Sunday, January 26, 2014

Teaching Update

We are almost at the 6th-month mark as my time as teacher here in Japan, and it's time for an update!

M. Elementary

There have been no changes aside from the 6th grade teacher taking a temporary leave of absence due to his health. Last semester, he was gone for a few days as the vice principal and another teacher temporarily took over the class. When he returned, I noticed that he was skipping lunch to drink what looked like baby formula. He was prohibited from eating solids for a week, and then afterwards changed to a bland diet. Last week, I was told that he would be out for the entire semester and would possibly have surgery in his intestines. I felt really bad for him. He and I are both 27, so I felt some camaraderie with him. I recently had a class with the substitute teacher. At first, I had my doubts because she seemed so quiet, but once I had English class I quickly noticed that she is a no nonsense woman. I think she was fairly surprised as well concerning the active participation of the 6th graders. This 6th grade class is full of class clowns but they really get into English class, so it's very enjoyable. I know I won't have issues for the rest of the semester, but I do hope the other teacher has a speedy recovery.

I also brought my boyfriend to the school where he helped out with an English class. Everyone was excited to meet him and it was very cute to see the exchanges between him and the students. Surprisingly, one 5th grade girl came up to him and asked him multiple questions in English. My instruction coming into fruition! Bam!

K. Elementary

Nothing has changed at this school aside from daily greetings from the substitute teacher that once ignored me (haha). Also, there is a new running gag/rumor about me being secretly in love with the 4th grade teacher. During the bonenkai, the 4th grade teacher expressed displeasure at the fact that he and I never talk. I replied saying, "Well, you're always on the computer, right?" which made him laugh because it's true. Either way, a couple weeks later someone asked me if I thought he was handsome and I sarcastically agreed. Well, sarcasm does not carry over in Japanese because the one day he wasn't there because of training, the vice principal said, "Oh Gabi, 4th grade sensei isn't here. That's too bad, huh?"  Umm? Ok? Sure?

Aside from my non-crush, the students and the classes are great! I know most of the 5th and 6th graders by name so it's nice to interact with them between classes.

G. Elementary

As you can imagine, not everything is perfect in Okinawa. I have expressed in my previous post that I feel as though I have not warmed up to this school. I think it would be correct to say that this school has not warmed up to me, as there have been several incidents that have made my Thrusdays and Fridays my least favorite days. First, the students are behaved aside from my Satan 6th Graders. They have not disrespected me since the first incident, but they remain uninterested in English. The one positive change is that the teacher is now more willing to harshly reprimand them during class. At first I think she was worried what I might think, but I think we both know that the students needed the discipline. The first time she yelled at a students she apologized to me afterwards. I told her that there was no need for an apology and reprimanding them was necessary. Out of the 38 student in that class I only know that names of four: two are in the disability class and the other two are tiny troublemakers. 

Second, my largest problem comes from two staff members. Let's start off with the gist of the problem: I think they see me as a distraction and probably don't think that highly of English education. I feel as though they do not want me to interact or speak with other teachers or staff members. 

The first time I noticed this was a few months back when I was speaking to the office lady (a.k.a. the tea lady) about my traditional Okinawan dance performance. I noticed she had a picture of the dance (not mine, but a general one) displayed on her desk and I told her that I knew the dance. She stated her surprise, but then she was suddenly interrupted by a staff member who swoops in, says there is work to be done, and proceeds to talk to the office lady. If this was the only incident, then I would have thought nothing of it, but it was not. The next few times involves one of the young teaching assistants. Since my classes are frequently canceled (for example, last week 3 out of my 4 classes were canceled), he and I would quietly chat during our free period. Twice, he has been asked by the staff members as to whether or not he had a class to attend. Mind you, they aren't asking him nicely. I genuinely felt bad and we both agreed not to speak unless it's during recess or during the breaks in between classes. During one of the interruptions, I was also asked if I can meet with the kindergarten teachers to see when I can teach there during my free time.

At first, you may think that they don't like him and this has nothing to do with me. However, if he speaks to anyone else, he's left alone. It's only when he's speaks to me that they interrupt. Maybe it's because he's guy and I'm a girl and Japan is conservative? Nope, he usually speaks and hangs out with the other teaching assistant who is also a woman (and this is 2014 people). Mind you, my Japanese is intermediate at best and he has no English, therefore these are not in-depth or long conversations, like those he has with his other coworkers. 

Last week, during one of the breaks, the same staff member asked us to sort out scantrons for the students upcoming test. The assistant later told me that it was a waste of time, because they get sorted out in the classroom. It seemed to me as though they were giving us busy work to keep us from talking to one another. Then, the next day, while I spoke to the younger girl assistant who sits next to me, the same staff member interrupts and asks me to put the now completed scantrons into numerical order. Once again, I felt as though they were trying to keep me busy. 

During recess that same day, the male assistant took a seat next to me. Five minutes into our conversation, the staff member announced their interruption and began to rip him a new one in the fastest Japanese I've ever heard (they already speak really fast, but this was like damn). Basically, they told him that although it may be fun to talk to me, all the teachers are busy working (they weren't, it was recess time) and that there was work to be done. Then, turned to me and began to rip me a new one as well. It was harder to for me to understand because I was put on the spot, but they said something along the lines of that I'm there to teach English and (I think) to interact with the children more. However, I understood the previous actions and words as a way telling me not to distract or speak with the other teachers.

After her tongue lashing, I went upstair to the second floor of the school and just sat there for a while. I also realized that I shouldn't mess with my iphone as often in this school and mused that with no one to talk to there will be nothing that needs to be translated. Later in the day, the male assistant apologized for getting me in trouble, and also stated he didn't know that he couldn't speak to me during recess time either. I told him that I was sorry since I knew he may or may not be at this school the following year, and I didn't want to harm his chances of getting re-contracted. The girl assistant who overheard everything also came by and told me that the  two staff members have never warmed up to him, and I told her that I feel as though they haven't warmed up to me either.  

After I gained some perspective, I realized that there is nothing that can be done to fix the situation aside from keeping quiet and staying out of the teacher's room. I just know that I'm not going to let this experience jade me. Plus, I could always hangout with them outside of school. :)

My future
* Side note: The purpose of this entirey is not to fiercely criticize the Japanese workplace, as issues can arise in any job, but instead share my experiences with family, friends and those interested in the JET Program.


  1. Hi there, I have stumbled upon your blog. I am interested in the JET program and since I'll be graduating college next year I'm researching as much as I can bc I am a loca too and will jump on a plan and move lol. I have soooo many questions and your post really puts things into perspective as to how it is.
    As a female have you ever felt unsafe. I mean you are on your own right? No one moved with you to Japan.

    1. That's a really great question! I think as a woman, we should always have constant vigilance but, in general, I feel safe in Japan. The only thing is that being a foreigner, we do attract a lot of attention and sometimes that can get to people. I think the only places where you have to worry is at bars and clubs. Just like in the U.S., Japanese men can get a bit brave when they are drunk.