Thanksgiving, Day 10: A Saturday Off

One of the tricky things about being a teacher is that there is this unspoken assumption that you have no desire to be anything else.

Perhaps more than a lot of other jobs, teaching is seen less as a career than as a calling, something you do because you feel it is what you must do. Not all teachers feel that way, of course, but that is generally what we expect of a good teacher. That hard-working, sacrificing person who puts the students and the school ahead of themselves. The person who is constantly striving to contribute to their classes, to their department, and to the school at large. Possibly even to the greater educational system in which they live and work. Being a teacher means being part of a much bigger system than simply your class of twenty or thirty kids at a time, and that’s part of what you agree to when you sign up.

For the students, too, school is the center of their lives. It’s where they spend most of their time, make most of their friends, and devote most of their energy. They have clubs and sports and studies, and devote all of their energy to those things. [1] When they graduate, the friends they had here will be part of their social and professional networks for a long time, especially at a school like Ritsumeikan Uji, where most of the kids will step right up to Ritsumeikan University with their classmates after they graduate.

I don’t know how it is at American schools, but Japanese schools take this idea and run with it as far as they can. School never ends. Sure, kids have to go home eventually, but they’re reluctant to do so. Give most kids a day without classes and they’ll come to practice with their club. Give them a vacation, and they’ll still be coming to school, in uniform even.

It’s not that they love studying – they don’t, I can assure you – but it’s where this is where their lives are. And so it must be with the teachers.

As part of our duties at the school, we have occasional work on Saturdays. It’s called doyo koza (土曜講座), and it varies from week to week. One week I might be just at my desk, catching up on work. Another week I might be escorting kids to their volunteer duties at a local day-care center. Sometimes I’ll be there as part of a school event, such as entrance exams or a school festival. Whatever I’m doing, I’m doing it because that’s what the school needs done. All in all, it adds up to about half your Saturdays in any given month. When you add in club duties – brass band, in my case – that number can go even higher.

No, not this kind of Bad Teacher.

The thing is – and this is probably something that makes me some kind of Bad Teacher – if it weren’t required, I probably wouldn’t do it. Maybe if I lived closer to the school I would mind it less, and there are some school events that are definitely worth coming to. But I tend to guard my free time jealously, and not everything I do during a doyo koza day is necessarily something that needs doing. At least not by me. It does often test the limits of my creativity, in the “Only boring people are bored” sense. [2]

If not me, though, who? There’s the rub right there – there’s more to working at a school than just teaching classes, and it’s the job of the teachers to do it. I can’t shrug off my duties any more than I would expect any other teacher to do so – especially when some of my colleagues have to spend a lot more time at school than I do. If I didn’t want to do this, I should have picked up another job. It’s something I try to teach my students – there are some things you don’t want to do, yet you have to do. So make the best of it.

The side effect of all this, of course, is that it makes me appreciate these two-day weekends even more. When I have a Saturday coming up, it’s something to look forward to. Even if The Boyfriend and I don’t have plans or any special ideas, it’s still two whole days that I get to use to recharge and do those things I want to do at home. Not all of which are nearly as productive as what I would do at work, but still… If I’m going to waste time, then I’ll waste it the way I want to.

Now. If you’ll excuse me, I believe my schedule calls for a nap right now. Hold all my calls.

[1] Though they could, perhaps, channel a wee bit more into the “studies” part.
[2] My mother used this as her stock response when we were kids and complained about being bored. As in many other things, mom was right.


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