I started teaching part-time in a chain school buxiban last week, and I thought I might share my experience. This is only partly a rant because the experience does have its positive side.
I teach at two branches, with one hour shifts four days a week. It takes me an hour to get there by bus and I need to prepare the lessons in my own time, so the 600/hour pay doesn’t amount to much.
At one school everything’s going well. The teaching assistant warned me before my first class (my first ever ESL class, in fact) that these 12 year old students were especially naughty. Sure enough, there would’ve been no way of keeping the little monkeys engaged if I’d taught according to the dull texts with many infrequently used words in the assigned textbook. After 5 minutes trying I saw that they were bored and learning nothing by being forced to read a text about London they couldn’t understand, so I jettisoned the textbook and they learnt about Henry the Eighth’s wives and other gory subjects. It was fun to behead my teaching assistant, and one boy said that if he were the king, he’d put his unwanted wives through the cogs in Big Ben’s clock and turn them into pancakes. It’s pretty gratifying to see the kids showing genuine curiosity about history or about the seasons/the tilting of the Earth/human-alien breeding etc while practicing useful vocabulary and sentence patterns.
The class at the other school is simply awful. It’s normal for kids to be naughty and also to test a teacher’s boundaries, but these kids are just nasty and unsocialized, eating fried chicken in class, swearing, bullying, kicking and punching one another. They’re considered an “advanced” class but in reality their English level is zero: they know a few words but don’t understand basic questions. They refuse to engage in any games or answer any questions in English. The worst thing is that there are three kids stuck in the class who are actually eager to learn/play fun games and who are obviously disgusted by the others. One little girl even thanked me for the lesson.
I of course know that buxibans are just businesses that rip off gullible parents too lazy or ignorant to properly research their child’s education. I also know that the mentality that sustains the buxiban industry in Taiwan pervades all aspects of Taiwanese culture. And to be fair, even in Western countries textbook and teacher language classes are still popular, even though it’s a terribly ineffective method of learning a foreign language. I suppose I can only teach as effectively as I can within a flawed language learning framework. It’s encouraging to see that many Taiwanese kids are still curious about things, that their minds and spirits haven’t (yet) been corroded by Taiwanese society and its system of education. I’m sure many foreign teachers in Taiwan are like me, aware that much more effective learning methods could be implemented, but realizing that parents and business owners aren’t interested in that. At least in my case I have freedom to teach for my hour as I see fit: the teaching assistants leave everything including the discipline to me and they’re rarely in the classroom.