3 Year Profile – The Ghetto School
It occurs to me that in all the editorials I’ve written, I’ve never actually done anything on the actual schools themselves. While you all probably have a general idea of what they’re like, it would be a good idea to actually do something about the three different schools I work at. I do realize that I’m writing this as my time at the schools ends, but better late than never, right? Eh heh heh heh…
Anyhow, as I head into my last week there, here’s a closer look at the Ghetto School.
Of the three schools I teach at, the Ghetto School is the oldest. Its age shows too – anything metal is rusted, anything wooden is splintering, and anything painted has long since cracked and peeled. Aside from that though, the school is battle worn – anything that can be broken, has been broken twice. Light switches have been punched in, emergency glass broken and fire hoses unraveled, etc. Door vents have been kicked in and covered up by cardboard, and windows are held together by duct tape. I’ve occasionally asked why don’t the teachers fix up the school more – their response is that out of the things they can afford (new light switches, window panes, etc), more or less the minute they fixed them the bad students would just break them again, so it would ultimately be pointless.
The Ghetto School’s state of disarray has long been a point of contention with me. I mentioned it once to my supervisor at the board of education, who simply responded with “no money.” However, it’s not so much an issue of my town being broke, but just where they’ve decided to spend their money. Over the past three years, they’ve renovated the area around the train station three times, built a huge new shopping center, re-paved the sidewalk leading from the train station to the town office, built a pedestrian sky-bridge from said new sidewalk to the train station, and constructed a “flower clock” on the grass in front of the town office. Before ANY of these things, I would have much rather seen the Ghetto School get a much-needed renovation. But as the story goes in Japan, out of sight, out of mind. And since nobody important (read: businessmen who will bring contracts to the town) will ever see the Ghetto School, it gets relegated to “out of mind” status.
The school is actually located close to the “ghetto” of my town (or, more accurately, the buraku). And, unfortunately, most of the students who cause the problems do live in the ghetto. Most of the teachers are quick to just label this as the underlying problem, but I feel that its a cop-out excuse. I see kids at the other two schools who have the potential to be just as bad as any Ghetto School kid – and while all three schools are limited by the lack of discipline options in the Japanese school system, at least at the other two schools, the teachers do a good job of coming down on the kids, lecturing them, screaming at them if necessary, letting them know that the adults are still the boss. At the Ghetto School, most teachers just throw their hands up and blame the system, and make friendly with the bad students while secretly counting down the days until they graduate.
I originally started out with three English teachers, Ms. Ma, Ms. S, and Ms. Mo. Ms. Ma was the experienced one, having been an English teacher for awhile and having served several years at the Ghetto School. I always sort of got the impression that Ms. Ma didn’t like me for whatever reason. We worked together just fine, but I always felt like she only did so because she had to. I could be wrong through. Ms. S was the “busy bee” who once made the comment about trying to cough on the little monsters in order to make them sick. Ms. Mo was a first year teacher – her nervousness showed at times, but I felt she would go on to become a great teacher given time.
In April, Ms. S and Ms. Mo left the school. April is a time in Japan when personnel get changed around…for no apparent reason. Seriously, I’ve asked people why personnel transfers happen, and NOBODY could give me a straight answer. It doesn’t make sense – in the office, the took the old guys weeks to try and explain their job to the new guys and get them caught up to speed. And I didn’t see the point at school either – have a teacher just get used to a school, and the students get used to a teacher, then switch them out.
But, oh well. I was sad to see Ms. S and Ms. Mo go, but their replacements were Ms. Americanized and Ms. Forehead. I believe my adventures with these two teachers are well documented.
Since this was my first year, I was coming to Japan expecting Japanese school kids to be the paragon of modern education. …Nope. I was shocked to find out that the sannensei were all, in essence, a group of shitheads. At least a third of them didn’t even bother going to class. Out of the ones who did, most of them just listened to music or talked with friends.
In contrast, the ninensei were all pretty good. While there were some overly energetic kids, none of them were disrespectful or flat out hindered class. Having class with them was actually enjoyable. The ichinensei were, for the most part, good, except for a handful of boys. I actually met these boys before, when they introduced themselves to me at the town festival with names like “Mr. Cream, Mr. Condom, Mr. Sex”, etc. In class, they were noisy and disruptive. Annoying in general, but nothing too bad. Yet.
The sannensei graduated in April. I went to the Ghetto School graduation as scheduled by the board of education. I would have much rather gone to the graduations at the other two schools, or if that wasn’t possible, a lengthy and novocaine-free root canal. But as I was still a fresh first-year JET, I didn’t feel like I had enough clout to ask for a schedule change, so I did as I was told. The sannensei were able to hold in their clown behavior long enough to get through the ceremony at least. I was amazed to find a ton of kids there I’d simply never seen before – before I arrived they’d long since dropped out of school, only returning to pick up their diplomas. It was then that I realized that all a Japanese student needed to do to successfully graduate from junior high school was to find a way to not die until graduation. Even then, I think some dead students are given their diplomas anyway.
I really had no kind of connection to the sannensei at all, so the graduation ceremony was rather stoic for me. It was interesting though to see some of the parents of these idiot kids. Fathers wearing big sunglasses and greased-back hair with overly gaudy three piece suits, and mothers with big, dyed frilly hair, impossibly high heels, and mini skirts so short it’d make Christina Aguilera blush. Sometimes, I’d wonder how these kids go so bad, but seeing the parents that day was kind of like skipping ahead to the last page of an Agatha Christie novel. An “ah, there we go, that makes sense now” kind of feeling.
After the ceremony, one parent-student trio of this kind was trying to take a picture together. The mother tried to tell the daughter, one of the clown-faced girls, to pull down her skirt at least a few inches for the picture. “Like you’re one to talk, you cheap whore” the daughter says back. The father calmly tells her not to speak to her mother like that. “And you can shut up too, you fat pig son of a bitch” the daughter shoots back. Working here is going to be interesting at the very least.
During this year I came to find out about Ms. Americanized’s foul-mouthed perversion (“I hate it when bitches like that get to fuck and I don’t get to fuck!”) and Ms. Forehead’s disappointment over her boyfriend’s huge noggin. As I was having problems with my ex, the Ghetto School teachers offered me up OK Nurse at the Christmas Party. In April, Ms. Ma left the school and was replaced by Ms. Y and the male teacher I like to refer to as Heihachi (same family name). Ms. Y actually had good English abilities, and I’m sure was a good teacher in the teaching aspect, but she lacked the ability to control a class or get harsh with a student like Ms. Ma did. As a result, the bad students under her got worse, and the good students came to disrespect her because she did nothing to help the situation.
The new sannensei continued to be great. I had a lot of fun with them, including the “Open Your Buttcrack” skits, and the conversations with the Cherry Boys. The bad ichinensei boys from last year escalated their bad behaviors going into their ninsensei year. Whereas before, they were noisy and disruptive, but at least in their seats, now they left class freely, coming and going into other classes to talk to friends or bother whatever teacher/student they like. During this year, the Ghetto School teachers who had a free period used that time to patrol the hallways, searching for ninensei boys who were roaming the hallways and generally raising hell. The new ichinensei were allright, but there were several students who seemed like they would become problems as time went on. One boy was the younger brother of one of the worst ninensei boys – he was also the mastermind behind the “Waist-Shake” movement and the culprit of the “I Can Only Love You For One Day” breakup letter. One girl refused to do her work – merely crossed her arms and glared at the teacher from the back of the classroom for 50 minutes.
Nonetheless, with the fun sannensei, the ninensei being allright except for the handful of boys, and the ichinensei being manageable at least, plus interacting with Ms. Americanized and Ms. Forehead, I actually enjoyed this year at the Ghetto School. Teachers at the other two schools, hearing all the rumors about the Ghetto School, would ask me about it – while the rumors were true, I also made sure to add that it wasn’t that bad and that I actually enjoyed my time there.
That sentiment however would not last.
With the graduation of last year’s sannensei, things took a markedly turn for the worse at the Ghetto School. As mentioned in Year 2, Ms. Ma left the school and was replaced by Ms. Y, a good teacher but with no authority over the students. Many other heavy-handed teachers also left the school and were replaced by more wishy-washy faculty. As a result, things went straight to chaos. The bastard ninensei boys became sannensei, and only stepped up the nonsense. The worst offenders rarely went to class – to solve the problem of them roaming the halls, the teachers kept a classroom empty and let them use it as they pleased. But that solved no problems – the boys still disrupted classes. Now, they openly bullied students right in front of teachers. They destroyed everything they could. They were violent, towards everything in general but especially towards the teachers – Heihachi often held up his hand to let them take punches at it, but more often than not they miss his hand and take liberal body shots. I’m not talking about pretend punches either, I mean actual hits. I’m sure it must have bruised up Heihachi, but compared to some of the other teachers he got off relatively well. The music teacher was punched in the face – he had his cheek bones broken and had to have surgery to fix the damage. And Ms. Americanized had her wrist twisted – an injury that continually plagued her even as I spent my last day at the school.
They smoked on campus, flooded the hallways with the fire hoses, rode their bicycles through the teachers room…and countless other things. I was only there one week out of three, who knows what else went down that I just wasn’t witness to. Thanks to their actions, the rumors about the Ghetto School proliferated – at one point, it was rumored to be the worst school in all of Kyoto Prefecture.
The number of bad boys increased in their sannensei year, as quite a few good students who used to get bulled and tormented by the bastards figured “if you can’t beat em, join em.” One such boy was the author of the 5-minute English dialogue featuring discussion about favorite porn stars. And although there were still far more good sannensei than bad, the actions of the shitheads were far louder and much harder to deal with. It was as if they were challenging the teachers to see just how much they could get away with, and found there just wasn’t any limit, at all.
Meanwhile, the ninensei became much worse. Inspired by their seniors, the handful of bad kids not only increased their bad behavior, they recruited other kids to join them. While not nearly as violent or destructive as the sannensei shitheads, they were still a major disruption to the school, and there were still problems such as open bullying of students, listening to music/reading comic books/playing Game Boy/playing card games in class, roaming the hallways, etc. The “Waist-Shake” progenitor followed in his older brother’s footsteps of violent defiance, and also managed to recruit quite a few students to join him. The girl who sat in the back of the class and glared at the teacher, found two friends and they formed the group I call The Three Stooges. And many otherwise good students, frustrated by an impossible learning environment and the teachers failure to respond, have thrown up their hands in disgust and given up on studying. They now use the class time to gossip with friends, draw, make picture books, or for some of the girls, put on makeup all day.
Amazingly enough, the new ichinensei are all angels. There isn’t a single bad student among them. They look outside the windows of their classroom to see the chaos going on in the hallways and in other classes, and it looks like a busload of nuns and little orphans whose bus driver took an unfortunate wrong turn, and is now carting them through the middle of a battlefield in Vietnam. I feel bad for them, I really do. Class with the ichinensei is truly enjoyable – however its only temporary relief from the carnage that waits in the sannensei and ninensei classes.
Whereas Year 2 at the Ghetto School was actually kind of fun, Year 3 was nothing but a nightmare. I hated going, and counted down the days until Fri when I’d be able to make another 2-week escape. Anytime I took vacation time, I made sure I used it during Ghetto School time. Had I not had the two other schools, I don’t think I would have made it the whole year. It wore on me, and I only went to the Ghetto School one week out of three. It took a tremendous toll on the teachers, who had to deal with it every day. Though most teachers did the Japanese thing and quietly accepted their tragic fate, during certain moments some teachers would actually admit how difficult it was.
After April, the bastard sannensei graduated. The teachers had been counting down the HOURS until the moment they could pass the shitheads out of the school and have someone else take responsibility for them. With the departure of the sannensei, a lot of the wanton violence and destruction subsided, but that was by no means an end to the problems. The new sannensei quickly established themselves as worthy successors, with the bad students becoming worse, and more good students giving up in disgust and becoming bad students. Though the problems weren’t as severe with this group of sannensei, they were far more widespread. The new ninensei continued to be angels. They got better, even. They remain an anomaly in the system, much like Neo in The Matrix, that one redhead in a family of brunettes, or like a black man who doesn’t like fried chicken and watermelon (maybe this is why I like them so much – I idenfity with them).
The new ichinensei however, will be a problem. They already are, with a handful of boys exhibiting behaviors that mirror how the Legendary Bastard Sannensei Boys were during their ichinensei year three years ago. Quite a few of them are the younger brothers of those bastard boys, and it seems that they’re all to eager to follow in older brother’s footsteps. One boy is the younger brother of the current sannensei girl Larry, of The Three Stooges. This boy is pretty much just a carbon copy of Larry, except smaller and male.
April brought some new faculty changes as well. Heihachi left and was replaced by a young first year girl. Ms. Americanized, Ms. Forehead, and Ms. Y stayed on in the English department. Some other teachers came and left, but there still aren’t any teachers who can effectively lay down the law. Even if there were, I’m not sure if they can salvage what’s left of this broken ship. The teachers are now reduced to counting down the days until a bad class graduates, and hoping for more anomalies like the current ninensei.
Heading into my final week at the Ghetto School, I wasn’t sad at all. If anything, I was relieved to never have to go there again. It was a bit depressing that 3 years working there had come to this, but that’s just how it was. Things are only going to get worse from here, and I was glad to be getting out while I could. When it comes to the Ghetto School, I don’t envy my JET successor, I really don’t.