Alright so I’ll be honest, I’ve lost track of how many of these Teaching English in Taiwan posts I’ve done, but I realized I didn’t write one about being in the classroom, which is arguably the most important part. Specifically, this time we will talk about what to expect being inside the classroom, be it for adults, kids, group lessons or private tutoring.
So the first thing I have to mention is that I’ve seen a variety of ways cram schools are run. You can have one experience at one cram school but have a completely different experience at another, both in terms of the students, expectations, and teaching materials. Working at several different locations will help you to at least become accustomed to teaching in a variety of situations which helps you grow as a teacher.
Teaching kids is an experience in and of itself. There’s a variety of types of kid classes I was expected to teach. Some classes were meant just to have some learning material while the rest of class was meant for games. Some classes I had were for me to show up and help with pronunciation and nothing more. Classes I have now are more complete in terms of teaching writing, speaking, listening, and reading.
Another thing that is sometimes seen in cram schools are teacher assistants. My current cram school has a couple of Taiwanese teacher assistants but they don’t really do much assisting besides typing grades in for the teacher. Other schools I’ve been to will have a Taiwanese teaching assistant inside the classroom with you to help you if anything needs to be explained in Chinese, if students misbehave, etc. I will point out though that I don’t see this as a common occurrence.
Some cram schools will provide material for you to go over with the students. The amount of material can vary widely. Some classes I had two hours to teach one to three pages while some other classes I had to teach eight to ten pages. Of course, this means with some classes you will have a lot of time left over. With others, you may be lucky if you get through everything (especially if on days where you have a lot to do the kids have a composition to write).
What you do with left over time depends on you and your cram school. I’ve seen teachers play games to review the material they’ve gone over that day/week. I’ve seen other teachers play a game that has very little to do with anything they’ve learned but just want to kill time, or handing out puzzles or word searches. I personally try to keep games related to what we learned, as playing Simon Says with kids in an advanced class doesn’t really help anyone unless you give some outrageous directions.
In terms of getting kids to speak, it’s just like anyone would expect: some kids talk, some kids don’t. This can either be because the kids are shy, or as at my current cram school, the kids are allowed to progress to a higher level that they shouldn’t be in just to make parents happy. In this case I usually try to give those kids the easier questions to at least get them to say something, or as some of my students read better than they can speak, I have them read out loud more to give them practice speaking actual sentences.
Teaching writing in Taiwan can be very frustrating. The education system hammers rote memorization into the kids’ heads. Unfortunately, this mean that it’s very hard for kids to come up with their own ideas and figure out what to write. For example, when helping my advanced students write a paragraph about their day, we had the paragraphs breakdown into morning, afternoon, and evening. I called on some students to give examples of what they do during those times and wrote the examples on the board. Now this is where it got interesting.
The students all blindly copied what was on the board. Almost none of them wrote anything relating to them. For example, one boy said he watches WWE wrestling every night, so I wrote that example on the board. When it came time to check everyone’s books, I found several girls wrote that they watched WWE as well, even though I knew they hated it. When I asked them if they really watched WWE, they told me they didn’t and that it was dumb. What was almost as funny to me was the fact that they had no response when I asked them why then did they write that they watch WWE. They admitted they just copied what was on the board because they didn’t know what to write.
This is a common problem. I have very few students that will think of their own answers for creative writing assignments. It’s difficult getting them to come up with their own answers, and I’m still learning how to better teach this.
Most adult classes I taught tended to be conversational courses. There’s very little emphasis on grammar mistakes. Actually, the first time I taught an adult class, I was called over to talk to the manager and told to just eliminate any grammar discussions in class. “Adults just want to have fun in class” I was told. This was despite several adults being in my class because their job required good English skills.
Basically, I was given a textbook and told that I didn’t really even need to use the text. I just needed to talk to and entertain the students. Needless to say, their English didn’t improve much. I tried to keep it educational, but there’s only so much you can do when each time you correct someone’s grammar the manager tells you to stop. Either way, those classes were a lot of fun and we joked around a lot.
Now compare this to tutoring. I tutor at two different locations, and even the tutoring is different across places. One tutoring place gives me material to work on with the students. If there is something I feel we need to cover then they will listen to my input and usually they will provide something for me. I’ve covered a variety of topics teaching there, from presentation skills to college interview preparation.
The other place I teach at gives me full reign over what I teach. They have a bunch of books and materials there to teach, although I’m free to go online and pick stuff, and I simply choose what I want to teach based on the wants and needs of the student. While that can be a little intimidating because it’s my responsibility to find good material, it does help me grow as a teacher.
Now I will say miscommunication is a common thing that occurs here. I’ve had management tell me a student wants one thing, only for the student to tell me that’s not the case and that they want something else. When I make the switch to what the student wants, management gets confused as to why I’m teaching something else. Luckily, it doesn’t happen too often but it is something to keep in mind when tutoring through a company.
I have also done tutoring by myself without going through a company, although it was just one time helping students prepare to get into a business institute. That was relatively straight forward. I know some other people have had jobs where they just go hangout with someone’s kid to give them experience talking to a native speaker in a variety of situations. I haven’t done this type myself but from the sound of it, it’s a very nice gig to get.
So there you have it. There’s a variety of things to expect. Overall, it’s very nice knowing that I am making a difference in people lives as learning English for Taiwanese people can be the difference between a good job and a bad job, going abroad and not going abroad, or people able to talk to people of different cultures. I recommend that you find a place that is a good fit for your teaching style, but also to venture out to some other types of schools just to have more experience.
What do you like teaching more, adults or kids? Do you prefer having a set curriculum or making your own?