Day two was a struggle after a restless night sleep and Naomi’s deteriorating health but it was time to plough on (using a cheap taxi) and meet our new bosses and fellow teachers! We made our way to the Washington Language Centre where we were greeted by the friendly staff team to begin our induction day. There are 24 teachers working for the organisation this year, only 8 of which, including ourselves, who are teaching at the primary schools (anyone with prior teaching experience have been assigned the secondary and high school classes). There are a mixture of Americans, Brits, and Canadians varying in backgrounds and ages.
Thuy, the admin officer and face of the WLC, talked us through house keeping and our teacher handbook. She stressed the importance of being a role model to the children both inside and outside of the classroom, and the significance of appearance. We are to be ‘well groomed’ and dress ‘as if attending Church’. There were some shifty glances at Lawrence’s beard (thankfully trimmed just hours ago) but facial hair is accepted as long as it is maintained and tidy. Naomi can’t wait to buy a ‘feminine skirt’ to wear to school.
The bureaucratic government-run schools sound very conservative and traditional, as well as being extremely inflexible with high expectations. While this means the children should be respectful of teachers, the Vietnamese teachers themselves appear to have some irrational ways of operating. It seems very easy to get yourself expelled from a school simply because you drastically changed your hairstyle, or you wore an inappropriate dress to class. Thuy emphasised how a positive relationship with your teaching assistant and the head teacher at your school would get you far. A simple hello in the morning and a smile on your face will create the illusion that you’re a fantastic teacher and everyone will love you. In Vietnam, a working relationship automatically implies friendship so you must play the game to an extent. If we are approachable and positive in our behaviour towards the local teachers, this will result in favours and support from them in return. Sometimes it is necessary to accept a seemingly unreasonable request for the sake of maintaining good relationships, rather than the more tempting option of telling them to do one. We can only exist in harmony with Hanoians if we continue our teaching careers as smiling, immaculately dressed pushovers.
We were then given our timetables, teaching materials and uniform (Naomi is comfortably a size large here). We are both teaching grades 1-5 and will be commuting to two different schools each week. One of those two schools we will both be teaching at, however there won’t be an overlap in lessons so no danger of bumping in to one another. There is a set curriculum and workbook for each grade that we must follow as well as creating our own lesson plans for every class. Despite only teaching for 15 hours a week (with opportunities for over time), the 35 minute lessons add up to pretty much a full week of work. However we do have an odd morning/afternoon off here and there as well as a three-hour lunch break every day to escape from the heat.
Everyone at the WLC we have communicated with so far has had a very high level of English and appears to be very supportive which is encouraging. We can’t help but feel very lucky with our choice of organisation after chatting to fellow teachers about negative TEFL experiences elsewhere. Having a structured curriculum, workbooks and a local teaching assistant seem like a luxury! The induction day certainly settled our nerves about our first day of teaching on Tuesday.