At the end of 2004, I wasn’t happy with my progress in terms of job skills, saving money, or learning Chinese. I’d been wasting my time trying to study part time at Shida, while working at a boring and unfulfilling big chain English school. It was time for a change.

Since I couldn’t manage to save up enough money to go to a better Chinese school, I decided to quit taking classes at Shida, and work full time at a better English school. After a short time at Tomcat, I was recruited by Modawei on January 1st, 2005. Tomcat and Modawei are not at all like most other bŭxíbāns. Both are hard-core programs. All the teachers are native English speakers who can speak at least a fair amount of Chinese. They make the students talk, and talk loudly enough to correct their pronunciation mistakes. Unlike other bŭxíbāns, the kids have to do their homework. Also unlike other bŭxíbāns, students who don’t pass their exams fail the semester and have to repeat it. It’s a demanding system for the students and the teachers, but the students make progress at about 2-3 times the speed of students at the big chains and end up with much better pronunciation, too. The teachers have to grade a lot of books and listen to a lot of tapes, but they get paid $900/class hour + $600/training hour starting. As soon as I started at Modawei, I was making $70,000/month. I learned a few finer points of English grammar, and I also learned a lot about dealing with parents. Also, I had some really awesome co-workers there. I hung out after work with pretty much all the guys in my office. Mike, Martin, Caskey, my trainer Adam, and especially Nathan all became decent friends. Even the managers at my branch were pretty cool to hang out with, when they had the time to go out. All in all it was pretty good… until the boss decided that to make me sign a new contract saying that all intellectual property I created at work or otherwise, was his. He also revealed that unlike the hiring manager had told me during the recruitment process, Modawei won’t let successful teachers franchise. One of my co-workers said he got yelled at for asking about the bonus system, which turned out to be different than we were told during recruitment. It was time to go.

At the end of June, I started working at First Step, a school run by a former Modawei teacher. I’m making $1100/hour, with $50/hour raises every six months. As any reader of my blog will know, I’m absolutely psyched about this school. I’ve never seen any other school get such good results in my life. There are just too many ways to describe how much better our curriculum is than any of the other hard-core schools such as Tomcat, Cortland, or Modawei. The curriculum is based more strongly on word frequency. We cover nearly the same amount of grammar in three semesters as they cover in five. My boss Ron, came up with a series of phonics and spelling rules and drills which not only help the students learn how to spell words they’ve never heard before, but also greatly improve their accents. Starting towards the end of the third semester, we make extensive use of graded readers such as the Oxford Bookworms collection. I don’t know of any other bŭxíbān in Tawian that does this. Most children are incapable of reading actual books even after studying for four years at places like Hess, Joy, or even Tomcat or Cortland. There’s far too much to write about here, so suffice to say my work is very rewarding. I feel like I’m actually changing lives for the better.

In terms of Chinese, I didn’t make too much progress. I’ve been half-heartedly trying to study on my own, but I’m usually pretty drained after work. Obviously working at Tomcat, Modawei, and First Step has greatly improved my ability to speak Chinese to large audiences, talk about English grammar, and phonics. Talking with parents has helped me learn a few thing about how laziness, frustration, motivation and other behavioral issues are spoken of. I’ve picked up a few more Chinese characters I can read. All in all, though, it’s been a wash. I’ve probably forgotten how to write enough characters and regressed enough in terms of pronunciation to make up for all of what I did acquire. Oh, well. It’s a lot better than my Chinese would be if I’d gone home for a year.

One nice thing about 2005 was that my mom came to visit me. It was really great to see her. I’m really happy she was able to spare the time from her busy schedule and find some one to fill in for her. She lives in a tiny, tiny town; and I think she’s the only doctor living there. She lived in Africa before, when she was doing some research, but she’d never been to Asia. It really was neat to take her around and show her stuff. She wasn’t too thrilled with 台北, but once we got outside the main city, she liked it a lot more. I guess it’s kind of hard to impress an American with stuff like Sogo or Warner Village. She’d been to malls that were pretty much identical, which sold the same stuff for way less money in Chicago.

All in all, 2005 was a good year. I broke out of the rut I was in in 2004 and started to make progress, albeit indirectly, towards my long-term goals. I made some friends, saved some money, started blogging, and had a chance to see my mom. I think 2006 will be even better!