Teaching English in Taiwan ✅ The Hidden Gem of Asia
What do you envision when you see yourself teaching English abroad? Depending on your point-of-view, it could differ considerably, I bet. For instance, you may picture yourself eating local food on your lunch break with your colleagues, or you might begin to ponder what your students are talking about in their native language during the break time. Whatever you picture, I can happily say that the experience of teaching English in Taiwan is packed with so much joy and satisfaction.
The students are so passionate about learning English that they make you feel so welcome when you are there, and that is what it is all about: feeling comfortable and excited to be there.
In the next paragraphs, I will share a little bit about myself and my experiences in the classroom—follow me on my journey to the end and discover what it is really like teaching English in Taiwan and what makes this place so magical. Consider moving!
About the author
I'm Chrissy, to tell you a little bit about myself, I'm from Jersey, in the Channel Islands; I left there in the Autumn of 2015 to work in Australia for two years (staying there two years). I had the best two years of my life in that country!
The most majestic, bewitching beaches and landscapes I had ever laid my eyes upon and the adrenaline-style activities that I tried were some of my best memories (skydiving), and I made friends with people from all walks of life; from all over the world — it truly was a spellbinding experience!
Then, as my visa was about to expire, I found myself a new journey/experience/chapter by befriending some Taiwanese friends by complete accident. Enter: Taiwan. The rest is history!
Teaching English in Taiwan - Previous experience necessary?
I'm relatively new to the teaching industry; I've only been doing it for just over three years. However, despite my modest experience, I have learned the fundamentals fairly quickly.
I currently give ESL lessons in a cram school in Taichung, Taiwan. Cram schools are specialized schools that help students pass entrance exams or achieve particular goals. The age groups I teach are predominantly elementary school and some junior high school students, who range from 5 years to 14 years of age.
I also tutor one-to-one on occasion when the parents request additional learning for their children. I generally teach in a standard classroom setting, and my classes are usually quite small in number (between 8-15 students in the class) as I work at a small branch that has a small classroom capacity.
Learning as you go
When I got my first job as an English teacher in a cram school, I had almost no experience whatsoever. The only real experience I had was volunteering to teach some of my Asian roommates when I was living in Australia. And, just to be clear, this was a very informal and unconventional setting, to put in lightly.
They would essentially query what the antonyms of certain vocabularies were and also ask why the syntax is so different in English, as opposed to their languages. As you can imagine, this level of teaching was not sufficient enough to prepare me to lead a class full of students.
The first few months in Taiwan
Nonetheless, my boss hired me, albeit my experience was very green. The first few months were very nerve-racking and uncomfortable. In fact, they were not enjoyable at all, for the simple reason that I had not had any formal training, nor any real experience, so the formative months were a true eye-opener to the industry and the Taiwan model, too. I remember my first classes mostly involving warmer games such as hangman and slap the word (written on the board).
In addition, I would emphasize the verbal element of the language and essentially choose each student to read a sentence in the book. This methodology worked for a short time but, after several weeks, I could notice the boredom beginning to creep in and their conviction in me slowly decreasing. I knew I had to rethink my strategy and come up with a new style of teaching: a more enjoyable and engaging one.
Fine-tuning teaching skills
From that point, I began researching what elements of teaching I should incorporate into my classes. Additionally, I also asked my boss for support, and she gave me some important information as to how I could adjust the content and eliminate parts that were deemed unnecessary.
Therefore, I started to include tasks that came with challenges for the students (small groups reading and presenting the content in the textbook), spelling tests, and freer practices in the form of games. Eliciting, drilling, and modeling the target language is standard practice and is the bedrock in which the principles are based upon presentation, practice, and production.
The first phase is to present the topic to the class, the second phase is to get the students to practice it in groups, and the third phase is to demonstrate what the groups have produced during the practice and then present it to the class.
Classroom management and discipline issues
Six months into my first teaching experience, I had more-or-less grasped how I should structure my classes and what I should include in them. I was naive to think that that was the end of my challenges in teaching, far from it. My next obstacle to overcome was classroom management and discipline — I hadn't properly enforced any kind of discipline in my previous classes. As the only solution I had in my arsenal was to raise my voice loudly (which is an obsolete and distasteful style, in my opinion), I needed innovative ideas and a more modern approach to be effective enough to tackle it.
Putting a reward system into place
Once again, I had to go back to the proverbial drawing board and determine what measures I needed to take in order to maintain discipline in my classes.
Subsequently, I began to adopt and incorporate other teachers' methods and practices, such as a point-based system (split the class into teams and encourage competitiveness in the classroom).
I also provide incentives—some kind of reward/prize for being on the winning team to keep the motivation alive. This way, the students were more inclined to follow instructions and listen to me, as there was something at stake. All the methods paid off well, even if they weren't foolproof.
Dealing with the parents
After that, I had to figure out how to satisfy the parents (yes, I still had more challenges yet to come). I have worked for two different cram schools in the past 3+ years, and they both required diplomatic and political negotiating skills. What do I mean by that?
As most cram schools are private (disclaimer: in my experience at least), the parents influence some degree to how their children are taught and disciplined.
To elaborate a little, I remember one particular student's speaking ability was not quite up to the standard of the mother's liking, and she began to demonstrate this dissatisfaction to my boss, who then asked me to 'solve it', which I did.
Another time, one other student was always rather disobedient and disruptive at times, so I did what any regular teacher would do: document it in a comment in the student's student book to make the occurrence known to the parents. You guessed it! That was the wrong move to make.
The next day, my boss explained that the mother of that same student didn't appreciate the approach I took when it came to disciplining her child; therefore, I had to deal with the external politics that the position came with once again.
In short, you essentially have to follow the 'the customer is always right' model (i.e., the parents), and you cannot really challenge the parents when it comes to these practices, as they are paying customers to the business. As I said before, I needed to improve my diplomatic and political negotiating skills. I'm not suggesting every school/franchise is like this, but just to give some insight as it could be a possibility.
Working with a teaching assistant
Moreover, I was fortunate enough that the homework came under the responsibility of the TA (teaching assistant) responsibility, so I never had to mark any extra books/papers.
On the other hand, the classroom bookwork was done during the second period of the lesson (after the short break). It involves listening activities in conjunction with the bookwork, which encompasses reading, listening, and comprehension tasks.
This stage of the lesson was quite straightforward, as it requires following instructions from a CD. I usually repeat the vocabulary/questions at times to make sure the students have understood the content, and at the end, I may ask each student (individually) a quick question related to the unit that was just taught to know if they have understood. The marking of the books concludes the lesson.
Assessing student level
Furthermore, if you're going into teaching English in Taiwan and expect all of your students to be at the same level of English, you'd be very mistaken! In my experience, most of the students are in different age groups, and some have had previous English learning, while others have had zero; thus, this makes it challenging to cater to all the students equally.
However, it isn't impossible, and solutions can be made. By putting stronger students with students equally as good and weaker students with other weaker students, they will be able to improve themselves and have more confidence to compete against each other, as opposed to stronger vs. weaker, which kills the weaker student's self-esteem and confidence completely. I usually evaluate and make a self-assessment to determine which students are matched and which ones are not.
Lastly, be calm. Be collected. Be patient
Without a doubt, you're bound to experience some kind of disobedience, misbehavior, hyperactivity, or bad attitudes from at least some of the students. However, you must keep your composure and keep cool—you must not get aggressive or angry at the students. At times it can be hard to control, believe me, I know, but ethics and code of conduct are paramount to maintaining professionalism.
You will be a role model to the students. Setting an example is a testament to cultivating a good relationship and bonding with the students—authoritarian approaches will make the students dislike you and make them feel unexcited to be in your class. I'm always friendly and approachable to the students, which, in turn, makes them happy to be in class.
Have fun teaching English in Taiwan!
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