Teaching English in Taiwan

Leave Your Expectations at Home

By Bertus van Aswegen

There are countless websites and resources available for teachers especially ESL teachers teaching abroad, but nothing can prepare you as well for the classroom as being in the classroom yourself. You can read as much as you want about teaching, but some of the most valuable tips were given to me around the staffroom table during breaktimes by my colleagues. Other things I had to learn myself, and as times change, so do students and teaching methods, and in order to survive you have to learn to adapt.

First of all, when coming to Taiwan leave your expectations at home because each country is different and children in Taiwan are raised much differently than back home. In South Africa we had school in the mornings and went home around lunch time, there were no after-school programs or cram schools. Here it is much different. Kids go to school in the day, then often go to a “buxiban” (cram school) in the afternoon and evening. It’s not strange walking into a school at 7 in the evening and seeing a bunch of toddlers in pajamas singing along to “Let It Go” from Frozen or chanting their ABCs. Kids here are encouraged, sometimes pressured to be the best in their school or class, and this often starts at a very young age.

This means that kids don’t always understand the seriousness of learning English after a long day at school, and that’s why having structure in your classroom and enforcing discipline from the beginning is crucial. It’s always good to be warm and friendly to your students but be careful to not let them walk over you. There is a thin line between being friendly and being friends, and that line is better not crossed. Once students see you as a positive role model who treats them with kindness and patience, they will start respecting you. If you respect your students, whether they are 3 or 30, they will respect you. It is something you have to earn, not something you can force on anyone, and kids are no different.

Teachers who get on very well with (most of) their students are teachers who take the time to get to know them, what they like, who they are as a person, and treat them as individuals. One of those staffroom tips I talked about earlier was to avoid “baby talk”, and ever since that day I have made a point of speaking to my students like I would to a friend. Even though they may be young, and I remind myself that they are just kids, I never treat anyone, regardless of age, as a baby.

Once you have earned their respect and created a fun learning environment with clear rules, your students will love you and they will enjoy coming to class and learn English faster than you can spell “A-P-P-L-E”. Kids are like sponges, and they absorb so much information when they are in a safe educational environment. It also helps when positive behavior is praised more than negative behavior criticized.

Like I said before, being in the classroom is the best learning experience for any teacher and having the wisdom and courage to adapt and evolve based on your students’ abilities is crucial in being an educator. This is one of those times that prove that sometimes an old dog CAN learn new tricks.