Teaching is Hard

It’s two weeks before finals, and it’s unfortunate to admit my life feels like this cliche of a comic.

K.C. Green Gunshow Comic “On Fire”

Thinking, and now writing, the following sentence feels very 13-year-old Michelle who is unable to express deep emotions with eloquent words, but here it goes anyway. Teaching sucks.

Dealing with 15-18 year-old teenagers is exhausting. They stare blankly into space, ignore your questions, sleep, and worst of all, don’t try.

Dealing with 12-13 year-old kids is also exhausting. They’re loud, energetic, and require a lot of guidance. Thankfully, they try. They may cry, “teacher, too hard!” but they do their work (for the most part).

The worst part about teaching is how thankless it is. I stay up late, come in early, work on weekends, and try so damn hard to make lessons somewhat enjoyable. I enter class with a positive attitude, then some smart ass walks in 7 minutes late because “I was in the bathroom” who then continues to talk to his friends the entire time and/or sleep. Y’all, I thought I was patient but it’s a whole other level when dealing with thankless children. I don’t know how many times I’ve said the following line, “I’m not doing this for me. I can speak English, so wake up!”

With finals around the corner, my workload has tripled. I leave work breathless and dizzy because I can’t even keep up with my never-ending to-do list. I feel like I am literally drowning in work. Kids don’t care. They’re clueless!

In the past, my terrible work experiences were mitigated with funny, confessional chats with co-workers. However, I don’t have that relationship with my current coworkers.

Backstory: While creating our midterm exams two months ago, one co-worker admitted that he “purposely belittled me” because, and I quote, he wanted “to teach me a lesson.” He interpreted my proactive behavior of creating two tests in one week as “standoffish,” “rude,” and “pushed him to the sidelines.” Because his feelings were hurt, he decided to be condescending, raise his voice to me, and not listen to any of my suggestions. He never thanked me. Instead, I got an ear-full of criticisms. Yeah, so. I don’t talk to that guy.

My other co-worker is really chill, but there is still some distance between us. He has this “no-new friends” attitude, so I respect his space.

On top of that, I go home to a lonely, single bedroom. My life feels like a sad cycle of:
meh-annoyed-pissed-quiet-lonely-meh-annoyed-REALLY PISSED-quiet-lonely.

*Deep breath*

Things feel especially difficult now. Once finals are done, and everything is graded I know things will be better. It’s just hard. I envisioned teaching as a breezy lifestyle, but it is not.

I’ve always respected and admired my teachers for their guidance, but I am now in awe of those who made this their career. This shit’s hard, y’all! Please, go hug a teacher friend, buy them their favorite coffee, check in on them, buy them a cake, and tell them thank you and I love you!

End of an Era

I’ve always struggled during periods of transition. Regardless of the magnitude of change  – new job, haircut, moving, my favorite Chick-fil-A closing, graduation – it is an emotional upheaval that prods the anxious monster in my brain.

The worst-case-scenario happened in June: I resigned from DaZhu AND I didn’t get the desired writing position. I cursed myself for my zealous and foolish decisions. After a couple of frustration-filled crying sessions, I resigned to the outcome and focused on finding a teaching position in Taipei.

Within a week my recruiter lined up an interview with a private middle school close to the Taipei zoo. Typically, schools ask interviewees to create and present a 10-30 minute long lesson plan of their choice. This school provided lesson content the day-of and allotted 40 minutes to prepare a 20 minute lesson. 

Using my laptop, a notebook filled with past lessons, and provided textbook, I struggled to create an interesting and fun lesson plan in the designated time, but I ended up making a shoddy six-page PowerPoint outlining grammar rules, and one boring activity. After 45 minutes of hectic planning, I presented to the Director of foreign English teachers (a young Taiwanese woman), a current English teacher (a young South African man), and my coordinator (a Taiwanese man) in only 7 minutes. Both the coordinator and Director asked “that’s it?” when I ended, but the Director added “nice and efficient I like it.”  The interview portion left me feeling confident because I connected with the Director about being women in education, and she mentioned “students love young, female teachers but they’re hard to come by.”

As I walked to the bus stop with my coordinator, he assured me I handled the interview portion better than two other candidates, but they have more experience than me so it’s hard to tell who the school will choose. I held back disappointed tears on the bus ride home.

2 days later an email from my recruiter popped up on my phone and my eyes widened as I read they offered me a position starting on August 27. My immediate response, “WOW!!!!!!!! I AM SO HAPPY!!!!”

Though the school is located further from the city than I anticipated, I will work with my desired age range (7th-12th grade students) and receive a sizable raise (more than my previous teaching position & the rejected writing job).

Eager to begin my life in Taipei, I ended my apartment lease on July 31, completed  my teaching contract the same day, and found an apartment with a move-in date on August 1.

My agenda was filled with a long to-do list for two weeks. While teaching summer camp, I filed a police background check, completed a medical exam, opened a bank account, toured potential apartments, and ate multiple goodbye lunches with co-workers.

Once I completed the pre-employment check-list and signed my teaching and apartment contracts, I relaxed and began looking at Luzhu through a lens of lasts.

Below are photos and captions taken in Luzhu to commemorate my 7 month stay and appreciate everything that happened.

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Beloved art of mine hanging above the desk in Luzhu apartment. Posted to the wall are: a card from students, photo taken by my sister, images from various artists, and a selfie of Peter and I taken in Tokyo. (Photo taken on a disposable camera).

Photograph of Ricoh 3ZF (left) and Canon Rebel T6 (right) taken on my balcony using a disposable camera.

A view of Nanzhu Road, connecting Luzhu and Nankan. I biked along this road numerous times to Nankan to get my nails done, meet Peter for coffee, go to the movies, eat at Pizza Rock, or because I was bored. The road was surrounded by serene farms and occasional betel nut stands. (Photo taken on Ricoh 3ZF using Lomography 800ISO film.)

A row of U-bikes sitting outside of DaZhu Elementary school. Whenever I traveled to Nankan or needed a Ubike, this was my go-to station. (Photo taken on Ricoh 3ZF using Lomography 800ISO film).

Peter hesitantly posing for picture while sitting on toilet in Luzhu apartment. (Photo taken on Ricoh 3ZF using Lomography 800ISO film.)

A cherished routine of mine was to walk 2 laps around a large pond after dinner. At night, the small sidewalk filled with joggers, families, stray dogs, and flirting teens. The smell of fish and ripening fruits floated in the air and I was surrounded by mysterious foliage, such as the one featured. (Photo taken on Ricoh 3ZF using Lomography 800ISO film.)

This photo is taken from the same tree. The fallen petals from the blooming flowers were delicately arranged into a heart. (Photo taken on Ricoh 3ZF using Lomography 800ISO film.)

This is a result of a shutter speed experiment. I looked at this view daily for 7 months. Here, I read books, watched dogs lazily cross the street, and waited for the garbage truck. (Photo taken on Ricoh 3ZF using Lomography 800ISO film.)

One afternoon shortly after work, I ventured on bike ride around Luzhu to capture idyllic snaps of the Taiwanese countryside. Here are the results:

This alpha dog diligently watched as I hopped off my bike to take a few pictures of him and his family. As I situated myself on my bike and started to pedal away, he chased me down the narrow trail for five minutes nipping at my ankles! I’ve never pedaled so fast in my whole life. (Photo taken on Ricoh 3ZF using Lomography 800ISO film.)

I knew I lived in the country, but I had no idea my proximity to farms. I stumbled across a pit filled with hogs (?) sleeping and playing inside of giant concrete tubes. It was an unexpected and funny surprise. (Photo taken on Ricoh 3ZF using Lomography 800ISO film.)

Located adjacent to the hog pit housed a large population of identical chickens clucking in unison. (Photo taken on Ricoh 3ZF using Lomography 800ISO film.)

Seated along the edge of the wall, I enjoyed the view of the sunset against the backdrop of the river. I questioned myself “why haven’t I done this sooner?” It’s only when the end is near do I regret inactivity. (Photo taken on Ricoh 3ZF using Lomography 800ISO film.)

(Photo taken on Ricoh 3ZF using Lomography 800ISO film.)

It’s difficult to see in this image but this wall has hundreds of nails poking out of it. Unfortunately, my pant leg caught a nail and pinched my skin. Sometimes a little pain enhances the enjoy. (Photo taken on Ricoh 3ZF using Lomography 800ISO film.)

Small farm along Nanzhu Road. What is growing is unknown to me. (Photo taken on Ricoh 3ZF using Lomography 800ISO film.)

Once a week since February, I ate dinner with Phillip and his family. I met Phillip while playing tennis at DaZhu, and he quickly became a great friend of mine. Originally, our dinners included a language exchange, but we all tired of this due to our busy schedules. We agreed to simply eat dinner, catch up, and spend time together like a family. I watched movies, talked about politics, and learned about Taiwanese cuisine and history. Phillip and Grace supported my decision to find work in Taipei and I am very grateful for their friendship!

Thanks to Peter’s long arms, we managed to take a group selfie. Seated from left to right: Peter, myself, Phillip, Grace, and Oscar. (Photo taken on Samsung Galaxy S8).

Grace and Oscar laughing as their dad, Phillip, teaches Peter and I how to say a Taiwanese phrase “My name is Peter.” (Photo taken on Samsung Galaxy S8).

Here is my best friend/mom, Jenny, in front of a wall of roses at River Mall in LuZhu. Neither one of us knew this mall existed even though it’s located 2 miles away from our school. After this photo was taken, we enjoyed a fancy Italian meal. (Photo taken on Samsung Galaxy S8).

While walking around my neighborhood, I found a graffitied wall. My favorite tags were “roach” and “fuck.”  (Photo taken on Ricoh 3ZF using Agfa Vista 400ISO film.)

DaZhu has a bi-weekly night market on Monday and Thursday. During my last visit, I ran into three 7th grade students (wearing red shirts) and their friends. (Photo taken on Ricoh 3ZF using Agfa Vista 400ISO film).

For $100 NT, patrons purchase a bucket of rings to throw at bottles in hopes of encircling one. The prizes range from Taiwan beer, soda, whiskey, and small toys. Image taken at DaZhu Night Market on a Monday evening. (Photo taken on Ricoh 3ZF using Agfa Vista 400ISO film).

Vendor at DaZhu Night Market selling sausages. (Photo taken on Ricoh 3ZF using Agfa Vista 400ISO film.)

The day I cut and dyed my hair, I took a selfie. This is the best my tiny bangs have ever looked. (Photo taken on Ricoh 3ZF using Agfa Vista 400ISO film.)


Hello Gemini Season

The past two weeks have been eventful, career-wise. This story builds in slow, stress-inducing layers.

May 16

I applied to a Digital Marketing Specialist position and other writing jobs located in Taipei.

May 18

My supervisor informed me of a mandatory observation to take place on May 30th, which requires all lesson plans, worksheets, and PowerPoints to be submitted for review by the Taoyuan Department of Education. Sadly, I did not type any lesson plans and I have really messy handwriting, so recalling and typing over 30+ lesson plans was a lot of work. Especially considering I had to continue with my normal teaching + planning schedule. In addition, there was pressure from my supervisors and principal to create a STELLAR lesson plan by May 25th.

Here’s why: I am the first Foreign English Teacher at my school, meaning my role is especially unpredictable. The purpose of the observation is to determine whether or not DaZhu will be chosen to be a part of the government funded program next year. Typically schools that have been in the program longer have a higher chance of retention. Considering this is DaZhu’s first year, my supervisors felt very susceptible to non-renewal, AKA no job for me. They were as friendly as possible to convey the importance of this observation, but I could tell they were really counting on me to outperform. I stayed late. I worked on the weekend. I worked at home. I really, really tried to do my best for my school.

May 22

In the midst of this observation work-load, I received an e-mail from a Taipei company about the Digital Marketing Specialist role I applied to on May 16. They asked me to participate in a round 2 interview, which was 3 day assignment to write an article titled, “3 Tips for Landing Work as a Freelance Writer.” I was ecstatic to participate in the second round, even though the timing wasn’t ideal. That week was filled with late nights, too much coffee, and bags under my eyes.

May 25

As hard as I worked, I couldn’t manage the workload. I submitted the article on time, but I did not finish writing my lesson plan and creating subsequent materials before Friday, May 25. Sigh. Luckily, Peter had to work on Saturday, May 26 so I used that alone time to finish everything for the big day on May 30. A day late, but done. Plus, my supervisor said the lesson looked great, which made me feel more relaxed.

May 30

The big day came and went, and it carried high and low tides. I thought my observed class could’ve been better. However, speaking with the education officials I was told it was a great lesson. In fact, the two intimidating Taiwanese educators said “that was the best teaching demo we have ever seen. A very great teaching demo.” I was SHOCKED! I wanted to bang my head on the table in sheer relief/disbelief. I looked at Jenny, the principal, Summer, Wendy, and Enzo – everyone who has supported me in this role – and they were all smiling and radiating with joy.

Later that evening, I had a preliminary phone interview with someone from the tech company. The 11 minute phone call answered basic questions about the company – ARC, health insurance, work hours, etc. My specific questions about the role weren’t answered but I also wasn’t assured when/if I would speak with the hiring manager. I got off that phone call feeling a bit deflated. After such high praise it’s tough to encounter a perceived form of rejection. Plus, I was starting to feel guilty for interviewing with companies before letting DaZhu know.

May 31

At 3:50 pm, my principal invited me to go to his office and asked, “do you want to stay at my school next year or not?” I was stunned in silence. Essentially, the question I’ve been battling internally I had to decide in that moment. It felt a bit unfair to make a big decision with no time to think about it, but he needed to submit paperwork to the government by 5 pm.

At first, I tried to say no and explained that I want to be closer to Taipei. He suggested I move to Nankan or get a scooter or car. He wasn’t necessarily rude, but he really wanted me to stay. He also asked my two supervisors to enter the office to help with translation. I explained to them that I want to be closer to Taipei and Peter and living in Luzhu is difficult to go anywhere without a car. They also suggested I move to Nankan. At this point, tears started to well up because they weren’t listening to me and I could tell they wanted me to stay so bad. From their perspective my uncertainty must’ve been shocking considering how well the observation went. They reluctantly agreed to give me the evening to think about my decision.

June 1

8 am, I informed Enzo that I will not stay another year. I decided to take the risk of moving to Taipei without a job lined up. A few hours later, I received an e-mail confirming an in-person interview next week.

June 6

As I type this, I had an in-person interview with the tech company on Monday, June 4 and I’m not sure how it went. I made them laugh, I think I made them cringe. We bonded over tennis and Mario Kart. I also said my biggest professional failure was crying in a bathroom at work.  So, you know…could be bad…could be good. I’ll just have to wait and see what happens next.

In the meantime, I am applying to other teaching positions closer to Taipei. I hope to snag another public/private school position. Otherwise, I’ll be at a cram school. Not the worst of fates, but also not the ideal. As long as I’m closer to the city I’ll be happy.

A Period of Solitude

The end of January / beginning of February has been a trying time in my personal growth

Taiwan winter is days of rain and chilly winds that follow you everywhere. I am cold in my school; I am cold during my walks; I am cold on the bus; I am cold in my apartment. There is no escaping the chill or the umbrellas.

Amid this bleak winter,  solitude

I’ve been feeling rather isolated. My sister claims “solitude” and “isolation” are too dark, but it feels accurate to my experience.

  1. I’ve never lived alone until now. I enjoy the sense of community a home can have. Shifting my mentality to only consider my needs has planted a seed of loss.
  2. I’ve never lived outside of the US. The constraints are obvious: cultural differences & language barriers. Despite the recognizable challenges, it doesn’t make it easier. I regret not taking my Chinese lessons more seriously in the States.
  3. I’ve never created teaching curriculum. I am comfortable presenting information to students, but  I’ve never worked autonomously on lesson places with little to no guidance.

frankly, I feel lost.

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