Not really Joe, but another of my favorite little monsters. He may have been trying to be a turtle. Let's just give him that, ok?
Meet Joe. He’s six, or so he says. His interests, in no particular order, are making obnoxious noises, distracting others, abusing others with a variety of ninja kicks and judo chops, and making little effort to speak English during English class.
Don’t get me wrong, he’s a nice kid. I like him. He reminds me that I ought to track down and call all of my former elementary school teachers to apologize for my own twerp behavior.
But I have honed my methods of dealing with Joe. Mostly, they’re a system of warnings before I send him outside the door of the classroom for a few minutes to cool his jets. I also mix in a liberal amount of repetitive writing, standing up with his arms up for minor hijinks, and the occasional trip to stand in the back of the classroom if he is being super disruptive. I’ve moved his seat around so he’s out of arm reach of others. And I always explain to him in Chinese what he has done wrong after class. Most days, I manage to keep him under control.
The problem is, none of these minor inconveniences to Joe do anything to fundamentally alter his behavior. He stands outside the classroom, looking in sadly. He cries every once in a while. But that next day, he’s right back at it. Little punk ass.
Foreign teachers are put in a tough spot when it comes to discipline in the classroom here in Taiwan. From the standpoint of a buxiban teacher, we’re reliant on our school to set the policy. Generally, it’s in our best interest to defer to the Taiwanese co-teachers. But what is one to do when those methods seem a little, er, not right?
My co-teacher, a young girl fresh out of college who doesn’t speak any English, tries to help me with Joe. She’s gotten the order from the principal, who has presumably (though not always) spoken to the parents.
Yesterday, after I had Joe stand in the back of our classroom for incessantly speaking out in Chinese and singing in gibberish, my co-teacher took him aside. She half-pinned him in a corner and started motioning with a pair of scissors to cut off his hair. I couldn’t overhear what she was saying, but I am pretty sure it was something to the extent, “I told you to be good or I’d cut your hair off.”
When I first came to Taiwan five years ago, the government had just outlawed corporal punishment in schools. The first school I taught at still had the xiaoheishou (小黑手), a little black leather swatter in the shape of a hand attached to an elastic bungee stick, in every classroom. Whack!
I don’t know what to make of it. Sometimes, the punishment seems to border on Abu Ghraib. I’ve seen toddlers locked in closets with the lights off. I’ve seen all types of odd physical endurance punishments. I’ve had parents ask me to hit their kids. I’ve heard kids belittled to tears. Told they would be sent home with another family. Made to feel worthless.
And the problem isn’t only the teachers, most of this sort of stuff is “cultural.” The larger problem is this back-asswards education industry. From kindergarten to cram school, there really is no enforceable disciplinary system. The schools are at the mercy of the parents.
Private education is a cash game. More students, more cash; the ends justify the means. So, for the boss of the school, the warden, he just has to keep order, no escapes. That means making sure parents think their child is learning and happy. And if that child happens to be light years behind his peers and showing signs of learning disabilities, well, everything is dandy as far as the school is concerned. Hand over that tuition and here’s your piece of shit in a box of gold.
Students can’t get grades below an 85. They’re too big to fail. It’s bailout central. I write comments for all of my students at both schools. I am not allowed to write anything even remotely possible of being perceived as negative. If the child is a constant disruption in class, never completes assignments, cusses at me and others, it’s basically, “Dear Dahmer family, Little Jeff is doing great!”
It is a joke. The schools are beholden to the kids. They have to balance making sure the child doesn’t complain about the school and making sure the student seems to be learning a lot in class, even if that means teaching 5-year-olds who can’t tell you their name how to say the word “excavator” when prompted. It’s gotta be fun, but strict– no games, only writing, reciting, testing, again and again– but fun.
Teaching in buxinbans is a scam. Even in the good schools. For people coming to teach in Taiwan, or practically anywhere else in Asia, realize that schools are going chew you up and spit you out. If you can’t get enough out of life outside the classroom, you’ll fail.