Interview With Richard Blanke, BridgeTEFL Alumnus Teaching in Taiwan
Richard completed the 60-Hour TEFLOnline Educator Certificate with Bridge. He is now using his credentials to teach English in Taiwan. Here, Richard tells us about his experience abroad and gives advice for others who are interested in following the same path.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself? What is your background?
I was born on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and spent my childhood surrounded by the ocean on a small island that is similar to Taiwan. I love the ocean and spend lots of time in it, either swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving or surfing. I am a US citizen and my wife is a dual Taiwanese/US citizen. I have a son and a daughter in college in the US and one 4-year-old daughter going to Chinese school here in Taiwan.
Richard and his family vacationing on Taiwan’s Hualien Coast.
Did you have a career before you started teaching?
I have been a chef and multi-unit restaurant manager for over 30 years. This is my first experience in the teaching field. As a chef and manager, I have taught and trained people for my entire career, so I suppose I came with a lot of teaching experience already.
How long have you been teaching?
This is my first year teaching in a high school in Taipei.
Richard with his family.
What made you want to teach in Taiwan?
We moved to Taiwan to be closer to family and for my youngest daughter to learn Chinese. I do not speak Chinese fluently, so I wanted to work in a field that would not require fluency but would allow me to build it over time. I found a cooking school that was looking for a native English speaker and obviously my experience in cooking is a plus.
Why did you choose to get TEFL certified?
TEFL certification is a requirement for teaching English in Taiwan and was necessary in order to secure employment here. The Bridge program has a great internet presence and reputation, so I felt like it was the best option for me to get certified quickly and at my own pace.
How did you find your first teaching job? Did you get it before arrival in country?
I found my position through Tealit (a Taiwanese site with resources for teachers) and I interviewed for my position via webchat prior to moving to Taiwan and did an in-person interview upon arrival. I began working at the beginning of the new semester after my arrival.
Can you tell us about your current teaching job?
I teach at Kai Ping Culinary School in the Daan district of Taipei. I teach multiple subjects including English and cooking. This is a thematic teaching method school and I am able to teach practical courses in English which help to reinforce the language learning environment for our students. I teach students from grades 10 through 12, ages 15 to 17 years old. The majority are from Taiwan, but we also do cultural exchanges with students from all over the world.
Cajun Blackened Redfish with Caper Lemon Beurre Blanc, prepared at Richard’s school.
What’s a typical workday like for you?
There is no typical workday here at our school. We are constantly changing and adjusting our programs to better educate our students. We also do lots of international exchange programs and cooking competitions worldwide. I suppose a typical week would be Monday through Friday teaching and some evenings/weekends doing outside activities and student projects. Teaching the mayor of Taipei on national television the difference between Wagyu beef and US Prime beef, and how to cook them, is a good example of an outside activity that also showcases our alternative teaching methods.
What are your future career goals?
My future goals are to continue teaching and possibly open some restaurants in Taiwan, continue to spend quality time with my family, and explore Asia together.
Can you share a classroom or teaching tip that you’ve learned along the way as a teacher?
I am blessed with the ability to create, adjust, and change my classroom content to better adjust for individual learning abilities. I tend to make all of my classes interactive and linked to other activities that help reinforce the vocabulary and grammar. All students are active participants in the practical courses that are cooking related, so it is easy for them to remember the vocabulary and actions related to it. They are then able to expand this experience through reporting, public speaking and associated grammar exercises. Since we all share the common love of cooking, it is easy to interact with fun and humor. It is also easy for them to remember and utilize the proper tenses and plurals since everything they do is over time and in a group environment.
Finish this sentence: If I weren’t a teacher, I’d be a ___________________.
Scuba instructor, martial arts instructor, or restaurant owner.
Can you tell us about a particular experience in your teaching career when you felt like you made a difference in someone’s life?
I can think of many, every day. I have so many students here that were unable to interact in English when I arrived and are now able to speak in English in public and interact comfortably with their own personality and sense of humor shining through in their non-native language. My students are amazing and tell me often how much they love my classes and what a good teacher I am! I never imagined that I would be teaching in Taiwan, but I am so happy to see my students grow and get excited about learning.
You are currently learning Chinese. How has this influenced the way you teach?
English is my first language, but through seeing how difficult it is for me to learn Chinese, I am able to empathize and recognize the challenges that my Chinese-speaking students have with learning English. I had to adjust my teaching methods to ensure that my students really “understand” what they are learning.
What recommendation do you have for someone who wants to teach in Taiwan?
Visit Taiwan first and learn about the culture. Once you have learned about the culture and feel that it is a good fit for your personality and career objectives, look for the area that you would like to live in and start researching schools in the area. Watch the teaching forums for job openings and start preparing all the necessary paperwork to teach here. Better yet, come to learn Chinese for a month or so and visit schools in your free time.
A view along Taiwan’s East Coast.