I’m halfway through my first week of teaching Japanese elementary kids. What a great decision this has been. After spending the past year and a half trying to figure out Japanese people, I now get the inside look into what makes them so damn Japanese. I guess it’s hard to understand if you haven’t had a lot of contact with the typical, hard-working to the point of insanity, indecisive Japanese person. Trust me, elementary school starts the process.
I’ve really enjoyed how much responsibility the students have. The students clean the school, delivery and serve lunch, and are constantly in and out of the teacher’s room delivering messages, packages, ect. (I never remember being permitted to enter the teacher’s room.) They are instilled with a really solid work ethic that doesn’t get too unhealthy until they enter junior high school.
I teach between 3-6 classes a day at four different schools in the middle of the Japanese countryside. It’s really hard to believe that I’m an hour from Tokyo by train, my surroundings consisting mainly of rice paddies and the occasional Pachinko parlour (Japanese slot casinos). I live in the Japanese equivalent of Woodburn, except the Mexicans are Brazilian for some reason I haven’t discovered yet.
About two minutes before class two students come into the teachers room and ask for “Mr. Daniel Sensei” or “Maa Fee-Sensei” or “Maa Fee Danny-Sensei.” One combination or another. I teach them English if they have a good homeroom teacher, and I entertain them at least if their teacher sucks. The classroom control issues seem to be decided before I set foot in the room. But that’s the way it goes. Class clowns, teacher’s pets; all’s the same but the faces.
This will be a great way to experience the true countryside, and pick up a lot more Japanese. With this job I can actually use Japanese. At recess I talk to the kids in Japanese since I’m at about a 1st grade level, and I can chat with the teachers who rarely speak English or won’t try.
While last year I was technically a teacher, and was referred to as “sensei,” this job title takes on new meaning. English conversation teachers are called sensei for lack of a better term. The prestige and respect that follow this honorific will be applied in full, which means I need to watch my actions carefully. This means obeying all traffic laws, not walking and eating/drinking, and basically being a saint, especially around schools. I might not know who the children’s parents are, but they sure as hell know me. Never know who’s watching in this small town.
These are my first impression of what seems to be a pretty good job. On Sunday this podunk town seemed like the last place I’d want to be in this country, but then the people open up the subtle attributes of a place and it quickly feels like home. That’s why I can’t leave this place.