Today doubtlessly was my last day of teaching kindy. Its such a relief not to teach kindergarten and I love that age, with kids' brains like sponges its gratifying as a teacher. Yet teaching kindy in Taiwan is such a game show despite just leaving one of the better bosses. There were times the past 7 years (bloated graduation ceremonies on steroids, monthly telephone teaching, gate duty, leading morning exercises, PTA meetings, testing 4 year olds, irrelevant staff meetings) when I had to suck it up and grit my teeth.
Teaching kindy in Tainan and here in Yilan (at Chung Dau and Maple Leaf) I can see what works for me and what doesn't. Share Fun in Tainan was full day English with the same class, with a focus on project/theme teaching, so I had a lot of freedom to take them as deep as I wanted and incorporate our theme into other classes, like art, science, reading, phonics. There weren't so many books (yet they could read) and the kids were busy cutting, gluing, painting, cooking and language was natural and holistic because our theme was reinforced in different subjects. I found reading material that had to do with our specific theme.
For example, we did a K2 theme on flowers, so I focused on the two most commons flowers in Tainan, the lotus and orchid; we made vases for mother's day, had a drama area of a flower shop, learned the parts of a flower and took 2 field trips one for lotuses and one for orchids. We baked vanilla bean cupcakes, vanilla is an orchid and made vanilla bean ice-cream in zip lock bags.
In Chung Dau I was one of many teachers the kids were exposed to, so that was good for them listening to a Kiwi or South African accent, but too many books in my opinion and hardly acceptable ones, they seldom did art, and I never met any parents. Maple Leaf my (last school) ran like a well oiled machine, no need for staff meetings, all materials provided for, I just plugged in, but they also had tons of albeit, first rate text books. They crammed so much material in one morning at the expense of art, play, hands on science and cooking; which I suppose is the sacrifice for half day English. They had one PE class a week and one Art or Cooking class, which isn't enough. I tried to incorporate as much art as I could, and my boss encouraged me to be as creative as I wanted (yipee), but it was almost too difficult with their merciless curriculum. The books at Maple Leaf are superior, but overkill. For example, The Hooked on Phonics books of course are classic, kids need phonics to read and for pronunciation, but you don't necessarily need books for that.
A lot of what's lame about corporate kindergartens in Taiwan comes from paying parents having unrealistic and dare I say cruel expectations of their kids "performing" (come speak English for your aunts and uncles) at the expense of health and play, despite play being the ideal form of learning at this age. Having a shitload of books justifies the parents paying a majority of their paycheck to a kindergarten that sticks their foreign staff at the front gate. I may sound harsh on parents when they are victims of the system too, but they are the consumers and should have more of a say. On a personal level, most of the parents of my classes were well educated, well traveled, high earners who appreciated a holistic project oriented learning. I pretty much was blessed with great parents every semester, which isn't always the case. It was easier having a relationship with parents in an all day kindy, I missed that working part time.
Another example of a K2 theme/project was devoting a month to Foods of the World, I only remember doing Mexico and India. For the Mexican week, our reading was a Salsa recipe, which we made, along with burritos, a pinata, cactus art and we learned the Mexican Hat Dance.
In Tainan I had to give my kindergarten classes (including K1 and K2) midterm and final exams including written and oral sections. We had to record the oral exams with video cameras and when the school extorted crappy results (big surprise because its no fun having a camera in your face) they started using mp3 recorders. Parents need evidence you see, or at least that's what the manufacturer/managers believe. Its end results focused and not valuing the process. Unfortunately it turns kids off learning all together. There are funner ways to assess young learners.
Other things that suck about teaching kindergarten here, is the Taiwanese staff working longer hours for less pay (sure they get much fatter Chinese New Year bonuses, a month's wages) and well its plain illegal for kids that young to learn English. I certainly wont miss jumping out doors with my indoor shoes on, in the rain because the government showed up without warning, despite having an APRC. Good riddance to all that.
Nevertheless, teaching kindergarten has its rewards, of course the kids, I got my daily fix of hugs and singing and dancing, but also its a great schedule. I have been lucky as well, my bosses were decent too. My first Sharefun boss sponsored Z's airfare one trip home and bought me a new refrigerator. There were times I needed loans for a trip and I never had a problem. My second Share Fun boss gave me a nice bonus my last year and would of doubled it if I stayed on. Of course I am highlighting the positives. On the negative side, there was little trust between management and teachers, it wasn't transparent and teachers got different treatments. The manager I worked for was an abusive, sadist and I saw dozens of good foreign teachers (with teaching licenses) leave solely because of her. Finally at Maple Leaf, it was my first time working under a foreigner, a Canadian and he was down to earth, mellow, easy going and also gave me loans and extra hours when I needed it. In fact I was happy to stay there until my new employer hunted me down and swept me off my feet.
What could improve about kindergartens in Taiwan is:
1. Make it legal, as everyone does it anyways.
2. Educate parents on the importance of play, exercise and enjoying the outdoors and incorporate this into the school's style and class curriculum.
3. Let teachers have regular raises. Years of loyalty should be respected. I know what its like to feel like a slave, being chained to a school for 5 years so I can apply for an APRC. Bonuses would be nice. Extracurricular activities at night or Saturdays, like telephone teaching or graduation ceremonies should be paid. This is time away from our families and self care. I don't think signing any contract that stipulates a monthly salary includes these kinds of activities is legal for one thing. That totally nulls the contract in my opinion and can be contested by higher powers.
4. Educate parents on how diet and lack of sleep affects their kid's ability to focus and learn in class. Inadequate sleep is a social travesty that cuts across all generations here and the problem is totally unrecognized.
I am looking forward to Monday morning and not trying to be late for punching in my time card. I have another month of this morning bliss.