Tuesday, January 8, 2008
This is me smiling. Smiling at the joy that is my classroom full of Taiwanese. You can't see the Taiwanese children, just like you can't see me smiling. In fact, it's not a smile, but I tell them "this is how we smile in English," and they believe me. They have to believe me, I'm American right? Turns out they don't have to, nor do they. They don't believe me when I say they have to sit down, be quiet, stop rubbing my face or stop pulling my arm-hair. They don't believe that I'm actually their teacher and not the other way around, mostly because I don't beat them with that stick by the teacher's desk--the one real teachers (Taiwanese teachers) use to scare them into submission. That's the secret to Asian success: they beat the knowledge into the young until they're smarter and harder-working than their western neighbors. Taiwanese children go from dawn to dusk shuffling between regular school and various cram-schools (our Berhan Language Institute is one of those cram-schools). They might make it back home by 9 or 10 at night to cram in their homework before hitting the covers. Kids here prepare for high school like we prepare for college. They apply to different high schools and move away from home to board at the best one they can get into. There's no time to be nurtured through love and patience. A whack on the back is much faster. So you get some easy-going, fun-loving, free-will promoting American sucker to come over and try to teach them through long-suffering love, and no one takes him seriously. Who's choice is it anyway to come to school and learn English? The kids think it's mine. I tell them it's theirs. The result is neither the students nor the American teachers have it quite figured out for the first few days of class. Hopefully, we come to an accord soon or the only smile my face will know is that one above.
(For those of you now worried that it's really hard for poor joey, stop being worried. There are tons of good kids and fun classroom moments--remember how I love my 5th graders?--it's just that feigned tragedy always makes for better writing material).