This post is going to be a little sensitive, so in a few days, I’ll probably put it behind a password lock. I’m probably going to set the password to my middle name, spelled in reverse. If you don’t know it, email me and I’ll send it to you. Also, as a precaution, I’m translating every name in the blog. If they’re in Japanese, they become their english equivalent (Hiroshima –> Wide Island), and if they’re English, they get Japanized (Jason -> Jeison). Alright, with that said, on to the meat of the post.
Yesterday every JET in my town was fired.
We went to our bimonthly Board of Education meeting, as usual. Our supervisor started the meeting by mentioning that Dragonfield City Hall had been having some serious budgeting issues lately, and they’d been forced to make some cutbacks. One of the first things to go was the contracts with JET. At the end of our year, they are not going to renew any of our contracts, and are switching entirely to private companies for Assistant Language Teachers.
Now, you may say, that isn’t such a huge deal, you still have ten months left. You may even be wondering why they’re telling us after we’ve only been here 2-3 months. Well, you have to realize the four options we’re left with:
- Stay with the JET program, but transfer somewhere inside of Thorncastle prefecture, if there’s an open spot. Probably will be, but it’s a crapshoot. Deadline to apply for this is end of the month.
- Stay with the JET program, but transfer to another prefecture. Deadline to apply for this is in two weeks.
- Try to find out which private company they’ll contract with (they haven’t decided yet), get hired by them, take a massive pay cut, and miraculously get placed by the hands of fate with the same school you were teaching at before.
- Leave Japan.
All other JETs get until January-February to decide. We get a month at most.
Now, I was already leaning towards not renewing my contract after the year is up, but this news still sucks, for several reasons. The main one is that it casts a huge light on the future in a very immediate sense. In one instant, we all went from doing something important and fulfilling to sitting on our asses for the next 10 months. None of us know what we’re going to do after this, and few of have prospects. Even if we stay on, it’ll be like starting over, in a new place, with new people. Beyond that, though, is the damage this is going to do to the school system here. We’ve all been busting our asses to improve things, and have been really making a lot of breakthroughs. I have my schools actually planning out lessons and communicating with me. Eimi has her yakuza training camp of a school whipped into shape, and the kids are actually listening to her and paying attention. We have years of accumulated lesson plans, teaching aids, and experience that are all going to vanish into thin air.
And the poor kids are going to suffer most of all. We go to every sports festival, every choir festival, every culture festival, we join their clubs, we hold Christmas and Halloween parties just for them. Private contractors are not going to be held to those expectations. Hell, private contractors aren’t even going to be having regular meetings with the Board of Education. There’s going to be no communication, or if there is, it will be filtered through three or four layers of management, to the point that it becomes useless.
The worst part of all of it is, there’s no villain here. The Board of Education people fought back tears as they were telling us this. They’d really fought tooth and nail to keep us, but just weren’t able to. You see, the JET Program is the number one program of its kind in the world, but that comes with a price. The BOE has to provide us with housing — nice housing, meeting a specific square footage, and, for female JETs, located on the second floor (to prevent panty thieves). To give some perspective, the other tenants in my apartment building are families. My place is half as big as it was in Hollywood, but four times as big as my friends living in Tokyo. On top of that, we are required to take time off for several seminars and meetings throughout the year, and the BOE has to cover transportation costs, I believe. They’ll be saving roughly $50,000 by getting rid of the five of us. So, no way around it. But still.
The last little twist to this tale is the hideous about-turn my day took yesterday. Let’s step through my schedule, for perspective:
I wake up at 5 am, having gotten 4.5 hours of sleep, to prepare lessons, chat with American friends, and memorize the last of Shimauta, the song the middle school teachers were learning for the choir festival I mentioned earlier. I grab three changes of clothes — gym clothes (for the walk to school), dress clothes (for the choir festival), and a dracula costume (for classes; Halloween lessons). It’s raining torrentially, so I have to carry all this without the aid of a bike, so the clothes won’t get wet.
I get to my elementary school at 7:40, an hour before school starts, and before around 75% of the teachers. I photocopy my teaching plans for all 4 classes I’m supposed to teach that day, and their translations into Japanese, and go over them with the teachers. I then grab the scheduling person and make sure I’m able to leave for 4th period (choir festival) and 6th (meeting at the board of education). I’d notified him of this last week, but he’d forgotten, so after no small amount of consternation, we finally settle on my schedule — I’ll be teaching two classes at one time. In short, the entire third grade in first period, and the entire fourth grade in second period.
You ever try to keep 70 hyperactive kids in line for an hour straight? Turns out, it’s kind of difficult. I pull it off pretty well, despite the facts that each class starts late, runs long, and the Japanese teachers hadn’t read the game directions at all, thus requiring me to explain the rules to the kids in Japanese, by myself. The classes go well, though, and the kids really love my costume.
One of my co-teachers from my middle school shows up in third period, since I’d finished all my teaching in two periods, to get me for the choir festival, which was at the Culture Center, right next to City Hall, clear across town. When I get there, I realize that every teacher is singing while holding the lyrics in front of them, and I’m the only one who’s memorized the song. Anywho, we go on stage, the curtains come up, and the entire auditorium erupts with students clapping and, astonished that I’m singing with the other teachers, yelling “JEISON-SENSEI!” Oh yeah, I didn’t mention this — nobody actually asked me to do the choir festival. I did this all of my own volition. Around half the teachers didn’t know I was doing it, either. The song goes well, and everyone has a grand time with it. The audience claps in unison to the beat of the song at the end.
Afterwards, they offer to leave me at the Culture Center, bcause I have a meeting at the BOE in an hour and a half, no class during 5th period, and City Hall (where the BOE resides) is right next door. On top of that, they offer me chocolate and want to give me an incredibly delicious bento lunch, which all the teachers get for singing in the festival.
I refuse. Why? Because my elementary school students wanted me to eat lunch with them, and to come see their presentations they were doing during 5th period for another class. So I return back to my elementary school, eat lunch, and watch their presentations. And the lunch is pretty nasty, but I eat it all to set an example for the kids.
After 5th period, I dart home, drop off about 30 lbs of clothing, grab my bike, and start pedaling to the BOE, clear across town, around 30 minutes away — I am the JET furthest away from the BOE by a good 5-10 minutes. It’s 3:00, meeting’s at 3:30, I was late the last time or two, so I can’t really be late to this one. I manage to stop by my middle school, where there’s only a handful of people hanging around, due to the choir festival, and drop off some class plans for this week, as well as handle some stuff for the midyear seminar (which I’ll expound upon in a later post).
I speed like hell to the BOE, randomly meeting around 5 different groups of students heading home from the choir festival, all of whom want to congratulate me on my singing, in English. So I stop for each group, and courteously talk to them for a bit, before speeding back off. One group jumps out and ambushes me, and I actually skid to a halt, knocking down my bike (it had been raining) and bruising my leg up. The route is mostly downhill, thankfully, and I manage to get there at 3:33, well before two of the other JETs.
Then I get fired.
By the time I leave, the rain has started back up again. My route back home is mostly uphill, entirely against the wind, and I’m nowhere near good enough to ride a bike while using an umbrella, so I’m only wearing a hoodie — and the hood keeps blowing off in the wind. Often the wind tries to blow me into the road. About half the route is lit solely by the headlights from traffic, whose bright lights blind me to the point that I’m running off the road and into rice paddies.
When I get back home, there’s three bills waiting for me, for a total of around $300. The apartment is freezing, a side effect of the rain. I can actually faintly see my breath.
And as I step into the living room, I see it’s a mess, as always, sparsely adorned and overly cluttered. And I think to myself, “What is the point in cleaning? What is the point in decorating? This is not my home. It will never be my home. I am just a visitor.”