“Yes, the one about the foreign teachers surrendering their air-condition remotes?”
“Look,” I said. “It’s 99 degrees in the classroom and 100 percent humidity. We’re dying. We need to turn on the air-conditioning during class."
The Taiwanese administrators conferred with one another. One by one they shook their heads. “But it is not 100 degrees. When it is 100 degrees, the school president has given permission to use the air-conditioning. This is part of our Taiwan is green policy.”
“So let me get this straight, I’ve worked here three years, I’m last year’s Teacher of the Year award winner, and a guy I’ve never met or seen is telling a 19 year teaching veteran that he isn’t competent enough to handle a remote control?"
“What about the Taiwan teachers?”
There was a sullen pause. Finally, the director spoke. “It is policy that the Taiwanese teachers can use the air-conditioning at their discretion.”
It wasn’t our first disagreement. Dozens of times I’d come to him with suggestions about the school. Everything from how we needed earthquake evacuation drills and unlocked fire exits and sports teams and dictionary sets and discipline procedures for when students start fires in class or threaten teachers with knives. Every time he would laugh nervously or pretend to be distracted. This time was no different.
“One other thing,” the director coughed into my face, “our current literature program will not work at the new International program. We have brought in a national educational specialist who will streamline everything and bring a modern approach.”
“Streamline? Like when you decided to place students in English class by age and not ability?”
Another administrator looked at his clipboard. “Taylor swift.”
“Yes. That’s her! She’s excellent. Then in the end, they will be tested on their knowledge of the song.”
“No!” All the administrators laughed, “You think we are stupid, don’t you? No, they must write the song word for word. One mistake and they fail. Now, where is your remote control?”
There was nothing more to say. At this point, I handed it to them and said, “You can put it anywhere you want.”
I left the unsigned contract on the table.
Back in my classroom, I closed the door and sat at one of the desks alone in the dark. I couldn’t even laugh. Had I really been here four years? I looked at the pictures on my walls. Greek myths of adventure. Hall of Fame posters. Poetry murals. Yet for the first time I really wondered, what is it worth?
Is it really just a lie? These things I’d preached to students for years: Thoughtfulness? Integrity? Passion? Were they complete falsehoods I’d convinced myself were real to make up for the abuse I was taking on this job. What was it for? I might as well be digging ditches or washing dishes. My reward would be the same.