Teaching English in Taiwan: My First Overseas Adventure
I was shell-shocked after teaching my first class. To say it didn’t go to plan is an understatement, and in that moment I questioned just why I was teaching English in Taiwan. I had cruised through the two week training period and was probably far too confident in my own abilities. A combination of a lack of planning, a difficult first lesson to teach (I was reviewing 3 months worth of work for a test and assumed the students would know more than they did) and a class full of tight-lipped, blank-faced children conspired to make it a long two hours. I got through it, learnt my lesson and became a half decent teacher, but just as they say about pimping, teaching ain’t easy.
The first thing I noticed when I stepped out of the airport doors was the heat. The contrast between the air-conditioned airport and the extreme heat and humidity outside literally hit me in the face. I had only travelled to Australia on family holidays, so the bright lights, bustling traffic and the energy that pulsated all around was a real eye opener. I loved it. It was in those first few moments exploring a strange new city that I knew I had to see the world.
Teacher training in Taiwan
Training was a pretty full-on opening to my teaching career. I say I cruised through it, but that’s only because I always received positive feedback and was told I’d be a good teacher and had nothing to worry about. It was actually one of the most stressful experiences of my life. It started off like a reality TV show; take 50 strangers from all corners of the English speaking world and chuck most of them in the same hotel, throw in daily teaching challenges (including teaching demos) and more singing, dancing and acting the fool than I’d ever done before, and it seemed more like one big social experiment than a training course. Some people don’t make it through training – quite a few got “let go” from my group – teaching ESL in Taiwan definitely isn’t for everybody.
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FURTHER READING: I struggled when I first started teaching in Taiwan. Here are some tips for first time teachers
Teaching English in Taiwan: In the classroom
I learnt more in the first day of teaching than two weeks in training, and after a month or two I was starting to feel a lot more confident in my abilities. I taught kindergarten and primary school aged children. It turned out foreigners aren’t legally allowed to teach that level, so whenever we heard “Teacher Tom’s pizza has arrived” blasting over the loud speaker we knew it was the code to bolt out of the classroom and through the back door, far away from the government officials who were conducting a raid. I’m pretty sure they knew what was happening and only conducted these raids to keep up appearances, but it was a bit disconcerting.
Salary and savings while teaching English in Taiwan
The pay in Taiwan is pretty good, definitely enough to live comfortably on, and I saved around $10,000 (NZD) during my one year contract. The money came in fat pay packets every month. It was satisfying to hold big stacks of cash rather than just see figures on a bank statement. I loved it so much that I never joined a bank, instead stashing various envelopes overflowing with $1000 NT notes in my room (which I don’t recommend).
Living in Taiwan
The working hours weren’t too bad — 25 hours a week from Monday to Friday. It was tiring but I enjoyed it and met some great people. The nightlife in Taiwan is excellent, and with some bars offering all you can drink deals for around $25, it’s affordable. Taiwan is an awesome country but sadly I didn’t see as much of it as I should have. I went on a few day trips but I’ll be back sometime soon to fill in the blanks. I was based in Taoyuan, close to the international airport, and while it was a good place to live and only about 40 minutes from Taipei, if I went back to teach English in Taiwan I’d definitely want to live in the big city.
When my year was up I felt a huge sense of accomplishment. I’d taken my kindergarten class through their final year and seeing them graduate in their weird looking robes was a proud moment. I even received a “World’s Best Teacher” certificate from them, which I actually used when applying for the job I have now. I had a difficult beginning with another of my classes, but after a couple of months we were pretty tight, and when I told them I was leaving and that they’d have a new teacher I almost had my own Dead Poets Society moment. I heard a “But I want Teacher Jon” followed by another and another until they all started saying it. They probably would have stood on their desks had I not strictly enforced the “no standing on desks” rule throughout the year.
Teaching English in Taiwan is perfect for a first overseas adventure. You’ll be thrown in at the deep end, have a lot of fun and save a decent amount of money. It won’t be easy, but the best things usually aren’t. Another option is to teach English in Singapore, where the pay is far better and the job is a lot easier – but the social aspect of Taiwan is hard to beat.
FURTHER READING: Does teaching ESL in Taiwan sound good? Check out this site to find the perfect job!
Have you had a similar first teaching experience? Want to find out more about teaching English in Taiwan? Leave a comment!