Posted in Teaching Things

To the “Ha-Fu” Students:

It will always bother me that you are called “half,” because to me it almost sounds like you’re being called half a person. It bothers me that you’re not “Japanese enough” to be called Japanese, even though you were born and raised here. I see the teachers and other students treat you differently, because you’re different.

The United States has its form of racism, and nowadays often violent and in your face types of racism. In Japan, racism is generally subversive. It’s brushed off, excused, and even defended by the people who love the country so much they don’t wish to hear a bad word ever said about Nippon. But the way you get treated is a form of racism, and I’d be blind not to see it.

I lost one of you this year to hateful and racist bullying. It wasn’t violent in physicality, but it was awful nonetheless. A group of boys yelled at you, made fun of your last name, over and over in the cafeteria until you cried. Apparently, it wasn’t the first time they’d done it, but it was the last time you were going to take it. You transferred out, moving onto a school that might do better by you. I hope you’re happier there.

I’ll never forget you, the girl who showed me her speech about coming over from China. I read in horror as you told the story of coming into the school (before my time) and you were bullied so bad that you got your arm broken. You were so proud that you eventually became friends with the classmate who broke your arm.

Meanwhile, I was furious for you. I wanted to find the principal and punch him for letting it happen to you, for allowing your abuser to continue coming to this school, for the adults who didn’t make an appearance in your story. Odds are, it’s because they didn’t do enough for you, and thus were relegated to footnotes in your story.

I have an unpopular opinion here in Japan, one I don’t share much because some people would get so offended they’d go into a blind rage. Here it is:

There is no pure human anything. I don’t know how people delude themselves into the idea that genetics works by land mass alone. Neither country of birth nor skin tone dictates anyone’s superiority or inferiority.

None of the people who bullied you were pure Japanese, but they were taught they were by parents and grandparents. And until they take a scientific DNA test to discover the Russian/Korean/Chinese/Taiwanese, hiding within them, they’ll never believe they are anything but Japanese. And it’s so sad you have to suffer through that lie.

I see how even Native English teachers will call the students “ha-fu,” and I know I’ve been guilty of it more than once. I try my best not to feed into this idea, because I’ve seen the hurt it causes. There’s even “positive racism” that comes from this societal misconstruction that bother me.

I see how it’s assumed you’ll know English better, like it’s in your genetics to know English. Never mind that some of you are “half” Russian and Japanese, or “half” Spanish and Japanese, or “half” Mexican and Japanese, etc. Still, you are lighter skinned, and thus the burden of English and foreign cultural knowledge falls on your shoulders. It’s not fair you get that added pressure.

And I’ve seen how “half” Korean, “half” Chinese, and “half” Filipino kids don’t get hold to this same standard. They will “pass” as Japanese, and so aren’t expected to be great at English or foreign languages. They also don’t get picked on as much, don’t get treated differently by teachers, as well as get the added benefits of it being “assumed” they are Japanese.

When these kids get older, they won’t be accosted by cops demanding for a citizenship check. They won’t have to prove to their employer time and again that they “really do” know Japanese. They won’t have to validate their existence in Japan.

Because here’s the most racist thing about it all: If you can “look Japanese,” then you’re not “ha-fu” to most Japanese people. The homogeneity is only skin deep, you might say. If I were to put pictures of a Chinese exchange student, and then of a “half” American and Japanese student, and ask the question, “Who is Japanese?” It’s obvious who they would pick. It’s all boiled down to who looks the most like us, and not “genetics” at all.

It drives me crazy to see it happen to you. I try my best to treat you like the typical high school students you are, like you’re just another kid in class. I don’t put extra pressure on you to answer questions, I don’t force you to do the example sentences, I endeavor each time to just treat you as another Japanese student. Emphasis on the Japanese, there.

I wish I could make Japan see you as Japanese. It would be great to see society accept you better as the years go on, as the “trend” of more and more foreigners entering Japan means more and more intermingled genetics. The definition of “Japanese” is going to have to change, the identity of being “Japanese” having less to do with looks.

I hope it does anyway. See, if I’m still here with a child, I don’t want them to experience this kind of treatment. I don’t want my children to be treated like outsiders my the majority of people they know and meet. I want them to be accepted and loved for all that they are, and I would love for them to be just “Japanese.”

And for what it’s worth, I do think of you all as Japanese, even if no one else in Japan might.

Posted in Teaching Things

To The Students Who “Hate” English:

Guess what? It’s fine. Really, it’s fine you don’t like English, and that you put in as little effort as possible into the subject. Honestly, I hated math class, and I made sure to choose a path that didn’t depend on it for my future career. And when it comes to language skills? It can be tricky.

Some people can soak up new words like a sponge, grammar changes don’t bother them at all, and speaking with the right intonation is second nature. I want you to know, I don’t measure your English skills by that genius scale, as it wouldn’t be fair to you at all. I want you to improve at your own pace, learn what you can as best you can, and I try to make sure your grades reflect that improvement (or let’s be honest in some cases, lack thereof).

And here’s why: I recognize that many students might end up using nearly none of the English I’ve taught them. Maybe occasionally you’ll speak English directions to a tourist or something, but for the most part I don’t honestly see most of you becoming fluent. That’s not a bad thing, though. If you live the rest of your life with only basic English, that’s probably all you’ll need to get a standard “salaryman/salarywoman” (I’m aware they’re called office ladies in Japanese, I don’t care, both sexes get salaries, deal with it).

I do try to encourage you to know as much English as possible because there will come a day when you want to go higher. If a promotion comes up, and it’s between someone who knows only a little English and someone who speaks it fluently, you’re not going to get it. Unfortunately, the fact is whether a company is international or not they’ll always choose higher fluency English speakers over even the most dedicated worker. You’re probably thinking right now, “Oh, I’ll just work at a small company in town, so I’ll never have to worry about it!”

Well, it’s not just big companies anymore, it’s a national trend for all company sizes. You will be at a disadvantage, and it’s going to be so expensive later to get caught up. I used to work at Coco Juku, and I taught several business people who couldn’t go any further without a certain TOEIC score. They paid so much money to come to our eikaiwa to re-learn everything they were taught in middle and high school. It was not easy for them to do it, between a full time job and a family, it was such a struggle for them. I don’t want you to be that adult, to be the one struggling and paying through the nose for lessons, living in regret that you didn’t pay attention in class.

Maybe you don’t want to work in a company at all, though, or maybe you don’t want to be a higher up. Just a steady income would be all you need to be happy, maybe a few hobbies or sports on the side. No English required for a part time job, right? I want to say that’s fine, that if you’re happy that’s all that matters. I don’t want you to choose that path just because you don’t like English, though, I want you to think it through and decide because that’s the best path for you.

Consider why you hate English, too. Is it because it’s too difficult? Consider finding ways to make English less difficult. Watch English movies, listen to English music, read fiction in English, get away from the government approved textbooks. I hate the textbooks, too, don’t worry. Try to learn in different ways from the input and repeat cycle you’ve got in school.

Do you hate English because you’ve no interest in America? Consider researching about other countries that speak English. America is not the center of the Western world (as much as it really wants to be). I love Ireland, personally, it’s a really pretty country. Australia is a popular spot for Japanese tourists. Fine somewhere you can get interested in and connect with instead of just America.

If you just hate English just because, then consider thinking about learning a different language instead. Chinese and Korean translators are also in high demand. China is better in terms of reading and writing thanks to kanji, but the Korean grammar structure is similar to Japanese (and doesn’t have the super strict intonation rules of Chinese). When you have another language under your belt, you’ll have more options available to you, and I want you to have those options.

At the same time, I would rather you try to struggle through the English (or other language) basics now rather than regret not knowing them later. Trust me, it’s so much harder to find the time and energy to learn languages when you’re nearing thirty.

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I speak from the pain of experience! 

So I’ll badger and pester you every class to learn, emphasis on speaking English rather than reading and writing. I want you to get used to communicating with people face-to-face in another language. I want you to go as far as you dream, and the odds are good you’ll need English to do it.

On a slightly different note, here is another way to think about it: Japan speaks Japanese, but using Japanese to get around in other countries? Few and far between. English is useful worldwide (except in Canada, they don’t care for it), so if you want to ever leave Japan be sure to at least know some English to get out there! Although Spanish and French are pretty useful too, English is already taught in your schools. After all, our world is becoming more and more of an international community as time goes on, and I want you to be a part of it.

I want so much for you, and I worry that your dislike of English will prevent you from having what you need or want. But who knows what the future really holds? I’ll keep trying to help you learn English, even if you don’t like it, because it’s too important for me not to try.

Even if you fight me every step of the way, I’m not giving up on you.

 

 

Posted in Teaching Things

To the “Good” Students:

I see a lot of myself in you. Studying hard, reading books, obedient to teachers, standards held high by yourself, and already as stressed out as any adult. You’re constantly putting the pressure on your shoulders to succeed, and academic success is what matters in school. Top priority always and forever!

And here’s me telling you it’s ok to relax. I know you’re thinking about how to compete against the best, how you’re going to try to get into Waseda or some other top tier university, but you’re going to miss out on other opportunities if you only focus on the future. It won’t hurt to take a night off, go see a movie, go sing at karaoke, find yourself something fun to do.

Because you’ll have so much time later to be serious, you’ll have to be actually, so take the chances you get now to learn other things. Get to know your friends more, start figuring out how to be a good team player, join a club that’s not academic oriented (art club is always a good one that isn’t sports), and just don’t allow yourself to go too deep into your headspace.

I worry about you, because I remember being like you. I remember staying up nights crying and miserable because I couldn’t get the math problems right, and I hated myself so much for never being the perfect student. Don’t be hard on yourself like I was, don’t wrap up your whole identity in grades and scores. Those sheets of paper aren’t going to make or break your future, you’re going to succeed regardless.

See, you’ve already got most of the best adult features down. You learn and don’t need to be told twice to do something. You push yourself to improve instead of other people making you better. At any job you go into, you’ll be fine because no one will have to hover over your shoulder or threaten to fire you if you don’t do your job. You’ve already got that “can-do” attitude they’re always looking for in any field.

Just don’t fall into that comparison trap, comparing yourself to other people you think are doing “better” than you. No one is perfect, and you don’t need to be number one to get into any university. You just have to do your best, but not at the cost of braking yourself to accomplish it. If even your best isn’t enough, then go for something else, and change your ideas for your future.

It’s ok to change course, by the way, it’s not failure to decide you’re not going to some fancy private school. You choose the best path for you, not some imaginary perfect person’s future, but your own dreams and goals. Take some time to think, experience new things, travel around if you can, discover what inspires you.

If you spend all your time at school and home, you’ll never know what you’re meant to do or to become. You’ll just get trapped in this endless cycle of overworking, over studying, and over doing it all without a clear reason for why. Maybe your parents are wanting you to be a doctor, but is that what you want? Maybe you are forcing yourself to become a salaryman, but is that what you want?

Don’t spend 18+ years working for something, only to discover as soon as you’re out on your own that’s not what you’re meant for, and that you’re now drifting directionless. Instead, start looking for what you want, and start working toward that instead. Gain focus and clarity, not just more A’s for a transcript.

Of course good grades are what parents and teachers want to see, but that doesn’t mean they should mean everything to you. Please, take care of yourself, and give yourself more than just tests as a degree of self worth.

You’re already worthy just as you are.

Posted in Teaching Things

To the Students I Disappointed:

In my first year, I had no idea what I was doing. I had taken one semester of an education course before heading off into the JET Program to be an ALT. I know for a fact that I messed up a lot, and I might’ve even hurt some of you in the process without even realizing it.

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I never wanted to be a teacher. I fully intended to be something else, a writer of some sort. Yes, I was that type of English major, the snobby one with elitist ideals about writing short stories and novels for a living. But then I got hugely discouraged half way through university. I was told my writing was mediocre, that it lacked substance. Most of my writing coaches and teachers informed me with kind words that my stylistic choices were not good. I was encouraged by friends to keep going, but when you’re told often enough by your perceived “superiors” that what you write isn’t good enough, well, you kind of start to believe them.

I still kind of do, it’s a hurdle to get over.

But this isn’t about me, it’s about you, it’s always been about you. From the moment I got off that plane to this very day, I do everything I can to be a good teacher. I am human though, so I’ve made several mistakes, some of them obvious and some of them not.

I’m awful at remembering names, so I’ll apologize for getting names wrong a thousand times. It wasn’t you, I just had two junior high schools and two elementary schools to visit during the JET Program. To my current students, I teach over a thousand of you, I just don’t have the brain capacity for it. If you ever thought I didn’t care about you because I didn’t remember your name, that’s just not true. I’ll remember everything else: your club, your dreams for the future, that time you threw an eraser at my head at lunchtime trying to hit your friend, that time you scared me with a fake spider in class, I will know you. I’m just the worst with names, sorry if I ever hurt your feelings because of it.

I’m sorry for the times I promised something and had to rescind my promise. Sometimes I’d say yes to something, only to find out later that there were school rules against it. For example, some of you wanted to go to my apartment, where I used to live just across the street. I said sure, and you were excited, but then I discovered it wasn’t allowed anymore (A teacher had an affair with a student at their house…so no more of that). And there were other times I would plan for a big, cool project and I’d give it to you all, but then I’d run out of time or money to make it happen. I wanted to make you all English pamphlets once for a class, but I couldn’t, so we did something else. I hated myself for a while for that one.

I know I’ve also hurt feelings due to the language barrier. Sometimes you all would get so frustrated and upset because I couldn’t understand you, and you wanted to tell me something heartfelt, but couldn’t. We would both try, but sometimes communication would just break down. Nowadays, I’m usually never without my cell phone nearby for emergency translation, but back then I didn’t. Whatever you wanted to tell me, I’m sorry I never got to hear it.

Often, I would also feel so helpless as an ALT. As I mentioned in a previous letter, when I would know that a student had a learning disability or some kind of behavior problem, I didn’t know what to do. I would ask the teachers to do something, try to maybe talk with a counselor about it, but I remember one student simply transferred out of my school because of all the problems. To this day I still regret that I couldn’t do something to help you, even though I know that wasn’t my job, and that I did all I could with the knowledge I had at the time. Still, I hate failing any of you.

I’m also sorry about how awkward I generally am as a person. See, in my first year, I was so tense about being a foreigner in a new country, I didn’t quite get how to just relax to get to know you (or just others in general). I didn’t really open myself up and chat with you all outside of class as much as I should’ve, and thus you didn’t get to practice as much as you should’ve. Every year I got more and more confident about it, and now I feel like I’ve bonded with more than a few students at my current high school. All the same, I’m sorry for the ones I was too awkward and shy around at first.

I’ve also done that unfortunate mistake of punishing the wrong person. Once, some kids threw a pencil case, and I took it, not realizing it was a bullying tactic. I made a girl cry, and even though I returned it, I still feel awful about helping bullies to bully in any way shape or form. I made sure they got told off by the homeroom teacher, but I made you cry and that’s not okay. Another time I took a boy’s pencil because his friends were trying to stab each other with it, so I took it and yelled at the wrong kid for it. Apologies, I made a big error there. And there are more, with details I can’t remember. Trust me, I will feel awful about these incidents until the day I die.

For my high school students, I’ve been pretty good about being more outgoing and personable, but I’m still making mistakes with you. For you, I worry so much about making mistakes with the class, because I will only have you once a week for speaking lessons. I know for a fact that I’ll mess up on intonation or spelling, and it matters so much more with you because you have university exams which could determine what job you get, and thus the rest of your life! Trust me when I say for all that I appear nonchalant in the class, I’ll be panicking about lesson plans behind the scenes, and grades, and scores, and-! Everything with you matters, and that’s why I’ll just go ahead and apologize for…everything and anything.

And finally, I’m sorry I got sick a lot. Sometimes you all would wonder about why I might miss class some days, and that’s because I’ve got a terrible case of I.B.S.  Due to this chronic stomach problem, I can sometimes eat food and then get super sick. This sickness will in turn make it hard for me to leave the house some days (I could be spending hours at home in pain and running to the bathroom). It’s not fun, and sometimes it just goes off for no real reason.

I never really told most of you because, well, I didn’t know how to explain it in Japanese. Only about a year ago did I find a doctor with medicine that makes me feel somewhat normal again, so I’m not missing classes like I used to, but it’s still a hard battle to fight.

Some of you thought I was just unhappy living in Japan, but that’s not true at all. I love Japan, and I love my work (like 95% of the time). It’s just that I’ve never been in perfect health, so it’s not your fault or the school’s fault, it’s my body’s fault. I do what I can to keep it regulated, but sometimes that doesn’t work.

That’s not nearly everything I feel bad about, but I’ve always been hard on myself. Just in general, I’ve never felt like I was the best teacher. I cared, but I wasn’t well trained for it with any certifications. I winged it as best as I could, I gained experience until I eventually got comfortable in the role, but at the expense of you all having a bumbling teacher. If I could go back in time, knowing what I know now, I would go back to the start of JET to be a better teacher. I would like to think I wasn’t the worst teacher, or a particularly bad one, but definitely not anyone’s top ten favorites most likely.

Please don’t think too badly of me, I did try my best. I hope the ones that I’ve wronged can forgive me, and I want all of you to succeed regardless of my influence. After all, I was not the only English teacher you’ve ever had, so hopefully your other teachers inspired you more, taught you with better explanations, and did good by you. I’m sure there are professors out there ready and willing to give you the guidance you need.

Maybe I’m too hard on myself, maybe I’m not as bad as I think I am, but I would rather admit my failings than pretend I had none. I would rather learn from my past rather than ignore it or never change my methods.

If nothing else, maybe I am a good teacher in that I refuse to let myself stagnate, instead continuing to improve as time goes on, because I was influenced by all of you.

 

Posted in LGBTQ in Japan, Teaching Things

To the LGBTQIA+ Students:

Hi, so I’m Bi-sexual. Yep, the rumors were true kids. If some of you asked, I was honest, but I didn’t volunteer that information much. Some of you told me in whispers that you were girls that like girls or boys who liked boys, and I was always supportive of you. However, there were so many of you still in the closet, might still be. This letter is more for you than for the others, but I think both of you could benefit from it.

 

I wanted to tell you all that I supported you 100% for whatever partner(s) you chose for yourself. The road can be hard and long to finding love, but trying to find love in the conservative inaka where you’re not sure you can be yourself around anyone, that’s a lot harder than the average straight love. I would say to you now to go to LGBT Youth Japan to connect with people like yourself online, so you know for a fact you’re not alone in your struggles.

You deserve to be treated equally and fairly. I would be an idiot to think none of you were bullied for it when I wasn’t looking. No one should bear the burden of senseless hatred and malice. If you were bullied or cast out for being yourself, I’m so sorry. It’s not your fault. You’re worthy of love and acceptance, let no one else make you think otherwise.

On that scary note, I do want to encourage you to try to come out to people you trust. It’s better for friends to know who you really are, because only true friends will love you for all that you are. I told some of my friends in Ibaraki, and of course some understood and some didn’t. Most of those friends, though, tried to pretend I was just kidding or didn’t know what I was saying. But there was a solid mix of Japanese and international friends who accepted me, and I chose them over the others as my other family.

Find the people who will accept you, not tolerate or begrudgingly “put up” with your queerness, but celebrate it as a part of you. Life is too short to waste it trying to make narrow minded people happy. You shouldn’t have to drain your emotional energy on people who will never see you as the wonderful person you are. Instead, find the ones who are open minded, who will boost you up and lift your spirits when you feel down. It’s the most important thing to me, that you are happy and with people who make you happy.

There are actually several different groups you can find online if you don’t feel comfortable coming out just yet. Nijiro Gakkou (NPO法人にじいろ学校) is another organization more focused for students in general. If you are all in university by this point, that would be a better group for you. If you would like to join a more international crowd, there is Stonewall Japan  which is the organization I’m currently affiliated with as it is the most English friendly. There is also a queer friendly media news outlet called Out In Japan if you want to find good articles to help you with your journey of self discovery.

In hindsight, I wonder if I should’ve been more open for all of you. Maybe I should’ve worn more rainbow ribbons? Maybe I should’ve pushed for more posters or materials of acceptance around the schools? I wonder these things because I know for a fact that there were more of you than I knew. So many of you were in the closet, hiding who you were, bidding your time until university when you could be yourselves.

But also looking back, I know that in telling those other students and my few co-workers probably meant that everyone knew. I mean, if everyone knew I was going to the grocery store on Saturdays, it’s ridiculous to think information like my sexuality somehow didn’t spread like wildfire. I hope at the very least I wasn’t a disappointing role model for being queer, somehow.

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It also soothes my soul that I know I was donating, volunteering, and doing things for the community whenever I had time. If you’re ever at the Tokyo Rainbow Pride events, you’ll find me there until I leave the country. I will always be a body there to count among the thousands in support of LGBTQIA+ equal rights. I’ll always march for it, for you, in the hopes that one day you’ll get those rights.

With each passing year LGBTQIA+ rights are improving, slowly but surely. Same sex marriages still aren’t legal, but Shibuya and Osaka are allowing for certificates. It gives me hope for the future, for those of you who would want to have a wife or husband who is the same gender as you, or a transperson, or intersex, just so long as you’re both consenting adults. Everyone deserves the equal right to marry the person they love.

I hope you will have that happiness, you deserve it.

 

 

 

Posted in Teaching Things

To the “Bad” Students:

“Bad” is an awful and vague term. I’ve honestly never thought you were “bad.” Lazy maybe, sure, or unmotivated, burnt out, or exhausted because your Dad drinks too much so you can’t get home until he’s asleep. Yeah, I knew about that. You probably assumed I didn’t because I always treated you like everyone else, but I always know about you.

I know about the girls who wear make-up and date because they think their only option after school is to get married. You gave up on school a long time ago when the teachers gave up on you. I know about the boys who punch other boys because that’s all they’ve known at home. All the anger and frustration of knowing you’re fighting everything on your own. I know that your stained uniform is never gonna get fixed or replaced because it’s the only one you could afford. I know about you, and I see you.

I also know about the ones who can’t even afford Daiso notebooks and pens, so you’re constantly “borrowing” my pens and notebooks. It’s fine, I know you’re never giving them back, I would rather you keep and have them. Don’t feel bad about it. If you need those to get through school, by all means, take what you need from me.

See, now you’re not a thief, because I gave all those to you. I know you didn’t or couldn’t ask because you were scared to do it in the class in front of all your friends. That’s ok kids, I get it. School can be hell and your friends will do anything for a laugh. Like I said, take what you need.

I remember the girls I’ve found crying. I’m sorry I caught you when you were sobbing because you were failing classes, not because you weren’t trying, but instead because you obviously had a learning disability that no one could be bothered to help you with. I’m also sorry it was my first year teaching and I didn’t know how to help you. You weren’t stupid and you weren’t an idiot. Don’t call yourself one, love yourself for doing the best you can.

I remember the boys I found crying. I’m sorry that your homeroom teacher is an asshole and never gives you a break. Yes, you get into trouble, but treating every single situation like you’re the worst kid he’s ever met wasn’t the way to go about changing your behavior. I’m glad you let me hug you, even if I couldn’t explain at the time that middle school isn’t the rest of your life. I hope you’re okay in a university somewhere now. Don’t let that one bullying jerk dictate who you are.

I remember the girl who yelled at Miss K.N. in English class and made her cry. Don’t think I didn’t notice that you had a tear stained face later in the day too, and don’t think I didn’t know it’s because Dad left and Mom just didn’t want to deal with your emotions. Remember when I told you I’m a kid of divorce too? Remember me trying to tell you that adults are just people, none of them are perfect? It’s ok if you don’t.

I also wanted to say that I understood you didn’t trust adults anymore. It’s shocking to realize when you’re so young that the people you trust the most can betray and hurt you like that. I’m glad by the end of the year you and Miss K.N. were on better terms, and I’m glad you tried to talk to me in English more. Don’t be afraid to trust people.

I remember the boy who I kept after school nearly every day last year. I remember lecturing and lecturing you, keeping you there for a good hour once to prove a point, and the whole time you kept calling yourself stupid. And I kept telling you no you weren’t, you were the victim of a Japanese system that never required you to put what you know into practice. So we practiced, and practiced, and practiced, until you got that damn 95 on your final. Kid, I can’t tell you how proud I was. You weren’t stupid, and I knew it. Don’t call yourself dumb.

And to the boy who I ripped into in the middle of class last year, I had to yell at you then. I had to force you into the main office. You don’t know this yet, but you can’t be that guy. You have no bad home life, you come from a place of privilege and prestige. Your background is just an endless list of tournament wins and schools looking the other way when you act like a jerk. I had to shut that down, because in middle school it might’ve been cute, but in a university it would get you kicked out. You were spoiled, you still kind of are, so I had to be that bad guy because no one else had ever bothered to tell you that the real world doesn’t like entitled jerks. I’m glad you shaped up, and I’m glad you’re being a good senpai to the first years.

For some of you I was an ALT, the weird foreign teacher, emphasis on the foreign. I could hear you sometimes calling me names in Japanese. I didn’t get mad at you because I didn’t understand, I know what メス犬 means and I know that you’ll call me 外人 instead of 外国人 on purpose with a smile, I know that you think you’re being edgy. The fact is though your racism isn’t your own at this point, it’s just you parroting what you’re hearing at home. You look at me see a person who is just too different to comprehend, and you’re just calling me names because you don’t know how to handle this difference. I didn’t want to yell at you and be an angry person at the time because didn’t want to reinforce the stereotypes of us being the angry foreigners with you.

Besides, I tattled to your homeroom teachers every time you did it, so if you assumed all this time it was someone else in your class. Nope, it was probably me. So that after school extra cleaning you got? Present from me. I hope you enjoyed it. It’s been several years since then, I hope you’ve come to realize foreigners are human on the same level as you, that we’re all just basically the same species trying to find meaning in our lives somehow. I hope you’re not in one of those black vans blaring “GAJIN GO HOME!” slogans, but instead taking your American co-worker out to lunch.

You see kids, to me I never had any “bad” students. There was always a reason for you acting out, and believe me I wanted to do more for you. But then again, how arrogant is it of me to think I could’ve solved every single one of your problems? How utterly white saviour of me to think that I should even think I knew better than your other teachers? I’ll never really know, but I do know this much: You are not bad students, you are not bad kids.

You’re utterly normal.

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Letters to My Students: Introduction

When it comes to teaching, there is a lot that I can’t say to my students in a classroom. I teach them English, try to encourage and motive them to improve in it, and in the end just try my best to make sure their grades reflect their efforts. So much gets left unsaid, either because there just isn’t enough time to talk about certain things, or because it’s not appropriate to get into [that specific conversation] in the class.

With the added challenge in my case of language barriers, my Japanese students sometimes don’t really understand what I’m trying to say anyway. They’ll just nod their heads and smile when I’m trying to have a Robin Williams carpe diem moment. It’s tough trying to be some kind of “inspirational” role model like person when your students can’t speak your language well.

It sucks because I feel as if sometimes they don’t get how much I care, or they just assume that English teachers aren’t invested in them as much as Japanese teachers. Sometimes that can be the case, there are many ALTs who come here for the vacation experience and not the work. I’m not one of them, never was, but I think my students would assume so until they got know me.

I’ve written one letter before to my Junior High School girls when I lived in Ibaraki, but I always meant to write more. I’ve filled pages of notebooks with things I’ve wanted to say to so many students. I think it’s about time I do it.