William Matheson (nova_one) wrote,
William Matheson

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109. The Impacts + Of Teaching

As work gets busier, I’m starting to feel better about it. There’s less time to think about when the appropriate time to start the countdown will be, or to wallow in the feelings of contractual enslavement for lower wages than just about everybody else in this country gets. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: buy your own ticket. It’s not the least bit coincidental that it shares three out of four words with that magical, liberating phrase “write your own ticket.”

But you live, you learn. I knew next to nothing about teaching or the workaday world, and now I know next to something. And just tonight I realized that a scant three years ago I was still in Ukraine – the years and experiences then and since have become a blur and have left me feeling quasi-sagacious.

In addition to my cherishing my scarce, precious fragment of experience, I’m also really happy to be teaching my students every day again. I had forgotten how much they contributed to the motivation to get up in the mornings.

I really want them all to succeed, and I know that with a teacher like me, this will be by no means a sure or easy feat! I just can’t seem to find that hot button very often – that magic place where everyone takes something valuable from the lesson. I hear things about taking a student-centered approach, but I don’t trust myself or my students enough to do that often, and I probably wouldn’t know what to do even if I did.

What ends up happening is that I explain something to the class, giving lots of examples and eliciting participation. That gets me about two-thirds of the class tuned in, and unfortunately 80% of the hard work is going after the remaining 33%. A lot of it is that these children can’t / won’t (the distinction is irrelevant) pay attention in class, and so I have to go and explain things to them individually. The one kid who couldn’t get it – the one who was almost completely clueless in the context of English – has mercifully moved away with his family, so at least I finally have the opportunity (in theory) to have everyone on board with any given thing.

But I still have to watch every child very carefully; much more carefully than I have been. The slightest bit of carelessness on the part of the educators (that the child has no agency in choosing, something I’ve always loathed about primary and much of secondary schooling) can easily produce another child like “Oyr,” and the cumulative nature of language learning makes this a vicious cycle – as kids understand less, they’re less motivated to pay attention, so they learn and come to understand even less, etc.. Heck, for me that was Math 10, each of the three times I took it.

I once thought that all you had to do to be a good teacher was be intelligent and care. But now I know that academic intelligence alone doesn’t equate good teaching – you need a willingness to look at every student, every day, and figure out how they learn, and adapt, adapt, adapt – it’s great for humanists and experientialists, but a lover of things cold, abstract, and esoteric might be in for a bit of a shock. (“You mean it’s not just about knowledge?! What else is there?”)

It was chilly and rainy today, but it was still nice and warm inside the pool enclosure – a healthy 26°C and change. (On sunny days in July and early August the temperature inside the glass structure can be an awe-inspiring 40° or more, and we have to splash down the concrete before the barefooted children walk in.) It was sunny yesterday, but it felt a lot colder because the windows were open and a breeze was blowing.

We’re now leaving summer and entering an awkward period where it’s sometimes hot enough to justify air conditioning, but often too cold for it, yet the A/C is on anyway – you have to wear long pants and sleeves to restaurants and theatres nowadays. I can’t believe how quickly it’s cooling down. The heat is back a little bit tonight, but not like it was just a week or so ago. And what’s more is that the temperature actually drops at night now. The 29°C nights are mercifully over.

Our open lesson for prospective primary school students and parents is on Saturday. The theme is shapes. F. has been working tirelessly and without complaint. She genuinely loves teaching children. I like teaching, and I like children, but I could take a pass on the icky, corny complications of teaching children. (“Drawing a circle in the air – what’s the goshdarned point?!”) I help when I can, but the lesson is really F.’s baby. It’s just as well, because I can do a few little things like adjust the margins in Microsoft Word and slice out some words with the paper cutter and maybe laminate a few things while F. can use her far more charismatic and engaging talents. She can also see a lesson as a lesson; I usually only see a series of make-or-break steps. For me, open lessons and sankanbi are the pedagogical equivalent of reinventing the wheel. For her, they’re a chance to shine.

Also on the events front, the sports festival is coming on the 21st of September. By many accounts, this is the school event of the year. Fortunately, the pressure and workload is equitably distributed; if I alone drop the ball in some small way, the event won’t be immediately ruined. It still won’t be easy in that no current foreign teachers have experienced this festival, or any event from this coming term, but so far we’ve been kept very much in the loop, and we’ll probably pull this thing off without a major hitch.

I wonder if it’ll all be a bit like this.

- - -

A while back at Ingrid’s birthday party I met Hr., a guy who used to work at S.G. That gave us impetus to talk about its revolving-door retentionism and limboesque salaries. We hang out and talk about girls and culture and slang.

This evening, we were going out to grab a bite to eat. Driving up Route 11 near Naruto, I spied a MOS Burger, and Hr. pulled into the turning lane to make a right turn. We waited for several seconds. It was raining and the road was wet.

As we were waiting for an opportunity, we heard an unearthly squeal and then a busting noise.



Gee, that was a painful little lur- Something hit us! “We’ve been rear-ended!”

It came out of nowhere and happened in the blink of an eye – one car, apparently driving too fast (perhaps thinking it was a through passing lane), banged into a light truck, which banged into a car, which banged into us. We fared best in the collision, as the other vehicles absorbed the bulk of the initial impact and repercussions – there were only some scuff marks, and they could barely be seen.

We lined up our vehicles on a side street. The police came and took statements. They even asked to see my identification – this put me off just a little, because I knew that I could have been arrested and possibly deported just for not having it, but fortunately, I had it. I completely understand their desire not to be left saying that they saw some mysterious gaijin from who-knows-where. They took my fingerprint, too (they took everyone’s), so they’ll be able to compare that to the one I gave when I entered the country. =) You wait, they will! I’m not complaining; it’s good that they’re thorough. You just need to be prepared to wait a while for these things, especially in this country.

At length, the police took their leave, and the protagonists finished exchanging phone numbers, and we drove away. It looks like Hr. won’t be at fault for this fender-bender, but he was still shaken after the crash – we drove via smaller, two-lane streets to the Skylark Gusto near MaxValu. To him, every car at every intersection looked like a potential impact. I understood, because that’s exactly how I felt after I banged into someone on my way to see Tanya.

Hr. said that the hour we spent on that side street while things got sorted out was the longest of his life. That was kind of funny, because I’d just had the longest hour of my life this past Sunday. The stakes were not nearly so high, but the feeling of time standing still (yet not still enough…) remained the same.

With luck, I’ll get to that tomorrow night. Oh, and there’s a new participant coming in around midnight – we’ll call him Q., and he’ll be teaching at the kindergarten. Hopefully he won’t be as sanctimonious as John de Lancie’s character. =)
Tags: accidents, car accidents, children, colleagues, fender benders, japan, school, teaching, work

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