Thanksgiving, Day 17: My Job

Home away from home…

As with the post about The Boys, I think it is important to be thankful for those things that are fundamentally temporary. [1] If you’ve been reading for a while, then you know that my current employment situation is, how shall we say – in flux, and that this state of uncertainty is not something which sits well with me. Mind you, there are avenues of exploration open that will, if successful, bring this period of uncertainty to a close, but I’m not going to say anything about them until they’re more of a sure thing.

Until then, let me be thankful for my job.

Of all the jobs I’ve had, it is certainly tops in every respect. It’s challenging and interesting, I work with a lot of good people who not only know what they’re doing, but who are willing to go out of their way to help out if necessary. The students are, by and large, hardworking, polite, and conscientious (with the occasional exceptions, of course, but far fewer than might be expected elsewhere). The facilities are modern and nice, the pay is good, and the teachers are given a lot of freedom and leeway to teach as they think best. The only thing I can really complain about is the commute, and that’s just because they’re not willing, for some reason, to move the whole operation down to Osaka.

When I compare it to the other jobs I’ve done and places I’ve worked, I can’t think that I would give this up to go back to any of those.

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[1] Which, technically, would include everything, but I only have a few days left on this project.

Thanksgiving, Day 13: Sick Days

You and me both, Parker.

Continuing on from yesterday – no, I don’t feel better and yes, I am going to take a sick day.

Why? Because I can, of course. And because it’s what needs to be done.

The idea of being not only able to take a sick day but to do so without being guilted, shafted, or outright harassed for it is a new one. Indeed, in this place they positively encourage them, since my sick self is going to end up being in contact with a whole lot of other students and teachers, thus allowing whatever plague I have to spread from person to person. In fact, maybe if Certain People [1] had taken a day or two off last week, I wouldn’t be in this position.

My last job was positively brutal with sick days – you didn’t get paid for the day, for one thing, but you also lost a *punctuality bonus* of nearly $500 out of your paycheck. It’s a bonus because, by law, companies can’t dock your pay just because you’re sick. Arbitrary bonuses put in just to keep people from missing work? Fair game. Lawyers are sneaky bastards, each and every on of ’em.

Anyway, that’s how I ended up one day at the hospital for six hours, trying to get a doctor to look at me, tell me I had a cold, and give me the form saying he had seen me. When I told him what was wrong, he asked, “Why the hell are you here?” I told him that my company didn’t trust me to make my own health decisions, and could he please give me that form.

But that’s all behind me now. Here and now I can take a sick day, and so I shall. Maybe two – we’ll see how I feel on Thursday. Let’s shoot for “better,” or at least “not as shitty.”

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[1] I would add, “You know who you are,” but I don’t think any of them read this blog. Probably a good thing.

On Finitude

I debated whether I should post this, to be honest. It seems like I’m letting more hang out than I really should, given the circumstances, but that’s the purpose of this blog. I may not update it as often as I should, but it’s the place to go when there’s an idea in my head that just won’t leave. And if I have to vent to someone, the ceaselessly hungry internet is as good a someone to vent to as any.

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Here’s the setup: the school I work at hires full-time teachers on a three year contract. Because it is a private school, run by a private university system, they are beholden to private sector labor laws, the effect of which is that they are allowed to let teachers go after three years with little more than a bunch of flowers and a sincere “Thank you.” The legal logistics of it are murky, of course, but the take-away is this: my time at Ritsumeikan Uji will end in April, and there doesn’t seem to be a damned thing I can do about it.

There is the matter of finding a new job and being able to remain in the country, but that’s not all that’s on my mind right now. With the sure and certain knowledge that I have a deadline, a thought popped into my head that seems vividly appropriate, but at the same time incredibly insulting: “This is how terminally ill people must feel.”

Oh, I should have been a chemistry teacher…

If you are terminally ill and you just read that and thought, “What an asshole,” I will grant that you’re probably right and I apologize. But the questions that flooded my mind seem to be the same that one might think when seeing the end of their life approaching.

Why didn’t I make better use of my time here? Don’t get me wrong – I did a lot and learned a lot and tried to stay involved with the school, but at the same time I know I could have done more. I could have gone against my nature and been more sociable. I could have spent more time with clubs. I could have taken more advantage of the school’s resources and connections to better myself as a teacher. I could have done more than I did. Why didn’t I? Because I was wrapped up in the day-to-day minutia of being a teacher. Because I valued my free time now over improvement for later. Because I was lazy and short-sighted, perhaps.

What do I do with the time I have left? If I really were an asshole, I’d just slack off. Take the attitude that since nothing I do matters anymore, then why do anything? But that is contrary to my nature – I can’t do that any more than I can stop eating for the next seven months. What I do may not amount to a hill of beans in the long term, but here and now it’s important, and it’s important that I continue to remain dedicated to it. And there is a part of me that wants to wax hyperbolic [1] and carry a bell around with me, ringing it through the halls while I cry out, “DEAD MAN WALKING!” But that would just be ridiculous.

Think of the CHILDREN!

What about the kids? I’ve taught a lot of good kids at this school, and they go beyond being good students to actually being interesting people. One of the biggest reasons I tried for the permanent position was that I wanted to have a chance to teach these kids again, and to see new interesting people emerge over the years. After three years, I was just starting to get the hang of this gig, and wanted the chance to really flex my creative muscles and find better ways to get the students both using English and interested in it.

On top of that, what do I tell them? At some point, they’re going to start asking about next year and whether I’ll be teaching their class. Do I hedge and dodge and make them wait until the end of the year, when the departing teachers are sent off to a farm upstate? Or do I tell them ahead of time? Or am I seriously overestimating their opinion of me that it would even matter to them?

What’s going to happen to all my stuff? This may sound kind of petty, and I suppose it is, but over the last few years, I’ve built up quite a body of work, lesson plans, and even full courses. I was the drama teacher, one of the few advanced reading teachers, and built the curriculum for the regular first year classes. I made an inordinate amount of lesson plans, many of which I’m quite proud of. What’s going to become of all that work? Who’s going to take over the drama class, and will they know what they’re doing? Who’s going to take over my reading classes, and will they be able to keep them interesting and fresh? Who will keep refining the first year curriculum so that the students get the tools they need to do better in their second and third years? Am I leaving all of what I built in the hands of people who will build upon it, or will it all be shoved into a cabinet somewhere to be forgotten?

Damn GPS. Every frackin’ time…

Where do I go from here? After this, what? The chattering monkey in my brain is convinced that nothing better can come along. This was a great place to work, with wonderful co-workers and facilities. And the pay was good, too. After this, what do I do? Do I go back to the eikaiwa purgatory from whence I came? Do I work part-time, teaching English to businessmen? Do I leave teaching and find something else? Will I stumble across something even better than this? Do I live with a bunch of cats in a van down by the river, eating government tofu and slowly going mad? I have no idea, and that kind of uncertainty doesn’t do me any good.

Keep in mind, though, this is just the way my Scumbag Brain works. If you’ve been following along, you may recall the freakout it had when I got this job – wondering whether I’d actually be good enough to do it, if I’d shame myself out of a career, all that. And that worked out just fine. Better than fine, really. It became a job that I deeply, deeply wish I could keep.

So perhaps this, too, will all work out for the best in the end, no matter how many doomsday scenarios I can spin out. Perhaps in a few years I can look back at this entry and marvel at how anxious I was about something that, ultimately, wasn’t that big a deal.

Let’s hope so.

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[1] As is evidenced by the fact that I’m sitting here comparing the loss of my job to dying.

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…..

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[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.

You keep Jesus, I’ll take Hal Jordan

So. I got the job that I talked about in a recent post, the one working at Ritsumeikan High School in Uji. And I don’t mind telling you that I had myself tied up in some pretty entertaining knots over this. It got to the point where I’d flinch when new email came in because I was sure it was either an offer or a rejection, and I didn’t know which was scarier.

That’s no way to go through life, so I decided to do something about it. Enter the Green Lanterns.

In the DC Universe, the Green Lanterns are a kind of space police, armed with a power ring that is able to project a green energy field that responds to the user’s willpower and imagination. It’s a hell of a thing, very possibly the most powerful weapon in the universe, and I can honestly say it’s probably best for everyone that mine doesn’t actually work.

Not just anyone can be a Green Lantern, though. There’s a very special quality that is required of a potential Lantern.

In order to master the power ring, the Lantern has to master their fear. If they cannot do that, they will never be able to successfully wield the ring and take their place among the protectors of the cosmos. It used to be that a Green Lantern had to be without fear entirely, but later and more worldly writers realized that such a quality would be more of a detriment than a benefit. Fear is necessary to our lives – it keeps us honest and, often, alive. Without fear, we are less than animals, because even they know well enough what to be afraid of.

What makes a Lantern, then, is the ability to overcome it. Later in the comic, Dr. Natu finds the corpse of another Lantern and repeats to herself, “I am not afraid.” But that’s clearly a lie – she is. What eventually cements her to the Green Lantern Corps is not that she is unafraid, but that she can overcome the fear that threatens to make her give up her new calling. She chooses not to let her fear rule her, and in doing so becomes something greater than herself.

Anxiety about starting a new job is hardly fear on the level that is traditionally depicted in Green Lantern comic books. That kind of danger is cosmic in scale and very often fatal. But it was pretty damn real to me. Every time I considered the possible future ahead of me, my gut would clench and that little whispery voice in the back of my head would start its litany of all the ways that I would probably fail. What was I, anyway? A NOVA teacher? Assuming that I could handle real academics? And teenagers no less? From day one I would be overwhelmed, beaten and humiliated, and all I would be able to do was crawl back to my eikaiwa job in ignominy.

To that, I would finger the ring I was wearing and say to myself, “You have the ability to overcome great fear.”

And I did.

So here’s to the future. I start my new job on April 14th, provided I get all the necessary paperwork done before I leave for Spain. It’ll be a challenge, and I’ll no doubt make mistakes. But when I was offered the job, I said “Yes” without hesitation, and I must always remember that.

It’s not re-igniting the sun or saving the universe or doing battle against a living planet with a mad desire to kill me. But I had fear and I overcame it.

Let’s go.

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.