BY ROSS KENNEGER / The Wild East / Opinion
Working for Xinmin Private Elementary school in Taipei this year was a head-shaking, riveting experience. I’m writing this piece to talk about the chaos I’ve observed in the modern Taiwanese classroom, and to offer other foreign teachers some advice here in Taiwan.
To begin with, the students were grouped together by age, with little concern for vast differences in ability or emotional stability. The management then applied an English program that is designed for and used by American students in America, “Reading Street”, to a class of 35 G1 students. It was absurd and obviously a money model that is putting business before education.
The dear Taiwanese teacher had very limited time, too much homework to grade and the disciplining of disruptive students, plus the constant demands of paying parents and long days – as in all of Taiwan, Taiwanese teachers are overworked and under-appreciated, a form of what should be considered “teacher abuse”.
The 35 students were drilled and driven like cattle through the Chinese program. Genuine “Care” and the buttressing of students’ capabilities were not priorities. The Taiwanese teacher relentlessly told students not to move and not to talk, while I, the English teacher, was encouraging the opposite, since that is how children best learn languages.
The Taiwanese teacher was driven to the use of furious threats backed up by a lengthy stick. Nonetheless, she was met with collapse on the part of the students. The children were quite blatantly in need of a properly structured and leveled program, not to mention it was a plainly detrimental experience for the rest of the class. Far too much of my time was spent enforcing interest and correcting behavior.
Beyond the 12 students with near no English level, there were 5 students who had definitive emotional challenges. Put simply, the composition of the class should not have occurred in the first place.
The money model laid waste the dreams of parents for a more inspirational education… but the books were shiny!
Help from management was requested several times. A “legal disclaimer” was written after a handful of pencils were thrown directly into a girl’s face. And I informed parents. Finally, I filmed the violence of the Taiwanese teacher and that of the students. Nonetheless, I was told, loudly, that the class was my responsibility entirely.
In the end, one parent agreed to transfer to a more suitable class and two others transferred to another school, though not by my behest. The class significantly improved, as evidenced by high grades.
But my dismissal was swift. The radically unbalanced state of my G1 class and the management’s refusal to reconcile the demands of special needs students created friction that eventually led to my dismissal. It happened, quite cowardly, on the last day of the semester and without warning. This kind of crap is unacceptable, and it’s illegal. By law a school must issue three written warnings, signed by you, and a 10 day notification.
The icing on the cake is that Xinmin Private Elementary School’s upper management is, as reported by Liberty Times Net on April 17, under investigation for allegedly embezzling more than NT$250,000,000 million. The CEO was caught with another NT$50,000,000 in cash in his office and other places. Has there been a severe lack of re-invest at Xinmin?
My friends, this dereliction of duty was more than bad luck. It should be a crime. For those who claim this is “the nature of the beast”, it simply is not. It was a systemic failure that needs greater regulation in quantity, quality and labor demands.
It is commonly known amongst expat what the money model does to bright eyes after 6 years. Certainly, not all good. The creativity is crushed out of a student in Taiwan, so many expat parents take them out of this empty, spirit-crushing educational environment.
I’ve taught for nearly two decades, and owned four schools in Neihu. I‘m now married and raising a boy, have an APRC and a mortgage to pay. The fact that my boy attends school in NTC makes the issue of English language instruction all the more compelling. And since I know my rights, I am pressing Xinmin Private Elementary School for wrongful dismissal.
Some advice to the wise: seek the completion of your contract, plus any bonuses you may be entitled to. Further, keep dated notes on the behavior of staff — have no doubt, notes are kept on you. Make a point of collecting business cards and e-mails, especially from parents. Expect evaluations and cautionary meetings to be defined as such, and make sure they are held in English. Do not sign anything you do not agree with. And keep in mind, as in my case, that the Mandarin may not be fully translated.
Fortunately, we are not alone in Taiwan. Agencies here do effectively protect students’ and teachers’ rights.
Some other advice: Outline your case and analyze your contract. The school may have acted in breach of it. Contracts often contain illegal elements as well. Inform the Ministry of Education and report to the Council of Foreign Affairs. Approach your local Ministry of Labor Affairs and request a free “Mediation”. If you have recorded abuses by phone or e-mail, contact Apple Daily. To further champion the cause, mobilize social media – forumosa.com is a good site. Additionally, open a facebook page, state your case and google a lawyer. You can contact me, Ross Kenneger.
Finally, I put it to Taiwan’s Ministry of Education: “If a student must pass an English proficiency test, then should not the school that teaches it be expected to pass an administrative test?” If Xinmin is to profit by an English program, then demand it be sufficiently qualified to manage one. For example, do the Taiwanese teachers have proper degrees, because they certainly do not act like it!
It is time the finger be pointed at and the blame be laid on someone other than the “foreign teacher”. Education must come before business.