Utility Knives in Taiwanese Classrooms

Like any teacher, I have many rules to maintain order in a classroom and provide a safe environment for students to learn in.  My first semester at a private secondary school in Nantou City was quite challenging.  With the exception of a few minor incidents, the high school classes I taught there required very little discipline.  The junior high classes were another story.  I had posted my own rules in the classroom that all the students agreed upon shortly after noticing that none of the rooms had their own rules posted.  Students fully understood the consequences for negative behavior and after a few weeks most of the incidents involving students throwing objects at each other, using windows to enter and exit the classroom, using Taiwanese curse words to greet teachers, and fighting, had decreased dramatically and in a few classrooms ceased all together.

Such proactive discipline however angered some parents who may have been unaccustomed to hear that their children who were little angels in elementary school had turned so quickly once being sent off to live in a dormitory several miles away to attend middle school.  I was teaching there 18 hours a week and had requested that I only work 10 hours the second semester because the school was a stressful environment, I had plenty of work at my other job that paid more money, and I wanted to exercise a couple mornings every week.

Snap off blade utility knife

Starting the second semester I was informed that instead of ten hours a week I would be given three.  My supervisor told me that I kept great control of the classroom, but my disciplinary-style just didn’t fit how they wanted a foreign teacher to run a classroom.  I told them I respected their decision and was later given two extra hours another morning to teach physical education to junior high students [no, I don’t know why either].

All seemed to be going well this semester, my three senior classes were busy preparing for an annual performance and my junior high PE class did a lot of running around.  We had some time left during one of my senior high classes after our performance practice to do a team-based activity involving Q&A and points for each team.  As I stood by one student and was coaching his answer another across from him was giving him a hard time.  As I turned to tell the other student to cut it out the student in front of me took out a utility knife [like the one posted above] and pointed it threateningly at the other student.  Unfortunately, right at this moment I stuck my hand out and received a long laceration spanning the width of my palm.  Naturally, I dropped an F-bomb and may have said son of a bitch as well.  There were only about three minutes left in class so I told the students to put their heads down and I would be leaving the classroom early for medical attention.  A few students followed me out the door and guided me to the nurse’s office.  The nurse was in the lunch room helping to prepare food so one of the students helped to clean the wound while another retrieved the nurse.  A quick visit to an area clinic confirmed the nurse’s assessment that no stitches would be necessary.

Back when I taught the junior high classes, I confiscated these knives anytime I saw children playing with them.  In fact, at the end of the first semester a line had formed at my desk of students who wanted back all their confiscated items from me.

Anyways, for those concerned, the wound is healing quite nicely but holding a pen is a little difficult at the moment.  Anyone teaching in Taiwan has probably seen these knives in students’ pencil boxes so please be proactive and not allow your students to carry them into your classroom.  I am a bit relieved it was my hand that got slashed instead of a student’s abdomen had one been so unfortunate to be walking by at that time.

I quit the school as of yesterday, one day after the incident.  There have been several extremely negative incidents since I started involving both students and teachers and I have not been satisfied with how the school resolved those issues.

15 thoughts on “Utility Knives in Taiwanese Classrooms

  1. That’s scary Todd. Glad your hand is OK. Discipline in Taiwan’s schools is most certainly a mixed bag. Not surprised it happened in jr. high; all over the world, that is known as the toughest level to control and teach. Hope you are writing well soon.

  2. Todd, your story is a real eye-opener. I’m not involved with any schools here and I never knew there were problems like this in schools in Taiwan.

    I’m sure you’ll find something better. I hope the hand heals quickly.

  3. It’s tough being a teacher these days, not just in Taiwan, but probably anywhere around the world. Get well soon, and best wishes to your future endeavours.

  4. Thanks for the support everyone. The wound is looking better and better. It feels great also to finally quit. I hope a few people read this and encourage their school administrators to ban such objects in school.

    In retrospect, my junior high classes were actually pretty well behaved. One of the classes I used to teach is taught by 3 different foreign teachers (one male, two female). One of the office’s secretaries is in the class when any of them are having class. Their behavior wasn’t too bad for me or the other male teacher, but for the two women they are absolutely horrendous. In this semester students have kicked a hole in the wall, flipped their teachers off repeatably, thrown paint on the wall, and called them bitches to their faces. Needless to say, they would like to quit as well.

  5. Aah that sucks man. Sounds like they need Joe Clark. Nevertheless get better soon and do more riding in your free time 🙂

  6. How very depressing. I lived in Taiwan during the 1970s and I am deeply disappointed to learn that things have slid this far.

    Best of luck in your future endeavors.

  7. Ashish – Unfortunately I’m still waiting for my knee to get better to do any riding!

    Owlcreekobserver – well, I’m sure most of the kids in the school’s dormitory have nothing to do all evening except watch the same hyper-violent movies over and over again that they loaded on their PSPs. I guess there’s a reason why all the teachers there teach from their podiums and never walk around the classroom as they’re teaching!

  8. geez i’m glad it wasn’t any worse! yeah… get outta there. you don’t want to be working in an environment like that, and it’s really sad that this is how students act nowadays.

  9. I was looking online for teacher comments about Pu Tai Senior High School when I came upon your blog. Mention of the dormitory made me feel certain that you used to work at this school. Leaving is the only sensible decision and I hope as you do that the school authorities seriously ban these knives.

    Take care and good luck.

  10. I’ve seen Pu Tai advertise frequently for job openings on Tealit and was interested in applying there, but decided not to because they are located too far away from my house. The school has a lovely campus. I met one couple running a souvenir shop in Koahsiung who were sending their child all they way to Pu Tai, they had glowing reviews of the school.

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