I’ve finished my first week of teaching. All together now: ready? THANK CHRIST THAT’S OVER. No, hang on, it wasn’t really that difficult – the basic adult lessons are a cinch, and make up about 90% of my schedule, so most of the time I’m not all that bothered. I turn up, tell a story and field some questions to get them thinking in English, go through what’s in the book, then just keep them talking until the lesson’s over. My students have pretty much all been friendly and eager to talk, which makes my job a whole lot easier.
There’s that other 10%, though: kids classes. I’ve hung out with kids before, and I used to bloody be one, so I thought I could control five at a time and actually help them speak in another language. Not to be. To employ an overused but no less appropriate phrase: they ran amok. I didn’t prepare enough, I didn’t set ground rules, and I didn’t get into a confident frame of mind, thus ensued a clusterfuck. Hopefully next week it’ll be like one of those stupid substitute teacher movies where, with everything having gone wrong on the first day, teacher goes home and undergoes a training montage – cut to the next day, and teacher waits in the classroom, ready to face those bastard kids… then they run roughshod over them once more. Except I’ll win in the end, and everyone will love me.
After that somewhat traumatic kids class, I was further humbled as I failed to observe an important Japanese custom: wearing footwear in the appropriate places. I don’t want this whole thing to turn into a discussion of things everybody already says about Japan (They work ridiculously hard! They sleep on the train, but always wake up in time for their stop! They have tiny feet! Etc.), but on this point I’ll concede bafflement. Why couldn’t I remain in socks as I escorted the kids and their parents down to the lobby? With some of the looks and comments I received upon stepping onto carpet without first entering my lace-ups, you’d swear I’d just been instructing those kids in the finer arts of bomb-making and shooting pornographic films, not English. I made a similar mistake at home in walking out the front door with shoes in hand and putting them on outside, rather than slipping into them at the genkan and lacing them up before facing the world. It’s just something I’ll have to get used to, I guess.
I’ll also have to get used to being spoken to in Japanese. On Friday I went to the hopelessly bland local government office to apply for my Alien Registration Card, or gaijin card as they are commonly known, and for the national health insurance. Nobody spoke passable English, so we baby-stepped through all the forms until they seemed to be saying everything was finished. Something will be delivered to my house around the 15th of July, and then I have to go to a bank or convenience store and do something… but I didn’t understand what. Fortunately, I live with other teachers who have both been here for over a year, so I’m not exactly adrift at sea – just mining this experience for content.
That building, though – probably the dullest, most depressing working environment I can imagine. The floor tiles, these tiny little off-white rectangles, were horribly ugly and obnoxious; even the paintings on the wall (presumably there for decoration) were nothing more than a slathering of brown with some words carved into them. It must have been a metaphor for the bureaucracy surrounding it: there’s some meaning here, but you’ll have to stand here looking for hours before you find any part of it. Naturally, I put my headphones in, put on Justice’s excellent and incredibly vibrant new album, and waited my turn.