April 2, 2009

Spring Cleaning

The Japanese school year ends around the end of March and teachers get transferred and placed around the beginning of April. This time of year can either be sad or exciting for the ALT. In the worst case scenario, all your friends leave and in the best all the teachers that rubbed you the wrong way do. I am just a notch below the best case scenario.

There wasn't much for me to complain about before the transfer season came up. The biggest gripes would be that my fellow teachers were advanced in age and that besides very occasional small talk I had little communication with about half the teachers. On the issue of age, the only quip I have is that the older teachers already have kids and are less likely to have time/want to hang out outside of school. On the other hand, one of the things I enjoy must are socializing with some of the older teachers. I have found that having friends that span a wide age range is something that is sorely lacking in American society. As for communication,to be honest I was a little disappointed that those teachers had no interest in talking with me. This can be attributed to a couple of factors: being busy, afraid I would not understand, not wanting to repeat themselves when I didn't understand, personalities didn't click, etc... Everyone in America isn't friends so why should everyone in Japan? I did feel they should at least talk with me because I am the only link to the outside world (not Japan) in these parts and I was hoping they might be interested in what life is like outside of Japan (I've been to Europe, dated a girl from Lesotho, grew-up in America). But maybe that is just me being conceited. I also realize that talking goes both ways and I cannot only chalk this complaint up on their side of the board.

Of all the teachers at my school, 6 were transferred 5 of which were basically non exist for all intents and purposes. The one that was transferred was the youngest one in the office (30) besides me and we actually talked a lot and got together outside of work. Even so, I was excited at the prospects.

After two days, I think I can say that nearly all the incoming teachers look like they will be upgrades! Not only are they for the most part younger, they are also a livelier bunch. Yesterday we switched up the desk arrangement and I scored the 2 youngest teachers of the bunch at my desk grouping. Woot. Not only that, I have had more "actual" conversations with this group than the total 7 months with 5 of the transferred teachers combined. The 2 younger teachers sit across from me and both are talkative and friendly. The new music teacher is funky and interesting. The new vice-principal is "the man" and reminds me of a cowboy. I swear you could put a 10-gallon hat on him and he could be in a John Wayne movie. He also has a sense of humor and a gruff (if I were a women I would say sexy) voice that has no doubt been honed by many years of cigarette smoking. The office lady also seems sweet too.

I noticed a couple things so far. These teachers engage me in 1-on-1 conversation, include me in group conversations, and are interested in what I have to say. That sounds a bit sad, but I have come to learn that when you are in a country where you are not fluent in the language, even though you speak the language to a good degree and are actively studying it, there are people who ignore you or discount you for that simple fact. Perhaps they don't want to spend the time to help you when you don't understand, perhaps they think you are stupid, or maybe they simple don't realize that they are doing it. I think because we often measure intelligence by literacy, vocabulary, comprehension, and general command of language people assume you are unintelligent if you can't seamlessly communicate with them. Even though you obviously have a command of another language (i.e. English) it is not their language. These new teachers and most of the remaining ones treat me like an equal and include me in discussions, ask my opinion, and even explain things without my asking. One even likes to give me little recaps periodically throughout group conversations. He's awesome.

A situation that highlights the difference between these two groups occurred today. Throughout the day, I had had various conversations in the staff room, all in Japanese, mostly with the newly arrived teachers. At the end of the day, one of the remaining teachers that I rarely talk with came over to give me info on an upcoming enkai (party) for the newly arrived teachers. The interaction consisted mostly of pointing at a sheet of paper with said info and her throwing out random words of English. When she got to the time of the party, 18:30, and started to attempt the numbers in English, I said, "I can read numbers" to her in Japanese. She then ran to the Japanese English teacher and said, "help me. Please explain it to XXXXXX." While this whole event was going on I was a little bit puzzled. She obviously heard me speaking with the other teachers in Japanese. Those teachers obviously understood my Japanese because A) we were having a conversation B) they answered the question I asked them C) I answered the questions they asked my accurately and in Japanese. I actually thought to my self this is a funny situation while she was attempting to communicate with me when I had already read the sheet of paper within the first 15 seconds of her coming up to me.

I'm not sure how to deal with this situation. It seems a little preposterous. The only thing I can think of is that she is flustered by non-Japanese people. But really, its the 21st century, she lives in a 1st world country with the 2nd largest economy (China right on its heels), and is working for a school board that has been employing ALTs for the past 20 something years.

Anyways, I am excited about all the new teachers and I am hopefully for the coming year.

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