Being the New Teacher On the Block (or School Yard)

Dear Everyone,

Rarely, if ever, have I had the first day of school cancelled.  The one time I can remember was the teacher strike in my senior year of high school.  But this week, Monday classes were all cancelled by the county government due to typhoon Nanmadol.  Thankfully, though, the typhoon didn’t hit northern Taiwan very hard and so we just got a lot of rain and some wind.  Neither was serious and we never lost power.  Yay!

On Tuesday, I went to my first day of school at Ching Gou.  My LETs, Jessie and Claire, took me to meet the principal of the school and he seemed pretty nice!  Upon walking into the teacher’s office, the questions began raining down on me once the other teachers got over the shock of having me near them!  Jessie and Claire helped field the questions, especially since most of them were in Chinese and I didn’t always understand.  I was slightly embarrassed though as Jessie and Claire told everyone that I was engaged.  When they told the principal, he jokingly asked if I was pregnant and if that was why I was getting married!  This was a huge cultural shock for me because I don’t think I would have ever been asked that in America.  We all laughed it off and the principal went to deal with first-day organizational issues.  Most of the teachers there were interested in my engagement and many of them asked me why I was so young and engaged.  They almost seemed concerned for me!  It was also interesting that the idea of an engagement ring is quite foreign here.  Most of the teachers saw my ring and immediately though I was already married!  And then others pointed to my sapphire ring and thought that was my wedding ring.  And when I would explain that it was only an engagement ring, they were sometimes confused!  It was cute though!

All the teachers at Ching Gou are very sweet and so helpful!  They really made me feel welcomed!  The students though… they were just hilarious!

The front of Ching Gou Elementary School

On the first day, Ching Gou held a welcoming ceremony for all the first graders where they walked under 3 balloon arches each with a word on them.  One was “cleverness” which had green onions hanging from it because “cong ming” (“cleverness”) shares the same sound as the “cong” sound which means green onion.  Another had the word “safety” on it to wish the students a safe learning journey as they went through the different levels.  This arch had apples hanging from it because “ping an” means “safety” and “ping guo” is apple.  Again, it was a play on the sounds.

Two of the three balloon arches!

The ceremony took place instead of the first period so I went straight to second period which was a 3rd grade class with Claire.  Ching Gou is a new school which is still getting rearranged, so my first day, I had to go to the kids instead of having the kids come to the English classroom.  When I walked into the class, the students were all very interested in the “wai guo lao shi” (the “foreign teacher”) but they were also scared to approach me.  Instead, they whispered about me to each other in rapid Chinese, which I only understood parts of!

Each class had a similar lesson plan because Claire and Jessie had me put together a powerpoint to introduce myself to the class.  A lot of the kids really enjoyed my slide about my pets back home.  They were all very impressed that I had so many dogs and that they were so big!  It was also really funny that most of the students liked Otis the best out of the three (through no coercion on my part at all!).

Me and Jessie teaching a class

Then I taught two classes of 5th graders with Jessie and they were a bit more interested in me and asked some questions of me after the powerpoint.  One of the questions that came up all week was, “How old are you?”  Instead of telling them, I, of course, asked them to guess.  Their answers ranged from 15 to 50.  The latter ages were quite depressing!  I also have my other LET’s (Ellen) daughter in the one 5th grade classes I have in Ching Gou.  It’s weird seeing her without her mom there!

Question time! Some of them asked the silliest questions!

I went back to Ching Gou for my second day on Wednesday and I got to meet more of the students.  They were so sweet!  I even have the dean’s daughter in my one class (no pressure, right?)!  Fun fact about Wednesday’s in Taiwan: the students all have half days every week!  I’m so jealous!  It is the time that most student clubs meet and the teachers hold meetings.  Since the meetings are all in Chinese, my LETs told me that I could go out back and practice riding a scooter around since I was retaking the scooter test on that Friday (also known as my birthday!!!!!).  Vivian, the music teacher and also a super sweet person, let me borrow her scooter to practice and I practiced for about an hour and a half.  When I was done, I ran into the dean’s daughter (not knowing it at the time) and chatted with her a little bit in my broken Chinese.  I’m actually getting more confident in speaking so that’s good, right?  But anyway, I jokingly asked her if she liked her English teacher (me) and she laughed saying that she did.  I’m glad!

I was also in for a surprise on Wednesday.  During lunch, I was working on my reflection of my classes that I’d taught that day when the teachers started singing “Happy Birthday” to me!  It was so sweet!  They even had a cake with a candle on it!  One of the other teachers was also celebrating her birthday, which was actually on that day, and so we got to share a little party for the two of us!  Vivian, Jessie and Claire also got me some wonderful birthday presents and I was so surprised by them!  It was so nice!

My slice of birthday cake and fresh brewed coffee!!!!!! Yay!!!

There were many difference that I saw between my own memories of elementary school and Ching Gou.  One was that the students are given a 10 minute break between every 40 minute class to run around and do whatever they want.  So the students dash around the school and play outside on the jungle gym and for the most part are not supervised as they are doing this.  Twice a day, the students are given 20 minute breaks in which they are responsible for cleaning all the common areas in the school, including the teacher’s office.  The younger students are responsible for mopping and sweeping and wiping down everything.  The older students have a much less glamorous job in that they get to clean the bathrooms.  I think it’s a very interesting philosophy and it teaches the students to have respect for the common areas, even though they don’t technically own any of it.

The Teacher's Office (with the balloon arches in there)

So then Thursday came and it was the first day of school all over again!  I went to Kuang Sing where I will be co-teaching with Ellen and got to meet all the new staff and students!  These students were much more bold and frequently came over to gawk at the foreign teacher and also yelled “Hello!” from the open windows.  It was quite funny!  In the morning, I sat down in the English classroom to get ready for the day and a bunch of 6th graders came over and clustered around my desk.  All of them turned to one particular student and asked her many questions in Chinese for her to translate and ask me.  It was funny since I understood a lot of the questions that they were asking.  But I pretended not to so that they could practice listening to me answer the questions in English.  But they quickly figured out that I understood their Chinese so they started directly asking me as well!

Although Kuang Sing is a significantly smaller school than Ching Gou, the number of students per class were about the same.  The teachers were also really nice and sweet.  They all wanted to talk to me but many were intimidated to since they weren’t confident in their English.  Knowing that I could speak a little Chinese put them a bit more at ease and so over lunch they started to try to talk to me.  One of the teachers told me that even though I was engaged, I should give Taiwanese men a try before I go back to the States!!!  I’m pretty sure she was joking…

Since my scooter test was on Friday, I also spent my lunch break practicing riding on a scooter on the basketball court.  I was borrowing the scooter from Yang Ming, one of the male custodians who was about my age.  I thought I was doing pretty well but then a bunch of the 6th graders started yelling in Chinese from the second floor English classroom at us.  I asked Yang Ming what they were saying but he said not to worry about it.  But then I got really self conscious about riding and so I was really glad when it was over.  I thought the students had been yelling about how to drive a scooter, but when I asked Ellen later, it turns out that the kids were trying to get Yang Ming and I together!!!  No wonder he didn’t want to tell me what they were saying!

In the afternoon, I had 4 classes to teach that day.  As all of them sat through my powerpoint introduction of myself, they all had the opportunity to ask questions about me.  In my 5th grade class, the students asked me how old I was.  I again made them guess and then, I went on to say, “Today I am 21, but tomorrow I will be 22.”  I could practically see the wheels turning as they all tried to figure out the meaning of what I said.  Then, simultaneously, about four of them got it and yelled, “Tomorrow is your birthday!”  So the whole class sang me Happy Birthday in not one, but three languages (English, Chinese, and Taiwanese).  It was so awesome!

But at the end of this whole week, I had one of the greatest epiphanies of all time.  During one of the breaks at Kuang Sing, some of the students were play fighting with plastic swords.  And then, one of them thought it would be funny to start attacking me so they came running over.  I told them, jokingly, that if they hit me, I would make sure they failed their English class.  Although they knew I was joking, the threat could have been real because I am a teacher now!  I’m not a student any longer…I’m a TEACHER….it’s so weird to be called that!

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