Mr Miyagi McFly
I am a bonafide sensei. I am responsible for the education of juvenile delinquents. Sadly, all those Japanese samurai films could not prepare me for the position. I feel more like a herder of sheep than an educator of language. Never have I had to contend with such volatile energy. To explain the situation as a mere culture shock would be a gross understatement. I find myself physically drained by their fervent outbursts. Honestly though… It’s absolutely brilliant and I love it.
I had heard only good things about teaching in Japan, until a mere handful of days before I was set to teach. Meeting with the JETs of Osaka, I was fortunate enough to learn of the many horrors that can come from teaching Junior High Schoolers. For starters, I was told of the deranged Southern Osaka school kids who rip up their textbooks and jump out windows. I was told of female teachers having their bras unhooked in the hallways and male teachers being grabbed by their fifth limb to compare size. Students use the school grounds as their home away from home, doing whatever they want, sleeping wherever they want, and disregarding any form of authority. These stories were the first reality check I had experienced since arriving in Japan a month earlier. Needless to say (but I will for the sake of dramatic intrigue), I was a little shaken.
Like setting up defences for the siege of Helm’s Deep, I prepared myself mentally for the nightmare I was soon to endure. But then the first day passed without a hint of misconduct, and then the second, and the third, and the tenth. Still today, weeks after my first day as an English teacher, I have yet to experience anything demotivating or even remotely degenerate from my students. In fact, I believe my school to be the best-behaved school I have ever entered, a shining star amongst black holes perhaps. The kids have such energy. The teachers are motivated and compassionate toward their students and the general vibe that umbrellas the school is a cheerful one. Being here has already improved my own state of mind. I should make it very apparent though that despite my school’s great personality, there has still been a lot of adjusting to do. Unsurprisingly, things are just a little different in Japan.
In order to offer context, junior high-schoolers are aged roughly 13 to 16 years old. For me, this was a very confusing age, during which I went through puberty and explored new avenues of pain and pleasure: romantically, spiritually, and intellectually. Thinking back on my own experiences at this age, I am concerned about the effects that this point in one’s life can have on a person. And yet, there are few dramas to report. Most of these kids arrive to school with a smile on their dial. My memories of this age are fraught with melodrama so it’s such a refreshing feeling to see that the children here are less jarred by the disturbances that this time in their life brought me.
I must say that my norms have been challenged a great deal in Japan. What I consider to be status quo is often radically different here. It’s the way students present their affection for one another that has me raising the brow. Sometimes I fear to turn a corner at the risk of seeing something that could damage my retinas. I don’t want to overdramatize this at all, I’m sure it’s not that big a deal, but these teenage boys really enjoy each other’s physical company. In the four weeks that I have been teaching here at Go-Chu, I have seen a plethora of rambunctious teenagers asserting their love for one another with what I can only describe as a very contrast set of gestures. Whilst the girls engage in the standard mode of affection through the means of group huddles, fuelled by roaring giggles, the boys literally mount one another. I have seen a cornucopia of strange food groups created by boys coming together. I have seen pancake stacks, five boys high. I have seen bacon on the skillet. I have seen human sushi rolls. The list is endless. And nobody bats an eyelid. It’s completely normalised here. You can only imagine my reaction when I’m invited to join the “fun.” I assume that with my narrow vision clouded by preconceived notions of school etiquette, I react in a very foreign way to what is a native commonality. I am still very much the new kid on the block and it will take time to get accustomed to Japanese norms but sometimes I feel like a leopard amongst lions and it’s startling, yet, fascinating.
Teaching has already had a huge impact on me. The micro humans at my school are incredibly polite and affable creatures. I have already chosen a few favourites to mentor due to our mutual interests, and I hope that my presence here can have a positive effect on them. I think teaching is for most people, an innate skill that can be activated by a catalyst - such as starting a job as a teacher... Seriously though, I wasn’t sure it would be a job for me. I certainly didn’t want to be a teacher when I was still in school but now I find myself becoming compassionate about the job. It’s hugely rewarding. There is a no photography policy in my school so here are some photos of what I’ve been doing with the rest of my time this past month.