Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Attrition & Class Switcheroos

I got some sorta good & some not-so-good news yesterday...

The sorta good first. I am getting another class. Shelley, one of the Chinese teachers just isn't cutting it. Her husband doesn't want her working so much and her English really wasn't up to par in the first place. She is really cool, I hope we stay in touch. I will be taking over one of her classes. It's a good class with some students that I have bonded with so I don't anticipate any difficulties making the transition. The thing that makes this sorta good news is I am going to have to give up my mini-class in order to teach this one...they are at the same time. Carol, the boss, feels I am better suited to take on the bigger class than the other foreign teachers in the office. I am pretty bummed out about leaving the mini class, they are fun and we were doing very well in there. I was just getting into a groove with them...oh well. Nothing is written in stone at work. Stay tuned.

The not-so-good news. Last night I had my Superwriters class. Everything was hunky dory until about 10 minutes before the end of class. That's when I was talking with the "back row/backbone" of my class. These are the most experienced kids I have in the class, they feel compelled to sit in the back row. They are too cool to sit up They are all friends from outside of English class, great kids. The four of them have been solid throughout the 16 weeks of the class. Anyhow, Matthew related to me that all of the kids in the back row won't be returning after the next class...ugh. Matthew, Andrew, Amy, and Jennifer are no longer going to be taking English classes. They have a million other school-related things that are not as solid as their English abilities. This hit me like a ton of bricks. I was stunned. I didn't know how to react. I immediately questioned their decisions, which was a mistake. After I thought about it for a few minutes, I realized that these kids are under an insane amount of pressure and the last thing they need is me freaking out. Each and every one of these kids is wonderful and I trust they are doing the best thing. I think I reacted negatively to the news out of selfishness, I need these kids in my class!!! It's gonna be interesting adjusting my approach to the group without the four of them, especially Jennifer & Amy. Jennifer was the one I counted on to bail me out when the rest of the kids were stumped. She always seemed to be willing to give it a shot, an ideal student. Amy was as quiet as a mouse but my best student as far as grades are concerned. She aced everything I gave her, a parents dream. Losing these kids is going to leave a void. I suppose this is just another scenario I will have to learn to deal with if I plan on making a teaching a career. I have to learn to not let my emotions get too much of me. I become attached to my students, it's a curse on teachers!

The stuff I mentioned above tells me that it's time to start yet another chapter in this odyssey. I am not discouraged, just a little taken aback by this weeks events. Knowing that you folks out there are reading this is cathartic for me.

On a lighter note, check out this quote from the goof-ball in the Oval Office:

"I've asked Jeff Brown to join me. He is a professor. He can tell you where-where do you profess?"
--March 10, 2005 Speaking at Auburn University on the subject of Social Security reform.

shocking, hilarious & scary. sorta like his presidency...

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

PTA's & Cream Cheese

Next week I have a PTA for my Superwriters class. I've never done one before, so I am a little nervous. I have to show 17 sets of parents that I am enriching their children's lives...ugh. The concept seems a bit daunting, but I'm sure I'll be fine. My students are the best and I know I can rely on them to come through for me. The plan thus far is to have a bunch of them come to the front of the class and read their favorite compositions. Deciding on who gets to do this isn't going to be easy. The last thing I want is to slight any of the kids. The point of a PTA is to show the parents what their kids are doing and what they are paying for. The presentation has to make them feel like they are getting their money's worth. Wish me luck!

Is there anything more satisfying in life than a fresh bagel toasted and smothered in Philadelphia cream cheese? It's sublime. The cream cheese is a bit expensive here, but worth every dog-gone penny!!!!


This is Sandy and a couple of her students. Sandy and I work together quite a bit. She chose me to share her advanced level class with her. I teach them every Saturday, she does it every Wednesday. It's a great class with kids who are eager to learn.
Jessie and some of her students. Check out the little girl under the table. She hates to have her picture

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Updates From Mis Amigos

This past month was supposed to be a monumental time for me. It was my scheduled end-of-service in Peace Corps. Had I not been hurt, I would've been finishing up down in Honduras right about now. I struggled for a long time after I was given my walking papers from PC. It's was such a struggle for me to get a chance to serve, I was heart-broken when my time was cut short.

I have been getting gobs of emails from my brothers and sisters in the Corps letting me know what they are up to. Many of them are freaking out because coming home is often much more difficult than leaving. PC is about as far as you can get from a 9 to 5 job/life. Coming back to the States during such a turbulent period doesn't help matters. I think many of them are going to do what I did, check out other opportunities abroad.

One of the few folks that seems to have something solid is Huey, he's got a gig doing some engineering work at a national park in Alaska. Speaking of Huey (Huey is his nickname, his real name is Jason), before he left Honduras he bought an old Land Cruiser and drove home to Minnesota. I would've been with him had I been down there. Most of my the people I served with are insanely talented and resourceful, I doubt many of them will struggle too much finding their way.

We had plans to hold a reunion in Vegas some time in the near future, I hope we can make that happen.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Greatest Person Walking This Planet

I got an email today from home. My Aunt Dorothy had to have emergency surgery. Aunt Dot is such an amazing human being, I will attempt to share with you some of what I know about her.

She is 94 years old (I think) and I don't think that she has had an easy day in those 94 years. She was married to a WWII veteran who came back damaged goods...he beat the crap out of her on a regular basis. Aunt Dot is about 4'11'', and weighs about 90 pounds. He late husband was a big burly guy...not a fair fight. She lives in a teeny tiny little town in Pennsylvania and has none of the modern conveniences, yet you could eat off of the floors in the house. When you show up at her front door, she beams like she just won the lottery. She suffers from an advanced case of arthritis that has turned her hands into shriveled claws of bones. As my mother tells it, if you sit in her kitchen, she will serve you tea and carry your cup to the table with her wrists because her hands are too marred to be, if that doesn't make you feel inadequate, what does????? Every day she feeds a bunch of stray cats on her back porch, it's a sight to see. The funny thing is she has no desire to pick up or even touch them, she just wants to make sure they are fed. A guest in her house is treated like a guest in a five-star hotel. No matter how much you want to help her, she will NOT allow you to do things for her.

There are many other anecdotal stories I could relate to you all, but suffice it to say, she is a remarkable human being. I have no doubt that Dot will be sitting at the right-hand of God when she is finished here on Earth.

p.s. The doctor has cleared her and the surgery was successful. The doctor told her she has the body of a 20

New Teacher Friction

Today was a kinda crazy. We had a visit from one of the big-wigs from the main office. She is a nice enough person. I'm not sure why she came to our school today. She hung around the office for about an hour and took off. While she was there, she approached me. She asked me about my work and I proceeded to explain to her that I am the best Superwriters teacher that Gram has and I am preparing for a presentation about the program for all of the other foreign teachers tomorrow. (the sentence you just read is a whopper of a I told her this within ear-shot of a few of the Chinese teachers and one of the other foreign teachers in our office. Sandy, one of the Chinese teachers, started chuckling pretty loud. I turned to her and asked her why she was laughing. She said that a Taiwanese person would NEVER be so bold as to assert they are the best teacher at anything. That's when I started laughing and realized that the brazen American in me was shining Here's the thing, I do think that I am the best, and there's nothing wrong with feeling that way!!

A side affect of the exchange with the big-wig was a little testiness from one of the other foreign teachers.

Carrie is one of the folks they brought in to take the place of Chris and Brent. She is a really great girl who has a cute personality. We often talk about the silliest things at work, which helps us deal with the things that are driving us nuts.

Also, earlier today, Sandy (yes, the same Sandy from earlier in this entry, she holds a lot of clout in the office) approached me while I was sitting at my desk (Carrie was sitting next to me). She told me about a Chinese-Teachers-Only meeting they had had earlier in the week that included a discussion about proofreading some of our new texts. The texts we use are full of errors because the folks in charge didn't think it was necessary to have people with proofreading skills check them over before they published them...brilliant! Anyhow, my boss was assigning the various Chinese teachers to do different tasks regarding the proofreading. She puts together teams to tackle the different aspects of the job. Each team has a foreign teacher to help them. Sandy said they were fighting over who got to have me on their team!!!! How freaking cool is that? The point of this rambling is all of this was said while Carrie was sitting next to me. I think she felt a bit slighted.

Well, I'm not certain, but it seems like she was a bit offended by my assertion that I might be a better teacher than her. Not long after the boss left she started getting a bit short with me. I think that perhaps a combination of her tough classes, cramped work-space (we share a desk, a very small desk), and the above factors are making her a little testy. I do feel sorta bad for her. She was given a few really tough classes. The classes she has are junior-high level and they are full of kids with strong personalities. She inherited these classes from Brent, who had an extremely loose teaching style. I don't think that style jives with her approach to the job. I hope she doesn't get too discouraged, I'd like her to stick around. She is a good teacher with a lot to contribute.

Time to hit the sack. Have to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for the big presentation tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Did I Mention It Rains Here?

Sheesh, I think we've had 1, maybe 2 dry days this month. My sinuses have been going berserk. I saw a great sight tonight. I was standing outside the branch school hailing a cab when I noticed a woman walking on the side of the road carrying an umbrella (um, it was raining, big surprise). Suddenly a guy on a scooter approached her and came to a stop within inches of her. He was late noticing the car in front of him had come to a complete stop. The woman was not pleased that he nearly clipped her...she proceeded to whack him over the head with her umbrella!! It was a thing of beauty. Finally, a Taiwanese person showing some aggression!! I wanted to go over and hug that woman for throwing caution to the wind and taking the direct route. Passive aggressiveness in this country is at an epidemic level, I hate it!!

Hungry for some laughter? Download ITunes and check out Jack Black's weekly diary from the set of Nacho Libre, his upcoming movie. He is freaking hilarious. I can't wait for the movie. It's written by the same guy who did Napoleon Dynamite.

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Broken Code

I wasted two hours this afternoon. I could've been sleeping, shopping, or cleaning my apartment. All of these things would have been much more rewarding than watching The Da Vinci Code. Perhaps my expectations were a bit high? The movie was boring! I read the book when I was living in Honduras, I couldn't put it down, it was fantastic. It seems like they left out the best parts of the book?? I know that books don't usually translate well onto the silver screen, this interpretation was awful. Don't waste your time & money.

This Thursday there is a foreign teachers meeting at HQ. I have to do a presentation in front of about 20 teachers...ugh. I'm going to show them the path to victory in the writers class. Many of the other foreign teachers are just starting to teach the class, I have been teaching it for 14 weeks...I'll show 'em the ropes.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Off To The Movies & The Kids Dig Me

I'm going to see The Da Vinci Code tomorrow. I hope it lives up to the hype. I loved the book, it was pretty intense. I've seen a few reviews of the movie and they have been less-than flattering. Oh well, I'm gonna give it a shot. The ads for it have saturated life here in Taipei. There are a zillion billboards and the subway cars are giant rolling ads for the movie.

It's tough to go to the theater without my buddy Perry. It just doesn't feel right. Perry & I have seen about 1000 movies together. This may sound trivial, but going to the movies with someone who is essentially on your same wavelength is great. We have always enjoyed debating the merits of the various films we've seen. It's easy when the other person likes the same stuff as you do. Next time I visit Perry and his lovely wife Andrea, I'm sure we'll see at least 3 or 4 movies together. I'll resume my place at the right-hand of the Perry.

My two classes today went really well. Every Saturday I have a couple of advanced-level classes that are pretty tough to teach. They require quite a bit of preparation, but once I'm in the class, I kick butt. The main reasons I have succeeded in these classes is because the students are all very motivated and therefore my attitude is upbeat when I enter the room.

The other day, Queenie, one of the Chinese teachers pulled me aside and told me a few interesting things. She said Jessie, one of the other Chinese teachers, is quitting and she is going to have to take over a couple of her classes. As a result of this shift, Queenie is going to be giving up one of her higher-level classes to a foreign teacher. Anyhow, the reason she was telling me this is because she asked her students in the higher-level class who they'd like to have as their teacher...she said the class resoundingly voted for me! That is so cool. This is especially cool because I have taught this particular class quite a few times and don't feel like I've ever made a real connection with the silly. Nothing is official yet, I'll keep you folks in the know as soon as I know anything concrete.

I've got to go to bed, it's the end of a very long day. Stay in touch everyone.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Sucking Up to the Boss

Carol, my boss, is an interesting woman. The first few months I worked at the school she was about as tough on me as any boss I've ever had. Barely a day went by that I didn't get a skeptical look from her. She showed very little emotion when I approached her with my ideas. As time has passed, she has become one of my biggest allies. As I mentioned earlier on this thing, I had a bit of a run-in with one of the big-wigs at our HQ...she was the first person to come to my defense. I think the primary reason we have become fast friends is because she knows I love my work and I always give 110% of myself.

Last week, I was sick as a dog. The head-cold was at it's peak. I came to work and had to have Gavin, my other boss, take me to the doctor. I didn't make it back from the doctor in time to teach a class I was scheduled to teach. In a nutshell, I screwed up because I didn't have a lesson plan or anything ready...I wasn't thinking clearly. When I got back to the office, I told Carol that I goofed up and she got pretty angry. She stormed off and tried to remedy the situation. After an hour or so, she approached me and apologized for her behavior, and I did the same. I told her that I screwed up and won't do it again. Well, she was more than cool about the scene and decided it was best for me to go home and rest. As I was leaving she told me to take it easy and take the next day off so I could get better. I thought that was mighty decent of her.

Ok, so this past Sunday was Mother's Day. Carol had her first child a few months ago. To commemorate her new status, I had one of the photos I took at our last work party blown up and framed and gave it to her for Mother's Day. The photo is great, it's a group pic with virtually every teacher at the school in it. It cost me only a few bucks and she loved it. She was gushing about how much she loved it. Later that day, I was hanging out at my desk with nothing to do and she told me to go ahead and go home early (she would've NEVER said this a few months ago). I looked at her and said "are you sure I can do that????" She said I could do anything I wanted to do this week!!!!! Looks like yours truly is in business at work...we'll see how long the honeymoon

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

My Head Cold & Baked Good Addiction

For the past week or so, I have been battling a cold. This wouldn't be a big deal except that I live in the land of the endless head-cold. I've heard horror stories of teachers with colds that last for a month or more. I'm doing everything I can to get over this thing. I've been gulping down 1000mg of Vitamin C every day and taking the mysterious medicine the doctor gave me. My job makes this fight even tougher because there always seems to be a bunch a kids sniffling and sneezing.

My Florida Bakery addiction is taking control of my life! I have spent no less than $NT600 (about $18 American) a week there for the past 5 or 6 weeks. By Taiwanese standards, that's a lot of money. I don't know what I'd do if I couldn't make a trip there every Sunday. Their stuff rivals anything I've had back home. This past week I tried the garlic french bread, sheesh, I ate the entire loaf Sunday...I'm out of control! A steady diet of cinnamon/raisin bagels and killer rye bread hasn't hurt me yet.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

A Big Nose & Far Too Much Hair

Christina thinks I have funny looking ears, Gary says my nose is way too big for my face, and Sarah can't stop trying to pull the hair on my arms. These are a few of the more interesting experiences I've had with the kids at my school. Each and every one of them is priceless. There is something so incredible/genuine about the interactions I have on a daily basis with the little rug-rats.

They have been running re-runs of the last season of "Lost" here. I have been eating it up, what a great show. The reason I've brought it up is because there was an interesting scene on one of the episodes recently. It took place between the older, balding guy and the young women who has the baby. Anyhow, they were talking and she asked him why he never gets angry. He replied with a line that went something like this: "because I am no longer lost". That line really struck a chord with me. WARNING WARNING!!!! I am about to get sappy here! I can't help but feel the same way. When people ask me about my work, I can't help but gush about how wonderful it is and how I feel that I have found my niche. As most of you know, men generally define themselves by the work they do, I'm no exception. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of little things that frustrate me regarding my job, but they all pale in comparison to the things that make me feel like a million bucks.

In case any of you feel compelled to send me something, here is my address:

#280-9th Floor-E
Nen Hua Road Section 1
Banchiao City
Taipei County, Taiwan 220

I would love a care package from anyone back home with stuff that's inherently American. i.e. Reese's Cups, Mother Jones Magazines, pictures of the family, cool t-shirts with an Akron/Cleveland/Ohio connection, etc. (hint, hint)

I'm in the process of trying to figure out if I can make a trip home sometime in the near-future. It's super-expensive and trying to determine the length of stay is tricky. I'm gonna do it either in July/August or October/November...we'll see.