For the English Teacher in Taiwan There’s abundant information on the internet about teaching English to children in Taiwan, but there is very little information about the ‘special events’ that an English teacher might find themselves roped into by their school. This is the story of a ‘special event’ that I did when I was a teacher at Hess Educational Organization.
Cami, you would like to tell a story in the park on Saturday? says my Taiwanese branch manager. uhm what? I say, looking up from a stack of papers that I’m grading. Yes, I think you will like very much. And maybe you sing song too. If confusion was apparent on my face, my manager showed no signs of knowing it. So yes, I think we will meet at sports park, 10am. Huh? Okay good, my manager walks away from this baffling exchange, satisfied. I later asked my western manager, or Head Native Speaking Teacher, what this was all about. I think it’s like, an event for the children of the community. You just go to a park and read a story. It’ll be fun.
Far be it from me to turn down an ‘event for the children’. I pictured a quaint scene- me and perhaps 10 children, sitting under a tree in a secluded area of the park, reading a book of my choice. On Saturday morning I show up at the park around 9:59. Looking around, I spot my manager. I wave cheerily as he rushes toward me and grabs my elbow. Why you are so late?!? he hisses at me. He’s steering me toward a very crowded public square next to the pond. People are enjoying meals at a cafe. Families stand at the waters edge, feeding ducks. Lovers are embracing on park benches. All is quiet, except for the pleasant mingling of voices and children’s laughter. In the middle of the square are about 5 Taiwanese staff from my school. They are inexplicably wearing little plastic light up devil horns, as if we are advertising a school of Satan. Balloons are tied to the trees near them, and there is…this is where it gets bad…a portable public address system.
One of the Taiwanese staff rips my carefully chosen book out of my hands. My dreams of awakening a passion for good literature in the minds of the children slip away. A set of horns is set atop my head. A Hess story book is shoved into my hands. The public address system gives a whistle. Wakka wakka wakka! Shim shimmy roo! shouts one of the Taiwanese staff in Mandarin Chinese. People turn to stare. She continues to speak, and I can tell that she’s building to some sort of finale. Wingle wingle wop dimple dong down do… CAAAYMEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! I recognize this last word as my name. She smiles and tosses me the microphone. I manage to say, Uh, before the ear-splitting opening notes of ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’ are emitted from the PA system. I’m vaguely aware, as I begin gesturing toward my head, shoulders, knees and toes, that the crowd has grown exponentially. There are perhaps a hundred adults standing in a half circle before me, and people are standing on benches to see better. There are, as I had imagined, perhaps 10 children. A rousing rendition of Do Your Ears Hang Low begins to play. I seem to have an out of body experience during the song. I am marching proudly, swinging my arms energetically as if they were an incredibly long set of ears.
The crowd watches me solemnly. The children, who are sitting before me, may have only rudimentary English skills, but they communicate clearly with their eyes. You are an idiot, they are saying to me. How true it is, I think back at them. The song ends and I sit woodenly in a chair, no longer mercifully blessed with that out of body experience feeling. Did I just dance, alone, to ‘Do Your Ears Hang Low’ in front of a hundred adults in a public park? I think I did.
I read the story. The crowd stares politely. I finish and they disperse. The bad news is, this was not the last special event I did to promote this English school in Taiwan. The good news is, there was somebody in the crowd that day who offered me a better job.