Job Search and Lesson Demos

hireme

For most of the last week my routine has been the same: wake up, check my email for replies to job queries, scroll through a few expat forums for new job postings, take off for an interview, return home, check the forums again. It’s a painfully mind numbing  yet necessary process. I’m here to teach, but first I must find a job.

From what I can tell the job search process is broken up into three parts: resume submission, interview and lesson demonstration. Depending on where you apply, all of these could happen on the same day or across several. There’s really nothing to the interviews as most schools just want to verify the info on your resume and make sure that you’re A: relatively sane and look presentable, and B: able to commit to a one- year contract–pretty standard stuff.

The tricky part (for me, at least) is the lesson demo. This is where they hand you lesson (or a blank sheet of paper), give you some prep time (anywhere from five minutes to several days) and push you into a classroom. The idea is to see how you interact with the students and to get a feel for your teaching style, with the possible added benefit of seeing you freak out and collapse under pressure.

Luckily I was able to line-up two demos this week. The first is at a small Buxiban (private school) catering to elementary schoolers, and the other at a large chain school with several branches across the city.

I show up at the first school and am greeted by the foreign director of the school; a tall middle-aged American whose hair reminds me of a less red, slightly silver version of Conan O’Brien’s. The small lobby contains a few tables with kids doing homework and teachers are milling about sorting through folders and talking with the kids at the tables.  The entire school is no bigger than most of the Mom & Pop stores around Kaohsiung and I almost clothes-line a passing student as I extend my arm to shake hands with the director.

After a solid interview I’m handed a lesson book and told that I’ll need to demo a review lesson for 15 about minutes. I look over the curriculum and jot down a simple lesson plan before walking into a tiny classroom of  smiling third graders. They all let out a collective “whoooa” when I walk in and I take a few minuts to tell them my name and show them on the map where I’m from. My lesson plan is to hit them with review drills in which they can gain points for correct answers, make a few self-deprecating jokes and knock out a quick song from the lesson book; simple, direct and proven.

The plan goes over well.

I’m able to get all the kids to participate, they chuckle at my jokes and no one notices that I lip-sang more than half of the song at the end of the lesson. I like the vibe I get from the staff and the laid back approach to the curriculum. The director tells me he’ll let me know by Monday and I leave feeling good about my chances of getting the job. Moreover I’m feeling like my next demo across town will be equally successful.

When I arrive, I’m shown into an office where several teacher’s are hastily preparing for the evening’s lessons. Packets of books are being tossed into boxes, copies are being made, student rosters are being discussed.  Someone comes in to announce that dinner and tea orders need to be placed with the secretary immediately. The wall behind is lined with staff lockers and several shelves containing an array of folders and giant flash cards sorted under ‘Transportation’, ‘Foods’ and many other phonics categories. I’m introduced to a handful of teachers who barely look up from what they’re doing.

The manager of the school (also the person who interviewed me a couple days ago) hands me a book and tells me that I’ll be teaching Lesson 19 for my demo. “Let me know if you need to use the copy machine,” he says.

Copy machine? What do I need to copy?

I flip open the book and give the material a quick once over. The details about my demo are (purposely) vague so I begin sketching a lesson plan relying once again on old strategies I learned teaching in Korea. I don’t know what age group I’ll be working with, but judging from the material I assume they’re slightly older than the third graders I had earlier. Like the last demo. I’ll need to include some review of previous material, but this time I’ll be teaching for an hour instead of 15 minutes.

Along with the review I plan a couple of listen-and-repeat activities and two simple games for added excitement. Before heading into the classroom I’m asked if there are any other materials that I’d like to bring in with me. I quickly grab a toy hammer and declare myself ready.

I stagger through the first part of the lesson and play the wrong CD track during the listening exercise, but still manage to retain my confidence. The students (mostly fifth graders) are receptive to my lesson but don’t show any signs of excitement until the word recognition game towards the end, which my observer fails to observe because he leaves to go administer a test. So the best part of my demo goes largely unnoticed.

The hour goes by fast and I return to the teacher’s office to talk about how the lesson went. An hour goes by before the manager shows up and he looks surprised to see me still there. He thanks me for waiting but tells me that he unfortunately has to go administer another test and that it will be another hour before he’s finished if I want to wait for feedback. I get an email from him later that night telling me that due to a busy upcoming weekend, he won’t have time to discuss my demo until sometime Monday evening.

On the subway ride home I consider which of the two schools I’d  rather work at: the smaller operation with miniature classrooms, or the bustling chain school that wants me to wait several days for lesson feedback.

Meanwhile, the search continues.

Jay

Formosa First Impressions: Kaohsiung

Kaohsiung

There are plenty of cities on this planet that suck and make you vow never to see them again after the first date. There are plenty of cities that suck less once you get to know them a bit and allow them to soothe you into a bittersweet commitment (I’m talking to you, Ko Pha- Ngan). Yeah you might date for a while, but you don’t tell your friends about it. Then there are cities that you plunge into head first and are quickly wooed into a long-term love affair after only a few days together. Suddenly that other hot city you promised never to cheat on is long forgotten and you find yourself making direct comparisons between the two in order to justify the money you’re about to spend going exclusive. Yeah that other place had sexy beaches, but the food this city churns out makes my mouth water from the smell alone. You feel the burn of guilt for a little while, but only until your work visa arrives.

For me Kaohsiung is one of those “love affair” cities. Hanging out on the southwest coast of Taiwan and facing the Taiwan straight, it’s home to about 3 million and receives less rainfall than most other cities in Taiwan–and ideal location to set up shop. Insert me.

It had been 4 days and we’d had about as much rain as we could take in Taipei (not to mention the steep hostel rates) so we decide hop a bus south hoping to find sunshine in Kaohsiung. Luckily we secure a host on Couchsurfing willing to put us up short-term while we search for either more hosts or paid accommodation. We moan about the possibility of paying week-to-week hostel prices, but are prepared to shoulder the costs if need be. After 5 hours we arrive a begin the task of finding our host’s apartment. We make it to within one block of the place, but still manage to spend 45 minutes stranded in confusion, looking for an “orangey looking” building with a semi-circle driveway. It took a troop of Taiwanees women on their way to dinner and a friendly security guard to help us find a building that was not more than 60 yards away from where we stood.

This is where the love affair with Kaohsiung begins to take hold; not from her sunshine or wide boulevards or quirky coffee shops, but from the wealth of generosity her residents (expat and otherwise) bestow upon us newbies.

Our host–we’ll call him Catlard–couldn’t have been a better person to meet just arriving in the city. He offers us a place to crash, shows us around the neighborhood, takes us us out to breakfast, gives us a quick Chinese numbers lesson and sets us up with a pre-paid phone(this is in addition to teaching me poker, something I’m still horrible at). He also introduces us to a few of his friends who are equally helpful in answering questions about the teaching market and providing possible avenues for finding work. You’re the man, Catlard! I try to return the favor(s) by teaching him how to Moonwalk, but somehow I don’t think it compares: He lets us sleep on his living room floor. I teach him the signature dance move of a deceased, loony, mega pop-star. You be the judge.  After 4 nights, Kay and I find a cheap room to rent in central Kaohsiung (from another awesome expat) set about making it the base of operations for finding teaching gigs.

We’re not there 2 nights before meeting yet another friend who tips us off on an teaching position opening up nearby. Within a day Kay is able to secure an interview, and as I type, she’s probably finishing up a lesson demo. Time will tell if it all works out. Meanwhile I’m still in the hunt.

After canvasing some well known teaching websites I head out and get lost while searching for a school I heard is hiring. I pass a mega-department store boasting every designer brand from Gucci to Ferragamo (after walking 3 blocks in the wrong direction) and enjoy the feeling of not really being noticed. I’m sure I stick out in every way possible, yet  no one seems to care. I stroll past small shops and restaurants, a dental clinic and an European looking round-a-bout and no one bats an eye at my presence or tries to fondle my odd looking hair (which happend all the time in Korea). I find the school I’m looking for and am greeted with a look of confusion as I tell the receptionist that I would like to drop off my resume.

“May I ask what country you are from?”

The question doesn’t come as a surprise. Unfortunately there just aren’t enough black Americans/Canadians/South Africans traveling about Taiwan to justify her assuming I’m from an English speaking country. Fair enough. I tell her I’m from the U.S. and she nods in approval and accepts my resume, promising to submit it to the director of the school. Being that this is my first morsel of a job opportunity, I leave feeling like I’ve already got the job.

On the way back I cut past Kaohsiung’s central park. It’s rush hour. People are walking their dogs, middle schoolers frolic and flirt at a busstop an old man rests on a bench sipping a liquor bottle filled with a mysterious green tonic. It’s getting dark and the city begins to put on her make-up of neon lights and flashing billboards. You’re a fly gal and your friends are pretty nice, Kaohsiung. We should hang out for a while.

Peace,

Jay