My Newly Found Love: Teaching Kindergarten in Taiwan
As I quickly approach my six month mark of living in Taipei, it’s slightly shocking to realize how long it’s been since I’ve posted a blog. Since I was young, writing has been a passion of mine which has further developed mostly through inspiration ignited by my travels. But lately, I’ve been consumed with another newly found passion of mine: Teaching.
If I’m completely honest with myself, I must admit that I originally saw teaching overseas as more of a vehicle than an actual goal in and of itself. For many years, since my stint living in Bangkok followed by many more deeply cherished idle wanderings through Asian countries, a chunk of my soul has been craving the adventure of moving back to Asia and “seeing what happens”. Teaching English seemed like the most viable option that would allow me to experience moving back to a continent I adore and having free time to explore.
The ol’ familiar stirring in my soul had started up once again, and the time had presented itself quite nicely for me to once again shake the contents of my life and see how it would all spill out, so to speak.
I’ve always had a natural inclination towards teaching, but again… I saw this new adventure mostly as a vehicle.
That is, until I moved to Taipei and started teaching Kindergarten.
Everything changed. I fell in love with my job immediately. I fell in love with my kids (almost) immediately, after I unwrapped the brat bubble-wrap. I fell in love with the humor, excitement, energy, ridiculousness, and unexpected challenges of it all. My life rapidly took a freefall and I found myself in a predicament I hadn’t found myself in very often in the past: I was wholeheartedly enjoying my job (GASP). I found myself enjoying being around the children, my coworkers, and the positive, bright environment of our school.
Teaching Kindergarden was not my intention when I moved here, but the chips felI in a way which allowed me the chance to jump on this particular teaching job, and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made. I love the fact that I’m not just teaching English. I get to teach all general education, including PE (Dodgeball, anyone?), Art, Math, Science (this part still surprises even me- I’m not exactly the Lab Coat sort), Character Development, Drama, Health, Safety, and then of course English, Writing, and Phonics.
On top of that, I have a really great gig. I have the same ten students every day, meaning we get to know each other really well – the good, the bad, and the embarrassing. For instance, they know I have a weakness for chocolate, the color green, Geography, playing chase, veering off-topic, and seeing them happy- and they impress me with how skillful they are at working that to their advantage. And I know they have a weakness for Transformer stickers, Simon Says, Geography, strawberry Oreos, basketball, coloring with markers, and writing on the whiteboard, and I use that to my advantage. Round and round we go, constantly involved in endless negotiations.
They’ve seen my eyes red and puffy for a couple days after the passing of my beloved cat, Puddles, and I’ve seen a couple of them shit their pants. We both have plenty of ammo to store in the blackmail closet. (Just kidding).
The manager of our school is actually the owner of the entire chain of schools I work for, so he simply floats in and out once or twice a week, gives a friendly yet impressively indirect “suggestion” that involves some serious decoding, the way in which only a Taiwanese manager knows how to do.
However, it’s not all rainbows, butterflies, and pants-shitting. It’s hard work. And there are some massive cultural differences in parents’ expectations (another day, another blog). But it’s rewarding. Watching the children grow and develop into beautiful, curious people after such a short span of time warms my heart. Seeing them get excited about a world map really gets me going. Getting written thank-you’s from their parents at the sight of their children becoming more confident and enthusiastic makes my soul smile. Every morning I walk in the classroom to a group of ten smiling faces yelling out, “Good Morning, Teacher Emily” and they have to restrain themselves from exploding in excited chatter over stories they have been holding in for the last 15 hours and are dying to get off their chest to me. And every time I leave the class, they jump up and give me big hugs.
With such a dynamic, upbeat, and high-energy momentum we have through the day, often by the end of the day I feel depleted. And if I am tired, or have an off day? No excuses. When I walk into that classroom, I am on stage. My job is to meet the moment with genuine enthusiasm. I quickly discovered children are very sensitive to energy- they tend to mirror my energy and I like to set a positive tone for the day.
I spend more time with these ten children than nearly anybody else in Taiwan. And I also learn more from them than nearly anyone else in Taiwan. These kids have already taught me so much. For one, and probably most obviously, they’ve made me realize how much of a soft spot I have for children. I haven’t had many children in my life up to this point (thank God, I suppose), but I never knew I could feel such love and warmth toward children who aren’t even related to me. I find myself thinking about them more than I’d like to admit, smirking over something unknowingly profound they said in class, and missing them after a weekend away.
They have also helped me become more patient. These children are all so vastly different from one another in their level of personal, social, and academic development, and My goodness.. it really takes patience to teach a group of six year olds!
And one of the most important lessons they help teach me? Living in the moment. This is something I actively practice in my life through different forms of meditation and yoga, but I’ve discovered there is no better practice than in the classroom. They are prime examples of what it means to “Let go”. I constantly see them get upset, argue, make amends, and then simply drop it and move on. Nobody holds grudges. If an activity we are doing or discussion we are having hits a roadblock, I do my best to think and act swiftly and switch it up. It impresses me how immediately they follow suit, forgetting about anything that had just been going wrong and coming into the moment.
They entertain me enormously and make me laugh every day. I am continuously blown away by how smart some of them are, how quickly they learn, how much they mimic me, and most interestingly, how much I am really just a grown-up bigger version of them. I still have the same excitement, curiosity, doubts, and fears as they do, but the difference is they put it all on display. They don’t build walls or put up barriers to protect themselves like “grown-ups” do. What they feel, they show. It’s refreshing. It makes me appreciate this untethered innocence in children, and makes me feel a bit ashamed of how humans lose touch of this through the years. Beneath it all, children want the same thing every since human being on Planet Earth wants: unconditional love and acceptance.
The past six months of my life in Taiwan has been great in so many ways. But it would be foolish to think I can easily separate my life in Taiwan from my job as a kindergarden teacher. I love Taiwan, but I also really love my kids. I have loved every moment of it, even the hair-pulling ones. I am full of gratitude for my experience teaching these children. And for them revealing to me a passion and talent in teaching that I wasn’t aware I had.
Six months of being a story teller, an artist, a basketball coach, an actress, a Christmas Dance Show competition choreographer, a leader, a referee, a conflict mediator, a singer and dancer, a scientist, a game maker-uper, a chef, a field trip leader to water parks, fire stations, museums, supermarkets, factories, and a Ninja Turtle parading my children through the streets on Halloween Day.