Posting from school

(Sorry about the weird cut-off entry before. I didn’t realize that Ctrl-S, which I inadvertently hit when going for the shift key, would post the entry.)

I took the train this morning, walked the mile-ish in the searing heat and uphill, spent 10-15 minutes cooling down and almost 2 hours patiently waiting and trying to look productive until my class started…and then I found out that today’s schedule was changed and I don’t have any classes today. But it’s my day to be at school, and I have speech contest coaching at 4 PM, so I have to stay, instead of heading back to town and running errands and working on my elementary school/eikaiwa lessons (all my planning materials are at my desk in the community center, and I have nothing I can plan for my JHS classes). There was a thread at Chiisai Sudachi about what to do to kill time, and spending time online is one of the things you shouldn’t do…but there are no English clubs at this school (only athletic ones and the brass band), I only did my first classes yesterday and have 2 more sets which will both be self-intro sessions, and…yeah. Nothing to do.

So classes are in session–but what they say about September is true; it’s a crazy month. Last week I had no class Monday or Wednesday due to prepping for the sports day that was this past Monday, and last Tuesday I would have had class but Typhoon 14 canceled that. That’s my junior high situation; my elementary schools are still falling into place. I’ve now taught at 4 of my 6–I had introductory lessons last Monday at one school and last Thursday at two, a secondary lesson at one Monday (before heading off to my junior high’s sports day), and another introductory one yesterday. And next week we have Monday and (I think) Friday off, Tuesday’s the sports contest, and because my junior high has a culture festival Saturday and Sunday, they have no school on Tuesday and Wednesday. I was skipping all my classes Tuesday for the speech contest regardless, but I’m only visiting my elementary school next Wednesday now.

The thing about my Tuesday school, though…it’s not far, but it’s a 25-minute drive because 20 minutes of the drive are up a mountain. I’m going to eventually learn how to drive, but this is one school I CANNOT drive to. The BOE and the school know it, so they’ve decided I’m only teaching biweekly lessons there that are 2 class periods long. It’s almost a shame, because the view from the school is breathtaking, and the school itself is beautiful, with really friendly and welcoming staff and really fun students. That isn’t to say that all my schools haven’t been that way, but they really particularly extended the red carpet to me yesterday.

Another ironic thing–the more schools I go to, the more tenants in my apartment building I meet. I met a teacher yesterday who lives next door to me. So now I know the other 3 tenants on my floor (all 4 of us are teachers), 2 tenants on the 3rd floor (1 teacher, 1 high school student), and 1 or 2 tenants on the 2nd floor, and I know of 1 gentleman on the 1st floor. I guess our building has essentially become teachers’ housing–even married teachers will live here during the week and go home to their families during the weekends. And high schools here are almost like colleges–junior high students have to take entrance exams to get into the high school of their choice, and they either have to travel or move to attend said school. It’s not like at home, where I went to the high school 2 miles down the road just because it was the closest one. My brother’s in a math/science magnet program at a slightly further-away school, which is roughly equivalent, since kids from all over the county apply to get into magnet programs like that. But he still lives at home. Here, it’s quite common for students to actually move out.

Generally, I’ve really been enjoying myself. The idea of planning lessons is still really daunting and intimidating, but I’m getting help and trying to figure things out. The hardest things are keeping track of all the schools (each class has made slightly different progress, so while my Monday elementary school knows the full alphabet, yesterday’s didn’t), figuring out what I want to do next, and keeping up my energy level…once my schedule settles down, I’m visiting 2 schools/locations every day. Every class has a different feel to it…I team-taught two 2nd-year junior high classes yesterday (the equivalent of 8th grade in the states…and it’s honestly a big relief to have someone else, namely my Japanese Teacher of English, take the lead), and the first was really quiet and barely smiled at all, but the second was full of energy and really fascinated by my self-introduction and the following lesson.

A couple of funny/embarrassing moments: at one of my Thursday elementary schools last week, I had all the kids do really basic self-intros that they already knew how to do. One girl got through “my name is” and “I am from”…and then she started crying. There were 3 teachers also in the room, though, so one went over to her and coached her through the rest, and then we ended up playing a game that got the kids running and moving around the room, and she had a huge grin on her face, so that was really gratifying.

Before all that, though, they had a Q&A with me, where the students could ask me questions in English (I responded in Japanese to make it easier for them). After they finished, one of the (male) teachers chimed in with, “This is question they’re probably too shy to ask but that I’m sure they’re wondering…do you have a boyfriend?” (Right. I’m sure they were wondering about it. ;P) I ended up getting the question at least 3 times that day, out of nowhere–nobody had ever brought it up earlier and nobody has done so since.

And yesterday, after playing the same running-around game at the mountain-top elementary school, I launched into my lesson…and didn’t realize I forgot to tell the kids to sit down until their teacher chimed in and asked if they could sit. That was kind of bad, but nobody looked particularly upset…the kids just looked relieved to be off their feet, and I apologized about 7 times for it.

We’re also sort of approaching that point where the initial “new shiny feel” is wearing off. The town hasn’t lost any of its warmth, though I’m getting a bit irked from the stares I still receive from the same people I see regularly (my train this morning was the same one I caught yesterday, and at least 2 of the 3 men aboard today were on yesterday, and though they stared openly at me then, they did it again this time), and I’ve honestly gotten a little burned out from the general submissive nature that many women, particularly on TV, exhibit. And anime…oh my god. There are actually a few series that I might consider keeping up with (amazingly, there’s this show about American football that’s not bad, and I saw one yesterday titled “Ja Pan,” as a play on the name Japan, but refering to bread, since the Japanese word for bread is “pan”…there’s also Naruto, which I kept up with at home, and which is coming on tonight!), but most of it is such trite, overdone crap. The absolute worst I’ve seen is “Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch,” a shoujo anime (if the name didn’t give it away) about 3 girls who transform into mermaid princesses decked out in super-frilly dresses who beat enemies by singing at them into their magical karaoke microphones. I don’t have to even understand the dialogue to know what’s going to happen next, because it’s already happened dozens of times in other series.

Past that, though…I’m also realizing that while all the ALTs/CIRs here are my friends essentially by default, I really have only known them for 6-7 weeks, and I don’t know them well at all. I got a bit of a shock last week from one person in particular…things ended up working out generally, but it’s sort of opened my eyes. I’m generally a trusting person, but I need to use common sense and realize that the friendships I’m establishing here just don’t parallel the ones I have back home, or at least not yet. We still have so much more to know about each other. And for me in particular, it’s tough to really build on some of the friendships I started to make with people elsewhere, since I have no way to see them except for taking the trains, and they’re far enough away that I can’t just be spontaneous about it.

But no situation is perfect. This is normal life. I’ve stopped looking at it as a break away from my life and am now seeing it as the next step of my life. I have an apartment and a job and friends here. I buy groceries and pay utilities. It isn’t just a vacation–not anymore.

Though speaking of vacations, I talked to Louise and we want to plan some kind of trip to somewhere in between both of us (she’s north of Tokyo) in a month when we both have a 3-day weekend. It’ll feel so good to see a familiar face, and she herself was saying that she feels a bit lonely there because she has nothing in common with many of the ALTs who are there and they haven’t been extremely welcoming…maybe we can find a Starbucks and hang out and reminisce.

Okay, lunch time…wish me luck in finding something to do that makes me look productive!

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