William Matheson (nova_one) wrote,
William Matheson

125. September School Stuff

Over the past two weeks I’ve racked up pages and pages of notes about S.G. With apologies to Paul Lutus, there should be a standard frustration form for S.G. teachers:
  • I simply cannot believe this school has / doesn’t have / does / doesn’t do ________________,
  • That my ___________________ university put me here on the basis of their __________________________ reputation,
  • Especially when they pay us ___________ but their tuition costs _______________ megabucks.

If I started filling things out that way, I could get everything written up and be out on my bicycle in time for lunch.

<flips through planner to find the place to begin>

Okay, let’s begin.

Sometimes I wonder what my school’s motivation is for sending people here. Is it to help them maintain their reputation for international awareness, engagement, and mobility?

I suppose on that front, their arrangement with S.G. would have to be considered worthwhile. The trouble is, I feel like I’ve acquired my learning from the weaknesses of my situation, not its strengths. Maybe that’s how these things are supposed to go, but Saint Mary’s was painting an awfully rosy picture of things at the time (the old) M. and I were being prepared to go, and reportedly again when Ch. was being similarly oriented:

- They’re still saying stuff about some of our bills being paid for / helped to be paid for – e.g.: phone, health insurance… well, whoops, turns out they’re not.

- They’re advertising S.G. as a “partial-immersion” school, or, alternatively, “50-50 bilingual.” That’s a fairy tale too, one you have to be here to see the colors of. When under the expectant eyes of parents or the public, the students parrot carefully scripted snippets of English to maintain the illusion of fluency. It’s a depressing charade. There are a few students who are quite conversant with English, and there are also a few native speakers in the mix, but the abilities of the latter have almost nothing to do with the school, and those of the former have everything to do with cram schools, outside tutoring, and parental involvement.

- We’d only work the very occasional Saturday, and we’d get compensatory time off. I suppose this depends on your definition of “occasional.” We usually work at least one Saturday a month, and sometimes two. There is compensatory time on offer, but whether or not you’ll get to take it depends on your class schedule. You can only take an afternoon or morning off if you’re lucky enough not to have any classes scheduled, which happens only rarely – and for some teachers, almost never.

Plus, when you take this compensatory time, you’re robbing Peter to pay Paul, as your responsibilities remain the same. By taking time off, you’re just shifting the workload and stress to another day. It’s not what I’d call a bargain.

- This is a better opportunity than teaching in an eikaiwa. This is another dangerously subjective judgement. Looking at the salary numbers alone would give one pause to consider – it certainly gave me such, but I allowed myself to be convinced that the “unique qualities” of this job would be worth it. Eikaiwa teachers are perhaps rightly characterized as robots, as the big corporations have a highly standardized regimen. Everyone gets the same experience, no matter who is teaching. Any deviances from the prescribed program are quickly snuffed out – often along with the teacher!

So in terms of teaching freedom, S.G. is sometimes better. Unfortunately, much of this freedom stems from a pronounced dearth of resources. We’re not only talking about teaching resources – this school has no functioning library or science lab. The former is kept locked up, as no one is there to take care of it; the latter is a rust-and-dust collection (also locked up).

The resources as they are are usually made up from whatever we can throw together, with heavy reliance on internet resources (of varying quality) like edHelper.com (thanks go to C. for renewing the membership), and photocopying from whatever old American and Australian workbooks happen to be lying around. The only real complete courses we have are OUP’s English Time series and the old edition of their Grammar series – the former is a serviceable integrated course and is interesting and engaging for both students and teachers, but the latter series is very difficult (it’s aimed at teenagers, and we’re trying to use it starting from Grade 3) and also very Euro-centric (in terms of situations and examples). However, as of this writing it seems that Grammar has been refocused in its newer edition, and promulgates age 9 as an appropriate entry age, as opposed to the older one in use at S.G. which is really meant for 11-12ers at minimum.

The one place where I really feel helpless is teaching junior high math. I’m (re)learning it as much as I am “teaching” it, and the classes mostly consist of us doing worksheets together and then checking them over. There’s a geometry textbook that the curriculum I had been using says I should be getting into now, but I don’t have time to learn the geometry required to be able to understand what it is I’m supposed to teach, so instead I’ve been mixing-and-matching from curricula of different years and sticking to the stuff that I’m not completely lost on. (Mk. says this is a good idea and to keep it up, as the important thing is to get them using English. Unfortunately, only the Year Seven class does so – the Year Eights chat and misbehave all class, and the Year Nines are sullen and taciturn. Why they are still in the IEC program is anyone’s guess, although you can bet that $am and ¥vonn€ have something to do with it.)

So I’m emphatically not a math teacher, which I suppose makes my particular salary almost justified, which brings me to another point: Our “intern” label is a farce. I may not have professional teaching qualifications, but I have as much responsibility as any teacher anywhere ever had – we’re “interns” so they can pay us less and allow us less agency. “Interns” carry exactly the same responsibilities as regular teachers, except that we have three or four fewer classes in a typical week. Is that difference worth $1000 a month? (Especially considering that two of the three non-intern foreign teachers at present aren’t certified either?) I somehow doubt it.

Teaching here may or may not be a better opportunity than teaching in an eikaiwa, but in any case, this school is a joke.

To her credit, Mk. has been in contact with Saint Mary’s to help them be better informed on the <ahem> particular details of “interning” here. With any luck, future participants (God help them) will arrive fully informed. It looks like this'll be one less crusade I'll have to embark upon when I get home.

Despite all of these issues, I know I can get through the next three months. Back in January, and again in June, though, I felt completely sold out. I still feel like a pawn being played between the business interests of S.G. and the business interests of Saint Mary’s. You can be sure I’ll embark on any such joint-ventures in the future with extreme trepidation – and, more to the point, prior research. Had I been willing to do any amount of digging (R. even volunteered to put me in contact with present interns, and I could easily have started there), I would have learned enough to know not to come here. But I wanted so badly to believe the fairy tale and get out of town and taste independence for a while that I bought it all hook, line, and sinker. I’m as much to blame as anybody else. Even at Saint-Anne when I was talking about this job with others – in French, no less – I was advised that I’d find better opportunities elsewhere, but I refused to listen because I thought that this opportunity at S.G. was almost tailor-made for me.

The chicanery here really gets under my craw sometimes. Our new teacher, Ch., is a youthful 22. But she’s not allowed to tell the children how old she is, because it seems too young to be a certified teacher (which she’s not, but anyway…). So when they were asking her in my presence, I just told them how old she was anyway, because I thought the whole thing was ridiculous. Now, I probably shouldn’t have taken the matter into my own hands, because if the kids start saying she’s 22 and H-sensei overhears, they’ll blame her. I think I told Ch. she could blame me if it gets out – unlike her, I have nothing to lose at this point.

Another thing that irritates me is being talked to as if I were a two-year-old. The YMCA Camp is back on after being cancelled in July. Since it was back on, I had cause to wonder if I was back in it, too, though I was taken out for “budgetary” reasons. So I asked A-sensei if I would be going this time, and she said she didn’t know, so she’d ask for me. So far, so good. But just minutes later I get this infuriatingly condescending dressing-down from W-sensei: “Already T-san [Mk.] explain why you not go!” Well, excuuuuuuuse me. I turned to A-sensei, who had a wall of white pearls bolted onto her face. Replicating her as best I could, I bit back, “I was wondering, since the day of the camp had changed, if that had changed too. I remember what I’m told.” Goddamn it.

Lo and behold, there’s a bright and amusing memory stuffed in among my notes. O-sensei has been away this month on doctor’s orders (no, that’s not the amusing part!). At the opening ceremony, H-sensei asked the children, “What teacher don’t you see?”

“Mr. S. [D.]!” they all answered.

Heh-heh. They were totally supposed to say, “O-sensei.” And then they were told that he was sick. We all wish O-sensei the best of luck and good health. He’s got a particular kind of endearing aloofness (at least by Japanese standards) that I think we’re sorely lacking right now.

It’s time for a break.
Tags: information, internships, japan, jobs, recruitment, saint mary's, school, teaching, work
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