I keep expecting that a Monday will just be a normal day, or even an easy day, in part because I only have two morning classes and therefore I have all kinds of time to get caught up on things. But you know what? Today was a Monday, a full-blooded Monday.
I turned the TV on to get the weather forecast. It doesn’t look too bad for Friday - partly cloudy, 20% pop. Provided that it doesn’t rain (and that the day isn’t forecast for it), we’ll be going on a day-long field trip up to Kagawa Prefecture, where we’ll visit a science-themed park. This will be a welcome excursion – I think it’s about high time we all do something fun together. The last time we got to have officially-sanctioned fun at work was the Year Six farewell party back in March. Speaking of which, this year’s Year Sixes are in Hawaii right now. Now that’s a school trip.
So help me, I miss W-sensei, who went to Hawaii with O-sensei and the Year Sixes. By her very presence, she has a way of keeping a lid on things. Some of the other teachers <ahem> may flex their muscles in her absence, and it isn’t always pretty – but that’s understandable because few have the experience that W-sensei does. The foolish things I have done and said (today alone) could fill a book. And I’m remembering now what I said this morning about thanking my lucky stars that I have such a patient and… well, patient… patient, understanding, and considerate cooperating teacher.
Speaking of considerate… I was really flustered this evening because I was behind on correcting tests which I had been putting off until I had spare 8-5 worktime to correct them, but I’d just then accepted (with a grudge the size of Mt. Fuji) the fact that that time was never going to come. Later I’d find out that our paperwork has been unilaterally quadrupled – I suppose it’s for a good reason, because the office claims that they don’t know what we English-medium teachers actually do. Anyway, I’m making it clear to anyone who’ll listen (which means I ought to shut up) that I’m not taking time away from other things I have to do to file supplemental reports. The intersessions, when all we have scheduled is day care, will be my primary time to do those. I keep my own records anyway, so it’ll just be a matter of transferring them.
One teacher said to me, “Well, wait, what about all that writing you do in your apartment in the evenings? What’s the difference?” I stared at her and felt like banging my head against the wall. But it’s a natural thing to assume; she thinks I write because I like writing. I might sometimes like writing, and I might sometimes like brain surgery, but that’s not why I do either. I write because it’s the only way I can express certain things. It’s not some hobby or pastime; it serves a need. And being needed to write more isn’t really a cause for celebration as I see it. Moreover, I have writing standards to uphold. I don’t churn out thoughtless crap. I care about my usage and my spelling and I spare a thought for grammar even if it’s to decide to break with convention (“rules” might sometimes be too strong a word). This all means writing takes a heck of a lot of time (as anything does when done right!), and that’s why I’m not exactly dancing around the Maypole with joy now that we have all these new monsters under the bed to feed.
And earlier I’d been frustrated because of the after school study sessions. Here’s what happened in a nutshell: Last academic year, a former intern was looking for something to do (understandable because he was quick about his work; much quicker than I usually am, anyway), and he saw (as anyone would) that the students needed extra support in English. So he started these after school extra help sessions. Great, right?
Well, the problem is this: he’s gone, and the program now is an over-formalized, taken-way-too-seriously, broadly-scheduled nightmare. What started as something one intern wanted to do out of kindness has become a weighty, onerous obligation. And the Japanese teachers love to obsess about when the sessions are, who’s teaching them, who’s specially… registered? We had to write lists of names that we thought could benefit from the special study (OK, fine), then these children had notes to their parents sent home with them (and God Only Knows what those notes say, because they’re in Japanese)…
It came down to today, and the schedule hadn’t yet been prepared. The timing was more or less forced on us; we were told that we were going to be starting it this week and sure enough at 4:10pm today there were 15 Year One children waiting in their classroom for a teacher to show up. So we sent in F., who’s their homeroom teacher anyway, and then got the rest of the schedule figured out.
Like, what was wrong with just offering extra help to anyone who wanted to show up? Quite frankly, we are not being paid nearly enough to be doing obligatory extra-curricular work on such a regular basis. The local hires, who teach a paltry few more classes a week but have equivalent responsibilities, make about twice what we “interns” make, and they’re underpaid by most standards. It’s exploitation. I feel exploited. And working to rule won’t work – it’ll just hurt me. Today D. remarked that he was surprised that I’d stayed past 5 after my earlier two-dimensional diatribes about working to rule since we were so poorly paid. But working to rule just sours everything for everyone – especially me, ironically.
Things will be better during the summer, to which I’m already on countdown – but of course there is “summer study” as well. But there’s also day care and a week-long holiday that everybody gets, and I think we’ll get 90-minute lunches during that period again… yeah, I guess I can survive this until then.
But there was also talk at the end of last term of beginning rehearsals for the speech contest right after summer vacation. And that’s my personal nightmare – it’s a real drag to have to work on a one-page, two-minute speech for an hour, four times a week. I really hope that after school will be throttled back like it was at the start of this year – but they put it back in after we sent in the rehearsal tapes (OK, cool) and didn’t take it away again (argh, ouch) when a bunch of our kids passed the first stage (which I admit didn’t happen at all the previous year – that year, all the children failed), which left F. having to do all of the sessions for weeks on end. That was ridiculous, and I’m going to make sure that it doesn’t happen again – one way or the other. (If it happens to me personally, I’m putting a travel agent on speed dial.)
I think most of this boils down to breakdowns in communication – I’ve been getting the sense that the office genuinely wants things to improve, although I dread the possible impacts of the sudden changes they may impose at any time. I now know why professional teachers work in labour unions.
In any case, for the most part I work with reasonable people, who are reasonable most of the time. I sure can’t honestly say any more for myself. I just think that people shouldn’t have to go into the back room and scream into pillows on a regular basis – I just don’t think that’s a part of any job. And I’m not even talking about me.
ANYWAY, what I was starting to say eleven paragraphs ago is that I work with some very fine people: In the midst of all of these frustrations, sometime past 6:30pm, I was correcting tests. I had a dictionary standing up behind my teacher’s manual for that course, and… something leaned. The manual fell against my Université Sainte-Anne water bottle, the bottle fell against my cup of coffee, and the coffee spilled over the desk, not enough of it onto the floor.
This made for some very grim moments as I was snatching tissues from my box and trying to soak up the worst parts of the mess. But even when I was grumbling and making use of a choice Polish curse word, E-sensei came and started helping me clean up. Few would have wanted to be within ten kilometres of me after school today, and yet here was E-sensei helping me clean up my awful mess. I won’t soon forget that. Maybe it’s something anyone would do, but there’s a difference between ‘would do’ and ‘she did,’ and I’m very happy that she did.
Well, time to get my seven hours of sleep…