Cheaping out: 7 silly ways cram schools and kindies in Taiwan cut costs

These are not candied apples.
These are not candied apples.
These are not candied apples.

Taiwanese people are really money conscious, and at the Taiwanese schools where many of my friends and I work, this can make for some funny stories. My friends and I came up with a list of times our schools cut corners in really memorable ways.

To be honest, some of this stuff really annoys me, but I’ve learned to throw up my hands and say “this is Taiwan.” What I don’t get is that we all teach at private schools where the parents pay a lot of money for their kids to learn English, just for the school to make it hard on us to teach. Just like teachers at public schools back in the U.S., we end up buying a lot of our own materials for class projects or requesting parents bring in supplies. It happens so often, though, that I am not calling out any school in particular. Some of these examples actually happen or have happened at more than one school.

  1. Very few schools I know provide both toilet paper and hand soap in the bathrooms for teachers and students. It’s kind of a cultural thing, because many places here with public bathrooms still don’t provide toilet paper and soap in 2016. You’d think that with kids being tiny germ factories that the schools would prioritize hygiene, though. Not providing antibacterial soap, or diluting liquid soap until it looks and feels like water, is not in anyone’s best interest.
  2. A cram school owner promised my students we’d have an Easter egg hunt. She really talked it up and we did a lot of Easter activities in the days leading up to it. Then on that day, she hid in the office one plastic egg per student, with one piece of generic candy inside. The kids were so disappointed. They were polite about it, but I hated seeing their sad faces.
  3. I’ve talked about this before, but my school promised we’d get all the materials we needed to make candied apples. We confirmed with them many times because we really didn’t believe they’d come through. And when we got back from our lunch hour, ready to prep for class…they had bought the ingredients to make chocolate-covered cherry tomatoes. For the record, that’s not actually a thing, not even here in Taiwan. They just pulled it out of the air.
  4. At another school, I had to teach a little cooking class, so I was going to make some nice, easy-to-assemble lettuce wraps with some shredded chicken breast meat, assorted veggies, green leaf lettuce, and a vinaigrette dressing. Again, I check in with the admin person a bunch of times to make sure we’d have all the ingredients ready on that day. When I showed up, all we had was iceberg lettuce, a very greasy roast chicken, and Thousand Island dressing. I tried rolling with it, but the first little girl to snatch the bottle and pour some into her wrap accidentally doused it with orange dressing. She didn’t want to eat it, and I wasn’t about to make her eat it because it looked gross, but the Chinese teacher insisted. The girl was bawling. This was all before 9:00 a.m.
  5. One school promised the attendees of their summer camp a morning at an arcade and sports center, but when they got there, each student only got 5 tokens, which they disposed of in about 15 minutes. The rest of the time, their teacher tells me, they went on a sad tour of all the games they couldn’t play.
  6. Another teacher tells me that at her school if you want to request dried beans for an art project, you have to specify how many beans you need per student. And then someone in the office will be tasked with counting out the exact number of beans you get. They are literally bean counters.
  7. I taught at a school where the principal insisted the classrooms had to be decorated, but refused to budget any money for decorating supplies. The whole place was passive-aggressively done up, all year, with orange-and-green stripped candy canes and cut-outs of the the kids scribbles on A4 paper. If art is expressing your emotions in ways other people can see and even touch, this place would have been the Museum of Resentment. The principal had a big, beautiful SUV and lots of unhappy employees.

If you have any more funny or sad stories about your school pinching pennies, share them in the comments.

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