This post is probably going to be the most personal experience I’ve written about so far. I wanted to do it because it’s important to show you all that living in Japan isn’t great all the time… There are times when it can be hard and you’ll run into problems. Honestly, there are a few experiences like this that I’ve made a note of to write about eventually, so maybe consider this the first of a series?
Why I’m Moving Schools
When I moved to Kanto, I was excited to start at my new school. Aside from the problems with my old branch, I really enjoyed my schools and former placement. In Kanto I was given two schools, same as my last contract, But this time, my main school would be an elementary school. Last contract, my main school was a junior high, and I went to an elementary school on Fridays.
I loved my elementary school, so I wasn’t too worried when they told me about this. My former school treated me really well and I really felt like I was making a difference with the students. The vice principal there once asked if coming on Fridays and seeing the children “healed my heart” (in his not-so-good English). I thought about it and I agreed. The enthusiasm and eagerness to learn at the elementary level was so pure I honestly felt rejuvenated every visit.
So, I started my new contract with the same expectations. Starting was great, because everyone was still getting settled (myself included). Things were a bit shaky, but that’s to be expected. But as the weeks went on, I realized suddenly how uncomfortable I felt at this school
At my last school. I’d make an effort to speak to my coworkers, and they’d do the same back. At this school, no one would reciprocate. (Mind you, these attempts were in Japanese… I’m far from fluent, but I can get my point across.) But there was nothing here. It was weird and felt a bit isolating.
I would talk to the teachers about upcoming lessons and go over the game plan together, but I felt like they were just trying to get through it, not putting any effort into it. And when I would suggest changes to the lesson plans, they’d purse their lips and say, “Well Former-sensei always did it this way…” (Classic indirect Japanese no.) I understand in a way, but it was frustrating that no one else understood that I’m not my predecessor and I have a different teaching style.
I say I can understand where they’re coming from because my predecessor was at this school for eight years. She had been there longer than any of the other teachers, so she got a lot of respect… Something I didn’t have yet because it was my first year there. But I know how a normal school functions and there’s no reason to disregard a teacher’s thoughts and opinions. All my other schools worked with me from the beginning. My predecessor did reveal to me in the one time I met her (at a nomikai that my school invited her to and ended up having all the other teachers pay for her bill) that she cried a lot her first year at the school.
But besides that, a whole other issue was that my Eigo-tanto, the one in charge of the English program at school–making my schedules, being the liaison between me and the school–and essentially responsible for me, is extremely unorganized. I almost never get my schedule on time, which puts me in a difficult position on Monday mornings, when I have to frantically prepare for whatever class I’m scheduled for that day. I usually called Interac on Fridays to have them call my school and remind the Eigo-tanto to send my schedule. It was ridiculous how many time I had to do this, especially since it wasn’t my responsibility.
And to top this all off, my schedule wasn’t even accurate a majority of the time. The scheduling system consists of a paper in the back of the room where teachers can write their classes in blank time slots. But it never got taken down, so teachers would be changing lesson times and dates the week–and sometimes even the day–of! So I’d either be waiting in the English room for a lesson that was no longer scheduled, or someone would have to get me from the teacher’s room for a lesson that’s on my schedule as a free period (which makes me look bad in front of the VP). A few teachers would give me a heads up when they made a sudden change, but it was astonishing how many didn’t.
Now, all of this so (I didn’t realize this post was going to be so long!) far had been frustrating, but I can deal pretty well. It wasn’t until October or so when I got a call from Interac on Friday, when I was at my other school. They asked why I wasn’t coming to this Saturday event at school (to this day, I still have no idea what it was for). I had no idea what they were talking about. The only mention about something on Saturday was when the lunch lady asked if I was going to order lunch. I told her no because I’m not scheduled to work on Saturdays.
Interac told me that I was actually required to go because the school was giving all of the teachers a Monday makeup holiday, so it was treated as a work day. Now, keep in mind that they called me on Friday, the day before this Saturday they were referring to. I no longer had a weekend right around the corner. I told Interac that it wasn’t on my company-issued yearly schedule, and no one told me anything about this Saturday beforehand. They said they’d call the school.
They did and all of this got confirmed, and so Interac changed its tone from accusatory and formally asked if I would come on Saturday (not like I could say no). I ended up getting an apology from Interac and the school, and was scheduled to sit in the teacher’s room for eight hours on a Saturday because they didn’t schedule me for any classes. I was fuming.
I should also mention that after all of this, the VP stopped saying good morning and goodbye to me… (Probably upset that the school lost face.) Though it’s not like he ever really spoke to me in the first place anyway, but I still thought it was really petty.
But besides the lack of communication and respect for my teaching methods and abilities, there is no respect for my things either. The English room is always in a state of chaos (materials missing, desks moved or sometimes completely broken down, trash on the floor, etc) because it’s also used as a meeting room and no one cares enough to put things back. My board with lesson instructions gets erased and I have to do the work all over again. And it’s not just the English room–my desk in the teacher’s room isn’t safe. Things I leave on top of my desk when I head home will end up in drawers, my supplies like pens and scissors will go missing…
There are a million other little things, like the teachers all calling me by my predecessor’s name, but I’m honestly too exhausted to get into them. Rehashing all of this is too frustrating and emotionally exhausting, if I’m being frank.
All I’m trying to get across is that my elementary school is an unfriendly environment and I’ve decided to switch schools because of it. Interac was sympathetic and I’ll be switching to a junior high school (only one school!) for the new contract. I’m still hopeful that my new school will be better, but if its not, I think I’m just going to do eikaiwa instead. I feel like I’ve been here too long now to deal with this kind of stuff anymore.