Bringing Up the Bookcase

I’ve always loved our bookcase at the school. It’s functional, it looks nice, and it actually draws in our students. None of my previous English teaching jobs in Taiwan have had anything even remotely like it. Some schools have had a mostly ignored bookcase full of things that are way too hard for the students, but not books that the students actually read.

In some ways our bookcase was a symbol of my long struggle to set up an extensive reading program. Ron, to his credit, was the most open and reasonable boss I’ve ever had. He actually read the entire Day and Bamford book on extensive reading that I lent him. In the end, though, I wanted to take reading a bit further than he did. After deciding to move to Pagewood, I finally had the chance.


It’s also a nice bookcase. It’s wide, it can hold a lot of books and it lays pretty nicely against the wall. That’s why it was worth it for Simon and I carry it all the way from our old building to the new one and then take it up to the eleventh floor via the stairs. I must have sweat out 3kg water during the trip and my forearms still haven’t recovered, but look!

Bookcase -500w

Our students have their old bookcase back.

A First Look at Hiring Teachers

Recently, I’ve found myself in a position to be hiring EFL teachers for the first time. While I did gain some management experience as the owner of a three crew house painting business back when I was trying to pay my way through college, this is mostly uncharted territory for me. With the house painting, training was brief, and I was only looking for short-term help throughout the summer months. Some degree of physical exertion was involved– carrying 30 gallon tubs of paint, climbing ladders, walking around on slanted rooftops and that sort of thing.

My current search for an EFL teacher, on the other hand, is nearly the opposite. I’m looking for a long-term hire, someone who will build up from part time into a full time position and stay at it for at least three years, there’s not much physical exertion involved at all, it’s far more intellectually demanding, and people skills are of primary importance.

The Applicants

I’ve started looking well in advance. We have some good teachers now, and they aren’t at a full schedule. It’s a good thing, too. This might be a lengthy search. I put up an ad both on this site and on a free Taiwan classifieds board, and the applications have been streaming in. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the people emailing me resumes have been woefully unqualified for the position. Of course, I’ll respect the privacy of all our applicants, but here are a few general examples:

People not even in the same country

It’s difficult for me to understand how someone living in Toronto who can’t speak Chinese at all, has no teaching experience and wants to “try Taiwan” could see himself as a good match for the following:

“Need a dedicated, professional Chinese-speaking N. American teacher. Long-term position.”

People unwilling to meet stated requirements

I can understand how someone who is a little weak in one area, but motivated would take a shot and hope for the best. An applicant with weaker Chinese skills could study intensively prior to opening classes and make it. Someone who only has 6 months of prior teaching experience rather than a year, might be able to make up for that inexperience through hard work. But if an ad says extensive training is involved and the applicants have to be willing to work Monday through Saturday, it’s a bit unreasonable to apply just for one class time slot and be unwilling to train first!

Short-term mercenaries

To an extent, I can understand why a prospective employee would want to get as much money as possible for as little work as possible from the very beginning. In general, everyone wants the best deal they can get. I suspect that the reason so many people looking for this job are looking for the best short-term deals they can get are due to the low-trust nature of the job market for teaching English in Asia. Local message boards are full of horror stories about bosses who promise the stars and renege once they’ve got leverage over their teachers. I’m sure that many of the stories are true, but it’s so bad that many foreigners I know living in Taiwan discount job bonuses completely when they evaluate potential schools. If people think the raise and bonus system is some sort of scam, they won’t be willing to put in the work necessary to get started. Maybe in a year or two, when I have a teacher making well in excess of 100k/month and telling his friends, then recruitment will be easier. For now, sadly, there isn’t much I can do to make applicants trust me.

The Interviews

So far, everyone who has actually come in for an interview has been a pretty good candidate. Obviously, no one has all the necessary skills before training begins, but I’m happy with the people I’ve seen so far. More than anything, they seem to have a genuine interest in education.

The difficult part will be finding someone looking for a long-term position. Most EFL teachers are understandably cautious about taking a multi-year position.

Advice for a newbie

All this past week, I’ve been on summer break, minus a few entrance tests and other odds and ends to do in the office. Something odd happened while I was giving one.

Some Kiwi girl called the school and asked for me by name. I had never met her before and I had no idea how she had the school’s phone number. She said she was still in NZ and just wanted to ask me “a few questions” about living in Taiwan. Seeing as how I probably would have made a similar call when I was 22 and looking into working in Japan, I tried to help her as much as I could, but it was a little odd.

She had all kinds of questions– was it true that people of Chinese ancestry can never get EFL jobs? Where is a good place to live? Where can teachers find jobs? What are the types of cram schools? How is it?

I have to say I was a bit overwhelmed. I told her to save some money before coming and suggested she check out I also kind of wonder if she found me through this web page somehow and if so, why didn’t she didn’t read any of the stuff I’ve written about teaching and put on the front page?

Update: I just realized she probably got the school number from the jobs page.

James while John had had had had had had had had had had had a better effect on the teacher

I found this sentence on a social aggregator the other day:

James while John had had had had had had had had had had had a better effect on the teacher.

The sentence is grammatically correct, but only madness would lead anyone to diagram it. Even with punctuation it’s a bit difficult for some to parse:

James, while John had had “had”, had had “had had”; “had had” had had a better effect on the teacher.

John wrote “had” and James wrote “had had”. The teacher liked “had had” more.

It strikes me as sorely unjust that this kind of madness parses, but harmlessly nesting a few parenthesis is taboo.