Tomorrow’s classes may be washed out – but don’t worry, we’re still expected to go to work as usual! It’s not that bad for us, but it could be a huge pain for those who have to commute – it’d be too wet and treacherous to cycle, and public transit of all kinds may be shut down. Some also have the care of small children to consider – M. is in a situation where his son’s day care is usually cancelled on typhoon days, but he and his wife will still have to go to work, and he can’t bring his son to school for liability reasons. He was advised that he could take one of his remaining five paid holidays.
Please, if I ever get the notion of coming back to settle down in this country once I’m home again, slash the tires on the shuttle van, disconnect my phone, and chain me to my house by my ankle.
While we were working on costumes for the “Y.M.C.A.” dance, we got on the subject of holidays. M. mentioned to Mk. that teachers in Northern North America get July and August off, and she was shocked. She couldn’t even envision such a thing.
It’s not just that Japan demands workaholism – it goes further: they don’t actually want you to have a life outside of work. When M. was a JET ALT at a public school in Ehime, he knew a Japanese teacher who loved to travel. And she would travel – she wouldn’t be going to Disneyland; she’d go to far-off places like Madagascar or Alaska.
Unfortunately, there was an administration change at this school, and the new principal was far less permissive. Oh, she’d have the same holidays as before, but the principal declared that travel was too dangerous and that she’d need to get his permission to go anywhere. She still travelled, but now she had to do it in secret: “I’m going to Alaska… but don’t tell anyone!” Less omiyage to buy, I suppose.
As you might guess, M. and his JET colleagues were instructed to report all travel to their city hall – where they were going, when they’d be leaving, when they’d be back, and that sort of thing. It make my heart sink a little to hear this – until now, I’d been thinking of coming back to Japan as a JET participant, but it’s sounding only slightly less draconian and perhaps even more futile than working here at S.G. When I go home, I think I’ll stay in school until I learn to do something useful.
Futile, I say? Well, for the large part, yes. I have six or seven students in my class that are at an appropriate language level to have English as their medium of instruction. Unfortunately, that leaves sixteen or seventeen that struggle, to varying degrees. I said that my problem student left, but even now I still have three or four students who can’t even read. How am I supposed to teach possessive pronouns in writing class (e.g.: "Her eyes are blue.") to people who can’t even read them aloud?
I wish the classes were set up according to ability. I’d love to help kids learn to read, but third grade isn’t really the time or place for it. I really hate that there are so many choices I have to make in the classroom every day – if I give one student the attention they need, I’m depriving the others of the attention they need. I’m starting to see the classroom model as something fundamentally flawed, for this and many other reasons.
I wish the evaluations here had teeth, but as things are the school has no incentive to set any standards. There’s an entrance exam, but it’s purely ceremonial – the results are ignored. As one other foreign teacher put it, the only thing that’s being examined is the parent’s bankbook. This is why many private schools are actually worse than their public counterparts. When I had my arm broken by the son of an Elmsdale timber tycoon at Sandy Lake Academy, that thug still went on to "win" the Most Improved Student Award just a month later, and yet he may have deserved it. I should have realized that this sort of bottom-line
God, I was so naïve in coming here.
On the mellow-bright side, I really will miss my kids – I think they’re terrific. Perhaps it’s best that I will never teach again, as they can live on forever in my memory as the high-water mark. The kids are so endearing that they make me want to set up a proper school that would address the needs of children first and management second. In my system, there would almost be as many teachers as children. The teachers would be highly specialized, and allowed to excel. The students would have individualized programs, and they would receive an appropriate balance of agency and guidance. But my system is and will probably always be a fairy tale.
Maybe I will teach again, but I will never again allow myself to be so asymmetrically exploited in the interest of making someone else money. Honestly, I would have run away screaming long ago, but then I would be failing my colleagues, as they’d be forced to cover my classes during the long wait for a new foreign teacher. We must all suffer together. =)