzy

Teacher Shelly is the Taiwanese teacher of Purple Class. She is amazing. The parents always want their kids in her class because she's so great with kids and with communicating to parents.

The Taiwanese don't eat cereal with milk, so I introduced it to them for our cooking class last week.

Purple Class Masterpieces and Artwork are hung up on the wall shown below. The assignment at top taught animal vocabulary as well as categorizing animals into one column and what they eat into another. I didn’t attempt to do a food chain idea, figuring they can figure that whole mind blowing mess out in third grade or something. At the bottom are handwriting pages and frog stick puppets with holes in the mouths for their fingers to act as the tongue and catch the attached fly. I’m not that into cutesy artwork, but we have to do something “Ahhhh” worthy to please the parents. This is the best I could do (because we all know all the kids did was color the dang frogs green).

The board is ready for my speel on Open House night

sticker charts are purple, behavior star chart yellow, vowel sounds chart pink

My desk. I can't even fit my legs under it when I'm sitting in that chair.

Students' cubies. The pink boxes hold their MPM Math manipulatives that go along with the several math books.

This is a felt letter wall I made for the students to begin to sort letters and form words.

Meeting Parents and Carrie’s Artwork

28 Sep

Carrie and I both came home from work tonight at 9pm. We had open house, and are extremely glad it’s over. I feel very good about how it went, though. Parents were smiling and attentive while I talked, and afterwards each one wanted to ask me specific questions, questions I found myself answering easily for the most part. And each parent had positive things to say like, “We are all really glad our kids are in your class.” and “My child is very happy in this class, thank you so much for all you do.”

So as stressed out as I’ve been about the unknown of this night, in retrospect, I was surprised to find that I was almost enjoying myself. My smile didn’t feel as fake as it did when I had to do this type of thing back home, and my armpits weren’t all sweaty. It helps that I have 10 students instead of 140 because I’m not furiously trying to keep everyone straight and learn names.

This is one of the main differences between teaching younger levels versus older: With younger students, you feel like a chicken with its head cut off during the lesson, not afterwards. Overall, I did not have chaos during my lessons as a 7th grade teacher. The chaos was in my head after school when I was trying to figure out how to write the curriculum, gather data, assess data, help every student, grade papers etc. But with this class, the path is more clear because there are less students and the curriculum is an excellent road map. But, because I cannot plan every lesson as carefully as I did when teaching just ONE lesson a day to older students, I am sometimes running from student to student trying to help them complete something.

Carrie is showing some of her artwork at the bar/ music venue I told you about in the other post. We brought the art up there last night, and on Friday (her birthday) there is an art party for viewing the art and hanging out. The coordinator of this event, our friend Narsesus, will also be promoting the artists in various ways (photographer is coming, he’s having it put in the newspaper, etc). We got there a little before some of the other artists, so Carrie was able to choose where she wanted to hang hers. She did an awesome job with the presentation of her pieces (it helps that they are dynamic, 3D creations), and when we go on Friday, I’ll take some photos for you. I also have photos of our classrooms, and I’ll post these this weekend.

My Students Rock

16 Sep

My students are ADORABLE. They listen to me, hug me, and play well together. We learned a song for the school awards assembly, and they were so cute preforming it today. I can’t believe I can even type these words on a Friday night at ten pm. My seventh graders were awesome, and I loved them, too, but I was so exhausted on Fridays that in order to keep my sanity, I couldn’t think about them for one more second after walking out of that building. The stack of papers to grade would haunt me all weekend.

I finally feel sane about how my last job felt like a disease. The post-traumatic-like stress that I was having is passing. I feel good. When this year started, my natural reaction was to feel stressed and overwhelmed about the anticipated duties, but those fears never materialized. Sure, I’m tired and there are many responsibilities popping up all the time: PTA (which is really open house), bi-weekly reports, home reading program, etc, but overall, I feel good. I hope my students feel good too.

Photos and details of our jobs to come!

Work Update

5 Jul

I’m at work waiting for Teacher Sara to get off work so we can go get massages. Sara is her code name which may or may not have anything to do with the friend I miss back home. Sara is a very friendly Taiwanese girl who will work in the same classroom as me this coming year. I told her I wanted to get a massage, and she suggested we go together. She gets off work an hour and a half later than me, though, so I cut up construction paper for the choo choo trains my class will make tomorrow, punched out on my time card, and now I’m sitting at my laptop in a teeny tiny chair that says “Cherry”.

I had a new student today. He fit right in, crying only once when he went down to the big room for break and stood among the organized chaos of kids running around throwing balls, bouncing around on top of  balls, climbing the jungle gym, etc. I can definitely see how it would be overwhelming to newcomers especially considering the sound echos in there and it does a number on your ears.

I noticed that when a new child joins the school there is a lot of preparing that goes on. This is the same at any early childhood or elementary institution I’m sure. Since I’m a substitute right now and everyone else had to prepare his things, it wasn’t really difficult for me. The child has to have a new pair of inside shoes, several changes of clothes (they get their shirt changed on Tuesdays and Thursdays upon returning from the park… they also get their hair blow dried at this time because heaven forbid they have to wait 15 minutes until the sweat dries), a cup with a lid, a sleeping bag with pillow, a toothbrush and toothpaste and cup for brushing teeth time after lunch, and a backpack. Then the school arranges a spot for these items of course as well as putting the child’s name in the following places: on the floor for circle time, on the chair, on a spot on the floor near the bathroom, in the cubby where the backpack is kept, on all items like the toothbrush paraphernelia brought from home, on the bi-weekly report folder he takes home, on the sticker chart that is hung on the wall, on a clear envelope which holds two library books chosen by the student every other week, and in several other places I haven’t discovered yet I’m sure.

Today I had two students wearing a surgical mask because, I presume, they were sick. We had to put it off and on for meal times which there are three of usually, but today there were four because it was a student’s birthday. It was not one of my students, but he came into my class with a huge piece of cake with strange (to me) toppings on it. One of the Taiwanese girls (Chinese Teachers we call them if you remember) told me this is tradition, don’t worry, and that I need to hold the cake and pose with this student for a couple photos. I did. Then, he came back later with candy for each of my students and a piece of cake (a different kind) for me.

I have received some really nice compliments from a couple parents who have already brought back the bi-weekly report paper. One mom filled up the whole comments box saying that her daughter is very happy every evening and that she talks about the stories I read at school. “Seriously, she has told us The Gingerbread Boy 5-6 times already,” she wrote. She also said she’s very happy her daughter is learning a lot at school just like before with her regular teacher. I saw this mom after school today, and she explained that she’d read her daughter that same story before in the library, but she would never remember it until recently when I read it. This mom is, obviously, very nice and easy to communicate with. The parents speak varying amounts of English it seems, but this lady speaks it very fluently. I can’t remember why, but maybe one of her parents spoke English or she lived overseas or something.

I also received compliments last week from the school director here and the guy who hired me. He said all the people at this school have been saying good things about me, including the Chinese Teachers. He watched me read a couple stories to two classes on Friday when the teacher of one class had to leave early. That class is particularly difficult, and my school director said I did great. I kind of got the feeling I was told to go downstairs and teach these two classes so that they could spy on me, but maybe I’m paranoid.

Carrie had her first day of work today. They had a long term substitute position open up at the last minute, and they really wanted her to do it, so they asked her to do this instead of the part time 8 week position at Head Start, an afterschool English program. She was very happy about this because she’ll be put on salary starting today instead of having to wait until the new school year starts and because she might get two weeks off before the new school year. Or, if she decides to work, she’ll only work a couple hours in the mornings.

An interesting thing about her substitute position is that she’s been told the students have very poor behavior and she should be ready to be very strict. She went in with three rules and a discipline system that is working well so far. Also interesting is that her class had been quarantined. Some of the students had gotten some kind of sickness that is severe enough for them to want to keep the class away from the rest of the school. During break time and nap time the students have to stay in their room. The quarantine is over now, though, so Carrie only experienced this for one day. But the whole reason she is subbing is because the regular teacher of that class moved back to the U.S. upon becoming so sick she couldn’t stay here. I’m really not sure what that means or what the sickness is, but it all sounds pretty scary. It is Carrie’s third day of this job tomorrow, and she hasn’t died, so don’t worry. And she doesn’t plan to move back either, so don’t get excited. No emotions people, play it cool.

I wrote the preceding info yesterday. I have a few updates: there was another birthday today, a girl who is not in my class, and the EXACT same ritual happened. Second, today it made a little sense to blow dry their hair and change their shirt after park time since it was a very hot and, of course, humid day… either that or because I am beginning to think like the Taiwanese.

I have noticed that I do fit into this culture quite nicely with regards to how they like to plan the logistics of things. The people here like to develop precise routines and are meticulous about cleanliness. I thrive in a highly organized work environment though I appreciate it being fairly relaxed and stress-free within that organization. I am also kind of detailed when I clean. Dad, I think I got that from watching you bend over every five minutes, despite your bad back, to pick up a piece of lint off the floor.

When it comes to my free time, however, I avoid too much structure. I rarely know where I’m going to eat more than 5-10 minutes before it happens. I dislike telling you when I’ll wake up on my day off or even when I’ll actually put clothes on and leave the house. So try not to invite me to something  that begins before 2 pm. Thanks.

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.