If you know me, you know I have a tendency to fuss about things. And if you know me really well, you’ve heard me fussing about things hear in Taiwan. But, no one has heard me fuss about the children in Taiwan.
A lot of people wondered how I would make out teaching elementary students. When I taught at St. Rita, the youngest students I had were 5th graders. Here, I currently have 4th, 5th and 6th grade and next semester they actually plan to give me third grade. I really prefer the older students, but I was (obviously) looking for something different when I came here. So, I was quite open to this experience and what it might offer. Honestly.
Today, walking home from school, I realized how much I really like my students. I am so comfortable and relaxed with them. It doesn’t always seem that way given the cultural divide we have, but they make me smile and I really care about them.
OK, so it took me until October to realize I’m teaching a set of identical twins. I’ve been told I have another set of twins, but I haven’t figured them out yet. Remember, I see 600+ students once a week. I am not expected to know students names, as teachers don’t know their student’s names here. I cannot say much more to my students than ‘hello’ and ‘how are you’. I can ask the 5th grade ‘What’s the matter’ and ‘What are you doing’ and I can ask 6th grade ‘When is your birthday?’. Some can understand ‘What is your name?’ . And I only know about 6 phrases in Mandarin, none in Taiwanese.
My students have no boundaries. They will yell, scream, shout and run whether they are in the school, street or this apartment building. They will take things out of my hands, read my computer screen and enter adult conversations. Does reading that make you as crazy as it does me??!!! It looks like children are in control everywhere they go, but that’s me with my western eyes.
Every class has a class leader. This child is often who the special area teacher consults if there is a concern about a student. This child can call their peers to order and is who the teacher turns to in order to dismiss the class. Younger classes have the leader appointed by the teacher while older students select their own. This position is an enigma to me. It is the rare time when children have demands placed upon them. This child is respected, and obeyed, by classmates.
I know of things children have done, things for which we would suspend or expel them. Like children in Taipei coming to school under the influence of drugs. Or another young students pulling a knife on her classmates. The child is sent back to class and the school makes no big deal of it. I don’t know the language or culture well enough to know how society deals with them, but the school goes on as normal without missing a beat. The child isn’t shamed or punished. They don’t receive grandiose negative attention and they don’t feel abnormal. Do we make too much out of these behaviors?? They not enough?
You’re going to have to read this again and process it. If I’ve written it well enough, maybe you’ll ponder this. I’ve thought about it a lot. It was difficult to even begin to comprehend what happens here because I’ve been jaded into believing I come from a culture that values children. But,we don’t. We neglect children, rob them of their childhood and ignore them. We dress them like little adults and even let too many of them raise themselves. I struggle now to understand the concept of valuing children. What does it really mean? How do we, as individuals and as a society, really treat children we value?
What I’m noticing here is that children are allowed to explore. They’re allowed to remain innocent and inquisitive. They’re a meaningful part of the community as exhibited through the way they’re allowed to freely enter adult circles. They’re not told to quite the screaming, or yelling and they can joyfully express themselves. I get the feel that children aren’t put into their place and confined to act accordingly.
You better believe it drives me crazy. I am old and I am American and I don’t quite have these standards. But, this isn’t my house! And the children take correction as easily as they take a compliment. They want to do better! I think of words like trust, gentle, laughter and fun. Yes, I’ve seen some very sad faces. Anger. Frustration. Sleeping in class. Doubt. Discrimination. And I’ve seen students who will not let their classmates fail. Who don’t mind staying late to finish work and who will write it and re-write it until it is correct. And who thank me for correcting them!
Tina wants to teach me Mandarin. I have another wonderful student who’s name I don’t even know who spent about 2 hours writing a classical Chinese poem in calligraphy for me just because I wanted to see some of his work. I have a group of girls who come to my room during lunch everyday to play Uno. Today, one of the kids used the magnet poetry on my chalkboard to write in Mandarin “teacher is beautiful”. I had a student move to Vietnam and before she left, she did her best to write me a note about how much she will miss my class. I am so disappointed that I don’t even know her face. I won’t get to take a picture of it because the boys had to ‘one better’ them and write ‘teacher pretty’ in English. There’s a little third grade boy and girl who get a kick out of slipping up to my room after school just to say ‘hi Teacher Campbell’ then they get tickled-pink and run back down the hall!! Just like back home, its the students are able to get me through a bad day. I feel like I barely give enough in return.
Sports day is coming so, expect to see some wonderful pictures of these fantastic students!