I’d have to agree that there is a deep rooted local perception that teachers are in Taiwan because “they couldn’t cut in their own country.” In the inimitable Taiwanese fashion, many people will let fly with direct comments about what they think of you as English Teachers. These are the people with no class, manners, or tact, so it’s easy to dismiss them as assholes. What gets you is when you realize that most other people share similar views but are just too polite to say so.
Many years ago, Hess Language Schools ran a commercial on T.V. In it, two down-and-out bums are sitting homeless and penniless on the street in their home country. One filthy urchin asks the other, “What are we going to do, we have no job, no money, no prospects?” And his white trash companion answers, “I know! Why don’t we go to Taiwan and become English Teachers!” This ad ran on T.V. for a couple of years, despite much protest in the local English language newspapers, in the form of letters to the editor. (Hess’ point was - At Hess, we hire experienced professionals, while other schools use fly-by-night drifters, who have no qualifications). This one reprehensible ad was hugely influential in shaping the public perception. Hess did not give a shit that it tarnished the image of the profession as a whole, as long as it was good for Hess. Many articles in local newspapers and magazines persued similar themes. (I had one student tell me that their teacher at school had told him the same thing)
The painful truth for those of us who have worked in the profession is that there is an element of truth in this sterotype. I myself arrived in Taiwan with very little money, little experience, and no training, and I worked for some very fly-by-night “buxhi-bans” in my first year, when it was still possible for any schmo to open a school, and to hire any warm body that could pass themselves off as a “native English speaker”. After 10 months of being pimped out by greedy agents, I buckled down, got a job at a very good school, embraced the training they gave me, and became an excellent teacher. But, I’m not so proud of my early career, nor am I proud of the many expats who come to Taiwan and never take their work seriously. In a general sense, when people intimate that you are here because you can’t make it back home… it stings a bit, regardless of how you deport yourself - in the same way that it’s okay for you to criticize your own family, but take offense when other people have a go at them.
Back in the day, particularly when that friggin ad was showing, and students would let a comment fly, or ask me directly, I would remind them that many schools in Taiwan have high standards for their teachers, train them well, and that all of us were University degree holders, working with work permits from the MinEd – and we all pay taxes! And when pressed - yes, but you are here, because you can’t find a job at home - I’d reply that many of us chose to live in work in Taiwan, because we love it here, love the international experience, enjoy chinese culture and language (Do you really have so little appreciation for your own country that you can’t understand how others might find living here appealing? Actually I had several students tell me that they couldn’t understand why anyone would want to come and live in the ROC unless it was for huge money or out of desperation). And when pressed even harder, I’d remind them that in the US (for example) hundreds of thousands of Taiwanese, and millions of Chinese have come seeking economic opportunity. Do the States really need yet another Chinsese restaurant? Are the people that open them “professional cooks?” Does it really matter as long as the community is satisfied with the end product and gives them business? (My perspective, by the way, is that of an adult teacher - 99% of my 12 years in the profession in Taiwan was with adults)
(Another variation to this popular conception is, You are only in Taiwan because you can’t find a woman back home. The message is still - we know you are a loser. This has been covered ad naseum in other threads.)
As for the salary issue - yes, English Teachers can make as much as, or even quite a bit more than office people working for local companies. On the other hand, most teachers make no where near as much as Taiwan’s white collar professionals or entrepreneurs. And, yeah - the “out of the box” money that can be made in English Teaching, while not a fortune, does kind of make people resentful. Perhaps that’s why every other cabbie wants to know how much you make, because they want to remind themselves why they dislike sombitch English Teachers.