Joy School

I teach in one of a chain of "bushibans;" English "cram" schools, which have sprung up all over Taiwan. The rumors are true: If you want to pay some teaching dues, can speak passable English, have a Bachelors degree, and don't smell too bad, you can get work in Taiwan. My placement guy, Andrew Liu, found me a situation with the "Joy English School" in Dongshih.

The boss is a strange and amazing woman named Pauline Liang. She's sort of matronly, sort of young, sort of older and experienced, sort of innocent, sort of business savvy, sort of childlike in her approach to professional relationships, sort of not hampered by illusions about human nature...geez, I guess she's sort of an enigma.

Anyway, we hit it off, and she took me on. I think she's fairly convinced I'm a worthwhile long term investment, because she agreed to sign me up for another year.

The plain truth is; I'm still learning to teach. I'm happy to report that my vague hopes panned out: Much of what I'm learning can't be learned from books. That's an old saw, but there's a neat dimension to it when it's your personal experience, and it's spiritual in nature. I'm simply learning to relax, enjoy relating to kids, learning to be light, fun, and creative on my feet, and even learning a little bit about love; something that I sorely need practical, on-the-ground experience with.

Not to say that I'm transforming into an Incredible Hulk of deep humanity. I still have a lot of doubt, sometimes even fear. But I'm making progress, and I think it's a slow ride for me; that just seems to be the way it goes.

But—Hey!—enough about me! Let's look at a few kids!

Here are Joe and Dora. It's thoroughly unexpected, but over time I've gotten a "mind thing" going with Joe. When I first had him in a class, he was disrespectful of my presence, in a pleasant enough way. I think it's a testament to the power of "being cool" that I've been able to earn some respect from him by just being cool and letting him warm up to me over time. The last time I had him in class, I got him to speak English. Now I know that sounds odd, but sometimes the kids don't want to talk. Because there's an "English Only!" rule, there winds up being lots of silence. Joe just ignores the rule and speaks Chinese. We had a fun interaction this last time, where he got up to teach me some Chinese; my first instruction in how to scurrilously insult someone in Chinese. He wrote three characters on the board, of which I recognized the last two "[r] mother." He explained that the first character meant "fuck." I became [sort of mock] insensed and started slapsticking him with my textbook. What can I say; it was a golden, glowing moment of connection.

I should mention that I've only taken the camera into the classrooms on one day, and got only a few pics. I "montaged" some of the pics from one class into this one image. I lifted the sentence in the upper-left corner directly from an image of the lid of a DVD of the classic movie by "The Who."

And we close this little exhibit with a common scene; a between-classes klatch among buddies. It's interesting to sense that there is an educational/cognitive difference between boys and girls in these classes. Some of my fellow-teachers have suggested that, while boys are in general "smarter," the girls have a compensating higher sense of responsibility and seriousness—emotional intelligence—which usually pans out in better long-term performance. So who's smarter, eh?