Teacher that Learns (Taiwan)

I love teaching, no matter where I am — in either Taiwan or America. I love the fact that teaching isn’t just endless lectures, but rather an interactive experience for both teachers and students as they can learn from each other.

It was 2014 when I first moved to America. I barely knew any English at that time. The most I could do was read signs and that’s about it. Anything beyond that was too much for me. However, my husband and I already knew that we will come to America someday, for the better education that is available abroad, so we prepared our children by sending them to English tutors since they were small. That is why they have little to no problem adapting to the new world. However, for me and my husband, we have a hard time getting used to the new environment.

To us Taiwanese, getting to America is almost like entering a portal to a brand new world of wonders, because the language is different. It meant a lot to our family because both my husband’s and my family started out poor. “Every grain of rice was gained through hard work,” my mom used to say. That gave me the mindset of savoring every piece of good you obtain, whether it is physical or something mental like knowledge — which made me really fond of teachers, someone who can pass down knowledge to children and make a change in the society.

I dreamt of becoming a teacher, and, in fact, I did become one during my 20s, at Taipei Municipal Jianguo High School, a boy high school. However, I had to put the position on hold, knowing that I would come back someday to finish what I started, because my husband received an opportunity
to work abroad and we moved there almost immediately after the company offered us the tickets.

Our choice of residence was Palo Alto, a city not too far away from San Francisco. Small, but still a big part of the Silicon Valley. We chose Palo Alto mainly because of its education and living quality. As you may already know, I value education a lot. I really wanted to ensure great education for my children, as learning is their major goal in their life right now.

After dealing with my children’s education, it was now my turn to learn. Near our house was Foothill College. It provided ESL classes or English as Second Language classes for immigrant parents who did not learn English in their home country. This was a great opportunity for me to sharpen my English skills — at least so that I could chat with my American neighbors without burning through my brain to say the word “Taiwanese.” To my surprise, it was nothing like learning in Taiwan.

It was during my third ESL lesson that I met someone who will later become my best friend here in America. It was a “vocab” day, so I prepared my notebook and translator (which was my phone) to class, ready to learn more words. While I was searching for the word “deposit,” the asian lady next to me turned and whispered to me, “uhhh eks-cuse me… I forgot my phone… I don’t know word!” She kept pointing at the board, where our teacher wrote the vocabularies we were learning. With my work-in-progress English, I was able to understand what she meant and shifted my notes toward her. She let out a glee and put her hands in a praying motion. I saw her lift up her pencil and quickly redirected my attention to the teacher as I do not want to miss anything the teacher says.

At the end of class, while I was putting away my notes, the lady tapped on my left shoulder and said, “Thank you so much! What is your name?” “My name is Hsiuting,” I said slowly, making sure each word is pronounced correctly, “like a shooting star,” I pointed my finger to the ceiling and drew a line across the imaginary night sky. “Oh! That is easy to… remember! I am Seongeun. I am from Korea. How about you?” She gestured as she was finishing the sentence. “I am from Taiwan…” “Oh I know Taiwan! You fly two hours from Korea.” “Yeah that is right! I have never been to Korea… How is it like living there?” “It is nice over there…”

We kept on talking even after all of the people left the room. We talked in the hallway for another 20 minutes, finding each other to have similar interests in cooking, sharing cultural differences and, at the end, she introduced me a Korean social media app that she always uses so I downloaded it so I could keep in touch with her.

I am glad that I found a friend that shares similar immigration experience, whom I can also train my terrible English with. This experience reminded me of the time when I was still a student, working as hard as I can to understand what the teacher throws at us. The importance of education for an adult is not any less than that for students. Later, I met a Taiwanese mom who told me everything about a Chinese school in Palo Alto. Knowing that I was teaching at a famous boy high school in Taiwan, she invited me to teach Chinese. I was a geography teacher, not a Chinese teacher, so it took me a while to think about it. In the end, I accepted to offer.

Teaching in America was nothing like teaching in Taiwan. I thought if I just throw everything I know at the students they would pick it up instantly like I did back in Taiwan. At first, I didn’t understand why American kids can’t understand what I’m teaching them. After I consulted with other teachers, I learned that teachers aren’t the only people teaching, the students can teach as well. It is not just a one-way delivery.

The teacher teaches the student and the students can share their experiences back with the teacher, so the teacher learns too. I need to change my lecture from me talking non-stop for 2 hours, to a back-and-forth discussion between the students and me. This is going to take time for me to adjust to this new style of teaching, but in order to spread my Taiwanese culture, I would need to step it up and change what I’m doing. I changed the questions that I ask from, “Do you understand this?”, and getting blank stares to “Discuss it with your partner then report what you guys agree on or maybe you didn’t report that as well!” and students will become excited and talk about what they know about Taiwan.

It is especially satisfying when you see your hard work being paid off, knowing that the students learned something different, because I gave them what they needed. This journey of coming to America is certainly a worthwhile experience. Not only did I get to learn English, but I also learned a new way of teaching. I’m not entirely discarding the way I taught in Taiwan, but rather, I am building on to it to fit what students are used to in America by providing them a teacher and improving myself as a teacher.


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