Scenes from a Taiwanese Classroom

Anatomy of An Elementary Age English Class

Three days a week I teach my “Treehouse” level class, an intense and higher-priced class offered at my school. I will have these eight students for as long as I am teaching at the school or for however long the student’s parents keep forking out the dough. It’s amazing how much better the Treehouse program is compared to some of my other classes. All eight of these kids are learning English at an extremely fast rate and a handful of them will truly benefit from these lessons should they continue their English studies down the road. 

I have a lot of fun with this class. I get to spend the most amount of time with them, which in the long run makes a difference in terms of my teaching plans. The class is smaller in size, which allows me to focus on individual student’s strengths and weaknesses. To top it off we’re allowed to have a good time via games and amusing activities since the students have a decent grasp at conversational English. The class can be difficult at times and certain students do enjoy making a ruckus during my lessons. Still, when it’s all said and done, they’re all a good group of kids, some more amusing than others. 
But enough rambling, let’s meet the players!
Bottom Row, Left to Right:
Jimmy: Let’s see, what can I say about Jimmy. The kid is the only student who actually needs the most extra help in class, particularly with pronunciation and simple sentence patterns. Much of these issues can be blamed on his attention span, which is on par with that of a new puppy getting his first bath. Some days Jimmy is a delight in class. He’ll participate in class exercises and reading, and if we’re lucky he’ll sit quietly and listen. On other days he’s a tornado of loud Chinese rants, unnecessary games of hide and seek and the occasional high kick to the Teacher Warner’s “tree” legs. Last week during the reading of the storybook, “A Bully on Baker Street” Jimmy, possibly in an act of inspiration from the story’s antagonist, decided to tear his book to shreds and lunge at Alex who was sitting next to him. What’s most striking about Jimmy is that when you are one on one with him he’s a very calm, and rather delightful kid. The other day he came to the school earlier and offered me a piece of candy, while a Chinese teacher helped him with his homework.  He would later throw a small rubber basketball at my head during a game of spelling Basketball after I corrected him on the spelling of “V A C U U M.” 

The Jimmy, The Alex, The Iris & The Joyce

Vicki: Don’t let the pink shorts and occasional pigtail hairdo fool you. Vicki, a promising student with the hindrance of selfishness, can be trouble. For the most part she is a decent, middle of the road student. She loves participating in class and often volunteers to read aloud, but much of this is fueled by a level of greed. Hess Schools print their own hard currency, the Hess Cent, tiny little colorful squares with phrases like “Way to Go!” “You’re #1” and “Superstar,” which when stockpiled can be used to buy goodies like Hello Kitty paraphernalia or pencil erasers (and let me tell you, the Taiwanese love their pencil erasers). You see, Vicki has a brick of cents that she appears to have been hoarding away in her pencil case since she started at Hess three years ago. During one lesson when we were learning about the word “S T E A L” I made the mistake of using the sentence example, “Teacher Warner steals Vicki’s cents,” a risk taken for the sake of teaching. She was not amused and spent the remaining class time sulking in her corner. SIDE NOTE: By “her corner” I literally mean her corner. These kids are territorial little buggers. Any change in seating causes more political strife than is needed and for the most parts it’s best to separate the boys from the girls since it turns out coodies is a global epidemic. 
Freshly minted Hess Cents!

Melody: Melody is a delight to have in class. Not the strongest student in terms of reading and spelling but she always wears a big smile on her face during class and never ceases to participate during class exercises. When I recently mispronounced my Chinese name she was, however, the first student to point out that I had mistakenly introduced myself as Xi (Dead) Hua Na, a minor hiccup in the pronunciation of one tone, but one that cost me the respect of my class for the rest of the period. 

Top Row: Left to Right

Alex: Arguably the most ambitious in the class, Alex, with his high-pitched voice and constant thirst for attention, if the official go-to guy for all sentence or word examples. Case in point: last week during a break Alex let loose an ear-piercing shriek after I jokingly said he was sitting near the (keyword of last unit) COCKROACHES. From then on certain students in class used this incident to spark all kinds of creative sentence examples. During our movie unit Melody created the movie title “Cockroaches Eat Alex” for a (keyword) HORROR movie. Later when we learned the word SCARED Joyce decided to say, “Alex is scared and he scream like girl.” After correcting her grammar I told her that wasn’t very nice. Later on this web of name calling eventually culminated with Lucas (more on him in a second) conjuring up the sentence, “Alex is a girl.” These students are amused by the most primitive of sentences. I only recently was able to weed them off the giggle inducing word, “poop,” as in Teacher Poop (previous unofficial nickname for yours truly). Despite some juvenile name-calling, Alex has a very good sense of humor and laughs along with everyone else. He is a very promising student whose only major flaw is a desire to be the first to finish all his work, resulting in sloppy mistakes on tests and reading exercises. I’m working on this with him. Less dancing and screaming in class, more attention paid to the fine details of English grammar. 

Joyce: Joyce is another of the top students in the class, however, she has a bit of an issue with authority. She loathes the storybook reading exercises in class and very rarely volunteers to read aloud (I of course make her anyway). The tragedy of this is she’s extremely bright and her conversational skills are some of the best in the class.  On the last major test she had a 100% on every section, even the admittedly difficult question and answer part, but bombed the storybook questions. I learned during the movie unit that her favorite movie is “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” a curious departure from her peer’s collective agreement that “Wall-E” was the best film. Side note: Joyce will try to sneak drinks and food into class, a big no-no at Hess. Best to catch her in the act early before she, eh hum, spills a bottle of chocolate milk on Alex and his belongings sitting in front of her. I’ve also come to realize that she will not be wooed into participating in class with the usual incentive of Hess Cents. She does, however, have a vice for Mister Donut donuts.

Apple: Let’s forget the obvious fact that her name is Apple even though she could pass as a Rebecca. Apple is a well-behaved student who struggles in certain areas, mainly spelling and pronunciation, but has a high level of motivation to succeed in the class. During breaks she and Melody will often work on homework or future exercises together while the majority of the class act a fool in the hallway or think of clever ways to sabotage Teacher Warner. Apple does, however, have a bizarre and rather disgusting little tendency to cough on me anytime I am helping her. It’s Almost like she has an allergic tick for Teacher Warner. For example, ME: “Apple, THE STUDENTS “A R E” STUDYING FOR THE TEST, not THE STUDENTS “I S” STUDYING” Apple’s response as she stares up at me with her innocent eyes: “(enter the sound of a kitten working hard a coughing up a hairball)” One day my Chinese teaching aid, Eva, made Apple wear a surgical face mask during class after a fit of chirpy coughs disgusted poor Eva.

While some of the other students run amuck in the halls during break time, 
Apple and Vicki work on their homework. I am always around to answer 
questions but only the girls in the class ask. 

Iris: Iris is not only the best student in class but also the most unassuming. She is terribly bright but never let’s on to her advantages over the rest of the lot. She is always willing to ask for help when its needed and likes to participate, often raising her hand before others even get a chance to compute the question just presented to them. I recently helped to edit her application essay for an English Language Immersion program in Canada for next summer. For her sake, I hope she finds the means to go and pursue the language.

Lucas: (red and orange shirt) Lucas is the classroom’s resident terrorist. Even in the photo above he seems to be disconnected from his peers, and is clearly plotting some elaborate scheme to thwart my lesson plan for the day. He’s intelligent and knows it. He enjoys undermining authority and has a troublesome influence over the classroom’s wild animal, Jimmy, The Joker to Lucas’ Gotham City crime syndicate. Lucas is as bright as Iris and is a wiz when it comes to spelling. I once jokingly pitted the entire class against Lucas in a speed spelling writing game and he surprisingly exceeded my expectations. For the most part we have an understanding in the classroom setting: he behaves himself and doesn’t distract the others during my lessons, and I ignore the fact that for much of the time (especially during reading) he is secretly drawing ninjas and gangsters in his book or adding to a maniacal list of phrases ranging from “TEACHER MARK SO UNFAIR” “TERRIBLE TEACHER TOM” and now, “TEACHER WATER IS MEAN,” scribbled with the same vigor and craziness that made The Shining’s “all work and no play” rant so terrifying. Lucas got a 99% on the last test and I congratulated him and told him that he was doing very well in the class but that he should behave himself. He seemed to agree but as he walked away I noticed a smirk on his face that only someone clearly biding his time would make. SIDE NOTE: In one of the videos below the students were required to come up with fake movie titles, one for each of the eight movie genres we were learning. Lucas’ creativity can be amusing but often interrupts his reasoning when it comes to proper grammar, case in point, the poorly titled ROMANCE film, “WARNER KISS PIG!”

During Unit 9 we learned about the different kinds of movies. 
For one classroom exercise I had the students write about their favorite movies and 
also make up some creative titles for fake movies. Lucas (red and orange shirt) uses this exercise  as yet another chance to give the students another reason to laugh at their faithful teacher. Notice also his puckish grin as he walks over to let me check over his work.