I’m an Australian teacher who’s been teaching in 2 Elementary Schools in Taiping Taichung for 3 years. I’m retiring in June after a long career teaching 20 years in Australia and 30 years in Taiwan. I’ve taught at every level from Kindergarten to University, at private and public schools in both countries. Whilst the financial rewards, benefits and resources are superior in private schools, the professional and human rewards in public schools far outweigh the private schools. And I’ll be leaving Taiwan far richer from my last 3 years in the public schools. However these rewards are predicated on a number of professional and systemic requirements which I hope to outline after I comment on the advantages of teaching in public schools.
In Australia I spent most of my teaching across the whole gamut of Public education from Elementary to High School and Community Colleges where most of the students came from working class and middle class backgrounds. Consequently, the teaching was tough and it rapidly weeded out the less passionate and dedicated teachers because the schools couldn’t exclude “troublesome” students like the private ones. So teachers had to hone their craft to adapt to survive! Fortunately Australia at that time underwent a huge educational reform not unlike Taiwan is doing at present. And this allowed teachers to create programs and pedagogy that suited the students’ needs rather than the tradition of exams and rigid subjects and has resulted in a professionalism and collegiality among teachers that is hugely satisfying to the human spirit.
The private schools in both Australia and Taiwan focus heavily on academic excellence and usually send their graduates to the finest Colleges and onto the more remunerative careers. So parents’ ambitions are prioritized over the human needs of the students. Although these students generally do well in life, I my general impression is that while they may meet the goals of a materialistic society, many are not fulfilled happy human beings. In Taiwan under the pressure cooker focus of tests and competition, the private schools exaggerate this lack of human development. The parents have many unrealistic expectations for their children and this puts immense pressure on the schools and teachers resulting in burn out and stress among teachers. The teachers seldom have the freedom to focus on their students’ personal development, so miss out on the satisfaction of seeing their students’ progress as happy people contributing to society.
Since private schools essentially divide along class lines, the public school students have very different needs usually based on wealth and social status. And many students come from a wide range of disadvantaged home backgrounds. Therefore the role of schools is highly significant in the lives of these children. Often they are the only lifeline to social progression. So the role of teachers assumes a similar significance. As one progresses through a teaching career in such an environment one attains an immense depth of experience that can impact greatly on the lives of ordinary people and make a valuable contribution to their lives and society as a whole. There are many lows, frustrations and disappointments teaching in public schools, but the rewards can be immensely satisfying.
One can immediately sense the difference in attitude from the parents, children and teachers upon entering a public school compared to private schools. In the private schools I felt less respect from the parents. At Parent Teacher meetings they were less interested in how to develop their child than how I could get them into the best College. And at the richer schools you can feel the sense of privilege and entitlement that comes from wealth. The parents treat the teachers like their paid servants, and the students act more entitled, spoiled and impersonal towards you. This flows on to the teachers who also are less friendly and very competitive as well vying for favor from parents and dominant cliques that have formed in this privileged environment. Thus teachers are less willing to cooperate with colleagues in the better interests of students.
As in Australia, teachers in public schools in Taiwan not only have to cope with more difficulties, such as troublesome students, lack of resources, and financial benefits, but also with the unfair burden of preparing lower socio economic students who have talents not applicable for the rigorous test system. So I admire their professionalism and dedication under these trying circumstances. That is why I welcome the latest initiatives from the Ministry of Education to reform education such that it is more flexible for the needs of public school children such as we have been fortunate enough to have experienced in western countries. Contrary to my experience in private schools here in Taiwan, I have received nothing but encouragement and support from my public school colleagues in my efforts to contribute my experience and knowledge to the present reform process. It makes it a pleasure to teach with them.
In regard to the parents and students, the parents in the less privileged public schools, treat teachers with greater respect and friendliness, and the students are incredibly friendly and respectful greeting you each day with warm generous smiles. This is also very apparent at the school activities such as sports days, market days or performances where the private schools parents have a strong sense of competition and aloofness from each other; while at the public schools there is a much joy and laughter much like a large family. As a result it is much happier going to school each day in public schools.
However, it is not a given that teachers will automatically reap rewards from teaching in public schools. As I said, teaching in public schools can be quite challenging. A teacher needs to not only have a passion for education, a good understanding of modern education theory and experience, but also the confidence to adapt to the massive changes occurring in today’s world. As I near my retirement I’d like to pass on a simple distillation of education that may assist teachers to adapt to the rapid changes in society. I don’t believe the role of a teacher has changed all that much from the many years ago that I entered teaching as a wide eyed youth of 19. Contrary to the general accepted opinion, my belief is that education is not to educate for a job. It has always been the hallmark of humans that we have this unique ability of imagination and therefore the only ‘job’ you can teach for is to be a thinking human that has resilience, flexibility and a desire for continuous lifelong learning. It is this “job“ that will allow humans to adapt and cope with any crisis in their lives; and this has always been and always will be, the role of a teacher. This also requires a system that is simple which has well accepted guidelines and allows teachers, parents and students the freedom to negotiate their own mode of education that encourages each child to progress according to their own innate abilities.
These are the advantages that the public schools in Taiwan have bestowed on me. I hope other teachers will also discover the true “riches” of being a teacher.