I taught in Taiwan in 2016. I lived in a small apartment in the town of Huwei in Yunlin county, central Taiwan. Three times a week I was picked up by a local teacher and we drove 30-45 minutes away from Huwei to a countryside elementary school.
Three different schools, one for each of the three days. I taught English to third to fifth grade students. I say countryside because we had to pass by miles of agricultural fields to get there, but these classrooms are nothing to sneeze at – they are equipped with computers, Wi-Fi, smart boards, etc. Once in a while English classes were cancelled in one of the schools to make way for Robotics.
The other two days of the week I walked or bicycled to a middle school close by. Students from other middle schools in the county were bussed there to practice English in the English Language Project classrooms.
Four teachers – myself and three others from Britain – divided the students into small groups. We took them through typical conversation in different “scenarios” – rooms set up as grocery store, hotel, restaurant, airport check-in, immigration, airplane. We taught them typical scripts like “I would like to buy a ticket to California.” “May I order room service?” “Where is the restroom?” “How much is this red shirt? Do you have it in medium size?”
Taiwanese students rank high in test scores compared to others in the world.
There are eight things that I appreciate about Taiwan schools where I taught.
1. Students clean their own school. Cleaning materials and products are provided by the school; a schedule is set for students to clean. They sweep and mop floors, take out the trash, wipe surfaces – tables, desks, chairs, windows. A teacher told me that one school on Guam tried to do this – students helped wipe tables at the cafeteria, but it was stopped because some parents complained. This is unfortunate. Students learn respect for their surroundings when they know what it takes to keep it clean. I love to clean. It can be a time to de-stress, reflect. There is a satisfying feeling when you are done. Kids can benefit from this space and time of working quietly alone; they need a sense of immediate accomplishment. I have been teaching for more than two decades and in all my classrooms students fight for the opportunity to sweep the floor, take out the trash or stay back to help straighten up the classroom. I use cleaning as a reward and an incentive.
2. There is no snack time. Twice a week, students are given a free snack consisting of milk and fruit. That’s it. No one brings crackers, cookies, chips, juice. School lunch is rich in vegetables. Some days it is all vegetables. The whole time I was there I did not eat any processed food in school.
3. Students plant and garden. In one school they tend to a small plot of field near the campus. They plant rice and other crops, water, and prune. When the time comes, they harvest them. All my schools had plants that the students cared for. Planting and gardening teach valuable lessons about science, agriculture, about sowing and reaping, patience and perseverance.
4. Music and art are an integral part of the curriculum. When I wandered the hallways in elementary and middle schools I always heard music – from recorders, drums, piano, even voice. Some elementary schools assemble every morning and sometimes some students play their recorders while the rest sing. In one of my schools the fifth graders decorate the hallways, painting the walls with their art.
5. Students bring their own containers for lunch. All students bring tiffin boxes, chopsticks, bowl, and soup spoon. Tiffin boxes are popular in Asia. They are metal bowls that stack up. Usually a soup spoon is part of the set. The plastic spoons that are disposed of in our elementary schools each day can add up to quite a lot for the whole year. It is an unsustainable practice. Even if students cannot bring their own tiffin boxes or lunch containers, they can at least bring their own spoons and forks.
6. The older students serve the younger ones. At one Taiwan school where I taught, the fourth and fifth grade students were released early for lunch. They would proceed to the cafeteria, don aprons and hair covers, and serve the food in younger students’ containers. When all have eaten, they stay back and clean the cafeteria. This means wiping the tables, sweeping, mopping, and gathering the big pots. In all three schools older students bring the big pots back to the kitchen where staff clean them. At the end of school, they put on reflector vests and stop signs to help the younger kids cross the road or get up on parents’ motorcycles. (Many of the students bicycle to school.) Granted, I taught in rural areas and traffic was light. But I sensed a spirit of service, gentleness, and caring towards the younger and smaller among them. The younger students look forward to a time when they, too will someday get to serve others.
7. Walking meetings. Teachers in some of my schools regularly walk around the hallways during recess and lunch. They also have walking meetings.
8. Finally, my favorite, nap time. The school shuts down after lunch for about 40 minutes. The campus is quiet. I did not know this at first and was shushed because I was walking around and tried to make copies. No meetings. Everyone naps – students, teachers, principal, and staff. In one school, I was shown the couches in the library where some teachers took naps. Others just put their head down at their desks.
Naps are underrated. But not in Taiwan. There are eight things I loved about teaching in Taiwan. But they had me at naps.
Jeni Ann Flores is a cool teacher - a robotics coach, aspiring drone operator, and wannabe writer. You may read more about her at https://teacherseditionflores.blogspot.com/ or reach out to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.