Sunday, 03 June 2007

Teaching English

My birthday (May 30) fell on a Wednesday, which is a particularly busy work day, so it didn't even feel like a birthday. That being said, I'm 32 now. Feels strange. As a child I'd always wanted to be an international sports person. I was never going to be big enough to be a Springbok rugby player (although, in recent years there have been players smaller and lighter than me, but that's where natural talent takes over - something I also didn't have oodles of) but had dreams of perhaps being a decent middle to long distance runner.
As things turned out, I was just middling (didn't practice nearly as much as I should of) but the potential was there. So then, as I hit 32 I realise, had I gone down that route I would now be at the end of that kind of career. Moving on to new things, as it were. Funny how at 32 I find myself in that position anyway.

Having spent six years in Naval Intelligence and the last four and a half years teaching English in Taiwan (ironically not much different from my previous profession, as the level of English I'm confronted with on a daily basis is basically the same) I find myself at a cross-roads. I really have to give some thought about my future and were I'm heading with all this. Serious teaching in Taiwan (for foreigners) is somewhat of a contradiction in terms. It is possible to teach English at elementary, junior high and senior high schools, but in all honesty, it's not much different from the Buxiban gigs. Sure, you don't have to clown around and act the entertainer quite as much, but EFL teaching is as far removed from "real" English teaching as a jog in the park is from running a marathon. Also, it seems you have less flexibility and you're actually able to make more money with more freedom teaching buxiban.
The other alternative is getting a University job. Now I know guys who have these jobs. They sound awesome. Paid vacations. Few hours a week. Tertiary level students (which implies a higher standard - but the reality is quite different). However, before you're even considered you need an MA and it's best to have a PhD or D Litt et Phil. Also, the Taiwanese Ministry of Education doesn't recognise any degrees done by correspondence. Therefore, for purposes of teaching at a university in Taiwan, UNISA (Ironically an internationally recognised university with highly rated Professors - some of which are at the top of their fields internationally - and courses, as well as some distinguished Noble Prize winning alumni. Amongst them, Nelson Mandela.) is out.
In any event, if normal school teaching in Taiwan (for foreigners) is way removed from the realms of anything considered normal teaching, teaching EFL at a university is even further removed. So far in fact, it approaches the realm of sheer fiction. The Taiwanese education system is terribly flawed at every level and is particularly Confucian bound towards studying and passing tests (know the answer, but not the why) which are all of the multiple choice variety. In my opinion, South African students have a valid point in calling such tests monkey puzzles, as opposed to multiple choice. Also, at university level, students are expected to pass (seeing as they passed the entrance examinations in their final year of senior high) and regardless of cheating, class attendance and an actual grasp of the material, are passed. Especially in English courses, which are not considered all that important, apart from the fact that they are generally so remedial as to be absurd. It is hard to grasp how someone who has spent more than a decade studying a language still has a problem answering a simple question such as, "Hello. What's your name?" or "What day is today?" My favourite is asking an "advanced student, "When is your birthday?" I have encountered third year "English Major's" who have had difficulty with these questions...

So, a university job? I don't think I even want one. So, as far as teaching as a profession is concerned, I have two options. One, stay in Taiwan. Two, leave.
With option one, it seems the best avenue is finding a reputable small private language school that's dedicated towards actual language learning (as opposed to baby sitting), cares about it's students, teachers and Taiwanese teaching assistants. Seems easy enough, right? Wrong. In Taiwan this is about as hard to find as the proverbial needle in a haystack.
With option one there is also the alternative of going to work for one of (the few in southern Taiwan) adult centred language schools. This is actually not a bad option as most of the students are serious (they've grown up and realised that their pay and job prospects in an ever shrinking local job market that has become increasingly competitive can be bettered enormously by simply being English proficient) and wish to improve on a base they already have.

As for option two... Well, there are possibilities. Once I've finished my teaching accreditation (post graduate certificate in education - PGCE) through UNISA the field is open. Ironic that the Taiwanese MoE doesn't recognise it, but Canada, England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand do. Then I'll be able to teach in any of those countries, and qualified South African teachers are rather in demand. Another irony, as Taiwan isn't overly keen on us, and are slanted towards Canadians and Americans, even if they're from Quebec (French speakers) or first language Spanish speakers. It's an oddity within the Taiwanese mind, which is not always particularly logical. I have worked with French Canadians and Spanish speaking US citizens that have needed to ask me to explain grammar to them before they've gone into a class to educate to future leadership of this glorious isle. Have a laugh. I often do.

That said, some other options do remain. Once may Chinese improves beyond the proficiency level of a five year old there will be more commercial opportunities back home as well as in Taiwan/China. There are also other opportunities I'm loath to discuss, as they're still in the "I'm thinking about it" stage.

Remember the halcyon type school described above? The kind where language teaching is actually taken seriously and they genuinely care about students and teachers alike, as opposed to being money grubbers content with whitey acting the clown and entertaining the wee ones? Well, it seems by pure chance, some friendly contacts and divine intervention that I've found one. I've been for an interview (which went well) and will be observing some teaching tomorrow and doing a demonstration of my abilities on Tuesday. If all goes well I'll be starting at one of the truly good language schools at the end of August and thus end a four and a half year career of what can only be described as glorified baby sitting.

With all that said, I must say that I have had some wonderful students over the last few years. Hard workers that take it seriously and like to have a bit of fun. Little boys and girls that play the games and learn and who have improved enormously in the time I've taught them. These little gems have made it more than worthwhile. And the fact that I've been able to live and experience a different lifestyle and culture as made it all a wonderful experience.
It's just that when you start reaching a certain age you start wondering, "What am I doing and where am I going?" There comes a point where playing sticky ball games with 5 year olds, making funny faces and being pointed at for being an oddity in a monochrome society isn't enough anymore.


Elise said...

I can SO understand you feeling!!! This place is fun for a short while, but when you reach this moment of awakening, you're ripe for a change. Good luck in your next step!
Your baby is adorable btw!

Bismarck in Tainan said...

Thanks, Elise.
It's like they say, a change is as good as a holiday, and I NEED a holiday!!

BOKBAL said...


Bismarck in Tainan said...

Hi Oom Hentie...
Nee, ek het nie enige planne om te vaai nie. Ek geniet nog Taiwan, maar die tipe skole waar n mens meestal werk is soms verveelig.
Wil maar net iets meer interresants doen. Ek het n paar opsies en ek kyk maar daarna, maar alles nog in Taiwan.
n Probleem met terug SA toe kom is "reverse culture shock." n Mens bly lank genoeg weg en dan is dinge by die huis nie meer "normaal" nie.

Eientlik beplan ons om oor n jaar te kom kuier en dan sal ons sien hoe lyk dinge in SA. Wie weet? Dalk besluit ons om terug te keer...