I’ve never been a fan of secrets. I hate it when they’re kept from me, and I hate keeping them. In this case, though, I’ve had no choice. I decided several months ago that Guishan wasn’t the place for me. Between not having any gyms, movie theaters, or warehouse stores, and having way too many stray dogs that chase me whenever I ride my bike, I just can’t take it. That isn’t to say anything bad about my job here, though. Ron’s great.
Maybe the best thing is that he actually listened to my ideas and he let me help shape the curriculum. Before I came to the school, there wasn’t any extensive reading program, but now it’s an integral part of the intermediate and higher level classes. To be honest, extensive reading is sort of antithetical to most of the Modawei-splinter schools. It’s pretty different from the sorts of things Ron had been doing in class for years. But he listened. He also read all the L2 acquisition books and other materials I gave him, fully admitted it when he wasn’t familiar with an idea, and asked questions. In the end, he modified both his thinking and his curriculum, to a degree. Few bosses have the humility to do that.
The other thing that’s been great about working here and with Ron, is that he puts education ahead of the near-term bottom line. Obviously there’s a limit, but he’s done quite a few things that other schools wouldn’t because of the cost. He’s even displayed a few moments of charity towards some of our (financially) poorer students that shocked me. I can’t write about it in detail, for fear that parents of other children would try to take advantage of his generosity, but I can say with certainty that I’ve never met any other business owners who would have done the same. He could be making more money if he were a bit tighter with the finances, but he’s convinced that the way to “win” is to focus completely on providing the best possible “product”, i.e. EFL classes. So far, I’d say he’s right. Ron also had no complaints with me writing whatever I wanted to about our teaching methods on my blog, and he let a curriculum planner for a middle school in Taizhong visit our school and get ideas to improve his school’s program. When I asked Ron why he was okay with this, he said that helping improve the EFL education in other schools and potentially helping thousands of students means more than keeping his curriculum secret. How many bosses would say that?
The results my students have gotten have made everything worthwhile. There’s no feeling I’ve ever had that compares with taking a class of kids who can’t communicate in English at all, and taking them to the point to where they are now. It’s like I’ve seen a whole world opening up for them. On of my students came in to see his little brother (who started four months later) in another of my classes. He told me he couldn’t believe how simple the class sounded, or that he’d improved that much. Two other kids told me about how they’ve started doing better in all their classes at school, due to the discipline and work ethic they’ve learned at mine. I don’t even know how to express how much better that day was than any day I had at work as a programmer.
With such a relationship with so many of my students and about a quarter of their parents, it was a tough, tough thing not to tell them I was leaving any sooner. I knew my old co-worker, Dan, would be coming to the school soon and I knew he was a good teacher. I knew he could teach my classes well after 50 hours of training or so, and I knew the kids would be fine with him taking over. I also knew it would cause great difficulties for Ron if the parents found out before Dan was ready to take over and that it would be a great loss for the kids if their parents panicked and moved them to lesser schools. Still, my secret has sat at the bottom of my gut like a lump of bile, nauseating each time my students or their parents expressed gratitude or friendliness. This week, the secretary finally started telling parents who asked that I wouldn’t be teaching the kids anymore after this summer. After class last night, they finally asked me about it and I had to tell them that I only had one more week in Guishan. It hurt. Some of the kids and even one of the parents started tearing up. It was moving that they actually cared that much who taught them, and it was a huge weight off my shoulders to finally be asked out-right and give them the truth. I guess I wasn’t that far from tears myself… I just hope I don’t have to keep any secrets from people like this again for a long, long time.