Albert Einstein is credited with the oft-spoken phrase “The definition of stupidity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” “Over and over” and “again” seem redundant. I wonder why he didn’t just use “repeatedly.” But, then again, who am I to question a genius? Einstein was correct with this phrase, on so many levels.
Last month, when most schools hired their teachers for the upcoming school year, I asked the school where I work, via email, if my contract would be renewed for another year. I heard nothing from the school. Ten days ago, I asked again. I heard nothing back. Then, I asked, in-person, last week and was told that I would probably hear about it this week. Finally, today I received an email from the head of the personnel department that stated my contract would not be renewed this year. (The current one expires at the end of July.) In the email, he said that he regretted to inform me of this. He added that if I wanted to know the reason why, I should ask the head of the teachers, a Chinese man using the English name of Joseph. (It is common for Chinese people to have English names here in Taiwan because we native-English speakers frequently have difficulty saying their Chinese names correctly.)
I had suspected last week that something was amiss when some students said they heard I was leaving the school. I told them then that I was not, and asked them where they heard that. They said they heard it from other students. I wondered where they heard it. I suspect it was from my immediate boss, the head of the English department, “Sharon.” Since she took over the department this school year, her standard mode of communication has been everything but direct. All but a few times, essential school communications were given to us, the two foreign teachers, from the students and not by Sharon. However, that is another story and one that could take up an entire entry on its own.
I immediately called my wife, Shu Mei, and informed her of the email message. At first, she reacted as I suspected she would. She went into doomsday-mode about our finances. She said that we would have to stop our weekly counseling because we would have no money. She also alluded to other expenditures that she felt needed to be ceased (i.e., air-conditioning, Costco, the Internet, etc.), and said she would begin looking for a new job for me. That phone call, like so many other discussions between Shu Mei and me, left me feeling somewhat emasculated. I don’t like being in a vulnerable position like this. It reminds me of when I got into the auto accident last year, and Shu Mei helped me recuperate.
Although I appreciate her efforts, as I do now with job-seeking, how Shu Mei communicated to me during that fragile time left a lot to be desired. She was extremely overbearing in her manner. Nothing has changed since then. When she talks to me, because of the way she speaks to me, I feel like a scolded child. And, that’s even before she gets irate at me, for not understanding her completely. Still, I have to repeat that I do appreciate her efforts. I have a lot of hope that I’ll come out of this dilemma better-off, because of Shu Mei’s actions. I must remember one of my mother’s favorite sayings: beggars can’t be choosers.
Following my first two classes, I had a break. I went to Joseph’s office because I was genuinely curious as to why the school administration does not want to renew my contract, after five years of service with absolutely no complaints on their part. He wasn’t there. I returned to my classroom to teach two more classes. After that, I taught two more classes.
After that, I began writing an email message to Joseph. He told me early this year that he doesn’t like to communicate via email, but I didn’t much care about that anymore. In the message, I stated just how upset I was that the school was going to essentially fire me, after such a stellar performance on my part. I got a bit into the message when who should appear at the doorway of my classroom? Joseph. He entered, and I told him that I was writing an email to him and was glad he was there in person so that I could discuss it face-to-face instead. I asked Joseph why the school was not going to renew my contract.
He began to blame the principal (who is part-owner of the school), which has been his modus operandi whenever there has been an issue (e.g., when I didn’t receive a raise after my first year of employment at the school). I interrupted him and said, “Joseph, don’t blame the principal for once. You’re supposed to be a manager. Act like one.” In the past, I had never spoken harshly to Joseph, but I didn’t care anymore. If the school administration was getting rid of me, an employee who strives to do the best possible job, then they didn’t deserve courteous banter. I was determined to raise our little tête-à-tête to a more pragmatic intensity, instead of just exchanging niceties.
“As your friend,” Joseph began. I interrupted him again, as this is another disingenuous expression he is frequently prone to use. “Stop saying you’re my friend,” I said to Joseph, “You’re not my friend, and you have never been my friend because a friend would not treat another friend as badly as you have treated me.” I continued, “First of all, my biggest problem is that I was not told about this until now. I should have been told you weren’t renewing my contract last week when all of the other schools are hiring teachers for the upcoming year. But no, this school, this lazy school that doesn’t do anything until the Principal orders it, waited until the last possible minute to tell me. Now, my options are small. I will probably have to commute a long way to work if I can even find a teaching job. If you had told me last month, as every other school in the area would have, I would have had a lot of options.”
“Second, in my job before coming to Taiwan, I was in airline management. I had to fire dozens of employees in my time there. I never once did it via email. And, I always gave them a chance to change what they were doing to avoid being fired. Not once have you, or anyone at this school told me that I was doing a bad job. I heard many times that I was doing a good job. Let me tell you something, Joseph; I feel confident that I’m the best English teacher you have here.”
“We felt,” Joseph began, “That you weren’t teaching according to our way.” “What is your way?” I asked. “You have lived in Taiwan for many years,” He replied, “You should know our way by now.” I said, “If you’re talking about the English program of this school as being your way, then I understand it completely. I had told you in the past that I think it is the wrong way to teach English because students know less English after leaving here than when they came. You were okay with me teaching differently then. If your feelings changed, you should have told me.”
“We just felt that you weren’t encouraging the students to speak English,” He said. “Why do you say that?” I asked. “Because some students told us that,” Joseph replied. “What students?” I asked, “Students from class 306? Some of them have had a problem with me throughout all their three years at this school. You know that they have been encouraged to say those things by their homeroom teacher, Sharon.” (That’s part of the other story I referenced before.)
Joseph repeated, “We just felt that you weren’t encouraging the students to speak English.” I knew he wanted to blame the Principal for this, but I wasn’t going to let him off the hook. “How many times did you watch me teach, Joseph? Or, how many times did Sharon, or her predecessor, Carol, watch me teach? Zero. That’s how many times. If you had a problem with me at any time, you would think that just one of you would see how I teach, instead of listening to some under-achieving students who are just trying to get on the good side of their homeroom teacher. If that wasn’t the case with those students, and I may be wrong, then surely it was because they were upset that I was challenging them to learn English. No other teacher does here.”
The English program at the school where I teach, aside from what the two foreign teachers do, consists of having students memorize endless vocabulary words and then testing them on the meaning of those words. There is absolutely no actual teaching of English going on, aside from word-memorization, which they forget shortly after testing. It’s tragic, confirming the fact that the school cares only about money and not education.
Joseph repeated himself a third time, “We just feel that you weren’t encouraging the students to speak English.” “Let me tell you something,” I said, “Back when you asked me to conduct some classes outside for the remainder of the semester, I did so. When you asked me to take the students on a field trip, I did so. Other than that, you haven’t asked me to do anything. You don’t even know what I teach or how I teach. Honestly, I taught from the assigned textbooks to all students. Every English-major class I taught has completed their textbook. How many other English teachers did that? I’m sure you don’t know the answer, but I do – none. That is because they have been busy teaching their own things, telling their own stories about life, or simply not teaching at all.”
“I am the only one who is encouraging the students to speak English,” I continued, “No other English teacher asks students questions and gets answers, orally, throughout every class, but me. I awarded them extra points not only for answering questions but asking questions, too. And the way I teach, using various audiovisual tools and the Internet, is to help them get excited about speaking English. But, you wouldn’t know any of that, because you, or any of your subordinates, never took the time to watch me teach. You’d rather guess that I’m not doing a good job because the students are not meeting your expectations with their English verbal ability. I am not the problem here; it is the entire English program that is the problem. English needs to be taught as a whole: reading, writing, speaking, and listening. You shouldn’t have the majority of English teachers focusing on teaching vocabulary words, and expect the only two foreign teachers you have at the school to teach everything else.”
“That’s your American way,” Joseph said, “Not our way.” “No, that’s the right way,” I replied, “When Taiwan is second from the bottom in English proficiency, as they are now, just one up from the bottom level, Vietnam, your way is not working. If you don’t change your way, Taiwan will continue to remain at the bottom. Don’t you think that is sad for a country with this much potential?” “It might not be the right way, as you say it,” Joseph replied, “But it is our way, and you should understand that.” “I do understand that,” I said, “And I understand that if the President of a company wants something done a certain way like you’re saying the Principal wants English speaking taught, and then the employees of that company should do it, or leave the company. I understand that, and I have always been willing to do what the Principal wants. But, you never told me what he wants. I don’t even think he knows what he wants. Do you know what he wants?” “You should know,” Joseph answered, “You’re the English teacher. I’m not. By now, you should know our way.”
“Let me ask you something,” I queried, “You’re a teacher, too, right?” “Yes,” Joseph replied, “I teach International Business.” “Okay,” I continued, “How do you teach International Business?” Joseph answered, “Well, I start with the basics and go from there, but my students are a lot lower-level than your students.” I asked, “So, your students aren’t very motivated to learn, right?” “Right,” Joseph responded. “So, how do you get them motivated, Joseph?” I asked. “Well,” He said, “I try to tell them how learning International Business will help them in the future.” “Exactly!” I said, “That’s exactly what I do. I first try and get the students interested in learning English by helping them understand how it can help their future; then I begin with the basics. So, I am doing it your way!”
After that, Joseph became visibly distraught. “I just can’t handle this job,” He said to me, “Next year, at the end of my contract, I’m not going to do it anymore. It’s just too much for me.” I’ve heard this song-and-dance before from Joseph, and from Carol and Sharon for that matter, but they all hung on longer than they said they would, because the positions give them more pay. (At least Carol finally followed through with her promise to step down.) “I’ve heard this before from you,” I said to Joseph, “But, I don’t think you’ll do it. You love the money too much.” “No,” He replied, “I don’t care about the money. The Principal is just putting too many demands on me. Do you know that I didn’t leave here until 7:30p every night last week? Every night! And nobody cares.” “Joseph,” I said, “I know exactly how you feel. When I was doing that student video for more than a year, I put in numerous extra hours and worked several Saturdays, without extra pay. Nobody cared about that. This is what happened to me because of my extra efforts. I’m getting fired! I never thought I’d get fired for doing a good job.” “It’s just terrible,” Joseph said, still thinking about himself. “I know,” I said, still thinking about myself.
That’s basically how the conversation went. As I walked Joseph to the door, he told me that the personnel director should have told me about this last month, because they knew about it then. I told him about what happened with the students last week, and that someone had leaked it to them. I’m pretty sure that you, the reader, know who did that. She’s a piece of work, that Sharon. Vindictive as a woman could ever be! Like a jackal, she’s been lying in wait to get me. Why? I have no idea. I never really did anything bad to her, except calling her the worst teacher I’ve ever known, which is the truth. But, she burned the bridge way before that. Again, that’s a whole different story and one which I may, or may not, get around to telling sometime. In the end, she got what she wanted, rid of me. I wish her all the luck in the world. She’ll need it!
For now, I am on the hunt for a new job; sending my resume to all the local schools and considering moving back to the US, again. In conclusion, I don’t know who was more stupid: the school administration for not recognizing me as a valuable asset, or me for staying with them so long, knowing they didn’t recognize me as a valuable asset. I have to believe that they were because they’ll undoubtedly continue to do the same thing over and over again [sic] and expect different results.