Tuesday, May 11, 2010

I'm now an ALT (yeah, you know me)

As of yesterday I am once again doing what they pay me for, i.e. being an assistant teacher of English. It feels good. In this line of work, sometimes one does wonder whether one's existence is really justified: does the addition of a second teacher who can't speak Japanese really enhance the educational experience all that much? Nevertheless, I feel infinitely more useful here in school than I did in city hall, which is good for my sanity.

I like being around the kids. Plenty of them - probably a narrow majority (remember those, fellow Brits?) - either feel intimidated by me, or just have no interest in talking to me. But when one has over 300 students in a school, a vocal minority who are really keen to speak to me (even the girls who timidly say "Hello" then run away in fits of giggles), it's enough to really brighten my day. I'm enjoying the teaching too. The reshuffle has resulted in my current school having a pretty good English line-up, so I anticipate this month's team teaching being a fairly pleasant experience.

I've been reasonably busy, with two full mornings of lessons so far. This has once again demonstrated to me the curious fact that the more work you have, the more productive you become in your free time (up to a point). I found the best way to get through a day devoid of work at city hall was to try to foster a kind of sleepy mental detachment - like underclocking my own brain - which proved difficult to snap out of once I left the office. Yesterday, by contrast, I found the energy to go to the supermarket, actually cook (I made some fiery enchiladas, and the leftovers should be good for some quesadilla tonight), do the dishes, and still have time to unwind with a couple of hours of post-apocalyptic violence before bed.

Though my mornings are packed, all my afternoons this week are wide open. The reason for this is yet other outrageous expectation placed upon teachers in this country, of which I was blissfully unaware until yesterday. All the home room teachers (like registration and guidance teachers rolled into one), which is to say most of the teaching staff, are visiting the homes of their students to talk with their respective parents. These twenty-minute meetings, taking place all over the school's now sprawling catchment area, mean that they are kept busy from 2pm until around half six every day this week. I'm not sure exactly what the kids are doing during this time, but they sure aren't receiving regular classes.

I learned about this arrangement from a slightly exasperated-sounding English teacher who I'll call Yoko. I commented that this was different to the UK, where the parents periodically come to school to meet the teachers. No, she explained, they have parents' night too (although I think the student is also present at these meetings, weirdly). Incidentally, in addition to the demonstration lessons given for the purpose of training other teachers, I've also heard of demo lessons that parents are invited to. Thankfully I've not had to take part in either of these yet.

Yoko went on to explain to me that the purpose of these visits was to help them understand the kind of environment the student was coming from. I think she was trying to be euphemistic, but it's quite hard to mince your words in a foreign language. Consequently, I got the (possibly mistaken) impression that this was an opportunity to snoop into the precise family circumstances and/or socio-economic status of each of their students, which strikes me as more than a little dodgy. However, given the intense pressure parents put on teachers here to perform, it is perhaps understandable that they want to gather all the intel they can to aid them in their unending educational struggle.

Update: The quesadilla were good.


  1. My weeks the same as yours. My teachers are all off visiting the parents. According to my boss (Interac not teacher) the teachers can tell the parents that they have to make changes, like buy a bigger desk, get a new study lamp etc etc poor parents.

    Also, my teacher was telling me about demo lessons - are we working in the same school without realising??

  2. Glad you are still enjoying the teaching. It's quite a crazy job. And it's good that the kids are responding well! Today one of my kids called me Mrs Shithead! Lovely.