What is Right with Teaching English in Taiwan!

Rebecca Grace Kehl – Lifestyle Editor

An article on what’s great about teaching English in Taiwan – or anywhere else in the world for that matter – to have a change in perspective to value yourself and your job.

Photographer: Ponny
Photographer: Ponny Chen 陳婉華

I’ll begin with an aside, a reminder, a light in which to cast the rest of the article:
First and foremost, we are not our jobs (imagine if you lost yours).  As much as society would like to put you in socio-economic categories, it’s simply not the start and finish to who you are.
The more deeply individuals integrate this, the greater the likelihood of finding freedom away from whatever they’re currently immersed in that isn’t who they are or what they’d like to do with this precious time – and the closer they’ll be to finding and walking the path that truly reflects their innermost.  And isn’t that the point?

So the last time someone, a very polite gentleman and fellow mambo dancer from Nicaragua asked me what I was doing in Taiwan, I beamed, shouting over the salsa music, “I am living here!”

I guess there was a bit of silence after, so I continued, “I have a life here. I work, I play, I do the hobbies I wish to do, and get on my way to what I want in the future,” (or something to that extent).

Still some pausing and withholding expressions on his part.  I guess people want to know. Ha ha…

I continued more seriously, “I don’t feel we should identify too strongly with how we make money. I’m not my position at work; it’s not my whole life. There are so many other things that I do in a day!”

He reflected for a moment and smiled, “You’re a rebel.”

Ha ha… It was a cheerful moment, a double win, I suppose, where it could be laid to rest.  T’was a moment everyone should experience, when one needn’t be sized up for what ones does, claiming neither the identifications that pump us up nor brings us down; neither drawing extra positive nor negative attention to us.  The character and soul that we are shines on, unentangled.  Till the moment we clock in again the next day. 😉 Ho ho…

But without knowing the details of a person’s mode of income, education, status, position… let’s see the magic within them and feel the magic within ourselves!  Eat, dance, and be merry!

Back to the article:
I arrived in Taiwan around my 30th birthday after a multi-destination trip. From wintry Canada I went to central Mexico, coastal Spain, and finally the Philippines where I roasted. By then I spent and was spent.  My dad, who was living in the Philippines at the time, suggested I take the short flight to Taiwan and teach English to get financially sufficient again and continue practicing Mandarin. Excellent idea!

I looked around a fair bit online beforehand and was introduced to a school by a teacher who noticed me on Facebook.  She was going back to the USA and was helping the director at the anqinban 安親班 (word for ‘after school care’ in Taiwan) to find a replacement for her.  It was a better school, offering back to back hours, Monday to Friday, starting in the afternoon so we could have the mornings to ourselves. There was a solid curriculum, and weekly lesson plans were prepared for us. There was training given once a year, they were a supportive staff, the hourly rate was higher to start than anywhere else I’d seen for a similar position in Taiwan, and there was no Chinese teacher in the class.  (Think of the money schools could save by hiring teachers who can run classes by themselves, and pay them more. This creates incentive to not only complete the contract, but sign up for another year or two and keep the same classes if all has been going well thus far. Everyone wins, including the children, who are supposed to be the primary concern.)

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Lucky duckies!

Time went on outside of the classroom of course, and I bumped into expats of many backgrounds who had lived more than a couple years in Taiwan.  The first question was usually what I was doing here.  I noticed a negative slant coming from some of them regarding English teaching as a job. They seemed to think it was nothing to be cheery about.  A few of my (ex-)English-teaching friends also felt bad about themselves for still teaching English after a number of years.  I thought it very strange!  Aren’t people happy to be abroad in a place such as this where it’s extremely safe, the cost of living is lower than most western countries, and they can take advantage of the learning environment?  Are they okay with the salaries and hourly rates?  Are they able to find a nice degree of autonomy, both individually and financially?

I guess the most important question is, “Do you like what you are doing?”
Because for a teacher who is happy spending the time I spend with the children I spend it with, I was at odds with the reactions.

Now, teaching English, per say, isn’t my raison d’être, but touching the lives of my students is.  I think touching the heart of anyone is my reason for living.  I love hearts that are open and feeling loved, faces that are touched and smiling.  It may not be as important what I’m doing when that happens.  No matter where I am or who I’m with, I tend to look for what is underneath, what the heart of the matter is, where this person truly wants to go, and what the struggle and obstacle is. That goes for me too – as an English teacher, I have to do a fair bit of self-nurturing so I am emotionally resilient and super patient for my students.  Teaching English is not just teaching English.  It is bringing an energy into the classroom to create an atmosphere that is easy to direct children in, can be fun

An indirect aspect of teaching English for some could be, like any job, a stepping stone from one side of the river to the other. From one opportunity to another. But while we’re at it, let’s bring ourselves to our jobs! Let’s do it for real!  How can there be shame in that?  However, if the feeling of disappointment persists, it may be saying: do something else, go elsewhere.  So get on with it then, after your contract. 😉

What’s the stigma of teaching English?

I talked to a few people who’ve lived and taught in Taiwan for more than a decade to get a broader picture and I’ll lay out the downsides here.  But do join the discussion in the comments section below. WE would love to hear from you. OK! Let’s break’r down:

  1. a last resort job  (What if you’re a trained teacher? And that’s the reason you came?)
  2. sketchy hours  (Can be. That is the cue for schools to offer programs that more teachers would prefer.)
  3. feeling trapped in teaching as it’s one of the few jobs native English speakers can do  (But what about all those ex-teachers, or non-teachers, who’ve found something else? Restaurant owners, dance instructors, freelance writers, corporate trainers, beer importers, basketball coaches, massage therapists, DJs… If they can, you can.)
  4. when the pay is good, it creates a quality of life that is hard to walk away from  (Sounds like a high-class complaint. 😉 Keep’em coming.)
  5. seen as low-skilled labor  (Gosh. Funny that people enroll in Education for 4 years! And still don’t know how to maintain good classroom management.)
  6. teaching low level English may not feel fulfilling  (Is there some art form you’ve always wanted to take? How can you bring in more fun to your life?)
  7. work environment may be dull  (How can you spice it up? music? games? teach other skills to the kids? decorations? wear fun clothing, makeup, glasses? Haha… it’s endless how we can have more fun in life!)
  8. it’s just a business, and you are one pawn in it (Maybe, maybe not. Freewill choice was given to all…)
  9. there may be some problems of prestige happening between the Chinese teachers to the foreign teachers, especially considering the pay gap (Imagine getting paid less than a foreigner in your country of origin? Despite their advanced education?)
  10. teaching kids can be draining or frustrating  (What do you need to do daily to increase your energy?)
  11. the pay rate hasn’t budged much in the past 15 years  (Like many other jobs in Taiwan and around the world. Servers?  Tip: If you can do private tutoring, you can choose your rates and make your own program/hours.)

With all the “bad” out of the way, here’s…

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AWESOME KIDS!

What’s RIGHT with English-teaching overseas:

  1. perfect if you don’t want to dive into a career yet
  2. perfect if you just want to make fast cash while having fun with kidlets
  3. perfect if you want to travel and experience other cultures, but not break the bank
  4. perfect if you want to attend other classes and courses of interest, and make new friends
  5. perfect if you are good with kids and wish to leave a positive impact on young souls (imagine the good you can do!)
  6. perfect if you are a trained teacher and want work experience (in some place exotic!)
  7. perfect for learning the local languages
  8. perfect for getting an ARC (Alien Resident Certificate)

The pay is decent:

The typical starting wage is 600 NTD per hour.
As of this publishing date according to Ecosia.org, that’s $26.24 CAD,  $19.60 AMD,  $26.14 AUD,  $28.26 NZD,  £15.84 GBP, and €18.51 EUR. Not bad, not bad.

Tips to help you enjoy your classroom hours more:

  • Classroom Management! You gotta be a tough in the beginning and teach them the daily routine so they know exactly what to do when they enter the class. Kids need to know your boundaries, they need to know what is okay and what’s not so they aren’t confused and scattered. Confusion isn’t comfortable, so provide them good boundaries. It’s really useful and a saving grace for us adults too, to get feedback on what we’re doing right so we can keep doing that. Say what you like about a person, what you like about what they’re doing.
  • Live close to where you work. If you live far and cannot move, have a book you can read on the bus, or audios to listen to while you drive. If you use a scooter, I’m sorry, I have no suggestions… 🙂 Pay attention in traffic? lol
  • Cultivate a feeling of gratefulness for what you do have already in your job. It will remind you of all the good things in life, and soften your heart generally speaking.
  • Have a peaceful practice so you’re peaceful and centered entering the workplace. This can be meditation, prayer, yoga, or sitting still in nature in contemplation. You can do meditation with the kids in the last 10-15 minutes of the day, too! Some will like it! The others who don’t want to can read, color, draw, or finish their homework quietly.
  • Have a life outside of the job for greater fulfillment. The more fun you have in your life, the more joy and fun you bring to your students. It’s way easier to learn and integrate English-language content when you are buoyant and sometimes silly.

So, how do you actually have a change in perspective to value yourself and your job? Begin by congratulating yourself!

You have…

  • taken a huge leap of faith at some point in your life by traveling to and living in another country! This is a feat that many of your contemporaries or countrymen and women are afraid to do. You did it!
  • broadened your cultural worldview and maybe linguistic horizons!
  • made new friends!
  • taken lessons in something you have always wanted to do!
  • (reflect on the past and fill in these blanks about how far you’ve come and what you’ve done since your journey here that perhaps teaching English has allowed you)
  • _____________________________________________________________________________
  • _____________________________________________________________________________
  • _____________________________________________________________________________

I know some people who have met their spouses while being an English teacher! I know some married couples and singles who have traveled the world and taught a foreign language as a means to stay there! Talk about opening doors!

So, what I’m writing about could be universal; we could be talking about any job here. The most important thing is, do you like it? Are you getting paid what you want to be? Are you treated well? Is it what you want to be doing right now for your profession?  These are personal questions that only you can answer.

For the people who still feel there is something wrong with teaching English (in Taiwan), yes, there are certainly some contexts in which teaching would be wrong for you:
You are grossly underpaid; your students are incurably disrespectful; the management or your immediate colleagues micromanage you or work against you; your English sucks; you can’t teach; and you simply don’t like kids (or learning adults).  Do yourself and everyone a favor, and get to know yourself and how you’d like to spend this life, because it isn’t all about the paycheck that you get each month. It’s not.

Cheers and congrats to all of you who have read this far!  Do leave your thoughts, suggestions, and encouragement below in the comments section!

Rebecca Kehl

Canadian expat enjoying the beauty and people of Formosa. Interest in healthy living, animals and trees, and finding ways to de-plasticize our daily lives. Writer, teacher, salsa dancer, wellness enthusiast, coffee-lover, daughter, true friend, human, soul, stardust... ;)

4 thoughts on “What is Right with Teaching English in Taiwan!

  • June 30, 2017 at 5:34 pm
    Permalink

    Rebecca,
    Thanks for an energizing article! I just arrived in Taipei specifically to teach English. It’s a career change for me – I’m 57. I want to slow travel at this point in my life and feel connection to the culture and community I’m in. I think teaching would be a great way to do so.

    I’ve been reading so many negative perspectives to this industry, it’s refreshing to get back to the heart of the matter (literally) – that being, do what you love. I love travel. I love learning about other cultures. And I love effecting people in positive ways.

    Thanks again for the boost!

    Reply
    • July 8, 2017 at 4:20 pm
      Permalink

      Hey Diane!

      You’re welcome! And thanks for commenting! Yeah! Let’s bring energy to what we do in our lives, right? If we don’t like it, well, we have the freedom to move along.

      I absolutely agree with you regarding slow travel and staying awhile. For me, it’s that I want to travel with someone. I’ve done enough airports alone to really not be enticed. 😉 But I’ll learn to take much less luggage in the future.

      Have you found a job yet? I wonder if my school has found someone to replace me and one other for September.
      Find me on Facebook. Copy and paste: 康采蘋 and you should find a Rebecca Kehl. I can introduce you to the director there as it seems you are a quality person and would be a great teacher.

      Cheers!
      Rebecca

      Reply
  • April 8, 2017 at 11:52 pm
    Permalink

    Hey Miss Kehl

    Yes, what you said is universal!

    at first and once again I was just curious about, what that intriguing Canadian girl has to say!
    -So, started with a quick browsing over the full body of the article, landing extra more seconds at the pics and pausing to laugh at that funny hairdo I mistakenly thought was the ” Pony Chen”.

    Then gazed and agreed to the catchy sentence beside; ” First and foremost, we are not our jobs (imagine if you lost yours).”

    Hopefully miss Kehl for those with foremost resource art, culture and integrity to they´re always supplied and afloat lots to share and/or to exploit , Souls and minds to cultivate

    or else, It´s to crowded and vulgar in the politics not attractive anymore.

    – well, by the time I read few listings about your findings on the Stigma in teaching English
    I thought to myself;

    The article and the writer should not cool down, for their are genuine…
    so, both will stay hot!

    Thanks for sharing and I enjoyed and reflected upon

    P.M.B

    Reply
    • July 8, 2017 at 4:07 pm
      Permalink

      Pedro, thanks for leaving your positive and approving comments! 🙂 Keep up the dancing and Kizomba teaching yourself!

      Cheers!
      Rebecca @ WE Magazine

      Reply

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