Men in Early Childhood Education: My Interview With ESL Teacher Sasha Kuzmanovic Who Taught in Taiwan by Mike Prochaska
Sasha Kuzmanovic is the brother of fellow 30Seconds® contributor Tanya Kuzmanovic. I want to thank Tanya for going out of her way to help me find a man who taught in Taiwan, and Sasha for answering my questions. Sasha currently lives in Toronto, Canada.
Q. What made you decide to want to teach in Taiwan?
“Some of my friends went to teach in Korea but I decided to try something different. I wanted to go because I thought it would be a great way to see that part of the world. Just to go for travel would be expensive but since you're working over there making money it made it easy to see that part of the world. Also, since you stay a year (or more) you can really get immersed in the culture which is a better way to get to know foreign lands.”
Q. What’s Taiwan like?
“Taiwan was wonderful once you acclimate to the humidity (which you eventually do). My students were great. Like with all kids some are more rambunctious than others, but they were all interested in what I was doing and what I had to teach them. My co-staff was all Taiwanese and supported and helped me quite a bit. I was the only westerner at my school at first so my workload was more intense at first, but they soon hired others that took up some of the slack. I primarily taught in the afternoons and for no more than a few hours a day (probably totaling under 20 hours a week).
"The cost of living was very cheap and my salary went a long way for me to be able to do some traveling within the country and abroad. I also managed to save one-third of it. The cities were full of bustle (the tiny country of Taiwan almost has as many people in it as Canada). Travel was done mainly by scooter which looked daunting at first, but you quickly get used to it. The countryside was gorgeous. Full of mountains, hot springs and beaches. The one big downside was that they have more pollution than most countries in the west.”
Q. Where did you work or what age group?
“I worked at an ESL school (Sesame Street School – curriculum was based around the “Sesame Street” characters). The age group ranged from 7 years old to 12 years. Some of my best students (most fluent English speakers) were 7!”
Q. How is teaching in Taiwan different than here in America?
“The ESL school I was teaching at was a place that the children would go to in between classes at their regular school. The structure of their school system was such that they had blocks of time for classes and among those blocks would be a ‘spare.’ This spare time would then be filled with a specialty school for those whose parents could afford it. It could be a school that specialized in mathematics, athletics or, in my case, English as a second language.
"At the end of the school day some of the children would be dropped off at my ESL school to just use the facilities to do their homework and to wait for their parents to get off work to pick them up (sometimes as late as 9 p.m.). This would mean that some children would start their school day at 7 a.m., finish at 6 p.m. and then hang around the school doing homework or playing in the enclosed play area until 9 p.m.
"When I first found this out I thought that it would be exhausting for the students, but they get breaks throughout the day where their parents (or more likely their grandparents) would collect them for lunch and dinner which were always home-cooked meals. They did this throughout the year (no summers off) with only a few weeks of vacation and some holidays mixed in.”
Q. What are the advantages of being a man in education? What do men bring to the classroom in Taiwan?
“The teachers who were native to Taiwan were all women. I didn't see one male teacher that wasn't a western English teacher. However, that being said, I could see no difference in either the treatment from the faculty or from the students as to what gender anyone was. The only thing that mattered was that the adults were in charge and that the students respect the adults' position."
Q. What’s your favorite memory working with kids?
“I absolutely loved my class on Friday. That was a special period where we would just casually talk with one another. They would ask me questions about my life back home and I would ask them questions about their lives in Taiwan and what they wanted to do in the future. It was a wonderful time."
Q. What’s your favorite activities to do with kids?
“Every so often we would take the children on a field trip. To the mall, a local market, a swimming pool. It was great to see the kids outside of the classroom setting.”
Q. Anything inspiring to tell anyone thinking of going into this field?
“If you go overseas to teach English I guarantee you'll have the time of your life. Before I made the decision, I would talk with friends and acquaintances who had taught ESL about their experiences. I was very apprehensive about it but everyone I spoke to said the same thing. They were all nervous about doing it, scared that they will be totally lost but by the end of it they couldn't believe that they were ever scared of doing it. Some of my friends stayed for many years.”
Q. Do the value play and recess in Taiwan? Art class?
“In Taiwan they do value play. They use it as a tool to get the students energized to keep them attentive when it's time for learning. As for art, I have an interesting story about that. In one of my classes there were some students who were more advanced than others so when I assigned some pages in their workbooks they would just blow right through them. To make sure they weren't too idle while I gave the rest of the class time to finished, the assigned pages I would have the ones who had finished early color in the pictures in their workbooks.
"This one student, Kenny, was always curious as to where the limits were and so he asked me if he could color the tiger in the book blue. I told him that he could. Then he asked, with a smirk on his face, if he could color the elephant purple. I told him he could color the animals in any way he wanted. He was over the moon. When the class was finished my co-teacher (who was Taiwanese) collected all the books and the students went on to another class.
"My co-teacher approached me with Kenny's book opened to the page with the multi-colored animals. She said that in her country they consider this wrong. A tiger should only be colored orange and white with black stripes, etc. I took her over to the class computer and did a Google search on post-impressionist painters. I told her that in her country these paintings would be considered wrong but in the rest of the world they are revered. My job as an ESL teacher was not only to teach the children English but to also teach them about western culture. Part of that job was to look at the world through my eyes. She understood but I don't think she agreed. She never brought it up again.”
Q. Anything else you would like to share?
“I wish I had known about how easy it is to go and how interesting and enjoying it is teaching abroad much earlier in life. I should've done it right after graduating university. If I was a younger man I would definitely do it again.”