“Who is Teacher Emily?”
So read the first slide of the powerpoint I used to introduce myself to the third graders at Sin Sheng Elementary today. I’ve always thought of the first day of school as a chance to be whoever you want to be. “This year,” I’d tell myself the night before class began, “I’m going to be nice. I’m going to go with the flow. I’m going to work hard and be excited about life.” Yada yada yada. But no matter who you tell yourself you’re going to be, you always end up being exactly who you are.
To the Sin Sheng students, I’m a really tall girl with really curly hair who reads while eating ice cream at Christmas time in the middle of a blizzard somewhere in the northern U.S. or China or France. They think my niece is cute and my mom is hao piaoliang (very pretty). All of this is true but simplified, just as first encounters usually are. So who will I be to them after a week or a year of teaching?
Coming to school this morning, I had a powerpoint and a worksheet prepared but no idea what I was actually going to say when I got in the classroom. But lucky for me, my LET (local English teacher) knew just how to help me, and the kids had way more fun guessing the answers to questions like, “What is Emily’s favorite food?” than I bargained for. Literally, cheers erupted every time the teacher would say, “And the answer is . . . ” Other things fascinated them too, like pictures of homemade Christmas cookies and a video of a blizzard, and the looks on their faces were too precious and priceless for words.
As a last question on the worksheet, I asked students to write me a note or draw me a picture of anything they wanted: their favorite food, something we had in common, their name. It was a random idea I threw on at the last minute, but it turned out to be great for a laugh and for introducing me to the wide variation in English ability in the classes. The cram school phenomenon—where students take private classes until 8 or 9:00 at night and in the summer—is widespread in Taiwan, meaning some of the third graders have been studying English for years already, while others only get it a few hours a week in school. I’ve heard that the disparity this creates—usually following class lines because cram school is so expensive—is one of the most difficult parts of teaching English in Taiwan. But with cram schools as popular as they are, they’re necessary if you don’t want your child to fall behind.
On a lighter note, here are some of the 63 drawings and notes I got today: