Sunday, March 30, 2014

Arigato and Sayonara: Teachers

In the U.S. it is faily common for teachers to work at the same school for over ten years; however, in Japan (or atleast in Okinawa) that is simply inconceivable. Principals, vice principals, and teachers spend three to five years at one school before they are transferred, while assistant and supporter teachers' employment are based on a yearly contract. Teachers can be transfered to any part of Okinawa and its outer islands, and sometimes teachers are transfered to and from Mainland Japan. As a foreigner, it is difficult to understand the logic behind these transfers, but it is seen as a way to share the talent of skilled teachers and purge the inept.

 In early January, I overhead talks of transfers, and in February I watched as the teachers wore their best suits to hand in their resumes to the board of education. By early March the transfers were decided and the news spread throughout the schools. Although I had braced myself since January I became distraught when I discovered that some of my favorite teachers were leaving. It sounds selfish, but I formed strong bonds with these teachers as they helped me adapt to the Japanese work enviroment for the past eight months. I had become confident in both the staffroom and the classroom, and now I would have to adapt once more to new teachers and new methods. In all honesty, I was mostly upset because my closest coworkers, the three librarians and the young assistant/supporter teachers (including my trouble buddy), were all transferred.*

Although not as exaggerated as Big Bang Theory's Sheldon Cooper, I am someone who dislikes change and becomes flustered when it is thrusted upon me. What can I say, I like to feel control in a world full of chaos.

In the usual Japanese fashion, we bid the teachers farewell at a lavish party. Most JETs with multiple schools will focus on one specific school for these events; but since I love to party, I decided to spread myself thin and attend all three. Two were held on a the same day and time, so I split my time between the two. I tend to 'turn up' at these events by wearing something scandalous, so I wore a cut-out dress. In the U.S., this would seem like a church dress, but in Japan anything that shows your back in considered extremely sexy. Once the teachers got a glimpse at my back, I heard gasps and exclamations that they wanted to touch me. And my 'me,' I mean my back. And by the female teachers, of course.

That back though!
The last one, with my favorite school, was the most fun as I had a great time pulling the male teachers onto the dance floor and accompanying other teachers to a salsa club. It was great to see everyone loosen up, but it was also nice to hear their tear-jerking farewell speeches. Bless that waterproof mascara.

One consequence of the transfers was the sense of closeness I felt with the teachers who were staying. They also felt anxious about the new teachers and expressed their worry about work compatibility. Meanwhile, the teachers who transferred schools within my town were relieved that they knew at least one person at their new school, me.

I know that I will eventually adapt to the change, but for now it does not alter the extreme wave of loneliness that I feel that my favorites are gone.

*P.S., The staff member who reprimanded me in the previous post retired early ;). 

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