One Part Teacher, Four Parts Clown

I’ll warn you right from the start: this post is a bit of a rant.

I’ve been working now for 9 months as an English teacher at a cram school (known as a bushiban) in Taiwan. There are many of these schools all around the island as the demand for learning the language is high. The company I work for has a particular way of teaching and when I arrived last August with my boyfriend we both had to undergo a week of training – which I’m thankful for since I had never taught English or young children before. The main focus is on learning while having fun. There is massive emphasis placed on enjoyment during the lessons, and about 80% of my job is playing games with the kids. Sounds great right? Yeah… not always.

Don’t get me wrong, I like the overall idea of the students getting to have a good time. As I’ve said before in a previous post they work extremely hard here and are literally at school all day (cram schools are open after normal school hours and only close at 9pm). I definitely think it’s important for them to have some time to blow off steam and enjoy themselves while they learn. It does make my job a little frustrating at times though.

There are no two ways about it – teaching English here is a business. The students (or more specifically their parents) are the clients and the most important thing is keeping them happy and their money rolling in. This means that, while I am here to teach, the main part of my job is essentially entertaining. There is a delicate balancing act between helping the kids learn and making sure they enjoy themselves so that they go home and tell their parents how much they love coming to our school. Some days I feel more like a clown than a teacher.

If you think that the kids don’t really have much say in how things are run, think again. There have been instances at my school where children have complained about teachers not being “fun enough” and that class has subsequently been given to someone else (we get paid by the hour by the way – fewer classes means a lower salary). It hasn’t happened to me but there have been times when kids have been particularly hard to please. There’s nothing quite like spending hours of your time off coming up with games and activities for a class, only to be told by some snotty 8 year old that they hate you, you’re boring and they prefer another teacher in the school (with all due respect kiddo – get bent).

Another thing that really gets my goat is the way the kids are taught to study English. Of course grammar rules are important, but the extent to which they learn to regurgitate the language is borderline robotic. A certain amount of rote learning is of course expected, but because of the astounding importance placed on test scores here the students focus more on simply repeating phrases without really understanding the context. As one of my colleagues once said: they are excellent at learning about English, but putting it into practice is another story. Of course we as teachers try our best to provide them with a sense of setting, and encourage fluency as much as possible, but with the immense pressure to perform rather than actually teach it can be almost impossible.

Despite all the discouraging aspects of this job I’m still glad I’m doing it. It’s never easy – don’t let anyone tell you different – but I’ve certainly grown as a person. I’ve discovered a lot about myself, one thing being that my desire to remain childless has tripled. Ha!


4 thoughts on “One Part Teacher, Four Parts Clown

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  1. My experience isn’t quite the same as yours, the parents are more interested in scores where I work so ‘fun’ is something we have to try to work in whilst still meeting targets. But the pressure to perform is true, if we lose students and the numbers in the clashes drop top low, then they’ll be closed and the remaining students added to another person’s class. As you say, it’s a business and business concerns come first.

    I also find the extent of the rote learning (and overuse of outdated stereotypes) frustrating: “What is the mother doing?”, “The mother is cooking dinner.” – Who will say ‘the mother’? I think the only time I have ever referred to a mother as the mother is when I’ve been discussing a story or movie. And also, why can’t ‘the father’ do the cooking?! I am sick of all the girls in the books I teach wanting to be models, pop stars and nurses and the boys wanting to be computer engineers, pilots and doctors! I try to subvert this at every opportunity I get, but it’s deep.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah scores are also really important at my school, to the point where the children are basically fed answers sometimes. If they score lower than 70% then they redo the test/exam. It’s crazy.

      The stereotypes are very annoying. Also having to teach kids that “pretty” equals a white, blond Disney princess and “ugly” equals a man with crooked teeth is all kinds of fucked up in my opinion. Sigh.


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