Sunday, April 15, 2007

Tales of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.

I apologize for having missed a post or two, but the recent rotation at my work has left me very busy, and cursing my existance every spare second I can afford. For those late to the party, I teach at elementary school(s) in Japan. There was recently a merger of sorts among three of the towns in my area. The way many small and weak computers can be ‘clustered’ together to form something more powerful than the sum of its parts, so too did the towns of Kamogata, Konkou, and Yorishima ‘form like Voltron’ to make the economic super power that is today Asakuchi City. We have nukes. We’re training our ‘Black Lotus’ spies to convert your barracks into our own, and soon we will attach flamethrowers to our tanks to wipe out your silly remaining infantry.

While I’m sure it was a good move in the long term that had been debated to death over the course of torturous months of tea sipping and ‘nodding while grunting importantly’, the end result is kind of a mix up for us foreigners (that’s what they call us). While we used to have a little town system we operated in (I worked in Kamogata, and rotated among each of that districts three schools each semester, effectively visiting each one every year), now we have this sprawling mass of elementary schools that stretch as far as the eye can see. Children I’ve never met are lining up to jam their fingers in my ass, and they rub and stroke my arm hair as though it were a small animal loacted between my shoulder and hand. It’s a little much right now.

Okay. I’m exaggerating a bit, but instead of 'three schools and three semesters in a year' system that had worked so well, we now have seven schools, and a very flustered Board of Education. They honestly had no idea what to do with us last year, so they just stuck us somewhere for a year while they could figure out what to do with us. It’s like when you’re cleaning your living room or something and you come across a random stack of crap like magazines or a hairbrush. You arrange it neatly on the coffee table for a second, knowing full well that isn’t ‘where it goes’, but telling yourself you’ll come back to it when the rest of the room is sorted out. I was arranged neatly in a school I had never been to before, and had actually never even had a full time English teacher at all. They had no idea what to do with me, and I had no materials to teach with.

I like to think I’m pretty good at what I do, and so I just took charge and started making materials. I went nuts on their printer for about 2 weeks straight, sucked up like 3 sets of ink cartridges, and ended up with a year’s worth of stuff that I could use to teach lessons. There’s a lot of data on my laptop, and I had already been teaching at this point for about a year, so I knew what I needed. They were a little baffled at all the shit I was printing, and worried about all the paper I was using, but once I started actually teaching lessons, it all made sense, and they were happy that I took the initiative and just did it.

Fast forward to now. Apparently, while I was doing all this at the other school, there was another teacher at the school I’m at now that wasn’t so… umm… able to think for himself? I don’t know how to put it really. The school here didn’t know what to do with him, but he didn’t have the initiative (+INT gear?) to just throw down and start making things happen. Granted, this school is tiny compared to the other ones. I’ve taught at schools with about 600 kids; two of each class, first thru sixth grade, with an extra class of fourth graders or whatever (love was in the air that year? I dunno). My last school had over 300 kids total, and it was a smallish school (one class of each grade, first thru sixth). This school has one of each grade, but like the second grade class here has ten kids. There are 96 children TOTAL here. It’s kind of out in the sticks.

The Board of Education allocates budget for each school; within that school, they divide it up between first graders, second graders, etc. There is no english budget. I honestly think this didn’t even occur to them until I stormed the BoE pointing it out. The fifth grade teachers get books, pens, paper, pipe cleaners and whatever the fuck they need, but when the foreigner begins asking where the card stock is to make materials they all just kind of blank out.

Then there’s schools like Nishi Sho, over in Kamogata. They get a certain budget for the entire school year up front. Then they hoarde their shit all year long, whining about any posters you print, or how many sheets of laminate you use. At the end of the year they have this one meeting where they discuss how awesome they are because they only used one tenth of the money they were given. They all high five each other, and go buy some random piece of expensive crap computer thing that they’ll never use, and then go to the BoE and are like ‘we used every last yen you gave us last year, we need that much again next year’. Seriously, the year I was at that school, they bought some ‘interactive white board’ that you can hook up to a laptop and use to give presentations or whatever. It cost like $8,000, and they’ve never used it once. It sits in a closet. Awesome, way to go.

So imagine that school, confronted by a teacher that doesn’t even teach at their school, wanting to make shit on their printer. This is the situation I’ve found myself in these last couple weeks. The school I’m at now doesn’t have a color printer, and the guy here before me didn’t have the balls to bumrush another school’s printer. He made shit using the photocopier, and colored it with crayons. That isn’t hyperbole for humor. That’s the real deal.

I have this theory, that if the materials are clean and organized, and the teacher has a certain energy level, class can be fun and engaging for the kids. I can only imagine the misery these kids went thru last year with Philip and his ‘cards’. He seriously probably did more harm than good.
My cards. Note the uniform size and shape.

So now I’ve been going to other schools, and printing shit on their super printers that they saved up all year for, and sucking up all of their ink. If they have a problem, I just tell them to call the BoE and pretty much ignore them. I haven’t been making a lot of friends at the other schools, but I don’t really care at this point.

I don’t do this for the BoE, or for the other teachers. I do it for the kids. The kids are awesome, and make it worthwhile. Yes, some of the kids are shits, but the ones that come up to me on the playground and try to talk to me using their new English, or try to teach me new Japanese during lunch, rule. If I have to piss off a few stingy principals to do my job then so be it. My classes this semester have to be twice as awesome as possible. Once just because my classes are awesome in general, but twice because I have to undo Philip’s year of hate and pain. I have to get the kids excited again about English, so when Peter rotates in behind me, he has energetic kids to teach, and stuff to teach them with.

Ugh. And yeah, Philip quit. No big loss. LoL.

Anyway, in addition to all of this drama, I’ve been getting ready to go home for a few weeks as well. From April 20th to May 5th, I’ll be going back to Cali to visit the folks. My fiancee and I are waiting to tell my parents about our engagement face to face (emailed marriage announcements just felt so lame), and we’re even smuggling another Japanese person along in our suitcase to liberate in the Promised Land. Actually, Mori’s friend just really wanted to go to America, so we were like, “Sure, why not?”

They apparently ‘want to see Hollywood’, so we’ll be doing the whole LA thing, too (I’m from the Oakland / Bay Area). I’ll be making my triumphant return to the internets in May, so don’t forget about ol’ Iso (and don’t cry for me, Argentina).

See y’all then.

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