Wednesday, May 23, 2012

a rant and a rave

Today I had a freaking breakdown in my A6 class which is one of the higher levels in the Erchong campus and is comprised of 3 girls, 2 in middle school and one in elementary. It started well enough with me being all chirpy and crap. Then I wrote a journal prompt on the board for them to do. All three of them were bitching about not wanting to do it. This is the class where we do nothing but TALK! We don't read the grammar book or the novel or even have homework or any tests. Then on Monday they were lack luster and barely talked - it was just me talking for an hour and a half! Now they didn't even want to write one small little page of journaling. I started ranting about how they were pushing it and taking advantage of me. This went on and on and then my ranting got me super angry and frustrated, as I was talking I was realizing that what I was saying was actually the truth. I hate realizing or having to confront someone about them taking advantage of me. Unfortunately since I'm pretty easy-going most people tend to toe the line more and more until its super WTF status. I told my studies this in an metaphor of a fellow classmate eating some of their food and seeing no objections finally eats more and more until they've eaten the whole thing. Anyways they pretty much knew where I was coming from so we moved on and had a convo except for one of the girls who still didn't talk which just frustrated me to no end. UGH! Midway through my breakdown/ranting session I asked myself why am I getting so emotional about this, MUST be my time of the month. Haha. This also occurred when I almost cried over my shitty haircut a couple months back. Figures the PMS will only hit me when I'm in a foreign country.

Even though they can be super frustrating I really like this class because it gives me a break from teaching all these little small kids. Beforehand I thought teaching older kids would be a drag because they wouldn't listen to me (which is true) and they would have huge douchy attitude problems (remember how we were in middle school?) but I actually prefer older kids now because it's one of the ways I can learn more about the culture and lifestyle here in Taiwan. I only regret that they weren't older so I could discuss more worldly issues with them. One of the topics I've gained more insight into is how schooling in Taiwan works or more specifically how middle school (or junior high as it's called here) in Erchong/Hsinchu operates. I'm pretty sure its general knowledge that schools in Asian countries have a strong emphasis on memorization and test taking - Taiwan is no exception. Two or three times a year all grades starting from 3rd grade start taking these so called "big tests" and then they are ranked in their grade and in their school based on the scores. Not really sure what else the tests do besides letting everyone know whose the best. Students have to take a separate test to get into high school and university so either the school ranking goes on their application or the big tests are like our standardized testing, just for information sakes. Anyways I asked my three students to show me how their school schedules look like and this is what I got...
Their schedules are pretty crazy. They have school 8-10 hours a day depending on what day it is. Not only do they have long class times, students are also responsible for keeping the school clean which means students most go to school even earlier to perform their school cleaning duties. So completely different from schedule in America. If I recall correctly since it has been such a long time since I've attended middle school we had the same classes everyday (math, social studies, science, english, gym, and art/music). Not really sure how long each class was but I know we never stayed at school for 10 hours. Lunch is served in the classroom where students are allowed 30 minutes to eat and mingle with friends before having a 30 minute nap for the rest of break - such a necessary nap in order for them to get through the long day. I always wonder why schools were so quiet around the afternoon. No recess or playing ball in the yard for them. However they do get 10 minute breaks between classes as teachers are the ones who move between classes unlike that in America. What I wouldn't give to have my teachers running around instead of me when it was raining or when the classes were at the opposite end of the campus.

Not only do they attend different classes everyday, including Saturday, but they have a huge range of classes from the normal like science and math to things like home ec. and health ed. Because of the huge number of classes their schedule varies day to day with some classes like chinese and math taking precedence with classes almost everyday and others like gym twice a week. So weird how their schedule is like that of a college student except they don't get to pick their classes. Not sure if this applies to the whole of Taiwan but since there is no such thing as an honors program or the Gate program students are distinguished by testing into a certain area. Now my 2 junior high students attend Erchong Junior High which is known for their music program which one must test into by playing an instrument. Hence the need for all the students to take lessons outside of school to learn how to play the violin or piano because I believe music class in elementary just teaches you how to play the recorder. My elementary school student who is entering into junior high played the violin for her test and got accepted into the music program. The strange thing was upon acceptance into the music program she was assigned to play the trombone. Erchong's music program only plays wind instruments, my student says because its easier to learn, but the students aren't allowed to choose which instrument they can play! They are assigned according to the shape of their mouth and their physical attributes. It seems so unfathomable to me that the students have no choice in the manner but they have to play what they are assigned if they want to be in the music program. The importance of being in the music program is that those students get assigned the best teachers in the school. If students can't keep up their good grades they will be dropped from the program. So essentially the music program works like the honors/Gate program in my middle school. So I asked my students what happens if you're a smart student but sucked at music and therefore couldn't get into the music program? The answer is you find a junior high school that had their own special programs either in math, english, etc and test into them.

On top of all these crazy hours at school, most students also attend a onchiban, cram school, and buxiban, english cram school, like the one I teach at. Most of my second graders attend both and they are picked up from school and sent straight to the onchiban where some stay until 9:30pm at night. I just can't imagine learning for almost 12 hours straight makes sense that the kids are exhausted and sick of going to class. No wonder it feels like we are babysitting most of the time.

I wished I had older students because I would love to ask how high school works here since they don't have AP courses. From what little they know it doesn't look as if students can pick their own classes in high school either. Grade levels are done differently here too with elementary school comprised of grades 1-6, junior high 7-9, and senior high 10-12.

Asian Fail is evident here too: One of my students told me she did bad on one of her big tests and I was thinking oh probably an 80 or some such thing but she told me she got a 96. Yup Asian Fail.


  1. The school system in Taiwan sounds almost exactly like the one in Japan! With the teachers moving to different classrooms and having school on Saturdays. I agree, I enjoy teaching older kids more even if they can be really apathetic and lackluster. I hate it when my kids mumble things in class or don't participate, but I like it even less when they're talking over me or doing something while I'm trying to teach. Do you teach any adults? I feel like most of what I learn about Japanese culture I get from my adult students. Which is why I love discussion classes!

    I can understand why you were frustrated and felt like you had to rant. It sucks when you're trying your best to be upbeat and make the class worthwhile and the students blow you off. Did you rant in English? And the kids actually understood you? That's awesome.

  2. I wish I had adults...I bet I would learn so much from them! Yah it's so frustrating with the middle schoolers! Why are they always the douchiest ones??