8 TOT’S (Taiwan On The Job Tips)- Just for You

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By Marcus Denton

Warning I have been in Taiwan less than one year. I  understand I don’t know shit yet. That is why taking the contents of this article seriously may cause serious brain defects.

1. Don’t Take The Job Before You Get to Taiwan– I learned my lesson on this one the HARD way. You have to remember if an employer can’t find a teacher in the country, it is normally a HUGE red flag.

Their co-teachers and managers probably have shitty English at best if they can’t even talk to somebody walking through the door looking for a job.

Demand at least 2-3 solid references from current foreign teachers if you even consider doing this.

Hold your ground on this also. The reason to hold strong, is that the school will probably give what sounds like a valid excuse why they don’t have a reference for you. WARNING!!

2. Being a great Uncle doesn’t make you a great teacher– So, your brother calls on you for an emergency babysitting role with the niece and nephew? You rise promptly to the challenge. And ,you let them eat every candy they aren’t allowed to, play hide and seek 357 times, and even take an accidental roundhouse to the gonads without ever doing anything besides smiling.

Amazingly enough (sarcastic voice), the kids absolutely ADORED you!

On the ride home from your brother’s house, you are still awe-struck about how much the kids love their magnificent Uncle. And if you are like me, and like to do things irrationally, you start thinking that you are missing your calling as a teacher.

I hate to inform you of something. Spoiling your family and controlling 20 rowdy Taiwanese kids in their second language are two totally different skill sets.

                                                  Anything to get “Uncle of The Year” mug!
3. Kids Aren’t ALL The Same– This came as one of the biggest shocks to me. I remember thinking before I came that I don’t know Taiwan, but I am certain that the kids would still fall for the old favorites like “I got your nose, ” or the “pretend cry.”

The pretend cry and a few other tricks seem to work ok. Don’t be surprised however if some of your more reliable tricks to make a kid smile are greeted with a blank stare.

                                                 “I got your nose” doesn’t always work!
4. Don’t DAT (Drink & Teach)

It’s Friday night. And, you had 13 kids try to rip out your arm hairs today, sang the old classic with a dunce cap on your head, “A Sailor Went to See See See” 14 times, and if you have to take another one of the classroom toys called a “sticky ball” off the head, just to get the head just to get the kids’ attention, you are probably going to have a nervous break down.

Let’s not also forget that you are pretty damn tired of the 4.5 minute chant you are forced to say every time you want a kid to repeat something, ” I say ENNNGLISSHH,” you say ENNGLISHH, and CHIIIIIi neeez.”Ohhh kayyyyy???”

Be sure to make the “Ok sign” with your right hand also!

And after your 4.5 minute chant of what seemed like absolute hell is over, it gets greeted with DEAD silence.


Not to worry, your 120 hour online course instructor told you to glance over the room when this happens.

So, you can’t wait to assess the situation.

You look down to see one of your prize 5 year old pupils, “Little Leo” has just commited one of the 7 most deadly sins of ESL Kindergarten “No Fingers On The Word.”

To the non-teachers, this means that as you are all reading together, he rebelled against the one constant demand any teacher makes on their ESL student “Fingers On The Word.”

I literally hear it in my sleep at this point.

You are thinking to yourself “How could HE of all people, not have his fingers on the word?”

That is when you notice one of the most horrifying sights you can see in a classroom. Poor Leo has got a case of the “itchy nuts.”

He’s just scratching away. And, you just pray to God nobody tells on him for this.

Oh yeah,a further glance shows your other class favorite “Smiley Emily,” staring at the ceiling like she is looking at a picture De Vinci just drew on the wall.

You keep browsing the room to spot your class trouble maker.

You finally find 9 year old Sam, who was placed in the class with 5 year olds, is sleeping in the corner.

Let’s not forget how funny he looks. He has been forced to sit in a desk so small that his legs are coming over the table.

Sound fun and rewarding yet? Not really, huh?

You probably want a drink by then, right?

Let me just warn you. Friday night drunken debauchery makes for a LONG 8 hour Saturday work day.

                                          The shit we do as teachers…

5. Expect to Be Ignored– Many Taiwanese people I have met have been extremely warm and friendly. Living in Taiwan has been an absolutely wonderful experience.

However, in the work place, don’t be surprised if your cheerful Monday afternoon “Hello, how was your weekend?” to your Taiwanese coworker doesn’t exactly get the same 45 minute answer you are accustomed to getting from the cute chick in your accounting department when you worked back home.

This is a cultural difference that can be very difficult for many foreigners to understand when they first get here.

I still don’t get it. And, I would be lying if I said the deadened conversations don’t exactly inspire me to sing songs to 4 year olds.

                                                Do they look like they want to answer “How was your weekend?”

6. Never Say “What?”- One of the things you better learn quickly about teaching in Taiwan is you need to get really good at guessing. If you don’t hear the kid, you really have to just try and guess what they said in my opinion.

It is true that maybe you didn’t hear a kid because 7 others were screaming at the same time. However, saying “what” is like slashing the air out of their brand new bicycle tires. It just deflates their confidence!

I would even say a “what?” is almost guaranteed to be met with 100 % silence.

It is really frustrating sometimes because you legitimately did not hear them, and you really need to know what they said.

                                                               Try to survive a “What!”
7. Nobody Can Help You, But You

I will preface this with saying I have had some legitimate help from coworkers. But, there have also been many times where I was in a jam, and nobody really could help me. It really is due to my own fault, and shitty preparation.

So, the story goes like this.

You are in the teaching lounge desperately plotting today’s task of making the grammar of “the present perfect” come alive.

Let me tell you. It is no easy task.

Suddenly, you think it is your lucky day.

Last year’s “Teacher of The Year,” comes stumbling in.

With 13 years of experience from this teacher, you are certain he is going to bail you right out of this jam.

It has been my experience that your conversation is going to be far from helpful, and will include the following 3 lines:

“Dude, this is the easiest job I ever had.”

“Just play a game man!”

Or, even better ” Do you want to see pictures of my snorkeling trip this weekend?”

And, if you are REALLY lucky, he might rip off his entire arsenal of games all packed with his own lingo of how to explain them within 30 seconds max.

Guess what? There’s not a chance in hell you are going to understand a single word he just said.

Moral of the story is you have to keep looking towards yourself if you ever want to get any better.

Giving legitimate grades was something I learned through experience. This was after I had the noble intention of giving my class full of 14 year old assholes the 70 percent grades that they deserved on their final.

I legitimately thought this would help inspire them to study when they started the next class. How dumb was I?!?!

I was warned of doing this previously. But, my co-teacher was riding my every move at that point, and I was also certain it would be fight #323 in 4 days if she looked at the tests and found I let them all pass.

Apparently, there is a reason not to give bad grades.

Taiwan is all about competition. This intense competition can lead to Nirvana like symptoms of depression when kids get to be as young as 9 years old.

The rage and sadness is because students are given a number or a ranking in their class. To a 9 year old, it may feel like their entire self-worth revolves around this statistic..

In my humble opinion, after reading $213 dollars worth of self-help books, in my mid 30’s, this is the stupidest shit I ever heard of.

Learning that this system is not for me to judge or determine its worth is one of the hardest things that I have had to learn while being in Taiwan.

I try to dream up lesson plans where kids are learning English for practical use. I have even ran mini-debates in the one class I had that wasn’t monitored by a supervisor.

This is all noble and grand for a first year teacher. Practical use seems to be a bit irrelevant. They want to learn how to pass the test!

A wise friend of mine once told me “You may think you know what you are doing after teaching for 6 months. Just remember. Your school may have been doing this for 20-30 years.”

                                                  Soccer field or English class, PASS ’em ALL!!
After 8 months of teaching in Taiwan, I feel like a beaten and broken down minor league baseball player just trying to survive. I will still stick it out for the same reason that the minor leaguer goes for it.

The minor leaguer wants to hit that game-winning home run one more time. For me, I still want to hit the home run once in a while also.

Teaching home runs don’t come very often. However, moments like when 8 year old Irene’s father flagged me down in the hallway a while back keep me going.

I was carrying a basket full of toys, shirt untucked and unwashed, hair frizzed, papers flying everywhere, a stack full of unorganized books, all while I was nervously chewing on a blue and green marker on each side of my mouth respectively.

On this day, he decided to stop me before I started my next class, and say the magical words that any teacher with a heart or a soul want to hear, “Thank you for teaching my daughter. I know you don’t have to.”

The eminent danger of hell breaking loose as seven nine year olds were waiting for me to teach my next class as I was already 45 seconds late no longer seemed to matter. I really did not care at that moment if I walked into a 9 year old “Battle Royal!”

On that day, I got my home run. And, that was really all that mattered to me.

                                             Here’s me! Swinging for one more home run!