Name: Jon Hales
Vision: To level the field. As a British-English Caucasian with a degree in English Literature, Jon had no problem finding a teaching job in Taiwan. Many Caucasian teachers in Taiwan find employment easily based solely on their skin color, and thus are oblivious to the prevalent discrimination against non-Caucasians. Jon is an exception. Quite simply, he cares. He is a passionate, enthusiastic teacher who believes that equality, diversity and multiculturalism should be at the core of every education, in all societies. What an encouragement, to read how strongly Jon feels about an issue that doesn’t directly affect him. Let’s take a leaf out of his book.
As a young (well, fairly young!), white, male teacher from England I have it pretty easy in Taiwan. I have taught at three different schools and I didn’t have a problem finding those jobs despite having no teaching qualifications (aside from an English degree and a weekend TEFL course). Personally, I have never experienced anything close to discrimination.
However, I, like most people reading this, have been exposed to the inherent discrimination here, especially since my fiancée (born in Taiwan, raised in the US) has experienced it on numerous occasions.
I remember being surprised when I first arrived in Taiwan and met with a recruitment agent. Eager to play up what credentials I had, I was reassured that because she was happy with the way I looked, I would have no problem finding work. I thought she was joking but it turned out to be true. Then, when I first started working at my current school, they joked that my teaching ability didn’t matter because the parents would be happy with the way I looked. Actually, this school does take it’s teaching very seriously and of course it was meant as a joke, but behind those jokes and flippant remarks lies a deeper truth.
It sometimes feels like as a white teacher, you are given carte blanche to get away with murder. I have personally witnessed several occasions when teachers displayed unbelievable laziness, ineptitude, aggression towards the school, defiance, tardiness and even alcoholism, and I’ve heard plenty more stories to support the trend. On the flip side, excellent ABC and CBC teachers can be made to wait until the last minute for the school to renew a contract, put under more pressure by the school to get results, offered lower pay or just refused point blank.
The fact is that while discrimination based on ethnicity, skin colour or appearance persists, and teachers are not selected (as they should be) solely on ability – by which I don’t mean qualifications, but passion, commitment and skill – a lot of Taiwanese kids aren’t getting the education they deserve or that their parents work very hard to give them.
Taiwanese parents need to realise that by levelling the playing field so that ability becomes the sole criteria for hiring, they will pave the way for a better and more tolerant education system in Taiwan.
Despite not being a qualified teacher, while I am here and teaching I feel I have a duty to my kids and their parents to give it everything I have. After all, a teacher – especially one who is with their class on a daily basis – plays an important role in the development of those kids and it is a responsibility that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
I want to share a story with you that my fiancée told me a couple of days ago. She was in the middle of a personal tutor session with one of her students, a 7 year old boy. Suddenly, he started laughing and pointing at a picture he had seen in the textbook. It was a boy with black skin. When she asked why the picture was funny he didn’t really know except that it was something he had not really seen before. He had no frame of reference – a teacher, a friend – for that boy in the textbook.
Despite its’ many imperfections, Western society is often held up as a model for Taiwan to emulate. Well, at the core of Western society is tolerance, multiculturalism, diversity and equal opportunity. What better values for Taiwan to espouse and what better place to begin to install these values than a school.