Actually, it’s been occurring to me lately (and K. even stated it) that one really shouldn’t write about work much at all. To some extent I feel like I’ve betrayed some confidences with what I’ve already written. By opening everyone up to just one perspective (mine), it may skew people’s perceptions inappropriately.
But work is the reason I’m over here, which may come as a surprise to some who have said things like, “OMG WOW YOU’RE IN JAPAN WOW ENJOYING THE CULTURE, YOU’RE SO LUCKY WOW.” In fact, in a way it came as a surprise to me – I didn’t realize how demanding of me the job and the administration here would be. Work takes up the vast majority of my waking hours. I didn’t have to write about work so much when I was in Poland or Ukraine for several reasons, these two coming to the top of my mind:
- While the work I did, especially in Poland, was important, the program itself had an implicit focus on our individual growth. And as Lee from the second program put it, “We’re not ex-pats; we’re here trying to be Ukrainians.”
- There wasn’t nearly as much work-related stress and pressure, due both to cultural differences and the fact that I was essentially a bonded volunteer.
I don’t see work as my over-arching duty like most Japanese do – I just see it as a means to an end. There’s been one person in particular who’s been making me feel like that’s a problem. She says that I shouldn’t be saying that I don’t have enough time to do all the things I have to do – the time is irrelevant, because the things to do are my duty. If there is more to do, stay until it is done. And I can request a “paid holiday” later as compensation.
Ha-ha. This last part is a joke, because taking a paid holiday is nearly impossible to do, except during August and other periods between terms. The only times I can take off during the terms are Monday afternoons. (If I wanted any other time, I’d have to make arrangements for people to cover my classes.) What’s more, taking this time off means I either have to rush rush rush to get everything done before 5pm on the previous Friday, or it means I have to stay longer and generate even more of this compensatory time which is next-to-impossible to redeem. It’s ridiculous. It conjures the mental image of a snake eating its own tail.
I know that teaching isn’t really a punch-in-punch-out kind of profession, but I hate feeling like I’m robbing Peter to pay Paul all the time. I think they ought to increase the amount of holidays for everyone, cut back on opening the school on Saturdays (if you think I had it bad, the Japanese teachers only had six days off for the entire month of June), and give us bigger and better desks so that staying organized doesn’t seem so much like trying to solve a Rubik’s cube. With those things done, nobody would mind staying a bit longer. I sometimes think better working conditions would be compensation enough.
I actually kind of like staying after hours – it’s really easy to get things done then without all the goshdarned interruptions and pointless ceremonial obligations – except that it kind of cuts into my evening. If it cuts away more than a little bit, I’m almost guaranteed to completely waste said evening sitting on my butt and reading / listening to crap. No writing or cleaning gets done, no photos get sorted. My life enters a holding pattern.
Today’s going to be different, though! As soon as I get this finished, I’m going to get out and get around a bit. I’ve got to get some groceries anyway. I’m skipping Japanese classes today, though – with all the 12+ hour days this week, I haven’t had time to study. (Actually, when I do have time, I often don’t study, because it’s only something I feel motivated to do when I’m having a rip-roaring good time, like at Sainte-Anne…)
Well, I think I’ll study this evening, then, to make up for the classes I’ve missed. None of us went after Ingrid’s party either.
* * *
On Tuesday I had day duty, so I came in at 7 and left at 4:15 as we are entitled to do on such days.
This did not go over well. Almost as soon as I arrived the next morning I began to be questioned about the state of my preparations for open lesson, as if I wasn’t taking it seriously.
I’m going to have to tread carefully here, because in some ways it’s like I’m picking at scabs. It’s pointless self-torture, and if I continue at this pace and depth, there’ll be blood all over the floor. Instead of writing a 10-page tedidreary emo-narrative, I’ll use point form. It won’t all be depressing, either.
- Also on Wednesday morning, F. told me about her new swimsuit (“.erutluc esenapaJ ni nommoc ton era sootaT” ,gnikaeps yletilop – recuas a fo ezis eht kcab reh no ootat a pu revoc ot sah ehS) and said that now all she needed was disinfectant. Say again? “I think swimming is summertime’s bathroom.” Oooooh. Yeah, first graders. 45-minutes in the pool, and they don’t get out. (I’ll have to bring a “Welcome to our ool” sign to day care duty – notice there’s no p in it?)
- Nobody likes to be told that their attitude stinks. Still, I’ll admit my attitude has been susceptible to improvement every bit as much as my teaching has sometimes been. I think, though, it behoves the person criticising to explain what the attitudinal defects are in a non-judgemental tone (I’ve really come to dread and hate dealing with this particular person – every time I see her, it’s bad news) and the potential benefits of making the change. Otherwise the recipient of the criticism just feels like a two-year-old – as I have been made to feel.
- All my dreams lately have been work-related. It’s maddening that even when I can stop picking at scabs in my waking life, when I go to sleep my subconscious takes over only to continue the process. I had one dream where I was in a room with one of the teachers, the interpreter, and the big boss. Their expressions were grim. The interpreter began by saying that I was going to be canned. I sat there bitterly contemplating the injustice of it, and wondered if I should fight it.
- I feel like a hypocrite. I think the inherent hypocrisy is the biggest reason why I don’t want to be a teacher again after this academic year. (I don’t feel like filling out an increased number of pointless reports for our interpreter-supervisor is my duty, but I do feel that I have a duty to my students to give them my best for as long as I can.) But why do I feel like a hypocrite? Well, I’m always pointing out things to my students that they have to redo / rewrite / restate – and yet I balk when others take the same liberties with me. On the other hand, I try my best to use praise and encouragement, and tell them that it’s OK to make mistakes because it’s the way we learn – all the while, I’m being told that any of my potential mistakes could get me fired.
- Hypocrisy II: I wore my indoor shoes outside to dump a bucket of water, because my outdoor shoes were in another building entirely. One of the Year Two students noticed this, and when I confirmed that yes, I had done that, he whispered such to another student. So I spake the sanitized ESL-version of Dr. McCoy’s “Now wait just a damned minute.” He had been speaking Japanese all through art class. I told him that therefore he was in no position to criticize me about my shoes. … Upon reflection, I didn’t handle this very well at all, probably due to impatience fuelled by fatigue and extreme stress. I realize now that I essentially taught him that “two wrongs make a right.”
- I feel like the management here is more focussed on my weaknesses than on my strengths. I mean, it hasn’t been all bad – maybe it’s been 95% bad, 5% good, but it’s been bad enough that I thank my lucky stars that we’re in the building farthest from the administrative offices.
- I’m not into mindlessly following rules. As soon as I perceive that the rules get in the way of me effectively doing my job, I ignore them. Or at least I aspire to this. As typographer Robert Bringhurst put it, “By all means break the rules, and break them beautifully, deliberately and well. That is one of the ends for which they exist.” I feel that the Japanese are very much into mindlessly following rules. That’s all well and good, except when they’re into mindlessly making sure I mindlessly follow the rules too. (Still, I’m mostly left to my own devices, outside of the torturous visits of our “interpreter.”)
I gotta take a break. I’ll finish this later today.