William Matheson (nova_one) wrote,
William Matheson

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57. Rainy Reflections

It’s raining today.

There was a break in the rain early this afternoon. After a slight hesitation, I put on a load of laundry. After that got going, I stepped out and mounted my bike for a run up to MaxValu for rice, paper towels, and other good things.

Just a few minutes underway, I stopped at our nearest and habitual convenience store to pay my phone bill. When I walked out again, it was pouring rain.

I had hope that maybe it was a transitory, momentary kind of shower, and one of the ball players who had ridden up at the same time hoped the same thing, so we both stood under the overhang in front of the store while the bucketloads came down. The ten minutes we spent there were a valuable time for quiet contemplation, as I spoke little Japanese and he no English, but after that he’d seen enough and got on his bike to head back to the dorms.

I held out a few minutes longer, but gazing at the clouds (there were no longer the openings in them that I’d sighted when I left) made it clear that this wasn’t going to be a quick shower. So I bought some slightly overpriced food and drink at the convenience store. I saw A. and F. And then I wiped the rain off my bicycle seat with a McDonald’s napkin and raced home, squinting to try and keep the rain from falling onto my eyes.

Now my laundry is hanging out on the balcony; it’s possible that some of it might dry a little since it’s under an overhang and there’s a bit of a breeze blowing (but then again, said breeze is laden with moisture). And after a few more hours of procrastinating and snacking, I’ve finally forced myself to start writing. In one sense I am my own worst enemy when it comes to getting things done, but on the other hand after the workweek is finished I’m so exhausted and relieved that all I want to do is veg out interminably. Maybe I should start shifting my productivity to weeknights instead of relying on weekends to catch up.

On Wednesday night, we had our first “Professional Sharing” meeting. This was largely S.’s brainchild, and at said meeting he had the lion’s share of ideas and props. I’m quite happy that I attended, as I got a lot of good ideas from him as well as from the others. I had been skeptical about this meeting (and to some extent I felt that I was being deservedly targeted – deserved or not, one hates to feel targeted), and I was worried that it was going to become Yet Another Voluntary Thing That’s Going To Become Compulsory. So far, though, those concerns have met with no verifying experiences to sustain them further, and I’m looking forward to the next meeting, which will be in just under a fortnight.

L. even came out, as he needed the excuse to come by anyway to leave some useful gifts for his graduated students. In terms of someone staying in touch just the right amount after moving to a new job, he’s champion – he’s no longer around to help us with every little thing (which is good for all of us as we each journey towards self-reliance), nor is he around so much that we might begin to think he should get a life (just kidding – but you readers know the type of person I’m talking about, and L. isn’t that kind of guy), but he still manages to get together with us every once in a while so that we can relive the good times we had been having before he left.

L. took us to a little single-bench restaurant near the center of the city where we all ate fried things on sticks. It wasn’t bad, but it was chef’s choice, so that meant I had to eat a whole fried shrimp on a stick, eyes and tail and everything. I closed my eyes, chewed, and got it down. It tasted pretty good, but it was a bit crunchy. The fried-things experience was cheaper and more fun in Osaka when it was just L. and me and we just ate whatever we wanted. Still, L. can sure pick them… although when the lady said, “sanzen happyaku en des,” ($38) I just about gagged in disbelief.

J. had come out, too – she was positively glowing with happiness. She was almost a different person now than she had been at S.G. – that’s only my observation, but her own words painted a picture of how much happier and stress-reduced her life is now. She dated the change to (you guessed it) the day she left. =)

Come to think of it, this was also the first time we’d met with her outside of a supervisor-employee or teacher-student context. We were all able to be very open – one particular thing that she said stuck with me: “I wish I could understand what Will is saying sometimes.” Hmm. That reminds me of this one night back in Ostroh

Even though it is sometimes a stressful job, my overall feelings about things have been positive recently. To wit:

- The term’s almost half finished, and the blessed month of August approaches.

- W-sensei is back from Hawaii, and she really helps keep the wheels turning in a way that I didn’t fully appreciate before she’d left.

- My kids are starting to get the hang of things (after only two months, ha-ha) – I still don’t really know what to do about the few problematic holdouts (I feel responsible for their performance), but in the long run:

Mk. and other key people are now serious about making improvements to the IEC (International English and Culture) program. Meetings and consultations are underway. Even though I won’t be around to see their hard work come to full fruition, I still feel like I’m part of something worthwhile – that in some small way, I’ll have contributed to a thriving IEC program. What I’d really like to see is our getting serious about immersion – not fanatical, but serious.

A digression. I think a lot of the children at the school have been done a disservice by being allowed to communicate via ungrammatical lexical sprouting and vivid gestures. Maybe there’s a place for that in the very earliest years, but I strongly feel that by the third year of immersion, all communication should be attempted in complete phrases. (I mean, come on - my Japanese is sometimes more coherent than their English!) But there are students in the Sixth Year who can’t put sentences together to save their lives. And yesterday two of my students came in at break looking for C. They asked F. where he was, but they did it like this (I’ll put in fake names so you can experience what it sounded like):

“Ms. Laurison! Mr. Ray!”

Egad. I turned to them.

“No. Ms. Laurison, where is Mr. Ray?”

And then they asked the question properly.

Sometimes I think they take after the Japanese teachers. They might hear a teacher ask me, “Mr. Matheson, I’m sorry*, do you know H-sensei?” and repeat the pattern – when the students ask me in that fashion I reply, “Why, yes, I do know her!” – I realize they’re learning a second language, but getting a bead on “where” shouldn’t be a six year endeavour. And we learned that the First Year teacher was teaching the children to say, “Mr/Ms. X, I don’t know,” when they didn’t understand (or didn’t know how to do) their English homework, and the children have evidently been keeping this incomplete pattern because I keep getting, “Mr. Matheson! I don’t know…” from my Third Years all the time.

* - He means “excuse me,” because in Japanese you can say things like “sumimasen” to express either sentiment, so it’s a natural mistake to make.

I really wish there were a published set of educational standards, target outcomes, and third-party standardized tests – besides the Eiken, because that’s a black hole to us, and besides that it’s for Japanese public secondary students who take English about as much and, sadly, about as seriously as we lazy people took French back in our day. I wish admission for IEC were competitive – there’s a pre-enrolment test, but the test results are simply ignored. I wish I had the training and resources to help all of my students become conversant and comfortable communicating in English.

I also wish that everything was a little more above board. For example, the reason why we’re not allowed to associate with parents outside of school has little to do with professionalism or any perceived conflicts of interest. It’s actually because the parents were once under the impression that all of the foreign teachers were bona fide teachers, but in the course of socializing with the foreigners, they discovered otherwise, and in retaliation many pulled their children out of the school, and this is still having ramifications because only now does the school have the capital necessary to move forward (they barely survived the exodus). I only hope that they’re not still telling the parents that we’re all real teachers, when only two of us are.

Anyway, I will have to content myself with doing what I can with what I have, or else I’ll go crazy. I’m thankful that Mk. has the gumption and temerity to have made it her mission to do something about the situation, and I’ll do my best to aid and cooperate and contribute instead of being afraid that I’ll be asked to simply work harder and longer.

There have already been a few improvements: we get a little curriculum sheet every month that tells us the units that they want us to cover in all the non-language English-medium subjects. The translations sometimes make me groan, but I have to keep reminding myself that it’s the content that counts. We’ve also been given (electronically, so we can easily print them out when we need them) proper holiday request forms, including request forms for compensatory holidays (for when we work on a Saturday, for instance). The forms, of necessity, are exhaustive to be effective – for a compensatory holiday, we’ll clearly write what it’s in compensation for, and that way we won’t be relying on everyone’s memories, good faith, and the honour system like we were before – it had gotten to the point that last term the office asked us to use our comp time soon after we got it so that they wouldn’t forget they’d given it.

Anyway, even though it seems like we have an awfully awfully long way to go, it’s important to just be on the journey. Given three to five years, this place could be rocking. I hope that the improvements continue long after we’re gone so that we can be even happier for having had this experience.
Tags: communication, education, improvements, japan, language, school, teaching, work

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