Having been at a Taiwanese public school for almost 5 months now, I have many observations of the differences in teaching here vs in the US. My main observation that is comforting is that students are students and public schools are public schools no matter where you are. Let me explain.
One of the major differences about school here is that students have a home room (think elementary school in the states) they stay with the same home room for consecutive years at a time. As it was explained to me the home room changes after elementary school and middle school. Each grade at our school has an A class and a B class. For example for my US history class I teach both 11A and 11B. I have heard rumors that the A students and B students are a way for the school to track them meaning brighter students in A versus B. I have not officially verified whether or not this is true and there are a lot of times that my B students perform better than my A students. It doesn’t matter to me as I am not a fan of tracking and think that all students deserve a chance to learn.
Another difference is that throughout the school day students, as is typical in Asia, stay in their classrooms and the teacher’s rotate to the different rooms having a home base in a large office full of cubicles. One thing I find amusing is that there are 10 minute passing periods, when most periods the only ones moving are the teachers. This makes the school day feel long, but it is longer. Students get to school by 7:40AM when home room starts and 1st period begins at 8:10 till the end of 7th period at 4:10. I actually have a classroom, so I do not travel to the different classrooms and the students come to me like they did in the states, but my AP classes are considered electives or optional, so students do split into different classes for some occasions. I also have a cubicle in the teacher’s office, so I often find myself split between two desks. Inevitably, I always have the scissors, paper clips, papers, etc… in the other desk when I am looking for it!
Students are still very much the same. I do notice that education seems to be valued and more students will do their homework than in the states, but that does not mean that everyone does their homework. The most validating part about teaching here is what is validating about teaching in the states, the students. It is interesting to me how students seem so familiar with the idea of teachers’ lecturing. My curriculum and style as a teacher is very much anti-lecture and interactive. I cannot begin to number the amount of students who have thanked me for making class fun and the “fun and interesting projects” that we do in class. My colleague told me a great story that illustrates this point. Apparently, one day a few seniors came into his class and saw the juniors US history textbook and said, “Ush, I hated that class last year!”, to which the student replied,”Really? It is one of my favorite classes!”. I also find it humourous that the students call it “ush” think rush without the “r”. Students, in my opinion are the main reason you do this job. The pressure on these students to do well in school is even more intense then what I experienced in the states. If students get average grades in some cases their families will view them as a failure. I had a student burst into tears one day because he got a B on an essay. It is hard to understand that mentality because in the US a B is a grade that most students would be very happy with. It really starts to put into context all those news stories you hear about students studying all hours of the night and going to night school to cram for their exams.
Also infamously Asian, is that the students clean the school. One of my co-workers joked that is why the school is so dirty. It is not what I would call dirty, but it is not what I would call clean either. Everyday before 7th period there is 20 minutes built into the school day called “clean up” time. Each student is designated a different clean up job in their home room or around the school. For some students it takes a few reminders that they need to actually use the broom and not hit their friends with it 😁 There are times when it seems like we need a spring cleaning, but I also think it is part of the experience of teaching in Taiwan.
School lunch is also different. Students are served buffet style in different locations. Elementary students eat in their classrooms and are allowed to take what they want to eat. There is a make shift lunch room set up near the teacher’s office where students all bring their own lunch containers, usually metal bowls, to pick what they want to eat for lunch. and then some sort of protein. It always includes rice and some kind of vegetable. Not all students get school lunch, many bring their own from home or pick up something at the convenience store on campus. Yes, you heard that correct there is a convenience store on campus. There is a cafeteria next to the convenience store where you can get box lunches. I admittedly like the school lunch that comes with rice, a meat (fish, chicken, beef), cabbage, and sometimes egg or other vegetables it depends on what the cooks decide on. It is also ridiculously cheap, $50NT which is less than $2.00 US dollars.
It is finals on Monday & Tuesday, so we have been really busy, but Thursday marks the end of the semester and the beginning of the long-awaited winter break! There are 20 more days of school in Taiwan. We had one three-day weekend for the observed New Years day, but other than that we have had 8 straight weeks of school, while the states had their multitude of vacations. It is nice to go on vacation at the end of the semester and we have almost an entire month of vacation for the winter break, which coincides with Chinese New Year. The blog may go dormant for a couple of weeks while we go exploring some of the islands in the Philippines, but guaranteed I will update you when I can on the adventure.
I do have a half done blog post about the almost 6 month mark of living in Taiwan… I will try to finish it this weekend!
Love and miss you all!