What a Day….

The best way to describe my orientation day at my new job is that it was like a Polaroid picture. Completely opaque and confusing at the beginning, but a whole lot clearer by the end.

I left the house at 6:30 and got to the school at 8:30 – slightly later than I wanted, as I was selfish enough to use the toilet at the train station and thereby missed the bus – and met some of the other new teachers. From there we were herded into a faculty meeting where we got to introduce ourselves. I think I did okay, mumbling something in Japanese that sounded like what everyone else was saying [1]. From there was a long presentation on something, very little of which I understood since it was all in Japanese, but I did my damndest to turn pages when everyone else did and look thoughtfully up at the guy who happened to be talking at the time. That was about two hours, and I hardly understood any of it. Fortunately my department-section-division head boss-type-person summarized it in about five minutes.

From there, we went into the teacher’s room, which is – and I do not use this word lightly – ginormous. What thrilled me was that I get a desk – a desk! And a locker for the stuff that doesn’t fit in my desk! I know, you’re thinking, “But Chris, it’s a job – you’re supposed to have a desk.” Well, you’ve never worked at an English Conversation School, have you? I fight for every inch of space I can get there [2], and now they’re offering me a whole desk! All to myself!

Anyway, we had a couple more meetings after that and I got to try the cafeteria food. What it all comes down to are the following:

  • My fellow teachers [3] are very willing to help me hit the ground running. They’ve got a ton of material to draw from and ideas to use. That helps immeasurably.
  • They also have nothing but good to say about the students. That’s quite encouraging, because in my experience if there’s something to complain about, a teacher will complain about it.
  • I’m actually expected to think about what I want to do, set goals for myself and all that. My current gig doesn’t really require that – all we have to do is find a lesson that works for the group you have and take two minutes to plan. NOVA is fine if we just follow their pre-done lesson plans, but here I’ll actually have to put some thought into what I do with the students. That is both wonderful and, of course, horrifying.

Still and all, I’m looking forward to it. Our books for the first half of the year or so are Fahrenheit 451, Things Fall Apart and a selection of stories from Edgar Allen Poe. Once they’re done, I can decide what we read next. Yay!

Oh, and I’ll be working with the drama club.

Now. Off to bed…..


[1] I think I set a land-speed record for learning a new word: kyouka, which is “subject” or “curriculum.” My exact thought process: “Oh shit, I don’t know how to say what I teach. Okay, listen for a repeated word…. Got it. kyoukakyoukakyoukakyouka…..

[2] That reminds me – I have to disarm the mines before I leave.

[3] One of whom, I might add, is a dead ringer for Zachary Quinto. When I met him I very nearly screamed and covered my brain.

Don’t Panic! パニクるな! No entres en pánico! Keine Panik! Не паникуйте! Ná Scaoill! Neprepadajte panike!

There are times when I wish I had more control over my brain. I mean, I’m generally pretty good at it – keeping it from drifting off when someone in a lesson is telling a boring story, for example. Or, conversely, keeping it from becoming very, very focused when I visit a sento. [1] But there are times when, much like my cat, it defies all attempts at control and just runs around full tilt, freaking out over something only it can see.

I had a job interview this morning, my first in nearly a decade. It’s for a job at the Ritsumeikan Junior/Senior High school in Uji, a city slightly south of Kyoto, teaching ESL and English Literature. I got pointed to the job by a former colleague, who thought I’d be a good fit, and in a whirlwind week of scanning documents and arranging dates it all came together this morning. I got up at 6 AM, commuted out to Uji for a 10:00 interview and did, I think, pretty well.

They had me do a short demo lesson for them, using text from Fahrenheit 451 to cobble together a lesson, and then we went on to the standard interview, which I think I handled nicely. I had answers to all their questions and threw questions of my own at them. I pulled together my experience doing theater and my experience at NOVA, presenting the picture of someone who takes from all sources to build a better lesson. And when they noted that my degree was not in English or English Lit but rather in Poli-Sci, well… That’s when I dropped the Podcast on them. I may not have the sheepskin to prove it, but they’d be hard-pressed to find someone around here who likes books as much as I do. I rather hope they Google my name and “podcast” and see what comes up.

The job itself sounds great, too. Great campus and environment, a fine salary, and it would be teaching at a higher level than what I’m doing now. There’ll be a pretty damn steep learning curve, which I was careful to acknowledge in the interview, but I like to think I’m quick enough on my feet to handle it. With the exception of a 90-minute commute that would have to start at about 6 AM, there’s really nothing to say against it.

So I’m puzzled as to why my brain is freaking out and panicking at the mere thought that they might actually offer the job to me.

I hope this is something that normal people experience. Instead of joyful anticipation that my station in life may soon rise, I am experiencing the terror of potential failure. That I will be hired and then subsequently exposed as a sham. That I’ll crack under the pressure of a higher level of work and realize that my reach had indeed exceeded my grasp, and that being an English Conversation Instructor was really the best I could hope for.

In other words, my stupid, weak Hyuu-man Meat Brain ™ is being completely irrational, and as you may have noticed by now, I find irrationality annoying, especially when it’s my own. It’s stupid for several reasons:

1) This is the kind of job that many eikaiwa teachers aspire to. Aside from being less corporate and profit-focused, as well as better-paying, it’s more consistent in terms of class size and curriculum and carries a lot more social cachet, if that kind of thing is important to you. It’s qualitatively better than working at an English Conversation School. [2] If I told someone that I was too freaked out by the prospect of a job at Ritsumeikan that I turned it down just so I could stay with NOVA, I think they would be perfectly justified in beating me to death with my own sand-filled internal organs.

2) This kind of thing is right up my alley. I mean come on, teaching literature? And they intimated that the guy running the drama club might be happy to know that there was someone else qualified to take it over. Taking the point of view of an objective observer, there should be nothing in this gig that I cannot handle. Sure, it might be a little bumpy to begin with, but the ultimate payoff would be spectacular.

3) I know people who are looking for work, and have been for quite some time. Turning down a really good job like this would be, in my opinion, a slap in their faces.

4) Even if I don’t get the job, which is possible [3], I still have my current job. So it’s not like I’m out on a limb here. In fact, if they do turn me down, I’m scheduled to start working at a new branch in April, one that’s just over the river from where I am now. My usual 80-minute commute gets cut down to 30. So it’s a win-win, really.

They should get back to me sometime this week. From now until then, it’ll just be me against my own brain – trying not to get too excited, as a hedge against possible disappointment; trying not to get too freaked out lest I do something massively idiotic like tell them no; trying not to over-analyze everything [4] so as to keep a lid on the excitement and terror.

In other words, try to approach this like a rational adult, and not get too annoyed with myself about how hard that appears to be.

[1] Public bath. It was there that I learned that most people don’t look good naked. There are those that do, however, and that’s when having rigid firm turgid absolute control over one’s thoughts becomes very useful.

[2] It’s also quantitatively better, but the math involved to prove it is far too difficult to post here. Just trust me.

[3] The school year starts in the first week in April, which is when I’ll be in Spain for my brother Paul’s wedding. I let them know, full disclosure and everything, that I’d be away until about the middle of the month, and got, “Hmmm. That might be a problem.” Now this was one of the foreign teachers speaking, but depending on how native she’s gone, that could mean “HELL no.” We shall see.

[4] So much for that.