Teddoman: You’re broadly right and I appreciate your optimism and support.
Just a couple of things though. Firstly, there’s little to no room for advancement within this career. For example, my end of contract bonus is supposedly based upon performance reviews (though they just give me the full score without even observing me). The people who make the observations are my co-teachers. Since I have taught in government schools, I have had several co-teachers with less experience than me. Last semester, one of my co-teachers (who, incidentally, never stepped foot into my classroom) was a substitute teacher covering for one of my other colleagues who has since returned. The substitute teacher not passed the exam necessary to become a teacher. I’m not sure if you know how that works, but after graduating from university, they still need to pass an exam before they can become a proper teacher. Because of the limited number of positions available (something like only 100 new positions every year), it can take years in some cases. Anyway, the point is that in theory, she could have been observing me, despite the fact that she wasn’t even a teacher yet (and despite the fact that I have several years of experience within the Taiwanese system, not to mention abroad). Likewise, the pay scale has not been revised in almost seven years. It currently moves approximately with inflation. In this job, ten years from now, I will effectively be earning the same amount and I will still be lower than the lowest Taiwanese teacher. This is the ultimate dead-end career (which is part of why I have an exit strategy). I will never be in any position of authority or influence.
The other thing is the time pressure and the total amount of input time. Most teachers in this programme teach elementary school (I have a grade five class I taught last year, when they were in grade four, and I will probably teach them all the way through to the end of junior high school, but this is very unusual). Most teachers also only see the same class once per week (I only see my elementary school students once per week, but I see my junior high school students twice per week, plus I also have two club activities that are not-specifically English related – a music club and a martial arts club). There are forty school weeks in the entire year, but some of those get missed for various reasons. In all, an elementary school teacher in this programme will get something in the vicinity of 4 years x 1 period/week x 0.75 hours x 34 weeks = 102 hours with each class. Even in my case, where I teach the junior high school kids twice per week (actually, only once per week for the first and last two weeks of each semester), it might be 60 lessons per year, so 180 lessons x 0.75 hours = 135 hours at junior high school. Those kids I end up teaching from grades 4 to 9 will get approximately 240 hours. I can certainly see results with some of my classes. However, all of that occurs against a backdrop of many parents at my school who don’t even want their kids doing P.E., music or art because they consider those things to detract from exam preparation. Can I make enough difference in 240 hours (and there are all sorts of issues such as kids being sent late to my classes by other teachers, a complete lack of disciplinary support from my colleagues, etc. that make that an ideal, not a reality) to really impact their exams? I am not sure. It’s a very messy situation.
My ideal situation would be to spend more time with fewer kids so I could really get them up to scratch, rather than being spread too thinly. Whether than would involve teaching a group or a couple of groups for more hours at both elementary and junior high school, or even following them on to senior high school (no one in this programme teaches at senior high school), I don’t know. The problem is always going to be sequencing though. My current grade five students are going to be miles ahead of the kids who come from the other three elementary schools that act as feeder schools by the time they hit my junior high school in a year and a bit, but unless they start streaming classes (which is supposedly on the cards), it’s going to be a problem. Likewise, at the other end, my current ninth grade students are going to several different senior high schools next year, so the sequencing would be all mixed up there too. Anyway, last year, I actually discussed with the administration at my elementary school about not spreading me thinly, but for reasons of fairness, they didn’t want to have me teaching some kids twice and other kids not at all. It’s all a huge, convoluted mess. Supposedly, in a month or so, I’m going to have the conversation again with that and other elementary schools, but I’m not expecting much.
It’s not just that I’m coming up against the status quo. It’s that I often feel like all of this is being made up completely as people go along. My junior high school actually does give me a fair bit of latitude, but it’s still exceptionally disorganised and there are still all sorts of deep issues to do with discipline and the general ethos at the school.