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 “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 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.

Posted in Jobs in Japan

Teaching Experience: Do you “need” it for the JET Program?

I get this question all the time. “Somebody said that they don’t accept people without teaching experience, is that true?” The long and short of that is no, otherwise I would’ve been rejected from JET. I had some tutoring and an observing education class in university (wherein I went to different schools to watch teachers in their classes), and that’s all I had. Before the JET Program, I had never taught in front of a classroom, so you don’t need to worry about it.

It doesn’t hurt your odds to get in if you’ve got teaching experience, so by all means if you do have it put that on your application and mention it in the interview. Be sure you can answer questions well, like “Why did you want to become a teacher? What kind of teacher do you want to be? How long have you been teaching?” Those kind of routine questions will be asked, and then they may go even harder on you. “What are some challenges you’ve faced in the classroom that you’ve overcome? How many students do you teach on average?” And so on.

Regardless of whether you do or don’t have experience, be sure you can answer the question, “Why do you want to teach in Japan?” My answer was along the lines of, “I want to be a good representative of my country in the classroom so students will have a good impression of foreigners, specifically American foreigners. I want Japan’s international relations to improve, even if it’s only in a small way.” It’s not a bad answer, I think, but there are better answers out there. For example, an art major I knew told her interviewers that she wanted to learn about East Asian art, and bring that experience back to America to influence her art. She hoped to be a part of the art after school programs in her school so she could teach them the Western styles of art and they could teach her the Eastern. It was a better answer in my opinion because it showed she’s future oriented, she’s thinking outside the box, not just the classroom but even after school activities.

Know this answer and memorize it. Practice saying and explaining your view before the big interview. I’ve talked about the JET program before, so be sure to take a look at both the video and the article to learn about what it takes to get in. Also, there’s a very nifty guide from Tofugu about the JET Interview. Read it to get prepared to give the best impression!