A Journey in Education – An Interview with Annie Tsai

Annie Tsai
Annie Tsai

About a year ago, I connected online with a very talented young lady – a teacher in Taiwan who is well-known on social media for her sharing and passion for education. May I present: Annie Tsai!

Annie Tsai had worked for a few radio stations as a copywriter but later on changed her career as an EFL teacher. After being in the same position for 9 years at a public elementary school, she decided to make a change again and she’s currently a 3rd grade homeroom teacher. She’s based in Taiwan but always on the track of going somewhere overseas. Other than being involved in local teacher’s training program, she’s also passionate in backpacking and trying her best to bring the world to her class. She has won a scholarship from Cambridge Global Teacher’s Essay Competition and she was also the winner of 2011 Everybody Up Global Sing-along Competition sponsored by Oxford University Press.

Vicky: Annie, I am so happy you have accepted to be interviewed on my blog. We have never met in person, however, from our connection on social media I have seen all the great things you do in your teaching and that is a huge reason why I wanted you to share everything with us!

Annie:  Thank you! I have enjoyed seeing your side of the world via FB. I think this is one of the best parts of being connected via social media. A group of people, albeit never met in real life, share the same passion and profession, which is the living proof of why learning a foreign language makes us a better person in so many levels. We learn to share and communicate and our perspectives can be so much more versatile in this way. It helps to have a clear mind, especially for educators joggling between teaching and management.

Vicky: How true! Let’s start with something I ask everyone I interview – because it is so interesting to see their journeys entering education. How did you decide to join this field?

Annie: I had worked as a copywriter/planner at a couple of radio stations before changing lanes. In my last year at the media industry, I did some serious thinking of my future if I should continue to stay on the same path. That was the same year when the Taiwanese government decided to start the English education from elementary level. With my mom’s strong suggestion, I took the entrance exam they held and passed with flying colours. Thinking back now, it is a life-changing opportunity I hadn’t expected, considering my childhood memory with school wasn’t that rosy and shining. I have to admit that becoming a teacher is the most rewarding and best decision I’ve ever made in my life. It makes me learn more about my strength and weakness. It is the kind of profession that makes you examine your personality and rationale in fairly frequent bases. As a person who had spent the better half of her career life in the media industry, I think it is fair to say that I’ve seen the scenery from both sides. Teaching is a highly self-motivated trade and it is more than often being misunderstood or underestimated by the public. Teaching, however, also brings undescribed joy of reward for numerous people. The longer I stayed in this profession, the more I realized that teachers can play far more important roles in the mini-society they walk in every day. Changes that last for a lifetime may start from a classroom.

Vicky: Wow! What an interesting journey. And in your teaching career so far, you teach Young Learners. What do you enjoy the most about these ages, and what are the challenges?

Annie:  Ah, the possibilities there can be and the generosity they can offer is the most important present and privilege a teacher may receive! I love helping these little people to learn the world as I know and knowing that the world is so big that every one of us might see only a fraction of it. The only way to learn the world is to see it in your own eyes. Thus it is a joyful achievement if you get the key to communicate with people from other parts of the world.  Often times my young learners surprise me in cute yet awkward moments. Here’s an example, being neighbored with an Air Force base means we all get used to the helicopter noise. At the beginning of this semester, several days after we covered the word helicopter, my children shout the word a few times during the class whenever they heard the whirling noise. Now of course I was a bit annoyed with the interruptions, but at the same time, it was such a memorable moment to see how they were so proud of themselves and they’ve made such a positive and strong connection with the foreign language.

Annie's kids involved in projects
Annie’s kids involved in projects

The challenges are always there but they can be presents as well. Since Taiwan is an EFL country, it is almost impossible to have sufficient and positive English exposure once pupils leave English class. And the education policy in regards of foreign language often fails to meet the needs of real teaching scenes. During my prior 9-year stint as an EFL subject teacher, I see my students twice every week, with only a 40-minute block in each session. Without effective and extensive schemes to help these young children to review the content, the language material can hardly sank in their brains. To make things harder to manage, classes always come in diverse abilities and I usually have around 300 students to teach annually.

The English teaching industry has always been an issue in the spotlight in Taiwan.  It is true that most people found it difficult to master the language to the level of real communication. It is also true that most people still see English as a subject to learn rather than a tool to master. Thus it is common for people to simply give up and steer away from anything related to English once the pressure of tests and exams are out of the picture. So my hope in switching from an EFL subject teacher to a homeroom teacher is to expend the horizon of teaching a foreign language. I believe that by planting the seeds in the earlier stage can motivates them to make an effort of keeping the language. Eventually it may trigger their minds in exploring the world years later.

Finally, I’d like to share that the difficult teaching context may be inspirational sometimes.  You wouldn’t try so hard to adjust and adapt if all things are good. That’s also one of the things I love about teaching. It is a comparatively secured profession in making renovations.

Vicky: That’s a beautiful statement you just made. And thank you for sharing your experiences with your young learners, and giving us some insight into the EFL context in Taiwan as well! So interesting.

Would you ever consider teaching adults? Have you ever done it?

Annie: Oops, sorry, I have very limited experiences in teaching adults.

Vicky: That’s fine! Let’s move on to something different now. You share and interact a lot on social media, and that is how we actually got to know each other. Do you think social media help educators, and if yes, how?

Annie:  I found social media very helpful in regards to connecting and sharing. It’s also a great platform for information and subjective perspectives.  It is especially beneficial for EFL teachers as they often play the role as the ambassadors of each respective culture. Such characteristic broaden the room for thinking and the definition of better practice of teaching. Even in a country as petite as Taiwan, the resources and intel from different corners of the island can be quite diverse. I’ve learned so much information from my peer via FB and it works like therapy groups sometimes! Social networking helps closing the gap between teachers and at the same time it weaves in new threads of thinking to the existing concept.

Annie's kids planning to send materials to Aphro's kids!
Annie’s kids planning to send materials to Aphro’s kids!

To make things more exciting, platforms like Twitter, FB and Pinterest, involves teachers in different time zones and together we get to converse in the comfort of our own sofa. Additionally, professional and independent EFL FB pages such as iTDi also bring in the self-helped professional development courses that I can easily enrolled and learn in my own pace. The interactions performed in these virtual spaces, are more often than not effective and to the point. Perspectives and knowledge are no longer limited in geography. That’s the most fascinating part of all these virtual networking, just like the way I’m doing an interview with you now!

Vicky: Isn’t it great? I am thrilled about this! And in addition, you are part of a fantastic international programme – your kids are pen pals with another class in Greece, that of Aphrodite Giouris, who is in Larissa. How did this project start? What do you do?

Annie:  I came across Aphro via Facebook; I think we have mutual friends and after several chats back and forth, we decided to partner our classes and do a series of exchanges. For my students, Greece is just as ‘familiar’ and ‘exotic’ as those Greek gods and goddess they read in the books. The project enables my children to apply the language with a purpose. They no longer see Greece just another far-away country on the map. It has become very real and intriguing to understand that there are kids thousands of miles away learning the same language just like us.  Aphro and I also tried our best to match our kids from both sides and make sure each of them eventually receive something specifically for him or her. The experiences are phenomena as most of them have never received any hand-written letter before, let along anything from a foreign country!

I have personally learned and enjoy the process all the way as this project gives me a hands-on opportunity to design an integrated course just right for my class. It’s a great practice to test a teachers’ understanding of teaching material and how to best perform them in the making of the project.

Vicky: I look forward to seeing more and how it evolves! It truly caught my interest since day one and think it is a great opportunity for the kids to broaden their knowledge, both in culture and the language. Now to the future: what is one of your dreams about your teaching in the next few years?

Annie: As a rookie homeroom teacher, it means that I’ll have to be more familiar with other main subjects such as Mandarin and math. I’d like to take advantage of my new teaching context to build a more integrated curriculum. With more time and fewer pupils, I’m thinking about more shared reading experiences and eventually have at least a class drama annually. I’m also hoping for opportunities such as international competitions/networks to bring my children to the wider communities of the world.

As a senior EFL teacher, I’m hoping to organize or being involved in professional development for teachers. I’ve had a few experiences and hoping to continue the P1060572journey of sharing. I’m also looking forward to opportunities to brush up my language proficiency and hoping to be able to participate in International EFL conferences. Guess my wish list for Santa is a bit too long ; ) Still, being a teacher gives you the means to make your dream come true.

Vicky: It’s been such a pleasure hearing about everything you do! Thanks so much for this wonderful interview, Annie – I hope we meet in person some day!

Annie: As a passionate backpacker, I might actually hop on a plane and fly to the picturesque Switzerland some day!  Thank you so much for the heartwarming invitation. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Vicky: I will be so happy to show you around! Happy Holidays and all the best to you too : )

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3 thoughts on “A Journey in Education – An Interview with Annie Tsai

  1. Oh, I can so identify with the statement about teaching being a relativately safe environment in which one can try new things!
    Vicky, your blog has become the “go to” blog for virtually meeting fasninating people!
    Naomi

    1. Dear Naomi,

      What a lovely comment – I totally love Annie’s passion and approach, and her description of teaching as such an environment : )

      Big hugs and I am happy you like the interviews : )

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