End of the Road
Has it been three years already?
I am a JET. Although I hear change is in the winds, for now we are limited to three year contracts. Regardless of whether I want to or not, my job as an English teacher for this town will end in August. I feel that this is just about the right time. I’m not a real teacher, nor do I intend to be one. It’s time to move on.
As my time as a school teacher comes to an end, I start to wax nostalgic about all my adventures. …Hell, who am I kidding, I’ll wax nostalgic about any damn thing if you give me the chance. I’ll tell you about the golden age of the 90’s, when neon colors were The Shit, ABC’s TGIF lineup made staying home on Friday the cool choice, and the biggest concerns we had with our lawmakers was what interns they were screwing around with. I’m like rusty old Autobot soldier Kup, regaling Grimlock with tales about how I once fought off an entire army of Kanchoticons on Vanagar-7 armed with only my wits, a broken carburetor, and a carton of milk. But I digress – it’s been an interesting three years, to say the least.
Year 1 is sort of the trial and error year. The vast majority of us come into this thing with absolutely no teaching experience, and even if you had teaching experience it doesn’t necessarily help you here in Japan. Many mistakes will be made. A big, common ALT mistake is to assume the kids are interested in things they’re not. Things that Japanese kids aren’t interested in include anything outside of Japan, and quite a few things within Japan as well. It’s often quite depressing for us ALT’s, we come into a class hoping to teach these kids all about our home countries and cultures and whatever, and most of them couldn’t care if our heads spontaneously caught on fire.
We also kind of assume that our primary co-workers, being English teachers and all, can speak English. Nuh-uh sir, no. Being an English teacher in Japan is by no means a promise of English ability. Sometimes, you’ll find it’s the exact opposite.
Me: Hey, is it okay if I take a day off tomorrow?
Teacher: Tomorrow? Ok, yes, yes!
The next day…
Teacher: (calling my cell phone) Hey! Where are you? We have class!
Me: I took a day off. I thought it was okay? I asked you yesterday.
Teacher: …Yesterday? What?
Me: Yeah, I asked you yesterday? You don’t remember?
Teacher: Yesterday? What that?
Me: Yesterday…you know…yes-ter-day…the day before this one…
Teacher: …Beatles song?
Me: Goddamit, I’ll be there in 10 minutes.
Luckily, we learn the ropes by Year 2 and are able to sail by on cruise control. With the job having become brain-dead easy (seriously…you could wheel a comatose patient into the schools and they would probably do a half-decent job), it gives us a chance to interact with Japanese culture a bit more. Of course, by this time culture shock has also set in, so by “interact with Japanese culture”, what I really mean is “meet with other foreigners and complain about Japan.” We would love to complain TO Japanese people, but the concept just flies right over their heads.
Ms. Forehead: Man, I’m so tired.
Me: What’s up?
Ms. F: I had a lot of classes this week.
Me: Well, it’s almost the weekend.
Ms. F: Yes! Oh, but I can’t rest – I have sports club duties on Saturday and Sunday.
Me: You know, it seems like teacher and students kind of hate doing afterschool clubs every day of the week.
Ms. F: Well, yes, I think so.
Me: …Wouldn’t it make more sense to, and stop me if this is crazy, NOT have sports clubs everyday?
Ms. F: What do you mean?
Me: Well, you don’t want to do clubs everyday, right?
Ms. F: Yes.
Me: And talking to the students, I know they don’t want to do it everyday.
Ms. F: Hmm, yes, maybe.
Me: So if nobody wants to do clubs everyday, then why are you doing it everyday?
Ms. F: …I don’t understand.
Me: (A Charlie Brown-esque rain cloud forms over my head) Forget it.
As usual, Ms. Americanized was the only one to understand.
Ms. A: Yeah, fuckin’ sports clubs. I hate this shit. And do you know why we do it? Because the Japanese hate change. If you started just punching a Japanese guy in the nuts everyday for two weeks, the day you stop punching him in the nuts he’ll be all “hey, why aren’t you punching me in the nuts? YOU CAN’T CHANGE THE SYSTEM!”
Ms. A: Now, I don’t have nuts, so I don’t know what it’s like to be punched in them. But working here, I think I feel the same thing emotionally. It’s like, the nutsack of my soul is being punched everyday.
Ms. A: And do you know why I do it? Because in Japan, the only thing worse than being punched in your nutsack is being different. So I just have to stand here and be like “C’mon, punch me in the nuts!” or else I get booted to the out-group and then life really becomes hard. (heavy sigh) I really want to go back to America.
Me: Well, I keep telling you, if you think you’ll fit in the overhead storage compartment…
For the brave souls who decide to rough it out for one more year (read: the clinically insane), much of the stuff that frustrated you so badly in Year 2, you somehow learn to just blow it off. …Alcohol helps. Lots and lots of alcohol.
Anyway, it’s the end of Year 3. It’s been a hell of a ride. But its time to hang up my teacher hat and move on to whatever the next step is. As the board of education has been letting me make my own schedule since Year 2, I decided to get the ugly out of the way first – I prepared to head to my last week ever at the Ghetto School.