Monday, April 26, 2010


As I think I've mentioned before, the Japanese school year ends in March and begins in April. (No break for you, students!) At this time every year, teachers, office staff, and administrators may be transferred to different schools. It's not a guarantee but it seems that if you've been at a school for 3 years or more, the odds are good that you will have to move. People seem to get no say at all in where they're sent, though allegedly the higher powers at the BOE take commuting times into consideration.

Quite a few teachers I was friendly with had to go to new schools, unfortunately, and I haven't yet had enough time to get to know the teachers who replaced them, so work feels a little lonelier than before. One of the teachers who left sat next to me and would talk (and talk, and talk) to me every day, whereas now I am abutted by two non-English speakers, so I'm kind of unintentionally antisocial.

I also have new supervisors at both my home school and the blind school--the new guy at the blind school is fun because he's fresh out of college and energetic and isn't set in his ways about teaching at all, whereas the new woman at the high school has very specific (and in my opinion, boring) ideas about team teaching. Something JETs are continually forced to accept is that there is very little they can do to change the Japanese methods of teaching English... we aren't "real teachers" and we aren't in any way a long-term fixture in the system, so we kind of have to tag along and make the best of it most of the time. (The "methods" often involve rote memorization and repetition that I feel does nothing to actually teach English in a way applicable to real life... but maybe that will be another post.)

I think one of the major advantages of this transfer system is that no school will be stacked with amazing teachers where another one gets screwed--something you often see in the States, as seasoned teachers have the leverage to choose high performing schools in affluent areas, whereas newbies get sort of counter-intuitively dumped at failing schools in troubled areas, thus perpetuating the problems of said area. In Japan pretty much any school a student attends will more or less have the same quality of staff as all the others. While schools range from vocational to high academic, teachers can be placed anywhere in that range, regardless of their skills. It seems a pretty egalitarian system, but on a personal level I'd think as a teacher it probably feels really Big Brotherish in its elimination of any control you have over your professional life.

For JETs it's nice because we stay in the same place as long as the school doesn't cancel our contracts, so if we're stuck teaching with someone we hate we know it won't last forever, and we get to try a variety of teaching styles based on who we work with each year. But right now I definitely feel the same awkwardness I experienced when I first came, before I got to know some of the teachers here and the rhythm of each day became more natural--I'm back in the sticking out like a sore thumb mode of being the clueless foreigner who hardly knows anyone.

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