The Calm Before the Storm


source // wikipedia

Saturday, 4 October, 2014

Taipei, Taiwan

“Wonderland has crashed to the ground – the circus is gone, all that’s left is the clowns.” – R. Williams.

I will usually use this space to write a light-hearted, piss-take account of something that happened to me within the week. However, this blog will not be like anything I have ever written before – the subject I’m about to discuss is very real and not one I could particularly talk about from a humorous standpoint.

So, prepare yourself for my first piece built on drama rather than jokes.

The last two weeks have been an absolute mind-fuck, a hell of a lot has happened, and as a result, I am out of work. Let’s get into the story of how I went from captain of the team to the unemployed man within a few weeks.

Throughout my seven months at the school, I experienced both highs and lows – but never really had any intention of leaving, at least not before the end of my contract in January. Then September bulldozed in like an angry tornado and really changed the game.

It’s genuinely difficult to determine the best place to start – but, I’ll try to condense it down to just the facts that I consider to be important and relevant.

At the beginning of the month, a co-teacher had given his notice. Therefore, the school would need to find a replacement. My boss asked if I would assist her in the selection process – this would require giving up some of my free time to watch demonstration classes and talk with candidates.

I agreed to help. I believed that it would benefit me in the long run – I knew that I would be sharing classes with the new teacher. Therefore, if the chosen interviewee proved to be awful, I’d be left with double the workload – there are some really terrible English teachers in Taiwan, many of the demonstrations I watched were atrocious.

After discussing all the candidates – my boss and I heavily disagreed on who should be hired.

The person who was given the job, wasn’t necessarily a bad teacher. However, he turned up forty-five minutes late for his interview – if that is not a red flag, it is hard to say what is. He purely got the job based on appearance and age.

Her explanation for choosing him was that she prefers younger staff to older people with experience, as they’re ‘easier to train’ – whatever that means. Obviously, I thought her reasoning was stupid. However, as you will soon realise – discrimination goes on to play a huge role in my departure.

I was obviously a bit deflated – I felt like I had just been completely wasting my time. However, it’s her school and they now had their teacher. I was happy to just go back to doing what I was paid to do, and leave the business side of things to her from that point.

Mr Reliable accepted the job offer, and frankly, he seemed like a nice guy – it was too early to pass judgement on his teaching ability, but things weren’t looking as bad as I previously thought.

*From this point onward my former boss will be referred to as ‘Jerry’, the new co-worker becomes ‘Tom’, and the school is ‘Looney Tunes’ – simply to prevent any potential backlash (mostly for myself).*

Fast forward: two weeks.

I received a text from my former co-worker (the person Tom replaced) on the early hours of a Monday morning, asking if I had heard the news.

He was being a little bit cryptic, before revealing that newspapers were stating that Tom had been accused of murder. I’m a guy that usually likes to start my Mondays out quite slowly and build my energy up as the week goes on – but as you can imagine, it is hard to remain lethargic when such dramatic news appears alongside your alarm clock.

I went into school within the hour, as I normally would, and the atmosphere was very hollow and surreal – much as you’d expect when such news presents itself.

Jerry was able to offer a bit more information on the shocking news –

Tom was in a flat ten floors above ground-level with a mate, where the pair had been taking drugs together. As their night progressed, the friend ended up going over the balcony and falling to his death. Since the event, Tom denied the charges and was released on bail.

An event so tragic, unexpected, and sudden, obviously had an immediate impact on the school management. However, to give credit where it is due, Looney Tunes reacted as well as they possibly could have done, considering the circumstances. They’d brought in a substitute to work in the mornings, and confirmed six interviews throughout the day.

The incident seemed to leave Jerry rather shell-shocked, and severely knocked her confidence – she very openly blamed her own poor judgement for the mess the school now found itself in. To clarify, I wasn’t feeling self-righteous or smug about how things turned out – I just felt sorry for Jerry. Sure, I suggested that Tom may be incompetent, but nobody could have ever predicted this.

She once again asked for my help in the interview process. Although, this time she assured me that I would have the final say regarding who they would be taking on. This seemed a bit beyond my duty, but the situation was delicate, so I agreed to help the school for a second time.

The following day, two guys came in for an interview and a demonstration class, both of which I would be sitting in on.

The first interviewee was an older man from York, he had twelve years teaching experience in Asia and seemed to build a great rapport with the kids from the get-go.

The second guy had zero work experience, – and I’m not simply talking about as a teacher, he never previously had a job – was young, stiff, wearing a blazer, and included the sentence ‘speaking English in the way you’ll be most familiar’ on his CV. He also started introducing himself to the students with individual handshakes – they’re three years old.

I will assume that I don’t exactly need to clarify my preference, at this stage.

Shortly after they arrived, Jerry’s assistant approached me and said, “Wow, they are both English – so you’ll get a new friend.”

Firstly, I glossed over the fact that I have both met and liked non-British people over the years, and simply replied, “Perhaps, but I think the younger guy is from a very different background to me. He seems to be from a very wealthy part of England.” To which her response was, “He is wealthy? He must have gone to a good school then, we should definitely hire him.” I was left merely shaking my head in bemusement before walking away.

After the two men left, I shared my opinions with Jerry – she agreed. She explained that there were still four more people coming in over the next few days though, so there would be no reason to give the job to anybody quite yet – which seemed fair enough.

Naturally, she wanted to make sure that she was careful in the selection process this time – as I said, she was still shaken up by her last choice. However, in my mind, it was still going to take something special to beat the guy from York.

The next day, the posh bloke with the blazer comes walking through the door – this left me extremely confused. I took my boss into a private room, and asked her to explain why he was back, all while reiterating how poor his demo class was.

Again (for the second time) she agreed that he was bad. However, they were in a tight spot, needed a substitute, and he was available.  She explained she was desperate for cover, and that he would just be the temporary solution while they work towards finding Tom’s replacement. I gave her the benefit of the doubt.

I watched the four remaining interviewees – two were good, two were bad. I still considered the guy from York to be the best candidate. However, I would have also been happy with either of the two women I just listed as good – which is exactly what I told my boss. Again, she nodded and agreed.

Two days later, I was in my classroom teaching when I saw the substitute outside signing papers – I just felt so angry. Obviously I stayed composed for the remaining forty minutes of my class, but inside my blood was boiling. I had just completely wasted all my time and energy again!

There were far better candidates, so why did he get the job? He was young, good-looking, and wealthy. Those things landed him a role that he wasn’t skilled to do.

This wasn’t the first time that they had blatantly discriminated people in their hiring process, either.

I asked for time off earlier in the year, which they said would be fine providing that I could find the substitute teacher – seems reasonable, I thought. They then informed me of their guidelines – and in the simplest terms, they didn’t want to take on any substitutes that look ‘Asian’.

My boss tried to rectify it by explaining that parents would assume an Asian teacher was local and didn’t know English very well, thus, would complain. Needless to say, I told Jerry that her attitude was disgusting and that I wouldn’t adjourn to their rules.

Firstly, how stupid are the parents if they are unaware that there are thousands of people born with Asian heritage in Western countries everyday. Secondly, surely there is an easy way around that – when an ignorant parent asks if the sub is Taiwanese, simply say ‘no, she’s actually American [or equivalent].’

Both points I raised to my boss at the time. I did briefly consider leaving over that initial incident, but I hadn’t been in the country for very long, so wasn’t really sure of the consequences. They could see that the conversation pissed me off though, and found a substitute without acquiring my help.

She was a pretty, young, white woman – if you were wondering.

Watching somebody get a job based solely on his background and nothing else, made me very embarrassed to be a part of the school (the same feeling I had when they told me not to get an Asian sub).

As soon as the class was over, I took my boss into a private room and vented – perhaps I should have slept on it, but I just felt so annoyed.

I didn’t hold back either, and told her everything that bothered me. The main focus obviously being the fact that she makes her choices based on appearance rather than skill, and that she had just wasted so much of my time only to make me feel completely inferior.

She still accepted that he was a bad choice, even after hiring him. However, she had coined a catchphrase, which she kept going to between each of my points, – “We can train him.”

I told her that I really just wanted to leave the company and had had enough of her bullshit. She granted my request – after all, the timing suited Looney Tunes too.

The atmosphere between her and I was at an all-time low, not to mention, she had just done six interviews. So, it probably made much more sense for her to let me leave there and then. If I left on my own accord in a month or so, she would have just been forced into this whole procedure again.

I was out the door and have not been back since.

I will miss the students, but that is the life of a departing teacher.

I’ve not wasted anytime since leaving that position on Monday though, and have already been to three different schools for an interview. This time I will be carefully weighing up my options before signing my life away.

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