William Matheson (nova_one) wrote,
William Matheson

126. The Sports Festival Rehearsal Incident

I feel like I’ve overstayed my welcome in Japan. Whenever I go places, I do so with a guilty conscience – deep inside, I wonder if they know what I really think about Japan, what I’ve written about it – that I’m showing the severest ingratitude in the face of the privilege of being allowed to come here. I’m starting to notice the way people look at me in general. I don’t like it anymore.

I’ve always been an idiot-savant, but in terms of my job I feel like people just see the idiot and not the savant. I’m beginning to be viciously mocked by the junior high students – ball players, too, not just the IEC students – and there are even a few primary school students who are doing so as well. I was made fun of quite a bit in Poland and Ukraine as well, so this shouldn’t come as a great surprise, I suppose.

I have to be able to take a little bit of mockery, though. If one’s modus operandi is ridiculousness, it goes with the territory. I wish I’d known back when I was in junior high that I’d always be ridiculed to some extent no matter where I went. And, you know, what’s the big deal? Nobody ever kicks a dead dog – maybe they are seeing the savant. At least sometimes, I hope.

I should also make an effort to be less negative about things. Back when M. and I were joking about the questionnaire, F. stopped me and said, “You know, there’s a lot of negativity coming from you,” intoned with an unspoken, “Stop. It. Right. Now.” Well, you can imagine how I (wanted to) react to that.

I limited myself to, “Well, that’s my business.”

“Yes, but if you express it, it becomes our business.”

Oh, well lah de lah. Is this another thing about what I’m allowed and not allowed to say? And since when do I have to take orders from you? Who made you the Grand High Poobah? It took every bit of strength I had not to say these things.

Somehow – I forget exactly how – the situation became defused and we were joking about it:

“I was tempted to reply, ‘Nyah, nyah… This is why I hate working with other people-’”

“‘- and having to behave,’” she interrupted. “‘Where’s my lolly?’”

Ouch. That hurt.

(By the way, people who tell you to stay positive are usually just trying to tell you to put up with something that you shouldn’t. Just a tip.)

Friday was eventful. We started off with a late morning meeting. We foreign teachers had been waiting in the office for it to start – I almost advised M. to go ahead with it (he was on week duty, so it was his job to initiate it and lead us through kengaku no seishin), as the principal was there, but we waited until quarter after, and then we finally were given the go-ahead. And then, in the course of the meeting, H-sensei lambasted us for not being outside helping them set up for the sports festival rehearsal: “You all work for the primary school, so when you see…” Her tone was completely unnecessary – it was an innocent mistake: the morning meeting usually starts at eight, and it’s a very bad thing to be late for, and while I saw them outside moving stuff around, I didn’t know – nay, none of us knew – whether that or the meeting was the more important thing. (And why are you giving us shit about what we’re supposed to be doing when you – habitually! – won’t tell us what we’re supposed to be doing until after we’re supposed to have done it? All they had to do was tell us the night before or even shout to us as we were walking in, “Hey, please, jump in, don’t worry about the meeting.” Sheesh.) I explained about the not-knowing-what-was-the-most-important-thing to H-sensei and W-sensei after the meeting, and she was like, “Oh, OK.” In my opinion, she erred, but we make ten times as many mistakes as she does, so whatever.

So before long we’re outside under the hot sun again for our “dress rehearsal” for the sports festival. I think the sun and the previous experience with H-sensei had me on a short fuse.

A kid from Year Two came up to me, pointed at my chest, and said, “Mr. Matheson, chikumi!” It didn’t need translation.* I grabbed him by the shoulders and yelled, “You… never… say that!” and with a growl I shoved him away, and he was picking himself up off the ground.

All I saw was rage. I wanted to throttle the little bugger. Of all the sore points he could have hit…

I saw the other foreign teachers talking, and soon F. came up and all but dragged me to the office. Take your water bottle with you. He’s just a kid. You can’t do that. You’re supposed to be the adult. You’re the disciplinarian. You’re supposed to set a good example. She went in to speak to Mk., and it was then that I began to think that this might have been my last day at S.G. This would be a great, worthy excuse to fire me. There was a precedent, as one foreign teacher had been fired for hitting a kid. Maybe I wanted out so badly that I took it out on this kid.

I wondered if anyone there knew the hell I’d gone through to get here. Well, that kid had no way of knowing. He’s a congenital shit disturber – in countenance very much like my cousin Colin when he was that age – but he’s just a kid. I can’t be lashing out at people like that. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

Maybe I’m just not fit for polite company. I’m still the same old screaming, immature piece of crap I was in high school. Who knows what I’m capable of doing? I could suddenly hurt or even injure someone! No, I wasn’t fit for polite company anymore. It was now time to go back to Canada and live in that shack by the river that everyone always saw me living in.

F. and Mk. emerged, and as F. returned to the sports “field,” I sat down to have a very interesting meeting with Mk.

After I talked about my own mistakes first, she allowed me to vent my frustrations – I don’t mean the way that some people do it when you get up in the other person’s face – no, not that, I just took deep breaths and went over the frustrations and contradictions blow-by-blow. In one way or another, I mentioned most of the things I’ve mentioned here, although probably in a more polite manner.

Her answer to some of the questions I posed was, “Management can’t disclose why they do what they do.” Hoo-boy. I mentioned the specific issue of telling the parents or letting them assume that we’re real teachers – it seemed like chicanery, if not outright dishonesty.

Well, this is a private school… parents have high demands. Well, why not raise tuition and give them what they want? Oh, but the tuition is already high – eight times higher than public school tuition.

“How much does a typical public school cost?”
“Um… I can’t say.”
“Don’t know, or can’t say?”
“I can’t say how much public school cost because then you would figure out how much S.G. cost.”
“But I work here. I should know that.”
“Well, you can look it up.”

Well, in any case, I already have an idea how much S.G. costs – about $800-$900 a month, I think (and there are discounts available for the children of staff (50%) as well as second and third children from the same family) – a princely sum, but I’ve heard worse. There’s also an enrolment fee that’s the better part of $1000 and various other dings, but any hardworking family could afford to send a child or two here without having to live off millet rice.

I also admitted to Mk. that I would have left some time ago were it not for the facts that it takes three months to get a new teacher and that they have my airfare hanging over me. But I did confirm that I was still prepared to finish my contract. Yes, I can do this for three more months. (That’s not that long of a time, when you think about it.)

No, there was no talk of me leaving, except what I brought up myself. I wanted to apologize to K-kun out of principle, but she said to wait – sometimes such “discipline” is necessary by Japanese standards. She’d talk to H-sensei about it. And in the end, H-sensei agreed with Mk.’s sentiment: “He did something bad to you, so he needed to be disciplined.” Since he wasn’t hurt and went back to enjoying the festival rehearsal, I wasn’t to apologize and undermine the ‘discipline’ – unless his parents were to complain, then all bets would be off, as they were when that other foreign teacher was released.

Mk. confirmed that they really wanted to keep me for the three remaining months – mostly for the kids (and mostly my homeroom kids, presumably), as they wanted to keep me. Well, jackpot! If I can only have one or the other, I’d much rather have the love and respect of the innocent children than of management. That they find room in their hearts for a curmudgeon like me really says something. It looks like I’m safe for the time being.

I left the meeting, returned to the sports festival rehearsals, and spoke to F. I said that it looked like I wouldn’t be packing my bags just yet. Oh no, she exclaimed, that wasn’t it at all. I thought she was carting me off to be fired – but she was really just acting to defuse the situation, as well as acting in my interest, too.

Things settled down, and the rest of the rehearsal went by without incident – save a dust devil that blew through, knocking some things around and scaring some kids. I’d never seen one before; it wasn’t very big, and it lasted less than a minute, but it was quite the thing to see up close.

In the afternoon after classes were out, we had a very, very long meeting about the sports festival. The principal brought us some tea and Calpis to ease the pain. They could have just given us the Coles Notes afterwards – it was also frustrating because we had to sit in a circle to get the odd translation while the other teachers, at their desks, could do other work (like correcting things) while the meeting went on (and on). They finally let us go just before 6:00, and after that I started working on my preparations for Tuesday. I finally got out at 7:30. “You a very hard worker!” A-sensei exclaimed. “Sometimes,” I grinned.

Just one more little thing that bugs me (and this’ll be it for today, I promise): It’s really annoying when someone is ordering you to “please focus on their pronounciation.” It’s enough to drive you straight up the wall. I think it’s an effective acid test concerning English – you have no business talking about pronunciation if you can’t even pronounce it. =)

Tomorrow: Hiroshima!

* - During the meeting, Mk. confirmed that, yes, he did mean “tits.” I knew he did anyway because some of the other year two kids were giving me a hard time about it the last time we went swimming, enough to effectively ruin the experience. My homeroom students, to their credit, either didn’t care or were polite enough to keep it to themselves – so the one time when it was just them, I was able to have a happy experience. And yes, call me a hypocrite – I don’t want to suppress my own negativity, yet I condemn these children for pointing out my bodily irregularities that will be sending me to the gym as soon as I get back to school. I think I’ll take the equivalent of four full-year courses instead of five and dedicate the extra time to fitness classes – they’ll be free, so why not?
Tags: administration, children, honesty, japan, management, meetings, openness, sports festival, teaching, work

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