A Straw Most Final
I know I said this before, but I really mean it this time: I am no longer a Japanese school teacher.
I took the new teaching job in September. I didn’t particularly want to do it, but my visa was on the verge of expiring, and I had no other options. I was to fill in for a guy who’d decided to leave mid-year. As his contract was scheduled to end in March, I figured I would work until then. Hopefully, I would have found something better by March, and if not, I could at least save money to help get by until I did. And while that was a wonderful theory, in reality, I handed in my walking papers in November, to quit by December.
What made me crack, you may ask?
The ALT business is by no means a career path. You’re pretty much an outsider in the school ranks, with no chance of advancement. After a few years, you’ve pretty much done everything you can do within the job–even if you wanted to become an instructor (which I don’t), continuing for years on end is little more than just spinning your wheels. I’d gotten tired of the job at my last posting–while those schools weren’t perfect, I still feel that they were one of the better postings a Gaijin could hope to get.
That’s not to mention that there are massive problems with both English teaching theory, and the entire junior high school system as a whole in Japan. To fix these problems, you’d need groundbreaking, fundamental change…and we all know how much Japan loathes change. I don’t see improvements for the better happening anytime soon, and even if they did, I don’t care enough about the field to be a part of it. Getting into what the problems are would require a whole ‘nother editorial–but anyone who’s actually done the job, or anyone who’s been reading along and is perceptive enough–could probably figure it out.
Regarding my specific situation, the schools themselves were not at all good. Unmotivated, rude, and sometimes violent students were a problem of course, but more than that I was annoyed by the teachers. I hated getting little to no time to plan lessons, and I didn’t like that they were having me basically do all their work for them. Again, it’s not that I’m opposed to working–I just don’t like getting taken advantage of. Having the licensed teacher relaxing in the back of the classroom, while unlicensed me tries to explain English grammar points I don’t fully understand in a language that’s not my native tongue…well…that didn’t exactly seem like a fair situation.
Despite my distaste for the entire situation, I thought I could at least suck it up until March. Just let the contract end, and then I’d be free to my own devices. It was only a few months–surely, I could do at least that. That’s what I’d thought, but that all changed thanks to one incident.
At the school I hated most (with the violent kids, the lazy teachers, and the prodding VP), they usually gave me my class schedule months in advance. While that was a nice idea, by the time we actually got to a particular week, there had been so many changes that my copy of the schedule was worth little more than to fold up and use to dig out dirt from under my fingernails. The teachers never bothered actually telling me of these changes either, so times I *thought* I had a break time I didn’t, and vice versa. It sort of became like playing the lottery. “Let’s see here…it says I have a class next period…but do I? Stay tuned to find out…”
Their method of making the schedule was to just write down EVERYTHING, and then circle the classes or events I was expected to attend.
Anyhow, one Monday after work, I got a fairly important business call. I don’t really want to go into details about it, but I’ll just say that it turns out, when you receive a company’s service, most of the time they kinda want you to pay for it. Anyway, I was gong to have to come in in person and settle things, and they wanted me to come in as soon as possible. I’d already left the school, so I couldn’t ask any of the teachers in person, but hey–I had my schedule! I know, unreliable as hell, but hey, at least its something…right? I check the schedule…Tuesday looked like it was going to be full with classes. Tuesday was no good. But Wednesday afternoon seemed reasonable. It didn’t look like there were any classes after fourth period. There was something written down in the afternoon as “Recitation Contest,” but it wasn’t circled, and no one had said anything to me about it. Earlier that morning, I’d been talking with the Japanese language teacher, and she’d told me that her students were nervous about a recitation contest they had to do in Japanese. So for all I knew, “Recitation Contest” didn’t even apply to English. Anyway, I promised that I would come in on Wednesday afternoon to take care of business.
At the school Tuesday morning, I had a day full of classes. As I went with various different English teachers, I mentioned my business on Wednesday afternoon and asked if it would be all right to return to Kyoto for a few hours. All of them gave me a very carefree, “Sure, go ahead!” During one of my few breaks in the afternoon, as I was sitting next to the Jolly Green Giant, I told her as well. We didn’t have any classes scheduled together or anything, but I thought it best to just tell her anyway. However, unlike everyone else so far, her response was a bit different–“Oh, but we have the English Recitation Contest tomorrow. I’m pretty sure that they want you to go to that. Hasn’t anyone told you?”
It’s Tuesday afternoon, at least 3 or 4 PM, and this is the first I’ve ever heard of it. Jolly Green is very worried. “I personally don’t mind if you don’t go to the Contest…but maybe some other teachers will look at it as you not performing your duties.” Jolly Green spent the next half hour trying to find ways that I could both do my business and attend this recitation contest. However, unless she could somehow bestow upon me the power of Japanese teleportation, it wasn’t possible. My last class ended at 12:30 PM. The recitation contest was scheduled to start at 2 PM. I had to be in Kyoto before 3 PM and traveling took an hour. There was just no way to do both. Jolly Green frets over this quite a bit before giving in and accepting that unless I had Doraemon’s “dokodemo door” or Goku’s Instantaneous Movement, it was just impossible.
However, still worried, she now goes with me and asks the other teachers if it would be okay if I missed the contest on Wednesday–most of these teachers I’d already asked before. They repeated the same carefree, “Go ahead” they’d given me earlier in the day. Still worrying, Jolly Green takes me to the nagging VP. I explain in the most polite and honorable Japanese I can muster that I have important, pressing business to take care of, and although it meant I wouldn’t be able to attend the Recitation Contest, could I maybe please go so that I wouldn’t be thrown in a Japanese jail or deported or something? VP gives his consent with the same no problem attitude the other teachers have shown–his exact words are, “Sure, that’s completely fine.” Well then, it seems like Jolly Green was just making mountains out of molehills. Everything seemed to be all right.
Turns out though, that Jolly Green was right.
Wednesday morning, I was sitting in the teachers room during homeroom period. The VP was there, along with several other teachers who didn’t have a homeroom class. The teachers room is, for the most part, quiet. After a few minutes, VP comes out from behind his desk to have a chat with some of the other teachers. Although I’m not sitting in the same area, I am most certainly within earshot and visual range.
The conversation went a little something like this.
VP: You know, we have the English Recitation Contest today…but our foreign teacher isn’t even going to go!
Other Teachers: Oh, really? Why?
VP: Says he’s got business to take care of.
Other Teachers: So, you mean only the regular Japanese faculty will be there?
VP: Yep. He’s not going at all.
Other Teachers: Oh, the poor kids! They’ll be so disappointed.
VP: Tell me about it! What’s the point of having an English Recitation Contest and not having the foreign teacher be there!
Other Teachers: It’s the worst situation.
VP: Ah, I’m done, I’ve given up (on trying to make him do work).
I don’t know if they expected me to have the hearing range of a block of cheese, or the Japanese comprehension level of a Lincoln Log or what, but again, – I was sitting right there. And now, I was quite pissed off. Nobody tells me about this thing that they expect me to go to, so I mistakenly commit to important business during that time. And when I ask about it, everyone is all smiles and carefree and “sure, go ahead,” but then to talk behind my back…no, you can’t even call that back-talking, can you? That was shit-talking, not even right to my face, but to the general area where I just happened to exist. So yeah, pissed. Right then and there, I opened up an email to the contracting organization informing them of my decision to quit.
Again, this incident wasn’t the primary reason why I quit. It was just a bad situation as a whole–this particular incident was the last straw. I hated being there, and the sooner I could get out, the better. The contracting organization met with me, listened to why I was unhappy, and tried to talk me out of quitting by promising to talk with the VP and the other teachers, but my mind had been made up. I was done.
For the record, had I been able to go to the Recitation Contest, my role would have been to sit there for an hour and listen to a handful of kids recite the same speech over and over again, and then at the end stand up and give a two minute speech on how well they did and how nice their pronunciation was, keep ganbatte!-ing in English, kids. And that’s it.
This incident happened in early to mid-November, and it was decided that my last day of work would be November 30th. In typical Japanese fashion, the contracting organization failed to tell either of the schools. I didn’t say anything either–I would have been perfectly content with just not showing up to work one day. I did end up telling the aforementioned Japanese language teacher, and Jolly Green. They both told me that the VP had done something similar to them as well–accused them of being lazy and not doing work, but having done so through an indirect conversation with other people in the teachers’ room. The Japanese language teacher assured me that the VP was quite an asshole, and generally hated within the school. Upon hearing about my decision to quit, Jolly Green simply paused for a moment, and said, “But, I think you’re getting out at just the right time. The English teachers had a meeting last week, and they decided to start having you do everything now–making worksheets and other lesson materials, doing the whole plan for the class, teaching the class by yourself, grading papers, everything.” She also told me about how many, if not most of the other teachers flat-out hated each other, and that it was just a bad school to be at in general. She’d been making plans for her own escape herself, and was poised to leave in December, only a week or so after my departure (although she later changed the date to November 30th to match mine). I came to find out that, if nothing else, Jolly Green had been one of my strongest allies.
November 30th was a Thursday. The school didn’t find out I was leaving until Wednesday, November 29th. I would have preferred they not know at all. I exaggerated a story about being concerned about my mother’s health, allowing everyone to Japanesely save face. On Thursday, I had a few ichinensei classes. The teacher mentioned it would be my last, and the ichinensei seemed for the most part unfazed. After all, I was already their second Gaijin teacher in their eight month career as junior high school students, with #3 soon to come. With the teachers’ room quiet in the early hours of the evening, I calmly slipped out, took my indoor slippers with me, and left never looking back, neither on the school, or the profession of English teaching in Japan as a whole.
Don’t get me wrong. I do believe that English teaching in Japan for foreigners is necessary work, and there is a lot of good that can be done within the field. However, I also feel that it’s plagued with problems, and I simply just don’t want to deal with them anymore. It was time, once again, to find new work.