Posted in Dusty ALT Diaries, Slice of Life

Dusty ALT Diaries: The Big Decision

Once upon a time, I actually didn’t intend to ever live in Tokyo. I even told the JET Program people not to place me in a big city, because honestly I used to hate them. I still don’t particularly like the center of Tokyo. The noise, all the people bumping into each other, that all feels so claustrophobic.

After spending most of my life in the countryside and the small town that was Paducah, Kentucky, I felt most comfortable with greenery and wide open spaces. To this day, I think back to my placement in Itako, Ibaraki and miss the rice fields, the long walks along the river at night, and the smell of iris flowers.

I found an old journal entry that comes close to the time when I made the leap to big city life.

January 18th, 2014

I’m listening to Frozen’s “Let It Go,” and I’ll be honest if it weren’t for this song, Frozen would’ve just been alright. Luckily, this song exists and the world is a better place for it.

I’m heading off to Tokyo again on the bus for Stacey’s B-Day party at T.G.I. Fridays. Stacey is excited about the party, I think. She was in China so she wasn’t over here to celebrate on the day of.

I’ve made the decision recently that I’m going to move down there, get a job teaching English and maybe a part-time something else. I would like to get some experience in the business sector, somehow. I haven’t don’e much research, so I need to get on that.

The bus ride to Tokyo used to be a heart pumping experience for me. I couldn’t sleep on the first ride out. I wanted to see everything, soak it all in, memorize every little post and sign with kanji on it. I thought the signs were fascinating in year one. Both kanji and romaji displayed displayed on exits and destinations, learning through living this new life, going some odd kilometers ahead.

It’s the Kanto-Express Highway from Suigo-Itako to Tokyo. Itako is the inaka, so as one travels towards Tokyo the green grass and sparse trees slowly get replaced with buildings growing taller and taller. There’s more harsh concrete, drab grey stuff that contrasts vividly against a bright blue sky. Cars increase in both size and number, so the lanes go from four to six, sometimes eight at certain exits.

Tiny little four door Toyota’s mingle with Honda semi-trucks along with those obnoxious boxes on wheels Daihatsu makes. I believe the model is called “Move,” which is highly ironic because no one moves fast in those at all.

On the road, there are airplanes flying high and low because of the Narita and Haneda airports. I’ve never used Haneda, just Narita.

So of course, the hotels pop up near Narita. Narita is one of the bigger towns that has a lot to offer, but I couldn’t find any jobs there. I drove there the other day to buy some things in their foreign food store, KALDI, for things I couldn’t get around me.

A foreign couple, I suppose killing time on a layover, came into the food court. They complained loudly about how they couldn’t read anything and nothing looked delicious. I felt a strange mix of amusement and frustration. I knew they were just tourists who didn’t need to understand the language if they’re only going to stay for a few hours tops, but to be twice my age and acting like five year olds throwing a tantrum at the dinner table? A little too much for me to handle.

They never asked me for help, either, and I would’ve given it, too. Instead, they just went around complaining, neither one of them bothering to suggest going somewhere else. There are literally ten Italian restaurants in the downstairs of the Aeon Mall.

Under my breath, I laughed at them and I ordered a sushi-soba bowl set, because I wanted to show that not all foreigners were so ridiculous. And the sushi-soba was delicious, too!

The highway gets a little crazy outside of Tokyo. The bus has to get on and off several ramps. I nearly hurt myself more than once using the restroom in the back when the bus was doing those strange loop-de-loops through traffic.

I’ve been considering what I should do, future-wise. Moving to Tokyo, sure, but after that? I’ve been thinking maybe of moving to England, but I’ve seen Kris and Jillian’s struggles to get Jillian a spousal visa. So much money, so many documents, and they lived together for so long over here! They had a legitimate wedding. I don’t understand it. It’s been almost a year since they left, and it’s still a struggle for Jillian with the job hunt.

My crush on Benedict Cumberbatch is also at play, but that’s a crazy reason to move to another country, haha!

I can see the Tokyo Sky Tree and the bus is slowing down to a crawl in the usual traffic. I’m already late. I knew I should’ve left earlier. My New Year’s resolution should be to commit to being on time more often. I should go to the Sky Tree when I live in Tokyo.

I’ve never lived in a big city, but I’m ready to try.

Obviously, I never moved to England. The dream died the next year, when I realized that in order to really get a job outside of teaching I would need to increase my Japanese skills significantly. Also, Benedict Cumberbatch is married with a child, so that ship has sailed.

In all seriousness, when you’re on the JET Program they’ll often try to keep you in your placement for as long as possible. If you’re good at what you do and you’re well liked, going all five years is easier for the school than trying to prep for a new person.

However, you know when it’s time to go. I couldn’t take the textbooks anymore. I distinctly remember a class when I realized I wasn’t even reading the words to be a tape recorder, I could just do the dialogues from memory after doing the same lessons for two years. I thought to myself, no, I can’t keep doing this, it’s not enough.

Besides that, I was running down to Tokyo every weekend to be in Nichome, to be with my queer people. I was closeted in Itako, only telling maybe a few foreign friends and that’s it. And even then, two of the closest ALT’s near me in year one didn’t believe me when I said I was bisexual. I couldn’t really be fully myself out there.

Leaving when you know it’s time to go is for the best. You might feel pressure from your teachers and supervisors to stick around, but in the end you know what’s best for you. The worst case is sticking around and making yourself miserable. I’ve met people who did all five years purely for the money, and they hated the job by year five because they’d been wanting to leave since year two. Don’t torture yourself for the benefit of others, don’t gaman yourself into settling into a role that doesn’t fit you at all, but instead go forth and try out something new.

I love Tokyo life now. Sure, I miss the old scenery, but I can be myself here. I see myself living here permanently, if all goes according to plan. Big decisions are sometimes anxiety inducing, but they can be worth it in the end. Hopefully, you won’t be afraid to take the leap when it’s time to move on.

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Dusty ALT Diaries: Keeping a Teacher Log

One of the many projects I undertook while in self-isolation for COVID19 was to go through all my notebooks and digitize all my writing bits and pieces.

I stumbled across pages of my old ALT years, which was inevitable. I never throw notebooks away, which is why I constantly suffer when I move house, filling a whole suitcase with mostly scribbles and nonsense.

However, teacher logs aren’t nonsense!

Also known as teacher journals, teacher logs are when you write down classes that you’ve planned. How did they go? What went well? What went horribly awry?

I was super thorough for this lesson, probably because I really wanted to figure out why it went so horribly wrong. You can tell, because I usually put my mistakes in red and those pages are like a murder scene.

Anways, teacher logs are especially great for ALT’s who intend to stay for longer than a year or two. You can keep track of things that worked, things that didn’t, and what needs improvement. The teacher logs can also help you just generally improve as a teacher.

Since it’s usually really hard to get good, critical direct feedback from most JTE’s, being able to self-analyze will be the main way you figure out what your weak points and strong points are. If you’re running into the teaching gig blind, like I did, then it’s going to be helpful to stumble your way into creating your own teaching methods.

You also get an idea for a reward system? Sketch it out, jot it down! I thought about this classwork reward system stamp rally. When u did some research online, I actually managed to find a few that could work. I never ended up implementing it as an ALT (my JTE’s said no, booo) but I did end up using a version of this in my high school teaching a couple years after JET.

Teacher logs helped keep my memory of students and teachers, too. I could look through it and remember names and faces better than if I just looked through a student name sheet. I could keep notes on who needed help and who excelled in the class. With the log, it worked as kind of keystone for creating good relationships at my schools.

In general, keeping a teacher log worked really well for me. Some people think they’re kind of a waste of time, because writing down every lesson would be so tedious. To that I say, you’re right, so just write down the important stuff and leave out all the rest. It’s meant to be a tool for you to use as is beneficial to you, so therefore it doesn’t have to be used daily or anything.

It’s up to you, but I liked having a place to keep all my thoughts together. For the self-analysis, self-improvement, and memories, I think a teacher log is a good tool to utilize. Consider making a digital one instead of a notebook, though, because if you move those kind of pile up.

I’ve been thinking for a while now that I should dedicate a good few throwback or diary flashbacks posts of the ALT times. As I continue through these notebooks, I’m sure I’m going to find more remnants of the past. Hopefully, somebody will find these old papers useful somehow.