I Am No Longer a Japanese School Teacher
All good things must come to an end.
Three years ago, I came to Japan under the pretense of being an English teacher. When I decided on this course of action some 8 years ago, who knows what I was thinking. Unlimited access to anime and J-pop? All the Pocky I could eat? A loving and obedient wife just waiting for me at Narita Airport? Whatever the reason, I decided my freshman year of college to do JET, and 5 years later while the rampant Japanophilia was changed, that plan never changed.
The job of the Super Genki Trained English Teaching Monkey (often abbreviated as ALT) is not a very hard or even serious job. I mean, what other jobs on Earth will freely accept any college grad with little to no training in the field whatsoever? I think even McDonald’s these days has training. McDonald’s has to have training. It’s just not the same anymore, what with ladies complaining about spilled coffee, and other folks coming in and saying that the Big Mac value meal that you specifically sold them made them fat. While ALT training is provided, they do a wonderful job of telling us nothing but useless and oftentimes inaccurate information. I remember one particular mantra we heard a lot was “now, since they are Japanese, your students may be a bit shy…”
Riddle me this – in the three years I’ve been doing this, have my students EVER struck you as the shy type? Sure, in all the ass poking, dick grabbing, breast shouting/exposing/fondling/accidentally bury your face in, skits involving heavy forceful shits, skits about favorite porn actresses, and confessions of sex and sin, I’m sure we can find some shreds of shyness. In the same way I’m sure we can find some shreds of nutritional content in a Twinkie.
The other useless advice doled out to us was that our American DVD’s wouldn’t work in Japanese DVD players, and that we may have power plug issues as Japan uses a different wattage. And that’s about it. You’d think there’d be more info about living in a completely different country and working with people whose language you probably don’t understand, but eh. Trivial details, I suppose.
We soon find that the whole English teaching angle is really secondary to the primary goal – to get foreigners into Japan. With a population that’s 99% homogeneous. Japan NEEDS foreigners to come live and work, not just be tourists. Though things are changing now, when programs like JET started, there weren’t that many people who had enough of an interest in Japan to live there, and there were even fewer non-native Japanese speakers. To get people to come, they had to entice us with a job we could actually do with no training and without speaking the native tongue – English teaching fit that bill. Unfortunately, it seems that in the bid to get us here, somewhere along the way they forget to tell us what to do once we are here.
As such, there are a lot of ALT’s who don’t take their job seriously. Often times, we aren’t taken seriously, used as nothing more than a glorified tape recorder, if used at all. Some ALT’s, in turn, treat the job as something they do to kill time during the day on their extended Japanese/Asian Vacation. There’s a lot of bad behavior on both sides.
I’m happy to say though that I got one of the best postings on JET. I had my moments of extreme frustration as well, but in my three years here the job treated me well. I am glad that I came here. Even to the Ghetto School – while it was far from easy, and at times not even remotely enjoyable, it allowed me to see a real side of Japan that you just can’t read about. I’d like to think that I did my part as well. Sometimes, its hard to see where, if at all, we foreigners are making a difference. But reading all the goodbye cards students had written me, my influence had been clear. While every kid I taught wasn’t always enthusiastic about English, there were quite a few who said that I helped them come to like English, or at least not hate it so much. And, if nothing else, they got a chance to interact with a foreigner and learn about an overseas culture first-hand. I’d like to think that there’s at least some percentage of the population that won’t be compelled to stare and point at foreigners now.
And so, my run as a Japanese school teacher ended with my final week at Watson’s School. I’d love to tell you all about some epic Kancho battle or some hilarious skit involving bodily functions or something like that. But in all honestly, aside from Booger Girl, things went without incident. I took pictures with the students, and took this last opportunity to just talk with them. No lessons, no lectures, just conversation.
On Friday, as this was the last day before summer vacation, there was a Closing Ceremony. Again, Japanese people frickin’ LOVE ceremonies. The school planned for me to give a goodbye speech. I said my piece, with individual messages to the ichinensei, ninensei, sannensei, and teachers. At the end, a sannensei girl came up to the stage to say a farewell message to me and give me a flower bouquet. The poor girl was shaking in her socks. “What’s wrong?” I asked her. “It’s okay, don’t be nervous – it’s only me.”
The girl looked up with me, with tears in her eyes – “I’m nervous because it is you.”
After the school day officially ended, I hung around a bit, took pictures, talked with students, and even engaged in some friendly arm wrestling matches with the girls tennis team (they only let me use two fingers – I STILL won). But with the evening chimes, it was time to clear out of the school, and thus ended my three year run as an ALT. It was good, but it was time to move on. To what? Who knows. But I’ve definitely gained a lot in my three years working this job. Great experiences, countless memories, and a cute little owl that will come with me no matter where I end up.