We’ve been teaching for just over 6 weeks now, so it’s about time we posted something about what our actual reason for coming to Taiwan.
Almost everyone has asked us what the children are like. The short answer is that children are the same everywhere. Some of them are wonderful, some of them are an absolute nightmare. There are students who are excellent at English, some who work very hard, and some who would probably rather put out their own eyes than be in the classroom. Naturally, every teacher has their favourites, and often this is very much due to the teacher’s personality. One teacher in the Changhua school tends to really like the more cocky students, while another finds it rude and disrespectful. Over time, you learn to just accept that everyone has different preferences, and not to get offended when someone says they hate a student you like, or vice versa.
The schools themselves, despite both being Neurolink schools, are quite different. Each school manager expects different things from their teachers, and this creates quite different environments and work ethics. In general, Neurolink has a very good work ethic, and good communication, and the teachers are treated well by the rest of the staff. However, that said, new teachers are expected to fit in with the schools’ systems, and this is often not negotiable. For example, if a lesson is due to finish at 15:50, but you have finished all the work in the course guide by 15:40, the children are not allowed to leave early, and the teacher must fill those remaining 10 minutes with material. What this material is, is not really important, and teachers have been known to show Youtube videos or play Uno – as long as the students are speaking English, just about anything goes.
Naturally, every school has its problems, and there are definitely days where we have wanted to just throw a course guide at someone and go home early. Some days the admin work is horribly disorganised, and you are only given your classes folder 20 minutes before you are supposed to teach them, and other days you just have something thrust upon you with no explanation or advice, and you are expected to make it happen. The easiest way to deal with the former, is to hover annoyingly in the main office until you get what you need. The latter is something you just accept, and while it has caused more than enough stress and frustration. generally the school staff are equally anxious that everything should go smoothly, so even if you screw it up, someone will pick up the slack. Obviously, not screwing up is ideal, but there is usually a fall-back smoke and mirror show in case of emergencies.
The school system was a little overwhelming at first. There are a lot of aspects to keep track of when planning a lesson: do the students have a spelling test? Which words are being tested? What is the priority for this lesson? Are there flashcards or props you can use to teach the concepts? Worksheets? Reviews? Progress checks? The list goes on. It can be very easy to forget something, or to run out of time and have to rush the book work. This is why lesson plans are strongly encouraged, because they double as a checklist to make sure you get everything done. Once you get into the routine of lesson planning, and wrap your head around the system, it gets easier by the day.
Finally, one of the highlights of teaching at Neurolink is the STEM programme. There has been a pretty speedy move away from the traditional drill school mentality, and the Neurolink schools are introducing an “English in context” approach, using science, technology, engineering and maths (hence, STEM). Unfortunately, this also means more work for the teachers, who have to plan science lessons, experiments, activities, crafts and extra material for the class, but while many teachers seem to dread science lessons, we both really enjoy the variety and the break from the daily routine. Plus, the teachers can learn useful skills while teaching the students – like how to make ice-cream with salt and ice, or how to make jumping origami frogs. Ok, perhaps not the most useful skills, but certainly a lot more fun than verb conjugations!