Wow, so it's been more than a year since my last update on the teaching experience. I was quite blunt about it last time and will continue that now since, I wouldn't want to give anyone the wrong impression of JET (like I had). But do keep in mind that the JET motto is, 'every situation is different.'
I wrote my last post in November of 2011 and a big change happened between that post and this one - the new school year in April. Several things were a complete surprise to me since I had no idea about the changes that accompany the new school year in Japan. The biggest surprise was the giant game of musical chairs the teachers play (not actually, but I muse about it a bit in this post). When I got back from my spring vacation (time I used PTO for since teachers are expected to come to work even when there are no classes), I found new faces and a new desk placement waiting for me in the staff room. After 8 months of getting used to my role in this school, it was all about to change. Naturally I started to feel a bit nervous. Re-reading my last update, I might have sounded a bit dejected about how I'm used as an ALT, but actually I became comfortable knowing what was expected of me. New jobs always bring about challenges, but as long as you know what they want from you, it shouldn't be so bad. So new teachers, new schedules, new students, and probably some new responsibilities. At my base school, Hikami, the only change that affected me was the addition of a new JTE. Fortunately, she is the sweetest thing ever. Her name is Yamashita-sensei and although she replaced a younger, male teacher that I got along with, she is a far better teaching partner than he was. She's soft spoken, but knows how to put those freshmen in line. She doesn't necessarily make learning fun for them, but she teaches the material in a way they understand, so at least it keeps their interest. She observed a lesson with my usual JTE, Taniguchi-sensei, and now uses me much in the same way he does - to write out the exercises on the board, pronounce words, correct papers, give special lessons, get insight on confusing English, and the like.
At Hikami Nishi (HN), my visit school, everything changed. I even go there on different days than before. Before I came in on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, but now I come on Mondays and Thursdays. My weeks used to drag, but now since I change up my environment more often, every time I turn around it's Thursday and only one day away from the weekend! Another plus is because I don't prefer my visit school to my base school (for many reasons), whenever we have Monday off as a holiday (which is quite often), I miss a day at HN. Woo hoo! As for the actual teaching changes, two out three JTEs were replaced. All three were pretty incompetent, so I traded up for sure. Since my last post, I did realize that the reason these incompetent JTEs always had me come up with the lesson plans was because they just wanted a break. Nothing wrong with that, but they wouldn't tell me what the kids were learning so those lessons were not all that beneficial for the kids. I can tell though that under the new JTEs the kids have actually been learning. I am used more like I am at Hikami and so, although my job is easier, I'm at least being effective on their studies. The only problem is that for some reason, the new young female teacher doesn't seem to like me very much and so I only go to class with the other male teacher. We definitely have more in common anyway and even talk outside of class, so I don't mind. The third JTE (part of the original three ) was made into a part-time teacher so he's not at the school on the days that I am - bliss!
These are the actual changes that happened, but how about my attitude? It was pretty bad when I first got here, I'll admit. I hadn't been around that many kids in long time and considering some other messed up circumstances with other aspects of JET life, I let it seep into the teaching experience as well. Now though I am perfectly content and confident playing my role in both my schools. It's not personally fulfilling or challenging, but I do understand the impact I'm having on the education of my students and so I take that role seriously. I provide them with a positive, non-threatening experience with a foreigner (you may underestimate how important conidering how homogenous the Japanese society is). I gently correct their English in class and encourage them to continue their studies beyond high school. I give them an idea of how other people in other parts of the world live, whether it be by presenting my opinions on a subject, or with my occasional cultural lessons. I don't tolerate any inappropriateness you'll hear other JETs complain about so hopefully that communicates a respect for women and people in authority. Just my appearance is literally something to make their day a little different and more exciting. Outside the class, students will call at me from every direction just so they can wave at me. At restaurants in town, I'm sometimes spotted and am pointed out to their family. And most precious to me the unspoken bond we share: When they catch me making a face because I didn't know they were looking, or I when try to be funny behind my JTE's back and it works; When they want to stand next to me at assemblies; When they point out my hair, nail, or eye color and just stare; When they shyly come to my desk with a drawing, origami, handmade cards, or other stuff for me; And even if I (still) don't know their names, I'll always remember their faces as they are now.
So yea, now instead of annoying little brats, now I think my students are adorable (even if they are high schoolers already). I'm genuinely sad, but happy for my seniors who are going to graduate at the end of this month since they are the students I'll have had the longest. I'm happy to go to class knowing exactly what I'm suppose to do and being completely comfortable with my students and JTEs. I know other JETs got to experience this right away, but it took until almost the end of my first year for me to get it. Ironically, that is exactly the amount of time our liason at the Japanese consulate said it took her when she was giving us a pep talk at our pre-departure meeting.. It's one argument she made for us to consider staying a second year and now I can totally agree.
So unless much changes in the next new school year this coming April, I think this will be it for my teaching experience updates. From my friends, I know a little about the experiences of JHS and elementary school teachers, so please feel free to ask any questions about my or their experience if you're considering being an ALT in Japan!