William Matheson (nova_one) wrote,
William Matheson

132. Reflections

I’m having too much fun following the elections. All this week I’ve been staying up way past my bedtime trolling for information. There are now three concurrent elections to follow: the obvious one, ours, and Halifax’s. O the punditry! The polls! The stakes! The spending! The debates!

I put together an essay for the S.G. website from snippets of prior writing. Mk. admitted she had overestimated the number of words required to constitute an “article,” and that’s quite understandable. There’s probably also a vast difference between what one could express using 1,200 to 1,500 Japanese characters and 1,200 to 1,500 English words. M. and I thus wrote beyond what she had in mind to ask for, but there shouldn’t be a problem.

The article was well-received, which delightfully surprised me. I thought my candor would be inappropriate, and I braced myself for the worst. But then I’m told that it was funny, and engaging, even though the reader had to use a dictionary. Yahtzee! That’s just what I’m looking for. I have a few readers for whom English is a second language and I often wonder if they get anything out of these posts. Since the essay is largely made up of material from the posts, perhaps I am doing something right.

Still, it was amazing to me how much a ‘slight’ change in audience affected the final prose. I was doing a surprising amount of formalizing – e.g. “kids” became “children,” and of course a lot of my observations were just too frank insensitive to make the final draft.

I wrote a note to Angela about how things are going:

Things are okay. With only three months to go, it's getting easier to stay positive. =) I think Japan is a fine country to visit, but problematic to live and work in. It's a very authoritarian culture, and there's a master-servant undercurrent in everything. Most people do little but work, and seem to be sheep. There are lots of pretty girls here, but usually that's all they are. I feel like Japan is a 18th century country with the veneer of the 22nd. It's a beautiful place with great people, but so are many other countries. Perhaps I was expecting too much from Japan - to us, it's a fairy-tale place. While the bits and snippets of fact from those tales are largely true, the mysticism is entirely unwarranted. Japan is not THAT remarkable!
[Apologies to my Japanese / Japanophile readers!]

Yes, I am stuck with a contract. It's not just that - people break contracts all the time - it's the airfare (although this isn't much, really - I can easily afford to pay my way home but I'd probably also be billed for the round-trip S.G. purchased), and the fact that my colleagues would be left covering my classes. I have to stay just so I don't screw them.

… I'm loving all these elections going on at once - it's not hard at all to stay engaged, because everything is happening online or being replayed online - I watch the National frequently via cbc.ca, and I can also watch TV in general with the Slingbox. I should probably watch more Japanese TV - I do tune in for the big Sumo tournaments, and at 7pm daily and 9pm on weeknights NHK has a bilingual newscast (it's like hitting the SAP feature on your TV to watch CPAC in French).

As things stand, I'll be leaving Japan on the 24th of December and returning to Halifax on the 25th (I'll overnight in New York). I suppose I could stay here longer, or travel elsewhere (highly overrated, IMHO - with the exception of Korea, nothing's really that close) but I would then be spending my painfully-saved money that I need for school. I would like to come back and complete the Shikoku Pilgrimage, but there's no rush - the temples aren't going anywhere. I've been to 40 of 88 - some of them are in remote areas and require either patience and comfortable shoes or a scooter / car. I rented a van once, and we had a lot of fun with that.

Anyway, I guess I'd better get back to writing. Thanks, and take care!
- Will

So… the job’s going okay, and knowing that there are only three months left helps greatly. There are just four little things I’d like to talk about this morning:

1. I think there is a teacher in the Primary School who is convinced that I’m an idiot. Truth be told, I do (usually knowingly) err on the side of ridiculousness. I want to do my best to disprove my own Grade Five teacher’s notion that life isn’t just fun and games. (My own rant after the transcript shocks me. My arrogance and ignorance was, was then, and is still a liability. I deeply regret the comments I made and would delete them, but that kind of concealment seems unfair. So, read at your own risk.) I like being “out there.” It’s just part of the joke. I’ve embraced it. I don’t, of course, feel that “I’m perfect the way I am,” but I do feel that this is the way I function best – keeping a healthy humour and a marked affection for the sublime.

This teacher gets on my nerves almost every day. Or if she’s not doing that, she’s just plain frightening. I can sometimes hear her screaming at her class from two stories below. And when we’re working together, I don’t get any credit for having any prior experience or present intelligence whatsoever. Ideas coming from me are summarily rejected – they’re coming from me, after all.

A former employee I talked to characterized her as “so not my favourite person,” and I have to agree. Sometimes I walk down the stairs wishing unspeakable things for her. But in a way she is a tragic figure. She is unapproachable, and will never change, and S.G. will allow her tyrannical narcissism as long as it serves their business interests. (Sigh.)

2. Good news: I’m teaching in neither the sankanbi nor the open lesson. I’m off the hook for the former because I’m teaching junior high math that day, and for the latter because M. didn’t teach during the last open lesson and I guess they want to show off the Year Threes doing math. Although I felt sympathy for my colleagues, each of whom will be teaching in both, I danced a jig when I read the sheet – the open lesson in particular was the one thing I dreaded, and now it’s not a factor.

So far this term, I think I’ve been given a fair shake and all the breaks. If I keep my eyes on the prize, I’ll make it.

3. Ch., bless her, is intently focused on homework completion. I was, too, when I began, and again when I started with my current class, but in the face of abysmal compliance, I almost had to relent. I don’t have the time to haul children in every recess and make them do the work, and many of the children are hopelessly illiterate anyway.

Ch. was told before she started that there was one child who, “doesn’t do homework.” Yes, present tense: habit. But Ch. managed to coax this child into doing homework! And good for her, and good for that student.

She was also told by a departing foreign teacher that we shouldn’t say “doesn’t do homework” on the report cards. “Then how about ‘lazy as sin?’” M. quipped. No, it would be better to write something like, “If the homework improves…”

I’ve already talked about the politics and chicanery inherent in our report cards, but this got me thinking about something I wrote for the brilliant boy in my previous class.

He has the problem of being gifted – he’s bored by school and accustomed to things coming easily to him. When things come along that require focus (no matter how smart you are), the hard-workers will outdo him. When work of a cumulative nature starts to pile up, he could find himself in trouble. This is exactly what happened to me when I was his age.

This is part of what I wrote:

“His need to follow his own path, can, occasionally, lead to minor problems.”

I deeply regret saying this and I hope it does not imprint on his psyche. There is a problem – but it’s not him, it’s the system.

4. We’re hopelessly far away from becoming an immersion school. The kids speak Japanese to each other all throughout our classes, and we’re basically powerless to do anything to stop it. The Japanese teachers sometimes tell us to “Be stricter! Be stricter!” but that is a crude ‘solution.’

When Ch., M., and I were having our chat, Ch. brought up that there is also no differentiation between where they play and where they learn. Where do they run amok between periods? In the classroom. Where do they play games? In the classroom. Where do they eat? In the classroom. The kids need a proper playground, not a dustbowl and a few jungle gyms. And shorter school hours, and more holidays. The list could go on.

If I were in charge, the first thing I would do is cancel the IEC program outright (it could work, but the school is unwilling to do what it must to make it work effectively) and replace it with supplemental English based on student ability. I’m basically suggesting that English be separated from the grades and put into its own “pass-a-test, go-to-the-next-level” system – the way languages are successfully taught in the civilized world. In my system, instead of “Grade Three” English, I would be teaching Level Three English. The illiterate members of my class would still be in Level One (and they would stay there until they “get it”), and the brilliant ones would come to be at Grade One, too – Eiken’s Grade One.

But maybe the brilliant ones will succeed anyway – but it will be in spite of S.G., not because of it.

S.G. has a responsibility to put aside its administrative feuds and show innovation and leadership. But that’s probably not going to happen.
Tags: japan, letters, reflections, school, teaching, work, writing
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