Confidence boost

Teaching is great. I love it. I’m even willing to say now that I am a “teacher”. It’s by no means the only thing I am, but right now it’s my primary occupation, and it’s how a lot of people know me, so as reluctant as I was previously to say it, I am a teacher.

But earlier this week, I quit. The reason I quit was that I just wasn’t earning enough money. Now, the majority of ESL teachers are single guys. I actually don’t know any who are married. But I have a wife at home, and she has a family who need her support. Since she wasn’t working, the duty to support them fell to me. But when money was short and I needed to provide for them, I was selling my possessions out of desperation. I now have three fewer laptops than I had when I first came here.

Last week, Yi and I had an argument. It was brewing for a while. I was frustrated that even though she wasn’t working, she was unwilling to do household chores. She would cook only rarely, she would delay going out to the market and laundry was a constant struggle with her frequently forgetting to do it, or leaving it in the machine or on the line overnight and I would sometimes not have clothes for work. She was frustrated because I wasn’t earning enough money to support her family properly, and I understand where she’s coming from. I’m a white guy. I earn at least four times as much as she does, even if I only work a couple of hours a day compared to her previous 11 hour a day job. Yet still, despite our income, I could barely support us, let alone her family, not to mention my own daughter in Australia who I had not paid child support for in a couple of months (although I had over-paid for the past year, so that’s not so bad). The fact is, my main school pays quite good money. I actually receive more than double per hour what some of my friends in America have received after graduating university. And even though this is Vietnam where the average salary is 1/10th of the average salary of Australia, I still earn more than what the minimum wage is in Australia. But it was still not enough due to the fact that teaching English is something done only at night time and for limited hours.

When we argued about it last week, she said “If you do not have enough money for my family, then I must go back to Pham Ngu Lao to work. I have been offered a job there cleaning a hotel, but I must live there”. I had in the past said “No. If you leave, we will never see each other and we will not stay together” but this time, I was weary. I was working 7 days a week and still not making ends meet. I said “Ok. I think you must go then”. It was very hard on us. She did not want to go and I did not want her to go, but we had no choice. She packed her bags and I took her to her new job where she would live and work 7 days a week. We could still chat via Skype every day, but we would both be sleeping alone for now.

That day, I got very drunk. I messaged both my schools and told them I quit because I was not able to make ends meet. I did not show up for work that day, or any other. I stayed at home for the rest of the week drinking and watching TV. I actually watched the great Japanese teaching drama “Queen’s Classroom”, back to back until the finish and felt miserable. Every time I saw the teacher enter and the class representative would say “Stand up” and all the kids would stand up and bow and greet the teacher, I thought of my own class, in which the same thing happens. I cried a little.

This morning, my main school, which is the one I love teaching at the most, called me. The vice principal said “Could you please come to my office today and talk”. I confirmed, and attended. He said “We are very sad to see you leave. The children are sad. Even the parents are sad”. “The parents ?” I asked. “Yes,” he said. “You are a very popular teacher. The director has great respect for your teaching methods, and the kids love you very much. Many of them talk to their parents about you and the parents talk to us and ask us about you. After you left, some of the parents asked why we could not keep you on as a teacher. It made us look very bad to not be able to retain such a good teacher. When the children are happy and they go home at night telling their parents that they enjoy English class because they have such a good teacher, the parents are very happy and it increases the reputation of our school and brings in more students. But when we lose a good teacher it is very bad for us. We are very sad to see you leave”.

I was dumbfounded. I knew the kids liked me. Every time I go outside I run into my students and they will gleefully crowd around me and say “Hello teacher David ! How are you today ?” and I had been told by several teachers that I was very popular. On two occasions I even had photographers come to the school and take pictures of me teaching. But it had never occurred to me that the kids would go home and tell their parents and that the parents would go back to the school and ask about me because they wanted to know who the teacher was that their children talked about so much. That really surprised me.

I explained the problem I was having with the hours and how I was simply not making enough money to pay my bills, pay for things like visa extensions and also save money for my future. The vice principal nodded and said “While we cannot offer you a higher salary as we already pay such a high salary, we would like to know if there is anything else we could do to have you stay. If you can promise to work for us every day of the week, we will do everything we can to give you the hours you desire. If you have money problems, we would be happy to let you have an advance on your salary. You need money for a new visa this week right ? Let me give it to you now. Will you come back and dedicate your time to us ? We would be very happy to have you teach here. The students and the parents would be happy also.”

Again… I was without words. I’ve been appreciated before in various jobs, but never quite like this. I knew that it wasn’t a case of them just needing teachers. One of my friends who lives in the same apartment started just before me and they fired him after one week because he failed to build a good rapport with his students. He was devastated and it shattered his confidence and has affected his teaching at other schools. One of the other teachers here is well liked at the school, but they have already subtly intimated that I am much preferred. My landlord, who introduced us to the school said that if a woman teacher were to come along, I would be fired in an instant in favour of a woman, but after this conversation, I highly doubt it. These kids LOVE me. The parents are very curious who this new teacher is who the kids talk about so much. And the director, I am told, says that I have very good methods and that I am extremely creative at coming up with new teaching ideas. The vice principal even said that they would be adding some of my own techniques to the curriculum.

Gah… ok.. I know I shouldn’t let this go to my head. I am at times unreliable (though I have NEVER failed to attend or been late), Sometimes I don’t prepare as well as I should, and I admit that as much as I love my students, there are some classes I sort of dread. But.. apparently I’m good at this. If it was just the children who liked me but not the faculty, that would be a different thing. But sometimes, later in the night when classes finish, some of the other teachers will quietly slip into my class and sit at the back to talk quietly and watch. Whatever I am doing, apparently I am doing it right.

Naturally I took his offer. I will now be working six nights a week for that school and in return they will give me the best hours possible. I love my students. Sometimes when I have to get ready for school I groan and wish I didn’t have to go, but every time I walk out the front gate it’s with a smile on my face and I think “Oh my god, that was great”.

Vietnam has a huge young population. 66% of the population is under the age of 20, literacy is at its highest level in history, and English is the new must-have skill. I feel like I’m doing something worthwhile. And… the kids love me. After leaving the school office I stopped off for a burger at a nearby ice cream place… just as school was letting out. Several children I recognised including a very funny, friendly kid with a small birth mark on his cheek all rushed in and he yelled out “Hello teacher David ! Nice to see you !”

It’s good to be loved.

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