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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Tales of the Shokuinshitsu

     Maybe comedy is the secret. Just because I can't enjoy my time here doesn't mean others can't. That being said, sit back, relax and enjoy the first edition of a brand new feature.

Tales of the Shokuinshitsu

Vol 1: We Need Pictures

     After first period today I returned to my desk and got back to editing some tracks in Audacity for use in a future exam. The JTE known heretofore by such identifiers as "it" and "that one" shall henceforth be known simply as y. This person doesn't get a capital letter and if that bothers you I'm afraid that I'm sorry I'm not sorry. y walked over to my desk in y's usual foot dragging how-do-you-still-have-rubber-down-there way and sat at the desk next to mine.

     I should note that all of my JTEs are women, so it won't be a giveaway to refer to y by the nondescript pronouns 'she' or 'her'.

     As she sat down she uttered, "Joshuerr, I'm-so-sorry." This is a common greeting where she comes from and because of that I offered nothing except the smallest of an 'Oh' to indicate that I acknowledged her feeble attempt to be social with me. She continued. "So, I don't know who is in the speech contest on the. . . 28th." She said pausing halfway through to examine a calendar off in the distance. 
     "Well . . ." I explained all of the students who would be participating and what they were planning on doing.
     "Are there pictures for Chihiro?" She inquired of me.
     "No, she's going to be reading Snow White." I replied, already with a sense of where this was going.
    "So, last year Moeno and Rie read a story and Ms. X made some pictures. . ." At this point I can tell that she's trying to explain that a former teacher made a PowerPoint® presentation with some picture slides on it. I know this, because I know.
     "Yeah, Chihiro just told us yesterday what she wanted to do." y was unfazed.
     "So, if we had pictures. . . yeah. I'm sorry. I could not talk with Ms. A, so I talked with you." To this I only nod once in order to symbolize that I accepted she was saying words. It speaks again. "もし, if you have time. . ."*
     "I'll see." I won't. She gets up and leaves. I sit back in my chair and look out the window, admiring the winter silhouette of a yet to bud Ginkgo.



もし (moshi), is a very common phrase that means any variation of ' if ' or ' in the case that ~' etc.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Strike That

What happens when a misbehaved student strikes a teacher, leaving said teacher bruised?

     Nothing. Nothing at all. And the one JTE who likes me is quitting.

     I'm also being asked to not tell anyone anything about it.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

What A Way To Wipe

     Today I want to talk about something quite unusual. Apart from what I usually complain about - and I do realize there's plenty of that already - this is something that only happens once a month: cleaning the 3B classroom.
     We clean the school everyday of course, but since I've stopped eating with the 1st years I only rotate between 2A/B and then 3A/B. There's usually nothing to say of it either. In that respect this isn't a complaint so much as an observation of inefficiency that I wanted to make a note of.
     Before we start it would be helpful to think of the cleaning procedures for classrooms as being a single pages torn from the playbook of 'Clean The School' as they're essentially patterned and repeated processes. I drew up some helpful diagrams to illustrate my point. First we'll start with similarities.

Your standard classroom layout.
      Pictured above is the typical layout for a Japanese classroom and is exactly the way that each room in my school appears. Desks are organized into pairs and in these sets they are spaced evenly from the back of the room all the way to the front allowing for a bit of space to put the much larger desk reserved for the teacher. I would call it a lectern but it is actually just an over-sized and much taller desk. For cleaning time the desks are moved to one side as depicted below.

Chairs are placed upside down on desks and the set is moved to one side.
      The 'bunching of the desks' actually occurs right after lunch is over. Sometimes the students won't move the teacher's desk or other smaller tables which may happen to still be at the front. Anything left is moved at the start of cleaning time. At this stage, a pair of students will go fill a bucket of water (stored in the broom closet), and a lone student will wipe down the chalkboard, dusting the erasers if needed. A majority of the class is located elsewhere on campus cleaning in designated groups at specified locations. This is where things start to get different depending on the class in question.
That's right. Math.
      I'll start with what I believe to be the single best routine that 3A runs. As you can see the desks are now at one side leaving plenty of space for students to wipe the floors with small rags that are kept just outside the classrooms. They move in turn wiping one after another each covering a small fraction of where the other has been. In the diagram students are represented by X. They move in sequence: X1, X2, X3... all the way to X(N-1) and then finally XN, where N is the amount of wipes necessary for even coverage.  This is followed up with a beautiful move noted by Y. Students will then wipe perpendicular to the last direction, only requiring two or possibly three goes before all the garbage is located in the "Collection Zone" at which point I come by and sweep it up. I should add that before the wiping process commences I make sure to sweep garbage into either the collection path or to the opposite side of the room should it be closer to that end.

Variations On Wiping.
      Here's an alternate game plan that the second years run occasionally. It's a bit lazier in appearance I'll grant you, but it works and is still efficient. Also, each of the patterns you're seeing are mirrored after completion such that the entire floor, in theory, is cleaned. 

     This is the one that I can't get behind. There's no sequence, it allows for spots, and the potential area in which garbage can be collected is basically anywhere along the wall in question. While others wipe parallel to the chalkboard the teacher who runs this class will occasionally run perpendicular and vice-verse meaning that we're often duplicating our efforts.

Also, she takes the long broom and gives me the short one every time. Even if she's already using the short broom she'll take the long one out of my hand after I go get it.

So maybe that's where this is coming from.


Wednesday, February 4, 2015



A Brief Glimpse Into The Third Volume (And What He Found There)

     I know I haven't written here in a while. 

     2014 is well behind us. I've gone through multiple drafts of this post, and it's taken a few months for me to settle on the right words. I'm sure they'll still be properly inefficient but I need to say something in order to move on. Things really haven't been all that well. I think anyone reading through the journal - which I still maintain almost daily - would discover that for themselves. With the exception of Mitsuko, and a close circle of friends, rarely does anyone read them, and even then I mostly share short passages rather than entire entries.
     It was once suggested to me that I publish my journals. I'm a mere 5 pages away from completing the third volume (pictured above) of stories, anecdotes, and experiences in Japan. Having read through this third volume though has almost convinced me that I couldn't, or at least shouldn't. It's no secret that there's a constant antithesis that runs the course of this soon to be completed journal; just skimming it, even lightly, will reveal several stories of this nature.
     It pains me to have this many negative experiences documented. In a way it's probably good they are. Having few other ways to vent I would've likely lost my mind a long time ago. Mitsuko and some good friends have availed themselves to me on many occasions and for that I do thank them, but waste management facilities they are not, and I hate playing the part of the dump truck.
     Just today I had two of my classes canceled. The JTE who canceled them informed me that the classes were unruly, and the planned lessons could not be completed. Today's would-be lessons had to be moved to next week and in their stead the unfinished material would be covered. The unbelievably poor attitude of the entire first year class has been another dominating feature of my entries.
     Typically I eat with my kids. I rotate on a week by week basis: 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B, 3A, 3B, and then back around again. It's been several months since I've sat with the first year students. When I show up to class, they become upset. They have quite literally sighed when I walk into the classroom. I hate going to their sessions because of how extraordinarily unwelcome I am. I don't mind that they don't care. That's not the issue. I wish the staff would realize it and stop asking me to go. If the students don't want me around, then that's fine. I'll stay away. The last thing I want to do is contribute to why they hate English, America, or me. I realize that this might be a poor attitude on my part. Opponents would argue that I need to fight even harder exactly because of that. To those people I would say that by being trapped in a diminished role as noted by the Assistant in Assistant Language Teacher - our official designation - there is little power and seldom the opportunity to exercise any authority. Without that, we're completely helpless and at the mercy of a system, which to me doesn't work - at least for this.
     I do my best to be cheerful and act professional, but when the teacher has to apologize for the class afterward it's hard to feel like I've pegged it wrong. And if that is truly the case, then it is also hard to feel bad for the situation because there is obviously an awareness but a lack of action for it has not changed. This is just one problem though, and not really something I deal with every day. My visits to the first year classes have been dramatically reduced.
     Worse still is the increasingly sour relationship I have with a fellow worker who shall remain unnamed. I've been asked numerous times about when I'm going home (to America), which always feels like the person in question is telling me to leave. I've been told to my face by this person that they do not like English. They have approached me for the express purpose of saying to me, "I do not like English," which is a hell of a thing to say for someone who is supposed to teach it, and fairly rude towards someone who speaks it natively. Think about that for a second. That sentiment has also been expressed multiple times toward me, never once having been warmly received.
     This is a person who turns off the lights and shuts the door while I'm still packing up after a lesson, a person who hovers over my shoulder while I write or do work, a person who asks if I can understand the faxes I receive from elementary schools - every single time. This is a person who makes ridiculous requests which often feel like sabotage. I'm often asked to do things or create lessons on topics I couldn't possibly know about. Instructions are rarely given, and when I ask I'm treated like an idiot. I do my work in a timely manner but am reminded constantly and condescended towards daily. I'm asked last minute to create entire lessons all the time, and frowned upon when they're not good (refer to sabotage). I'm frequently asked to make things only a day before, only to have them rejected upon delivery because they're not what was asked of me. Multiple examples of all the above are well documented in my journals.
     This is what volume three contains. After only a cursory thumbing through the pages I became intensely depressed at my own sad experiences. On seemingly every page there was a story reflecting the exact opposite of what I was tying to accomplish here. My ultimate goal was to foster good relations between America and Japan. A professional goal was to acquire a Ph.D in my area of study - East Asian Languages and Literature - and my charge was to spread a more accurate image of what Japan is to Americans who still conflate reality with rampant hearsay.
     Apart from school life there were many things that cropped up though. There were of course positive things like when Mitsuko and I went to Fukuoka and ate the best ramen in Japan or when we went to Kobe and experienced a place brand new for the both of us. There were some scary things like Mitsuko getting hit by a car. Some annoying things like getting a driver's license and losing a wisdom tooth. There are also great moments when I really connected with some of my kids such as the speech contest prep, or just a simple lunch. Many things happened last year indeed. That being said, the overwhelming majority of volume three seems to be frustration.
     I'm still doing my best to be responsible. Responsibility for me means to treat my circumstances as just that, my circumstances. For every story I have there are twice as many positive ones that others will tell. I don't wish to sound like an apologist but true to my goal here I'll have to treat my experiences as essentially isolated. It's quite challenging though and what I fear is being unable to avoid telling the truth about what has happened for me in my placement. Sometimes I wonder if it's me.

And that's a really scary thought to entertain.