Monday, April 11, 2005

New School Year

Last week the new school year started and it's been fun but tiring. Fourteen teachers left and fourteen new ones came to replace them, three of these switches were English teachers, which was half of the English staff. It's natural here to switch your school every five to seven years, I guess, and at least in this case we managed a good switch, I think. One of the new English teacher's came from the neighboring district where my friend Beth teaches, and the other two are twenty-somethings who have spent time living abroad in Canada and England. It's nice to have a couple more twenty-somethings to teach with, too, as most of the staff is in their late thirties and fourties. It's also nice to have a couple more people to work beside who have spent some time abroad. I think having that experience immediately changes how they interact with me, whereas an English speaker here who hasn't stepped foot outside of Japan (though still a pleasant interaction) is just different somehow. When I'm around Takada sensei (mid twenties, year in Canada) it actually feels like interacting with a Westerner sometimes. She lost most of her accent in that year and engages me in this physical way that I find really familiar. Today at lunch she squeezed my shoulder and said, "Hey, Chris," as she walked past with her tray, and Tadashi, one of my bad boys, was sitting across from me and said, "Chris, chris, your type? your type?" I teased him and nodded and he smiled really big and said, "My type too, shh, shh." Yamazaki sensei (late twenties, year in England) is all worried his British accent will throw the kids off, but I told him not to worry. What if they had to talk to a British person some day? I mean, they might as well be exposed to the different sounds of English. There's not just one kind out there, though it seems they favor American and Canadian accents here. In any case, I'm already liking the both of them and also all of our desks have been switched around in the office so I'm sitting next to Hiraga sensei, and he and I get a long great, so I'm happy to be next to him for the next year. Over the spring break he knew I didn't have any travel plans and called me a few times to have dinner, which was nice of him. We've already begun to teach alot together this year, and I like his classrooms a lot because he's so good with the kids, firm yet really encouraging. Most of the try hard for him.

With the coming of the new teachers, too, I've suddenly found myself speaking more and more Japanese to all of the sensei's. Takada and Yamazaki sensei are making sure I do more of that. I'm not sure why but the refresh of the new year and all the ceremony that goes along with teachers leaving and arriving here allowed me to feel like I could break out of my fear of talking in Japanese with some of the people I've known for the past eight months. I had had in my mind some sort of block, and so had they, this idea of myself when I arrived and couldn't communicate so well, that they just didn't know how far I'd come in seven months of intensive studying. So I've held entire conversations in Japanese with non-English speakers the past week and a half, and though I mess things up here and there, I'm not doing too bad. I was able to tell Mitsui sensei that when I talk to her I always think of my mother, which is something I've been wanting to tell her forever, but Mitsui sensei, who sits across from me and always tells me when she likes shirts and ties, often mumbles her Japanese and I've been afraid if I told her something she'd launch into a half-mumbled conversation that I couldn't then follow. So at the welcoming party for the new teachers I told her and she thought that was so cute and sweet she said, "Nihon no mama, ne!" I'm your Japanese mama, right!" Later Ikeda sensei, who kind of reminds me of my dad a little, asked me to sing karaoke with him, so we did "Let it Be" because the Beatles are huge here, don't you know, and he said, "This song, my life." That guy cracks me up so much. His father was a bald barber, so I told him I would never trust a bald barber, and he thought this could be a wise thing.

Still it's busy as hell here and last night I didn't sleep well and this morning there was an earthquake before I had to leave for work and it's been raining all day long. I also was just struck by the fact of how I just write sentences now where the phrase "and this morning there was an earthquake" is just lightly thrown in between breakfast and arriving at the school, as if I stopped off at 7/11 for a Coke before going on.

It's going to be a rough year. Takada sensei and Yamazaki sensei taught for the first time today (they don't have much teaching experience) and Yamazaki later said, "It's worse than you said it would be," and I felt kind of bad, because I knew he was going to find it rough going. He's teaching the new ninth graders this year and they are way behind and a hard group to teach. Totally not a good group to start out with. He's too nice and polite that they will probably walk all over him. But hopefully in a couple of months he'll get tired of it and start pushing back.

That's one of the problems with the Japanese public school system. Before the kids reach high school, they can't really be punished with things like dententions or out of school suspensions etc. Going to school up to the ninth grade is a right, not a privelege, here, and so it defangs the teachers in many ways. And parents here do not like their kids being scolded byt teachers, much the same as America these days, and yet then get on the teacher's case when they don't instill the proper values into their children. It's got to be one of the worst jobs, in this particular case, being a teacher in today's world where everyone wants you to raise their kid and yet won't let you have any power to discipline either. So in this case, here like in America, the kids can cause a lot of trouble, and until high school at least, they know they can get away with a lot. Luckily, for the most part, the kids at Edosaki are sweet, and we only have to deal with individual cases here and there. But from the sounds of it, a lot of schools become more difficult the closer they get to urban areas.

Anyway, I am so tired after a bad night's sleep that I think I will head to bed way early tonight and hope to wake up refreshed tomorrow morning without any earthquakes.


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