Posted in cultural differences, Teaching Things

On Making Sick Kids Go to Class

If I was ever to do a “Ten Things I Hate About Japan” video, for the most part I would just spend 8 out of those 10 things complaining about the summer and the summer heat. #1: The fucking humidity, #2: The fucking heat  #3: THE HELLFIRE COMBINATION OF THEM BOTH-!

I’d figure it out. But until then, I do know one particular aspect of Japan that drives me up the wall: forcing sick kids to go to school / class.

One my students today came in- let’s call him Nashi – coughing up a lung before he even walked in the door.

“Hey, are you ok?” I asked him in English.

He responded with, “I have kaze.

Kaze is Japanese for “a cold.”

I sighed and let him in. Nashi coughed and coughed throughout the whole class. He could hardly breathe. Every single time he tried to talk he would have a fit. On top of that, his twin sister – let’s call her Natsu – was in the beginning stages of his sickness getting passed to her. Both of them proceeded to spend most of that class time DYING from coughing and coughing and coughing.

For some reason their mom prepped Natsu with a water bottle, but Nashi got nothing! I actually stopped the class about ten minutes in to grab some water for him so he could at least attempt to get through class without coughing his voice raw.

This is a class of four students, so that meant 50% of my class was sick. Because I’ve been in very similar situations before, I’m predicting the other two kids are gonna get sick. Both of them will still come to class. Fast forward to three weeks later, and I’ll be sick.

As Nashi and Natsu left I asked them, “Where is your mom?”

“Oh,” Nashi said as he sipped on the water I gave him, “she’s at home. She’s making dinner.”

And I couldn’t help it, I got a bit judgmental. So a stay at home mother just forced her sick kids into a closed in space with me and two other much younger kids? And she also forced them to go to school? I didn’t say anything, I just gave them stickers, told them to take care, and off they went.

This aspect of Japanese culture is perhaps the one aspect I cannot tolerate very well. In the United States, if a kid has a fever, they stay the hell home. At least in my generation, anyway. We don’t force kids to fight through fevers and coughing to show up to class miserable. I’ve heard that nowadays some schools have ridiculous absentee rules, but back in my day (she said like a granny) the kids stayed home to get better and then come back to school healthy. This way the germs didn’t spread around to half the school population and take out the whole class with a sickness.

In Japan, if you’re still able to lift your head and not pass out, you’re going to school. Even with fevers, I saw my high school kids come into my classroom with glazed over eyes and obvious red cheeks that signify “I am super sick, yo, someone take me home!” But they would only maybe go to the nurse’s office to sleep for an hour and then right back into the next class!

Technically, if you have a fever of over 40 degrees Celsius you should go home, but I’ve seen kids be throwing up with no temperature to match. It’s crazy to me that at so young an age kids are already being trained to kill themselves for the sake of school and then work. Health should take priority over one day of school, right?

I don’t know, maybe I am “too American” in this mindset, but I feel like science would also support my idea? Stress is considered a strong factor in keeping a sickness lasting longer than it normally would. Wounds are shown to heal slower if someone is stressed versus staying in bed. Not to mention that Japan already has a problem with stressing their children into becoming hikikomori – wherein a person wants to stay inside and never leave their house due to overwhelming anxiety.

In addition to all that, making children go to classes and school while sick is actually the opposite of the collectivist outward thinking of other people that Japan usually prides itself on.  The sickness will always spread to another person, regardless of face masks being used or not. Whether it’s the student in class or the teacher or someone on the street/in the train/on the bus, you get the idea.

So really, forcing them to go to class doesn’t really help anyone. It doesn’t help the kids, it just keeps them sicker for longer. The sickness always spreads to other kids, and to teachers. Therefore, it’s not helpful, it’s detrimental in every conceivable way.

The only argument “for it” bothers me. “Well, when they grow up, they’ll have to go to work sick too!”

But once again, science kind of says otherwise. Until you’re about 18-21 years old, your immune system isn’t developed enough to handle viruses like a fully grown adult’s body. That’s why we need kids vaccinated for the flu: they can literally DIE from strands of that yearly virus, unlike a healthy adult that can bounce back from it.

Demanding that children perform to the same expectations as an adult seems a bit of a ridiculously impossible expectation. Kids’ bodies just are not developed enough to handle the bombardment of illnesses and stress all at once.

I don’t really have any solutions to give here, I’m just a foreigner with an outsider perspective, but I worry, I really worry about my kids. Be they Nashi and Natsu who are only nine years old with colds to my high school teens with obvious flu-like symptoms, I worry about what kind of message they are learning from being forced into class and school with a sickness.

Because perhaps the thing that bother me the most is the underlying message, that your well being doesn’t matter as much as what you’re supposed to accomplish. Sacrificing your health, your wellness, your mental strength, all for the sake of…what? What does it really do for kids but set them up to feel like their wellness and health don’t matter? Not in comparison to the things they’re supposed to get done. Tests, exams, tests, exams, studying, studying, studying, all for the sake of the exams!

I don’t know, it just seems like prioritizing exams and tests over kids health is such a bad way to go all around. Once again, I’m coming from a different generation and from another country, so maybe I’m wrong. Still, I think it’s not just a cultural difference at play, there’s also a kind of cultural dissonance too. I’m sure that the kids will be alright, but I worry what it does to them.

After all, I’m a teacher, that’s kind of part of my job.

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Posted in Teaching Things

On Eikaiwa Schedules

Now that I’m back in the eikaiwa schedule, let’s talk about a few things real quick, mainly about how the irregularity of these schedules can be maddening.

I understand that everyone gets the warning in the application process that some people will get more hours than others, and that some days will be more busy than others. But holy hell, man, sometimes when I get home I’m just EXHAUSTED. And it occurs to me as I sit at home eating crap food because I feel like crap that these schedules are so freakin’ weird.

I get some of the schedule irregularities. It’s business and customer service oriented, so when we do taiken (trail) lessons then we need to set aside time for those. Alright, fine enough. But then there are times when I’m working a day of back-to-back classes and I go, “Gee, wonder why this turnover rate is so damn high?!”

I can understand wanting to keep customers happy, so you prioritize their time over the employees. But I also don’t understand why you’d fail so hard at scheduling things that your employees end up wanting to quit.

My hard day is Saturday, where-in I teach four back-to-back classes in the morning. This wouldn’t kill me if it weren’t for the following classes in the afternoon, which are all kids group classes. Young kids, as in toddlers and elementary school kids. The amount of energy required to “teach” them, as in play in English with them, is more than the energy I actually have in a week.

This particular schedule has cycled through three other people before me, all of whom based on those who worked with them, also hated the schedule. It was apparently a factor in one person leaving.

And I know for a fact many eikaiwas do this practice of impossible workloads with demanding time constraints because god forbid we pay you a full lunch hour instead of the allotted forty five or actually give you overtime hours for doing extra prep.

Nope, gotta keep them labor costs down.

I get that owning a business is difficult, keeping customers must be a difficult endeavor, but consistently making impossible schedules isn’t going to fix those problems. Making schedules that give little to no prep time means that students get little to no quality in classes, it means teachers having little to no energy to get through the day, it means students leaving because they’re paying for these lessons and they want good quality for what they pay.

In the case of this Saturday schedule, they’ve added more children into my toddler class. I can already foretell a trend of adding more students into other classes of mine. I guess that’s because I do good demos, perhaps because my class times are more convenient for moms. But a really obvious solution, one would think, is instead of adding more students into an already full-ish class or shoving make-up students all into this particular day, would be instead to hire one more teacher for the school.

But we can’t because gotta keep those labor costs down, right?

It drives me crazy to think about how often these schedules happen in eikaiwa work, and they’re needlessly bad. If you can tell on paper that a schedule is causing a turnover, then maybe it might be a good idea to, I dunno, fix it?

Or even prevent it from happening! “Prevention is worth a pound of cure,” is a quote I often think about when it comes to problem solving. If you already tell there’s going to be a problem, then do your best to prevent it from happening, and maybe you’ll be better off for it. It’s simple, but in the eikaiwa industry they often seem to shoot themselves in the foot and ruin good instructors by demanding too much with harsh schedules.

Essentially in giving instructors enough time to plan, enough time between classes for set-up, and that forty five minute break, the quality of lessons will be better. It seems like common sense, and yet I saw this in Coco Juku before this current eikaiwa. Schedules are often designed on some days to simply cram as many students in as possible. Once again, I understand the need for a customer base, but if you have more customers than instructors for classes, that’s an over-extension of resources no matter how you look at it.

Now in fairness I’m actually really, really lucky. My boss chose schools that were close to my apartment, so I’m not spending two hours on a train to go to and from a school. My Monday through Thursday hours aren’t back-to-back madness at all, mainly because I get a full hour of prep on these days. These schedules are well designed to maintain a regular customer base.

But all too often the consistent customer base isn’t a part of the “quotas” and “targets” of an eikaiwa school. Constant customer growth is higher on the ladder. Quotas and targets won’t keep customers coming back, instructors do. Allowing the system to ruin instructors is how eikaiwas go under, just look at NOVA for that reminder. Push people too hard and something will give, be it in the form of a one month notice or a lawsuit or an angry tirade on a blog…

I’m well aware that this post won’t really solve anything. I’ve already spoken with several people about the harshness of that Saturday, and everyone basically shrugs their shoulders and says, “Yeah, Saturdays man,” and go on with their lives. Also, it’s not like one day out of the week is gonna make me quit (lived in Japan for seven years now, please, I’ll be here a while longer).

And yet, I worry about the new people, the ones who came half way across the world to be instructors and might have way worse schedules. I worry about my friends who talk about their eikaiwa work where they get zero personal days, just days without pay, sometimes even a whole unpaid summer. Instructors in the eikaiwa industry have little incentive to stay loyal with any company what-so-ever, scheduling is just one of many factors that bothers me about this work.

Once again, I’m lucky. I work for a company with personal days, paid leave, insurance, so the basic non-slavery-like package deal. And yet, I can already see cracks in this foundation. I can already start to see parallels to problematic system practices. I wish that things could change.

What kind of changes? A cap on back to back classes would be a good start (like perhaps three-four), a minimal ten minute prep before each class, and a standard hour of a lunch break (because come on, everyone uses it for prep time, who are we kidding?). But I know those changes are never gonna happen. A person so low on the ladder is never gonna get the attention of the big administrators and the company heads, there’s just no way that’ll ever happen.

It’s nice to talk about it, though, at least just a bit.

 

Posted in Teaching Things

The Future Comedians of Japan are My Students

Yesterday, my kids all came to me for a cleaning check. For those of you who aren’t aware, Japan does this thing where it uses children as free labor and makes them clean up their schools. It’s all about teaching them responsibility to their environment and teamwork or something, but that’s not what I want to talk about!

The cleaning crew group are all bunch of second year students. Imagine think of about five like 15/16 year olds in Japanese uniforms, half boys and half girls. Added bonus: imagine all the boys are on their cell phones instead of cleaning like the girls do, and by “the girls” I mean the only two cleaning while everyone else just plays around.

Anyways, a girl tries to leave the room upon my entering it. I stop her to explain in Japanese, “You can’t leave! I have to check the room and sign the book.” Teachers have to put their names in this cleaning log so it’s officially approved. The girl stares at me bewildered, as if I had spoken Russian instead of her own native tongue.

The boy behind her even says, “She’s speaking Japanese! How can you not get what she’s saying?”

The girl says, “Eh? Eh?” And I’m expecting these responses: “Eigo wakanai! (I don’t understand English)” or maybe even “Wakarimasen!” as in I don’t understand at all or maybe even “Nihongo wakanai! (I don’t understand Japanese).”

Instead I get, “I don’t understand LANGUAGES!”

I busted up laughing. I couldn’t stop. I think it was the combination of not seeing it coming and how forcefully she pushed out languages, with such absolute sincerity. I loved it! I shared it with friends, family, all the people.

And then today, I gave one of my first year classes a free study day. Next week the final exams are coming up, so I wanted to give them all an opportunity to ask me questions about the exam and if they wanted to get caught on another subject besides English, sure. This class was ahead of schedule, no problem to be nice and let them benkyousuru.

One of the students, let’s call him Nagai-kun because that boy in long, tall and slim. Nagai-kun had a hard time sitting still, because he’s one of those kids who if you don’t give clear directions and goals for him to meet he kind of can’t accomplish much on his own. At some point, he comes near the front and stands in front of his friend.

I’m only half paying attention because I’m grading notebooks for the class while answering questions kids ask here and there. But then I notice he’s trying to ask for something in English.

“Please help me study!” He half-requests, half-demands.

His friend replies, “Nanio? (With what)”

So I decide to help, “Please help me study for…”

Nagai-kun repeats, “Please help me study for…” And then he looks at me.

I shrug, “Math, English, science.”

Nagai-kun thinks about it and then turns to his friend, “Please help me study for ALL SUBJECTS.”

Once again, not seeing it coming, I start to giggle. I put a book over my face to suppress the laughter, but it’s near impossible. Nagai-kun settles in front of his friend to get some help, meanwhile I’m dying. I eventually peek over the book to see a couple of girl students giggling at my giggling, and we all just start laughing together.

In these moments, I love teaching and I love my students. Even if they don’t have high English confidence all the time, I’m glad they’re at least willing to try. And it totally helps that sometimes their jokes hit my funny bone just right.

 

Posted in Teaching Things

“Let’s Pretend I Know What I’m Doing”

There are many teacher phrases out there in the world, such as “sit down, be quiet, listen carefully, raise your hand,  Shiori I swear to God if you don’tputyourmakeupbackinyourbagrightthissecond-,” and so on.

But my more recent favorite is this one: “Let’s pretend I know what I’m doing and…”

I through this phrase around especially during exam time. I have to design tests, mark tests, and then put all the points into an Excel file. The points get calculated into the school’s grading system, and then students take those report cards home. I have to check and double check that everything I’m doing is not only correct, but also tallied up in the system.

Last Friday, I said this phrase at least three times. “Ok, Mr. Nasu let’s pretend I know what I’m doing. My plan is for the test to have both a multiple choice format, but also a writing section. I think I might throw in some sentence scrambles, too. It’s a fifty minute exam so…what do you think?”

Mr. Nasu replied with, “Sounds good?”

And with that feedback, I powered through making my test. You would think after six years of doing test stuff I would get better at it, but not always. This year in particular, I was put in charge of the whole Standard First Year Communication Course Curriculum. As someone who never designed curriculum, I felt a little nervous, and I needed to design this curriculum around all new textbooks.

Basically, throw out everything from last year and start from scratch! Yay!

Also, this side-note is neither here nor there, but I still question the logic of putting a person with the least amount of experience in curriculum design a whole division of a school’s English course. I mean, fantastic they all had confidence in me that I could handle the pressure of it, but if I’d been an administrator I don’t think I would’ve done it this way. Once again, notice how my new favorite phrase is, “Let’s pretend I know what I’m doing.”

The fact is “knowing what I’m doing” can only come from these kinds of experiences though. Without getting in over my head and having to figure things out quick, I wouldn’t be able to bang out a final exam in a week like I just did. I suppose it helps that I refuse to give up or throw in the towel for projects I’ve never done before, but instead just ask for help from fellow teachers (or ya know, Google it if necessary). Support systems are always good in times of stress, be they in or out of an office environment, especially for new adventures into the unknown.

As the year wraps up, I’m really glad I ended up being put “in charge” of this communication course. I would like to believe I did the best job possible given my lack of experience in this aspect of teaching, or if nothing else managed to accomplish more than I ever thought I would when given this assignment. My worst nightmare was getting a worksheet out, only to realize I couldn’t finish a lesson in time for a midterm or final, or completely losing a test file! Luckily, I can put those fears aside now.

I’ll be gaining new ones with whichever new job I attain, I’m sure. The odds are high I’ll be saying, “Let’s pretend I know what I’m doing,” a lot in the coming few months. Whatever the future holds, I think it’s a useful phrase, whether teacher or not.

Posted in Teaching Things

“We Do Not Copy in My Class!!!”

Today, it happened again. A very sneaky girl (let’s call her Ichigo) gave her friend (let’s call her Momo) a looksie at her paper. Ok so, Ichigo and Momo are both good students, and I rarely have any issues with them. Which is why I was surprised when I came around to discover the ultimate sin of my classroom.

Copying someone else’s work!!! 

As a person who grew up in the good ol’ U.S. of A school system, I am very much anti-cheating/ copying /plagiarizing. At the particular high school I work at, it’s considered “teamwork” by a decent amount of teachers, much to my absolute displeasure. I’m fully aware that everyone has done this at some point in their high school career, usually for homework, but in class?! No, I will never allow it!

Thus, I walked over to the girls, who froze in their seats with wide eyes. They knew that I knew they had been caught out. Unlike perhaps a couple of boys who tried to sleep through my classes, these two smart ladies couldn’t feign ignorance, they couldn’t protest my next move. Both of them had cultivated a reputation with me on knowing English well, being good students, knowing the rules.

“We do not copy in my class!” I proclaimed, snatching Ichigo’s paper away.

Ichigo and Momo both tried to talk me out of walking away with the half-finished paper, but it did them no good. I resolutely sauntered back to the front of the class, procured a new sheet, and returned to Ichigo. Momo suddenly realized that her paper was fine. That was the point: the person who let another person copy was the one who suffered the most. The copier was left with the guilt of their actions. In Japan, guilt is effective, shame even more so.

Ichigo grumbled to herself as she had to redo her entire paper again. Meanwhile, Momo floundered, realizing she must do this assignment on her own. Bum bum buuuuum!!!

For those of you who might think I’m a monster, allow me to explain the assignment.

The students only had to write their everyday activities. For example, “On Monday I am going shopping. On Tuesday I am playing baseball after school. On Wednesday I’m singing a song at karaoke.” All the way through the week, and that’s it. I allowed them to look into their textbooks for examples (specifically so the two boys in my class who were a bit slower than the rest could get ideas). The assignment wasn’t a Herculean effort to accomplish, Momo was just lacking the confidence to do it.

Cheating as well as copying are often symptoms of a lack of confidence, not a lack of interest, at least from my experience. I have many students who simply don’t understand English because they have this mental block from years of getting “Grammar Rules are God!” things drilled into their heads. They stumbled mentally to connect what they learn in textbooks to real life application because they get caught up on the stupid language rules.

Momo is a “good student” in that she usually follows all the rules given to her by teachers. Today, she was faced with conflicting rules: be perfect at English grammar and no copying papers. She knew she couldn’t be perfect at the English grammar, so she gambled with breaking the no copying rules. The odds weren’t in her favor this time, so now she’s faced with the reality that she might fail in both endeavors. Failure for Japanese students is often akin to shameful behavior, and that sucks for us English teachers.

I need for her to make mistakes, or as she views in her eyes as “failure.” Without these mistakes, I can’t help her to improve. It’s a Catch 22, and I have to toe that fine line between asking too much of her and not. Ichigo is going to be fine, she not only has the confidence, she can very well teach other students what she knows.

I encouraged Ichigo to do so when I said, “You,” I pointed at her, “can give Momo examples, but you can’t give her your paper. Help with spelling too! You can do it. I believe in you.” Ichigo did, brightening up a bit at the praise. She leaned over to talk with Momo, and I did something that might shock you. I walked away.

Ichigo and Momo aren’t the only students who need help in this class, of course. I dealt out my punishment, no need to hover. I move from desk to desk, helping out others with issues translating Japanese to English, some spelling questions, etc. After about ten minutes, I return to Ichigo and Momo.

Ichigo had finished a new paper while Momo was still trying. I could tell their papers were turning out differently, so I was pleased. Even if Momo didn’t finish the assignment today, I was going to be happy she wasn’t leaning on her friend’s knowledge of English. A crutch is only useful when you’re broken, not when you already know how to walk and are moving on to how to jog.

I graded Ichigo’s paper, told her to use it for the speaking test next week. Momo came up last in the class, but I noticed with pride there was only one mistake. I had her correct it, and then she was given full marks. I always give my students a chance in class to correct their mistakes for full points (see, not a monster). She was smiling, happy that she got it done just in time.

And I would like to believe that perhaps, just maybe, she gained one more stepping stone towards English confidence. I don’t want her to fall back on old bad habits, so hopefully she’ll remember how Ichigo had to do her work all over again, and won’t repeat the copying problem. With the full marks in the grade book, she’s realized that it’s better to try at something she won’t be perfect at rather than take credit for someone else’s work.

In university, copying does equal plagiarism, so she could get kicked out of her undergraduate studies. Momo can’t take credit when she gets a job if someone else does the work, she’ll get fired. There have been many a Momo and Ichigo in my classroom, boys and girls (and others who identify as neither). I believe it’s my job to prepare them for all of it, not just the writing and speaking in English responsibilities.

For those of you who think Momo might hold a grudge, at the end of class when I asked for a volunteer to return the classroom key (we use a free room), she was the first one to raise her hand. She also apologized, with a smile, not a single bit of sarcasm or hatred in her tone.

“Thank you!” I said as I left.

Her, being the cheeky one that she is, asked, “Bonus pointo onegaishimasu!” 

So as you can see, not only was she fine, but she had the nerve to ask for bonus points afterwards. Kids bounce back from discipline if it’s fair, if it’s not breaking their spirits, and if they understand that they are in the wrong from the get go. Ichigo was with her, laughing as I walked off to my next class. I’m not worried about them getting bent out of shape.

After all, everyone knows it’s a rule in my classroom. They may not understand all the intricacies of why I do what I do, but they also understand I’m not going to be meaner to them for breaking rules. No one gets favoritism, and no one gets more punishments than the others. Everyone is treated with discipline regardless of marks. Momo and Ichigo know it, and I think in time maybe they’ll come to appreciate it.

Or maybe not, at least I tried! Trying is all we teachers can really do, so until I’m blue in the face I’ll keep shouting, “No copying in my classroom!”

 

 

Posted in Teaching Things

To the Students Who Will Be Teachers:

You’re thinking right now about becoming a teacher. You were probably inspired by an amazing educator. Maybe it was a homeroom teacher who got you through a bad time in your life. Maybe it was the math teacher who stayed for hours after school to tutor you. Or maybe seeing an ALT in your classroom made you think about teaching Japanese abroad.

Whoever or whatever your inspiration, I wish you all the best in this endeavor. You’ll get through university and training, and someday enter a classroom. And let me tell you, all the training and education beforehand won’t be enough to prepare you for the reality. The real life classroom experiences will be tough, but there is no better way to becoming a teacher than jumping into it headfirst.

I will say though, although teaching is rewarding, it’s won’t be easy. Even after doing it for over six years, there will be days or classes or something that will present a challenge. You’ll have to overcome those challenges as they arrive. Nosebleeds, fights, bullying, meeting paper prep, Saturday work on top of overtime work (none of it paid), it’ll happen to you at some point. You’ll do what you can with the knowledge you’ve got, and that may or may not be enough.

I’ll tell you something no other teacher might: It’s okay to fail. It will hurt and it will be a tearful experience, but it’s okay if you can’t overcome every single one of those challenges. Just remember that you’re not alone. Lean on your co-workers, your fellow educators. They can help you when you need that help the most. And it’s not failing that will be the worst thing that can happen, but failing to learn from those past mistakes will be the ultimate failure. Learn from these errors so you can be a better teacher in the future.

When it comes to students, you’ll have to just love them as they are. You can try and try, but not all students will love you back. There will be times teaching will feel like the most thankless job (especially when you’re marking tests), but if you’re really meant to be a teacher you won’t do it to make students like you, you’ll do it because you want the best for the students.

And what’s best for them will always be a case-by-case basis. Each student is going to need a different approach to get through your class, and each kid will need different forms of encouragement or discipline. Don’t try to make all of them fit the same mold, it won’t work. Your students will have their own personalities, and it would be a mistake to try and change what makes them all unique.

There will be times you’ll wonder if you’re supposed to be a teacher at all. Maybe somebody else could do a better job than you are, maybe the students could benefit from someone with more experience/patience/knowledge/etc. All teachers at some point feel that way, or at least good teachers do, because good teachers are always thinking about how they could be doing better in and out of the classroom for their students.

Teaching is one of those jobs that requires a person give more of themselves, and it can get draining at times. You’ll spend your sick days coming into work no matter the temperature, slogging through the fever and the class hours until you can go home to pass out. After school hours will be spent with kids who couldn’t figure out the lesson or need to get a lecture, because you’ll care. All good teachers care, and because we care, we give too much of ourselves.

For those of you who would teach abroad, you’re giving up the security of your own home and native tongue to pursue a life in another language and culture. It will be scary at times, but usually it ends up being culturally exhausting. You’ll find yourself worn down over time, until you can take a break to return home for a couple of weeks. However, you’ll form bonds with your students and co-workers that are unique in circumstance that you wouldn’t have in your home country. These bonds, these moments, will keep you going.

If you’re going into teaching because you think it’ll be easy, something you can do to pass the time, you’ll never be happy in it. It’s a career that demands too much for you to just clock-in and clock-out. Students require more attention than spreadsheets and meetings, they require care, and you can’t cut off your heart and mind to students. You’re dealing with people, smaller and immature people, but people nonetheless. They will need your guidance, whether they realize it or not. If you come into a classroom ready for a simple job, teaching won’t meet that expectation.

Students who will be teachers, I hope you’ll see that I’m not trying to scare you away from the job. At the same time, I think it’s better to know now rather than later about what it all entails. You’ll be making worksheets, curriculum, checking tests, scoring, in between everything else I just talked about, but then there will be more that I won’t even know to cover. Every school is different and will expect different things from their teachers. All this work will be worth it to see your students improve, even if it is just a little bit.

And that’s all you can do, try your best to improve your students. You don’t need to inspire them to do something groundbreaking, you don’t need them to win medals or prizes, you just want them to be better today than they were yesterday. You’ll worry you didn’t do enough, or that you should’ve done more, but so long as your students do better by the end of your term with them, you’ve succeeded. It might not be your greatest success, but teaching is full of small and big successes. Celebrate all of them, hold them close, and never let go.

 

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.