William Matheson (nova_one) wrote,
William Matheson
nova_one

52. Well...

You know, I think I can deal. I got through today fairly well. There are a lot of pressures, especially in managing time, but I’m learning bit by bit. A few times today I had to decide to stop fretting and actually do something, and these times were all largely successful. The only problem I had today was that I ate too much at lunchtime (I bought the cafeteria special for 500 yen, which included a whole heap of rice – next time I’ll do what the other foreign teachers have been doing and forego the rice), and that made the afternoon a struggle just to stay awake, much less alert. But I made it.

Someone’s quitting, by the way. [Update: He's decided to stay after all.] Not from the primary school, but still. I can see why he has to. He wants to teach; he doesn’t want to ride on the bus with four-year-olds for three hours a day, eat lunch with them, make a curriculum for them himself… It’s understandable. The only thing is, some of us primary school teachers may have to pitch in to cover his classes. In private schools, there are no government substitutes waiting to swoop in – if someone quits or is fired or gets sick, everyone else has to fill in the void.

Now, I’m not criticizing him for this – not at all. He’s going to a job at a Canadian-owner-operated eikaiwa in Ehime. If anything, I’m envious. I’m criticizing the system, but I see why things have to be the way they are. They can’t re-hire foreign teachers on a dime; for instance, it takes three months to get a Certificate of Eligibility. Of course, not having a COE didn’t stop two recent interns other than myself from coming over on tourist visas initially – they might as well just stop applying for them altogether and just stick to getting people visas after they arrive, which is a much faster (though grey) process.

When I quit my job at TeleTech, it was no big deal. I didn’t feel like there were repercussions echoing through the workplace. Of course, they were having Career Fairs every other Tuesday. Here, if I were to quit – and I won’t, because I would be letting myself and a whole lot of others down by doing so – besides which there are enough things to look forward to to keep it interesting) – but if I were to quit, I’d be really screwing over a lot of people. The impact would be immense and immediate. You know how three weeks notice is considered appropriate in typical North American situations? In this situation, you’d need more like three months.

[Woah. Lightning storm; and it might get bright and loud in a hurry.]

Yet apparently it’s common for people to jump from job to job here, although they’re usually working for eikaiwas, not for proper full-fledged schools (ALTs aside). People often get hired with a large outfit, quit as soon as they arrive, then migrate to a smaller one. Where’s the honour? (It’s as dead as the Empire.)

I sometimes think teaching in an eikaiwa would be nice, and in a good one, it could be great. But there are eikaiwas and there are eikaiwas. K. has a friend in an eikaiwa who has a two-year-old student. How that can be anything but glorified babysitting is a mystery to us.

The sheer audacity of putting any two-year-old except the most brilliant two-year-old on the planet into the hands of an English teacher astonishes me. For me, it reflects a general “oooh, wow, trendy, I want that” attitude towards English that completely disgusts me. If you come here, you’ll see English all over the place – but only a small (significant, but small) minority actually understands much of it. It’s just around because it’s trendy. OK, I guess that alone is fine, given that we use French loans and expressions all the time to add that bit of je ne sais quoi to our speech, mais dans cette circumstance there’s a whole economy based around this inane, deep-as-a-puddle flirtation with the language. I feel like a lot of people here don’t know what learning another language means or entails. (Many do! Many do! – let that not be forgotten.) They’ll put themselves or their kids into language training or perhaps even into our school without the will to make the sacrifices and adopt the learning and engagement processes necessary to thrive in a second language. It’s not so much that languages are hard – they just require focus.

Like, why do I have to be explaining that “where” and “doko” are roughly equivalent – to third graders?! This is stuff you should be doing in your first week of intensive immersion study of virtually any language. If I have to resort to my less-than-neophytic Japanese to explain things, I think there’s a serious problem.

And then there’re the classes that are the pedagogical equivalent of playing Whack-A-Mole. I had the Year Ones making introductory cards today in Life class; it’s the task I was assigned back in the first week of April, and this is only my second class with them due to schedule changes since then. So we’re making the cards, and the kids are lining up to vet every single little thing with me, which gets old really quickly. One girl I remember talking to at least four times – she wrote “I like ball” – she’d come up, and I would say, “You don’t just like one ball, you like [I stretch out my arms] all balls!” I even underlined the ‘s’ where I’d written ‘balls’ on the board after her first visit, when she had written ‘boll.’ Thank goodness I’m only scheduled for Life once a week – I couldn’t handle any more, and I was exhausted after today. The kids wouldn’t even let me leave after the bell rang – they kept getting in line and getting in line and getting in line and getting in line and I started to say, “Can I go now?” but it took H-sensei to come in and tell them in Japanese that class was over and it was now cleaning time. Anyway, next time I won’t hesitate to put my foot down and say class is over. I didn’t want to hurt their feelings, but I shouldn’t be such a wimp about things like that.

To close, it’s among my dearest wishes that individuals and institutions – my employers emphatically included – would get serious about language learning. None of this fluffy stuff – let’s get down to business already. Just being exposed to the language isn’t really learning, and Japan is probably the best case study that exists to make this point.

I’m going to stop this here, because this is kind of like complaining about the weather in terms of its futility. I’ll just have to pick my battles from here on out. But I know one thing – my year is going to be able to conjugate and properly use “to be” in their sleep.
Tags: english, japan, languages, learning, schools, teaching, work
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