School Birthday

Today is my school’s forty-fifth-anniversary celebration. The school has grown in its almost half-a-decade to having over eight thousand students. It’s a huge school and, with yet another building to be completed by the end of the year.

The celebration is taking place as I write this entry. I am on a break from being a spectator because they are handing out various plaques and awards right now to VIPs, local business people who have taken part in the financial aspects of this private school. With little overhead compared to American schools, there is a lot of money being made here. Sadly, I see none of it.

For the past five years, I have been working at this high school without a single raise. I make very little, too. Over the period of a year, I make about $800,000NT, which is currently the equivalent of less than $27,000US. The cost of living here in Taiwan is higher than in the US. Consequently, I am barely surviving with my wife and two children. I do not even have enough money to return to the US. In a way, I’m a prisoner of this country.

In my past jobs, I made far more than I make here. However, there is more to life than just money. I feel happy to be living here because the lifestyle is simpler than it is in the US. Nobody tries to be better than the Joneses here. The Chinese people look at spending money on frivolities as foolish, which is the right attitude toward that practice. Also, they emphasize spending to the nth degree, whereas it’s all about spending in America.

Furthermore, I don’t have to worry about enormous medical costs here, like I would have to worry about in the US, given my current deteriorating physical condition. In Taiwan, there is a universal health care plan that covers most major illnesses. Whenever I am sick, I go to any doctor, pay a small co-payment, and get right in. I seldom have to wait very long. I feel that the quality of medical care is on par with that of the US, as most of the doctors here are trained in US medical schools, and they seem to have the latest medicine and equipment. Although, I have to mention that some of the medication for rare conditions is not covered by the universal healthcare plan. For that type of medicine, extra health insurance coverage is necessary, or an expensive premium is charged. All in all, it is a good situation for a country. Nobody is dying for lack of healthcare like they are in my country.

Although I’ve been here for six and a half years, I don’t speak, read, or write Chinese. I still feel like I’m on one big extended vacation in a foreign country. Because of that illusion, and the fact that I don’t like the sound of the Chinese language, I have put off learning the language. Ideally, I should learn Chinese, mainly because I live in a country that speaks it. Also, it would open up a lot of doors for me which are currently closed. As China is becoming a significant world power, being fluent in Chinese would prove to be a great asset. I know this, yet I am lazy and do nothing about it. I have only myself to blame.

Even though I like being a teacher, I don’t like where I’m working. The chief reason for this is that I don’t feel appreciated. When I began here, the Principal (who is also a part-owner of the school) told me that he would place me over the English program here and make it the envy of the entire region. He did that because my wife and I presented a plan to him that would help make the English program into something great, something awe-inspiring. He also promised that I would get paid what I initially asked for, but wanted me to work for less during the first year and become familiar with the school and how things work here. The following year, when I asked to meet with him about his promise, he told my boss that he had forgotten about all he had told me the preceding year. He said that I could stay on as a teacher and get the same amount of money I got in the first year.

I came close to quitting that year, very close, but I also was developing another plan. I see a great need for more English teaching that takes into consideration an individual student’s level and rate of learning. A teacher, with a whole class to worry about, cannot do that. A computer program can, though. To that end, I looked for a computer-based education system that would run on a network and could comprehensively present subject matter. I found one that met my requirements, called Moodle. Because filling up the Moodle environment with appropriate English training material would take a long time, I decided that staying at this high school would be an excellent place to get that done.

I have a classroom all to myself, on the top floor of the highest building on campus. (Chih-yung is located on a hillside above Dajia, in the county of Taichung, Taiwan.) The classroom contains an individual computer monitor, testing console, and headset for each student. I have a big cushy executive chair behind a custom-built desk in the front of the classroom. At my control are a DVD player, a VCR, a tape recorder/player, a tuner, and a wireless microphone transmitter. Also, I have two computers on the desk. One is a controlling computer, which allows me to talk to one or more students via a headset and facilitates in recording test answers. The other one is a presenting computer, which I can use to show the students anything I see on that monitor. The second computer is hooked up to the internet through the school’s network. It always isn’t a speedy connection but gets the job done. Remember that a picture is worth a thousand words. On rare occasions, when I cannot explain something to the students in the “Tarzan English” I use to teach them, I google an image of what I’m trying to describe, and they understand it in a flash.

The classroom where I teach is located on level six of a school building. On level four there are five computer labs with nice new computers for all the students who go through a computer course there. There are additional computer labs in another building. Frequently, there are vacant computer labs. That means that when, and if, I get a computer-based English training program ready for testing, I can use one of the labs here at the school. Because I have such great freedom to teach what I want and how I want, another reason for staying here, I can modify the program for better effectiveness.

So, aside from the lack of pay here and the occasional meddling in my teaching methods, rare interference for sure, I feel this would be an excellent place to develop my computer-based English training program. Throughout the past few years, I have saved thousands of websites and electronically-based volumes about English instruction. I now need to weed out the ineffective publications, sort the ones left, and add to them in a systematic way to the Moodle environment. I feel I’m not infringing on any copyright, because I will be changing the method of all to what is required by Moodle, and implementing it in a way that I feel is the quickest and most effective way to learn English. Although I have less than seven years in English teaching, I think that I know what works. And, that is a great deal more knowledge than ninety-nine percent of the English textbook authors out there.

Because I am responsible for which English textbooks I use in class each semester, I have spent countless hours reviewing textbooks provided to the schools I work at by publishers. Also, I have scoured the internet for useful English textbooks. Much to my disappointment, I haven’t found any that were as good as something I could write, given the time and desire. Therein lays the problem to my vision of developing a computer-based English training program, time and inclination. I feel I have a high level of ambition, but it isn’t enough to set aside the things I am currently spending time on, or I’d have completed the initial program by now. I haven’t even weeded out the good from the bad English training sources yet. That’s the first step, as well as the easiest. Following that is when the real work begins, putting the right stuff together and developing a method that I feel is effective. Instead of doing that, I choose to wile away the hours with my family, watching movies or TV shows, and playing computer games. The last activity, the computer game playing, is something that has just started eating up my time recently. I was an avid computer game player about fifteen years ago and then quit them altogether, until now. My current favorite is NBA ’08. That is the only one I’m frequently playing. I’ve played some others as well, but that one is my staple.

I’m not getting any younger, and I realize that old age is coming soon. Regrettably, I haven’t got a dime for retirement. I am dirt poor, and I don’t have any plan. The computer-based English training program could produce a nest egg for my family, but I need to develop it first. If it doesn’t sell, I don’t know what I’ll do. First things first, I need to find it within myself to do what must be done and get this program going. I estimate it will take a good two to three years to complete the program. Then, who knows how long to get it out there. I have two ideas upon this. One idea I had was to get it in the schools so that they can use it with their students. Another idea was to have it based online, so anyone from a secondary school student to an adult could go through it. With that second idea comes an add-on of having live teachers, via webcams, instruct small groups of students, not more than six per group, in live classes. That later addition was an idea presented to me by my wife, Shu Mei.

I must state here that Shu Mei hasn’t always been behind this idea. I’m quite unsure if she is now. She feels that one has to be famous before people pay money to them for something in the education field here. That may be true now, but it doesn’t have to be in the future. If the world’s great inventors waited to become famous before they invented something, we’d probably still be living in caves now. But, I must live with my wife and hear her opinions. She hasn’t given me any emotional support on this, and I desperately wish that she did. Maybe that could have been the extra jolt I needed to get it going. Again, I do not blame her for my laziness, because I could have done it despite her condemnation. I wish she were more supportive. That’s all.

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