The New School Year

Like my last entry, I wrote this blog entry at work. I’ve had three (maybe four?) weeks now where I have nothing to do at work. On Thursday, I made a poster about California, wrote the previous blog entry, brainstormed for a Show and Tell presentation, and copyedited a script.

Actually, I feel pretty accomplished. Also, I should have taken my time, because as a result, I had nothing to do on Friday.

Oh, speaking of the script—I was contacted by a JET in Chiba City for a “writing opportunity”! She is working on a film project for a conference, and she wanted me to write a script for the film! WHAAAAAT! I have very little experience writing scripts, so I was a little nervous, but it worked out. I’m flattered that she thought of me when she needed a writer. Yay! Look at me, doing stuff!

Okay, but now to the point—Transfers in Japan

The school year ended in March with the third year graduation and several Closing Ceremonies, and then spring break began. (That’s where my boredom began, too.) The teachers still seemed very busy, and I guess that’s because of all the wrap-up work they had to do.

And all the preparation for transfers.

In Japan, at the beginning of every fiscal year (in April), people in offices and schools are transferred around to other offices. Not everyone is transferred; it all depends on how long they’ve been in the same place. I’m not sure how long they have to stay in one place before they are transferred; it seems to vary. Let’s say for example that it’s every three years, so you will transfer to a different office every three years.

In schools, it seems to make every school in the district equal. If there’s a really good teacher, one school won’t hog them, making that school better than the others forever. If there’s a bad teacher, one school won’t be stuck with them forever. (Like one of my high school history teachers. He should have lost his job ages ago, if it weren’t for tenure.)

However, I don’t see how it makes any sense in office buildings, like the Board of Education or City Hall. People even change departments—possibly departments that they have no experience or interest or skills in. What is that about?

I also think that this transferring system makes it really difficult to make any systematic changes in Japan, even if the system is really messed up. There is no sense of permanence, so it probably discourages people from trying to make any progressive changes. Even if they make the change, they’re leaving in about three years anyway, so the change might not even stick!

It’s also very distressing for ALTs and CIRs to have new coworkers every year.

This year, Tomiura lost 8 teachers and gained 7. Two of my favorite people retired—my Kocho-sensei and Ito-sensei, the PE teacher who was so nice to me. They were both so helpful, and I miss them a lot. I was really upset that they were leaving.

In return, though, all of the people who transferred into Tomiura are great. There are even two really young new teachers from Sodegaura—they’re 24 and 25! We’re going to be Best. Friends. (Or else!)

Yonensei Goodbye Party in Makuhari—March 22th

On Friday during Spring Break, the teachers split into four groups and had… good-bye parties? I’m not really sure what we were all doing. But anyway, the teachers who would take charge of the third years went to Kyoto to check out things for the school trip, and my group (the “yonensei” or “fourth year” group) went to Makuhari to eat the fanciest dinner EVER.

My group was Kocho-sensei, Kyoto-sensei, the school nurse, the secretary, and the head teacher. No English speakers—but I wasn’t worried. I liked going to parties with Kyoto-sensei, and I was really going to miss Kocho-sensei, so it was a great opportunity to spend some time with them.

I didn’t understand a lot of what they were saying the whole night, but they were really kind and tried to include me in the conversations. It was kind of easy, too, because most of the talk was about the food we were eating.

Which was delicious.

Seriously the best thing I've ever eaten. Those are garlic chips, you guys. Freaking. Garlic. Chips.

Seriously the best thing I’ve ever eaten. Those are garlic chips, you guys. Freaking. Garlic. Chips.

OMG. I can’t even describe how delicious it was. It was, like, a $200 meal, and it was worth every goddamn penny (yen?).

Even this Screwdriver was expensive. You know how much it was? Twelve. Dollars.

Even this Screwdriver was expensive. You know how much it was? Twelve. Dollars.

Afterwards, I told Kyoto-sensei, “That was way too good. I’ll never eat again.”

And he laughed his ass off. XD

After dinner, we went to our hotel—yeah, that’s right. This dinner was so fancy that we also stayed at a hotel that night. And I got my own room, which was still cheaper than the dinner itself.

View from our seats.

View from our seats.

Farewell Party at Tomiura Royal Hotel—April 5th

This was it—the last hurrah of Tomiura’s 2012-2013 staff. A bus took everyone to the hotel at the top of the mountain, where most everyone got shit-faced that night.

The PTA was there, too, but after the main dinner, the PTA and Tomiura’s staff split into two. Tomiura’s staff stayed at the hotel, in a separate room. I think we were supposed to karaoke, but we ended up just talking the entire time.

I had given presents to the teachers who were leaving, and I wrote three teachers thank-you letters—Kocho-sensei, Ito-sensei, and Saito-sensei. At dinner that night, they all approached me to say that they read my letter, which I wrote entirely in Japanese, and that they were so happy. I was happy that they liked it (and that my writing was legible… and my Japanese comprehensible).

At the after-dinner party, I was a little embarrassed because Kyoto-sensei was making everyone stand up and give a speech about a specific teacher, and he made me say something about the one teacher of the bunch that I never talked to. |D Awkward. Luckily, I could say it in English (they never make me do speeches in Japanese), so I could just keep it short.

At the end of the party, Kyoto-sensei made everyone gather around the karaoke machine and sing a song together. I didn’t know the song, but it was probably a famous one. Everyone formed a circle, and we all had our arms around each others’ shoulders and it was beautiful.

Sorry that it's blurry. I gotta stop letting other people take the picture with my phone...

Sorry that it’s blurry. I gotta stop letting other people take the picture with my phone…

I hope I get to see them again. Kocho-sensei and Ito-sensei said we should both get dinner someday. :) That would be lovely.

Welcome Ceremony

On Monday, April 1st, the new teachers came to Tomiura. Kyoto-sensei introduced them all and then gave them a tour of the school.

I was a little nervous, because my new principal (hereafter, Kocho-sensei) was the vice principal from Jeff’s middle school, and Jeff had some warnings for me. However, the new principal seems nice enough. I haven’t had any problems yet, and I’ve taken some days off since he got here. That’s the thing that I was most worried about, really, because asking permission for days off is the most difficult thing for ALTs. We’re never sure if it’s actually okay.

We had a little welcome ceremony for them on the 5th, and then another ceremony for the beginning of the school year on April 9th. That was a fancy ceremony—the PTA was there and everyone was dressed up.

For the last two weeks, my JTEs have been really busy preparing for the new year. As a result, I have no idea what is going on right now. Saito-sensei used to be around to explain things to me, but now that she’s gone, I’m on my own. And it’s been hard, because I never know what’s going on each day. I feel like I haven’t even seen my JTEs in the last two weeks, which is disturbing because aren’t we supposed to be team teaching? When are they going to talk to me about lessons?

At the end of the Welcome Ceremony, all of the teachers suddenly stood up. I followed suit, and my JTE turned to me quickly to tell me that all of the teachers were going to introduce themselves.

What.

So I followed the line of teachers to the front of the assembly, but only then did anyone bother to tell me that we were supposed to line up in a specific order. So I stumbled around in front of everyone and tried not to look angry. When they finally got to me, I said my “Yoroshiku onegaishimasu,” and then it was over.

I was mostly really angry that I ended up making the entire line look messy. I don’t so much care about embarrassing myself—I think it just looked bad and disorganized in front of the PTA and all the BOE officials that were there. Ugh.

A JTE apologized to me afterwards for telling me so late, but to be honest, I’m tired of hearing apologies over and over again, when it could easily be fixed by telling me these things ahead of time. You can’t keep making the same mistakes and apologizing for them and expect to be forgiven. That’s not how it works. If you make a mistake, don’t make it again. That’s a real apology.

New Students

The new first years were my elementary school class last year, so I recognized a lot of them. And they definitely recognized me. Whenever I walked through the halls that first day they came to school, I heard whispers and shouts of “Megan-sensei!” XD They all seemed really excited to see me.

Even more exciting, they spoke English to me! I mean, I’ve been teaching these kids at elementary school for a few months, but I guess it never really registered that they could actually speak English to me. Whenever I asked them, “How are you?” they always had a response and understand what I was saying. Some of the third years can’t do that! I asked one third year, “How are you?” today, and he turned to another student and said, “What did she say?” (Sigh.)

Even better—I said, “What are you doing?” to a group of first year girls, and they actually understood the question. What! Some of the second years don’t even know what I’m saying when I ask them that! I’m pretty proud of these new first years. I hope they impress my JTE.

Today, the first years had recreation during 4th period, so I went to watch them play soccer. When I walked up, a whole bunch of them immediately ran up to me and asked if I was going to play, too. XD I sort of wanted to, but their teachers looked unenthusiastic about the prospect, so I sat on the sidelines and watched.

I’m so happy that the new first years are here. They’re so energetic and fun and friendly. It’s just great having them here. And I kinda feel like I have the upper hand over the other teachers because I already know these kids. I mean, I don’t know them well, but we’ve had fun together and they know who I am.

Welcome Enkai

On Friday, April 5th, we had a welcome enkai for the new arrivals. Going to enkais has been somewhat chaotic recently. I’m not sure why, but while before everyone helped me figure out where it is or at least offered to give me a ride, now it seems like no one wants to, or has the time to, help me out. It could be that they’re really busy, or that they don’t even want to go to these dinners.

This time was really no exception. I had to ask three teachers before someone finally helped me locate the restaurant on my phone’s map, and I had to stay twenty minutes after school to track someone down to do that.

I took the train, and then I wandered around the beach in Tateyama for a few minutes. I didn’t want to be early. Usually at these enkais, everyone places my JTEs next to me, and then the whole night, the JTEs feel obligated to talk to me and translate for me. I feel like they end up not having a lot of fun, and sometimes I really don’t want them to hold my hand through these dinners. I want to practice Japanese and get to know my other coworkers. So this time, I wanted to get there later than my JTEs so I might sit somewhere else. Give them the night off.

I couldn’t stall much longer, though, so I walked to the restaurant. Only one of my JTEs was there, but she was hosting it, so it was likely that I wouldn’t be sitting with her. The new principal invited me to sit across the table from him, so I took a seat sort of diagonal to him, so I could be nearer the yakiniku grills. As the room filled up, my second JTE still wasn’t there, and there was still an empty seat next to me.

Nooooooo¸ I was saying in my head. Noooooo!!

It was my goal that night to be far away from them, so we could all have fun.

Then she arrived at the same time as two other teachers. One of the teachers—Tamura-sensei—asked where she should sit, so I quickly patted the seat next to me. YES. VICTORY.

That dinner… was so much fun. When I checked Facebook later, I saw a lot of other ALTs saying that their enkais were terrible, but I had a really great time at mine.

That’s ‘cause Tomiura really is the best. ;P

I talked to Tamura-sensei a lot, and the new woman that sits across from me in the office was sitting across from me at dinner. We thought that was funny! I talked to her a little bit, and eventually I worked up the courage to talk to the young people, who were sitting diagonally from me. I asked what they were teaching, and when they said P.E., I mentioned that I went to some P.E. classes last year. So hopefully they’ll let me come to theirs!

I also talked a lot with this older teacher that sits next to me in the office. I was afraid for a long time that he didn’t like me very much—he refuses to speak English in class, and he’s somewhat standoffish—but after a while, I made a point to say good morning to him every day, and one night, he started to pour my drinks.

At this enkai, he suddenly asked me if I’d ever read Steinbeck. Apparently he just remembered that Steinbeck is from California! Haha! So we talked about Steinbeck for a really long time, and then the secretary mentioned that I wanted to be a writer, so he asked me what other authors I liked.

We had a nijikai, but I was only able to go because Kawana-sensei offered to give me a ride again, since going to nijikai would make me miss my last train.

Me: “Well… where are we going?”

Kawana: “A snack. But it’s not creepy!”

Me: (laughs) “Okay.”

I told him I didn’t have any money, so he joked that the new head teacher would pay for everything. (In the end, Kyoto-sensei ended up paying for me. When I told Kim this, she said that that’s the way it should be! I guess in most places, the men always pay for the women at nijikai.)

Nijikai was great, too. We drank some Nihonshu and only sang karaoke at the end. I managed to really talk to the two young people for the first time all week. They were a little nervous about talking to me, I think, because they don’t speak much English (which I think is bull shit! They have to at least know a little!), but I think we communicated just fine. Kawana-sensei helped whenever we were stuck, but he was really drunk, so he ended up just making weird comments about him and the new guy being “rivals” for the new girl and me. XD

Kyoto-sensei finally made everyone start karaoke, and they all forced me to sing. XD I didn’t know what to sing, but the new girl suggested Lady Gaga. That wasn’t promising—I have trouble with Lady Gaga songs—but we chose “Pokerface.” XD They don’t know what it means, you guys, so it’s okay.

Goals for the New Year

So the transition went smoothly, even though I still miss the people who left. The reason it was so distressing was that I was just getting used to everyone and the way school ran, and then it all up and changed on me.

So now we have a whole new group of people—it feels like I’m starting almost fresh. I feel like I can try something different this year, build up different habits. I’m looking forward to it!

I’m glad I decided to stay another year. :)

Vocabulary

enkai n. banquet; dinner.

nihonshu n. lit. “Japanese alcohol.”

nijikai n. afterparty; second banquet.

snack n. A Japanese hostess bar.

yakiniku n. grilled meat. My favorite thing to eat when we go out for dinner, because MEAT.

yoroshiku onegaishimasu: This is really difficult to translate. It doesn’t really have an English translation. Basically, you say it when you first meet someone, kind of like how we use “Nice to meet you,” but it means way more than that.

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One Response to The New School Year

  1. Kim says:

    Haha… they always make you on the spot introduce yourself :D Sounds like you did fine.

    The second year is always SO MUCH better than the first and your new 1 nen sei are awesome kids, so you in theory should have no problem cases. Good luck!

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