January 20, 2009

Dirty Laundry

I am much too stubborn and thick-headed to be living overseas. I should have known something was up after the first couple dozen run-ins with coworkers at a previous place of employment, but I have a head like a pig. Even when one of my Taiwanese friends fended off each of my "Why don't..." questions with "Taiwan's just like that," it never struck meto stop beating my head against a wall.

This may very well turn into another one of those whinging "Why aren't things more like the way they are back at home" posts. If that's not your bag, consider yourself warned.

Had lunch with my good friend Craig today and laid out for him the particulars that are paining me at the moment. Briefly, these are that I have a group of students that are in the highest level in the entire school system of a private school that currently has kindergarten through 9th grade classes. If the contents of the package matched the label, this would be fantastic. They are a good bunch of kids regardless. I've heard horror stories from my coworkers about hellions they have, and I feel blessed that my chief beef with my students is that one or two of them answer too many questions!

The ninth graders are approaching the Chinese New Year Break of their most stressful year of their academic careers. The holiday is a two-parter for me. I think I get ten days off, straight, then I have to come clock in for a week to teach three or four classes, before getting another couple days off before starting back right around Lincoln's birthday. I think it's 14 days off total--nothing to sneeze at. My ninth graders inform me that they get nine days off, then must come back to review for THE TEST.

Reviewing means taking practice test after practice test. They've been doing this since August for an entrance exam that is given in late-May this year. Their English classes have been cut back to make way for more review sessions. Enter the meat grinder, children.

But this is life. This is how things are. This is how things will always be and nothing I say or do is ever going to change anyone's mind about the wisdom of this system. I can stamp my little size 15 feet and pound my head until powdered rocks fall from my nose, but I'm never ever going to change anything.

But what would you be, if you didn't even try. You've GOT to try.

My kids yesterday were full of life in class. I told one particular boy to be quiet while I was out of the room testing, or I was going to make him sit with his desk facing the wall for the rest of the year--meaning until December 31st, 2009...four months after he was to begin high school. He had fun pretending to care about his work, and I had fun pretending to try to catch him not pretending hard enough.

Friday morning was a whole nuther ball game. We're doing "Life on the Mississippi," and I'm enjoying it quite a bit. A third of the class is ready for this, the other guys are floundering, but they try. Not Friday. I couldn't hear students reading over the sound of other students' snot faucets. My package of tissue ran out before eleven o'clock. Noses, I could hear. Voices, not so much.

Something was definitely wrong. I gently set down the Twain and promised not to go any further until they told me what was going on. One of them finally mumbled, "Teacher..." (She's a real battle-axe) The next word I managed to coax out was "homework." No one wanted to talk about it, but I dug in and waited. Turns out, about 22 of 26 students hadn't bothered to do their homework the night before, and the homeroom teacher was writing home to the parents about it. Yeah! Bitch! Naturally, I said, "What's the big deal? You guys NEVER do my homework." Not a one of them. Ever. In eighteen months. Of course, I didn't understand. The note was going in THE CORRESPONDANCE BOOK. Oh damnation! It's the equivalent of THE PERMANENT RECORD. If ever a group of students needed to be turned on to the Violent Femmes, it's this bunch. I gave them my specialty pep talk, which didn't fix anything, because I am foreign so I don't understand.

I used to not understand shit because I was too young. Then, I think I didn't understand because of my Y chromosome, which I still have. Now, everything I don't understand can be attributed to my place of birth: New Jersey.

Alright, to get back to the drama of English Classroom 4, after relaying the story of distress to a coworker, he told me that one of the kids in the class--who happens to be one of the brightest students I've met in Taiwan, and who, incidentally, had done her homework--spent the previous day's lunch hour being chewed out by the aforementioned ironclad homeroom teacher. The girl is at the top of the class in all of the classes that matter and often has her picture in the paper for passing this test or that. Academia briefly aside, she is also an accomplished swimmer and the only girl in school who knows the butterfly stroke. She didn't do so well on the practice test for the high school entrance exams which are five months off. Not doing so well means, the mercury didn't shoot out of the thing that measures how hot someone's score was. You would not believe the guilt trip that was laid on the poor girl. The whole school will lose face if you don't do better than that. You're going to let your parents down. You should be ashamed of yourself. And the klinker. Are you still practicing swimming on Saturday after school? QUIT IT.

The one opportunity this kid has to dive into the water and drown out the voices that are telling her what she must do is now being yanked away. All because of a test.

I'm sure that this is not all that is wrong with education in Taiwan, but it's the first thing to jump out at ya. For all of the faults of the American education system, I hope to the Flying Spaghetti Monster that my kids can escape into it by junior high.

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