Scooter vs Japan

Japanniversary

August 2, 2016
Leave a Comment

First off, I wanted to touch on my absence. Aside from getting busy and dealing with some personal matters, I decided to take a step back from blogging. Most notably, I felt that too many of my posts turned into ridiculous gawking; looking at all the wacky stuff in Japan and talking about how wacky it is.

In a nut shell, I hated it. While I’ve had a good time writing, I never wanted this to be about silly gawking at or ranting about Japan. So here’s hoping I can do something different.

Orbital Rotations

what-was-still-is-hands-in-hands-happy-anniversary

It’s been a year since I came to Kamikawa. Prompted by the anniversary and my a friendly reader, I wanted to look at what has changed for me over the last year.

A lot has happened since I’ve come here, but at the same time I feel like I’ve done very little. I read a lot of comments about “putting you life on hold” this and “losing a year” that when people talk about JET, school, or what not.

I knew coming into this that my views were not the same as a lot of other JETs. I’m in this for the long haul, intending to stay as long as I can. I plan to enjoy the time I have here and use it to try and secure a better future. A year is an incredibly short time, even if you an cover a lot of ground.

Kevin

A while back, I talked about a student I’ve been tutoring. Things haven’t been going so well since he’s been really busy, but we’ve both made some headway.

Gold star on notebook

The small steps are the best ones.

Since I started tutoring Kevin, her grades have gone up by quite a bit. They are still low on a grand scale, but he got 40% on a recent test, even though we haven’t been meeting lately. Considering he was getting something like 10% when I met him, that is a phenomenal improvement. And he’ll speak to me in English once in a while, which I feel shows a lot of growth.

My hopes for Kevin were never that he become a top student. If he does end up loving English, great, but that wasn’t my goal. Instead, I wanted to show him some new ways to study and provide some simplified help that could get him through junior high. And I feel like Ive done that.

However, there has been another major development on this front. I’ve been having teachers slowly reach out to me to help other learning disabled students. My main teacher has even admitted that there are learning disabled students in class, that the problem isn’t just in English, and that we could be doing more to help.

Remember, this is Japan, a country that demands conformity and hasn’t been great in the past on handling special education. While there doesn’t seem to be a detailed enough diagnosis to work with, the fact that the teachers are ready to admit this and seek out my help is a huge step forward.

dreamstime_xxl_27446208-300x200

I… I have really short legs.

I really hope that I can continue to move forward on this. Although I’ve not an expert in special education, I am learning disabled and a product of a system that promotes inclusive education. Being trusted to help learning disabled students represents moving forward in my job and an increase in trust and responsibility.

Better education

Another tunnel light has been the increased willingness of my teachers as well as some new and very sharp administration. The Japanese business world largely revolves around the same calendar as the education system; the year starts in April, and with that comes some employee movements. Some of the teachers and administration moved around this year, and my new vice-principal is wonderful.

9713554-forward-thinking-innovation-crossword-puzzle-stock-photo

We can always use more blue in our lives.

While a lot of Japanese people do see problems in their country, it’s less common for them to know what to do about it. Mr. O have been a wonderful shoulder to lean on when things haven’t gone well in the classroom. He not only knows that there are problems with English, immigration, and other matters that deal with foreign residents, but he is also vocal about why these problems exist and how to improve upon them.

Add to this another new teacher who wants to focus more on communication, one of my teachers wanting to learn more about how to prepare better lessons, and a general interest in bringing change into the classroom (even if it isn’t a lot of change), This year is already shaping up to be far better than last.

My troubled marriage

As I’ve noted before, I have a pretty odd outlook when it comes to talking about the Japanese language. I unfortunately have not really progressed very much in this area. So far, all attempts to sit down and study Japanese just haven’t got over well.

piles-of-books_01

But that isn’t to say it’s all doom and gloom. My Japanese has gotten better by being here. I have to speak Japanese everyday, talk around my weaknesses, and explain complex thoughts that I lack the grammar and vocabulary for. That’s nothing to sneeze at.

Further, I have been paying attention during class and trying to pick up some of the grammar and vocab that the students are dealing with. And I’m making tiny steps forward when it comes to reading, which I feel is the direction I should be moving in. Grinding kanji wasn’t really working, and sitting down with grammar drills isn’t going well without a class structure. But I’m able to (mostly) understand things that are happening around me. If I can get some practice reading for comprehension, that should give a notable boost.

One proof of concept was reading a kids book today. The library had a bunch of books they were getting rid of, and I grabbed a few kids books. I’m planning to give them to my niece and nephew when I go back to Canada for Christmas, but I read through one today at work. Even though I didn’t understand every word or phrase, I was able to read the story with only a few dictionary lookups. I also translated the story later so that the kids can read it later. This took some more work to get the exact meaning, but it was proof that I did understand what I read.

Professional development

Lastly, one of my goals while being here was to come to a decision about my professional future. I’ve been reading up on career requirements and graduate education. While I’m still not sure what I want to do following my time here, I have made some progress.

I’m looking at a Masters degree in TESOL at the moment, specifically an online option. I still have a number of options open, but I’m uncertain as to how viable they are. But following things backwards, it seems like having a Masters degree in TESOL could be a step forward.

teach-english-spain

Although a Masters would require more dice. Just a few.

One option this opens up is making it easier to stay in Japan and continue working. Not only would more formal training help make me a more desirable candidate for other ALT jobs, having a Masters degree in TESOL opens up options for temporary post-secondary teaching in Japan. This would make it far easier to keep working in Japan if I wanted to.

If I continue into education as I originally planned, a Masters degree could do two things. First of all, even though the degree would be in English second language acquisition, the skills should be transferable to Japanese. Second, having a Masters degree and a few years teaching experience should make it easier to find work as a teacher in Canada. I’m also told that it can result in a pay bump, which never hurts.

Lastly, if I decide to bypass education and look into special education, it’s possible that a Masters in TESOL and the linguistics coursework that I would complete could help satisfy admissions requirements for programs like speech language pathology. I need to confirm this, but this could make that process much easier.

Best of all, since I can complete the degree online, I can complete the degree now while I’m working in Japan, thus being able to hit the ground running post-JET. This could save me a few years in establishing a career, and if chosen carefully, I can ensure that I am studying at a good school instead of just paying a degree mill.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t aid another option I am looking at; Japanese anthropology. A Masters degree at this point wouldn’t provide many transferable skills nor help set up that career path. This could give me a fall back option while I’m in such a program, being able to teach on the side or continue to find work while doing research.

The future

back-to-the-future-delorean-transport-dezeen_936

Sadly, you can’t even drive 88 KM per hour in Hokkaido.

It’s been quite the year, and I can only hope that future years are as productive.

I hope to make a decision on a Masters degree or other professional path in the next several months so that I can get the ball rolling on. I also hope to make some more progress on helping the learning disabled students I work with, as well as further grow my job here. I have a lot of ideas on how to provide more English learning options for both the students and the adults of Kamikawa. And hopefully, I can find more to write about in the meantime.

Advertisements

I know why I’m here

January 12, 2016
2 Comments

Some friends came to visit me other the weekend, and one pointed out a blog post about the JET Programme while waiting for their train to arrive. The blog post, titled Why are we here?, shines a critical and rather embittered light on the JET Programme and makes several claims about why it is ineffective.

8569979_f520

To be perfectly clear, I do not view JET or the Japanese education system as magic and rainbows. I am also very critical of it, but for different reasons. While this author tells all foreigners to leave Japan because of these same issues, I instead only wish to highlight what pitfalls exist so that future job applicants, visitors, and policy makers can be more prepared to handle the country.

I came to Japan ultimately for two reasons. First of all, I have been emotionally and intellectually invested in Japan for half of my life. From watching anime to studying its imagery and themes, from thinking samurai are cool to researching the religious implications of their training and ideology, and from thinking about Neon Tokyo to seeing a country struggle to face issues common in the developed world, my interest in Japan has grown and evolved over this past decade and a half.

I came to Japan to continue my education and studies and to get a chance to see Japan as it lives and breathes, rather then view it through a textbook or from outdated statements. Working in Japan through the JET Programme allows me to see the country that I have spent so many years learning about and to practice the language I have struggled with for so long. It allows me a chance to continue to grow and evolve my interests.

copy-cehomeheader2

Only imagine those signs written in Japanese.

The second reason I’ve come to Japan is to establish a professional footing for career development. While the author in question berates foreigners and calls them all unqualified visitors who are taking jobs from trained local teachers, I instead approach this as a professional job which I hope to use to establish a brighter future for me and the family I hope to have one day.

Being an Assistant Language Teacher is the first real professional job I’ve had in my entire life. I’ve done some pretty interesting things and working in jobs that have shaped who I am now, but none have had any professional growth options. I worked for my Students’ Union in university and loved it, but it was an elected position with little direct growth. I’ve also worked in two museums and a library, a field which I keep in my back pocket and one which taught me a great many skills that I still use today. But there are few jobs in the museum world, limited growth, and significant budgetary and cultural struggles that leave the field balancing on a sword’s blade. And I have worked in a number of other positions where I have learned many things but always seemed to hit a sort of glass ceiling.

i-have-a-real-job

But working as an ALT is different. There are real stakes in my job and visible goals and successes. The job matters, even if it isn’t handled as well as it could be on a national scale. And when I return to Canada, I will have a wealth of work experience and skills such that I should be able to finally establish a career, something that I struggled to do before JET. I came to Japan because it offered me professional growth that I could not find in Canada.

But coming here has given me another reason to stay. Living and working in Japan allows me to see Japan as it is on many different levels. Living in a small town with one other English-speaking foreigner is a stark contrast from my experience in Canada, and this helps me to understand that the rest of the world isn’t just North American in other places and with different looking people (see my last post for a little more on that topic). It helps me to understand the struggles and sorrows of a proud people who work hard to keep what they have. I get to see a community on the verge of dying do everything it can to make life better while they have the chance. I get to see aspects of Japan that most people simply don’t ever see.

Working in three different schools and visiting three others, I get to see a decent range of Japanese life and observe how people grow into adults. I get to see kids go through similar experiences that I and other Canadian children go through, yet failed to notice when I was in Canada. I get to see things that open my eyes to a greater world, despite being from such a multicultural country. I get to see the good and the bad, the big and the small, and I get to see and appreciate everything as it happens.

apples-to-apples-comparison

Those are the reasons I am here. And while I implore all JET applicants and ALTs to look critically at the country and understand the troubles of this job before it destroys them, I also implore them to think about one thing. In our interviews, Consulate staff, professors, and alumni screened us to find the most flexible, most adaptable applicants for this job. When you come to Japan, you have to remain flexible. You have to learn to roll with the punches or this experience will destroy you. And you have to accept that this is a country that has to learn its own lessons in its own time. If you can’t do this, as I suspect the author of this embittered blog cannot, then this job will destroy you. If you can’t accept this job for what it is and this country for what it is, then you shouldn’t be here because it doesn’t benefit anyone.

The author does ask a valuable question, and one that I think all foreigners in Japan should think about – Why are you here? The answer may be the same or different for each of us, but it is a question that needs to be answered. I know why I am here, and someone else not knowing why they are here isn’t going to detract from my answer or my experiences.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to prepare to do battle with the frost giant that sleeps in my yard, in hopes of reclaiming my lost shed and parking space.


Posted in JET, Living, Teaching

What I could never get away with in Canada

November 18, 2015
1 Comment

There’s no hiding that Japan is a different place. Being a country of historic isolation, Japan followed largely it’s own path when compared to the West. Having its own completely different history, language, and culture, it is no surprise that Japanese people do some things differently.

But man, oh man, are some things right out there. And that’s today’s topic.

As an aside, this post is a little photo light. This is one of those Big Bang Theory-like moments when you realize that Googling “how to excite 14 year old girls” is a terrible idea.

1. Telling your students where you live

To be clear, this is more that everyone already knows where I live than me telling students, but the effect is still the same. In the West, there is a separation between public and private times and spaces. For a teacher, they are a teacher at school and a person at home (lies, I know. We all grew up thinking they slept in the gym at night). But in Japan, I’m kind of a teacher all the time, and that’s not a stab at Japan’s office culture.

Now, there is a certain limit to how far personal information should and would go, but there is a stronger sense of familiarity and normality surrounding my job here. In Canada, I would probably take great effort to separate my work and home life, but that doesn’t seem to be an issue here. All the kids already know where I live, so there is little point in keeping that secret. But them knowing doesn’t seem to be an issue either.

2. Hang around with the student

This is where things start to become very clearly different. I’ve had a number of situations where you could say that I was spending time with my students.

The first was when one of my students saw me leave my apartment. I was heading downtown to catch the train, and we walked together and tried to talk to one another. Another time was when a bunch of my students saw me at a town festival and wanted to come over. Most were saying hi or asking what I’d done at the festival, but some stuck around for a half hour or longer. We talked, told jokes, and messed around in a normal and health way (I’m going to come back to this one a few times).

In Canada and probably most other parts of the world, this would be inappropriate for a number of reasons. Stranger danger aside, any parent would probably shoo their kids away, telling them not to bother me. Not in Japan (at least to an extent, they do shoo their kids away when I’m buying groceries). One of my co-workers invited me over to spend the day with his family, and most of that was spent with his kids. It was just a natural course of action that took place.

Another time was when a hurricane was rolling through… all of Japan. A bunch of the kids were inside for club activities, and they were kind of just hanging out in the halls. I think I spent a good half hour over there, telling jokes, issuing challenges like knuckle pushups, and otherwise messing with them. I didn’t have any work for the day and their club activities were kind of a wash, so we just spent some time together.

That, or I have a bunch of candy stuck to my ass, and the kids are chasing it.

3. Playing with the student

This is where the stranger danger starts to kick in, and a huge difference between Canada and Japan. Between classes, the students will mess around, wrestle, and get up to no good. And more often then not, I find myself right in the middle of it. Pretending to feed a kid punches while another is holding them down, tickling one another, teasing one of the kids who hurt his hand about how he should stop picking fights in school… I even flipped a girl upside down and held her there for a minute. This is all really normal behaviour I’ve heard and seen from other ALTs and keeps kind of getting thrust onto me.

In Canada, I’d probably be disciplined or told to back off, but in Japan, it’s just something that happens.

4. Affectionate or physical touching

The alarm bells are screaming on this one, and this is actually something I was quite unsure of when I started working here. My students will literally run towards me to give me a hug and hang off of me for lengths of time. Kids will hug me and call me their friend, tickle me, rub my stomach, but thankfully not koncho me. I can basically not go a day without some kid under the age of 14 or so giving me a hug.

While everything else would get a strange look in Canada, this would probably cost me my job, even though I’m not the one doing it. Because of that, I’ve been very uncertain about how to handle this. With the smaller kids, I’ll usually rest my arm on their head, and I’ll usually move and put my arm around the shoulder of the older kids. But still, this is really out there and could be a little uncomfortable if you weren’t used to it.

But… But why?

A lot of this behaviour can be really jarring, but it seems to come from cultural differences, the different roles of teachers, and differences in child rearing than in the West.

First, I am a magical wizard. As one of now two Caucasians in the town, something that most people here have literally never seen before, I am a glowing beacon of difference. Everyone wants to interact with me because it is such a rare treat. Never before have they seen two foreigners who know each other occupy the same space.

Second is the role of teachers in Japan. Teachers play a very different role in childhood development here, bordering on caregiver and guardian. If a kid misses school, their teacher will check up on them to make sure they’re ok. Teachers will also do home visits to get to know the student and their families, as well as their home life and environment. While I’m not expected to do these kind of things, it does highlight that knowledge and affection to and from a teacher aren’t that unusual here.

Third is the role of an ALT. I was basically hired to play games with kids and be white, so it’s a natural extension of my job to have a different and more casual relationship than the other teachers would. I’m supposed to bring excitement and humour into an otherwise dry and painful class, so telling the kids jokes and teasing them about things is kind of my job.

Fourth is something I wasn’t really aware of prior to returning to Japan again. When I asked my predecessor about the hugging, he told me that there are a lot of really bizarre things at odds here. He said that kids, especially males, don’t get a lot of physical affection at home, so it’s a really positive thing for the boys to run over, hug me, and tell everyone else that I’m their friend. But more important is the separation of safe and dangerous physical contact, a separation that doesn’t really exist in Canada anymore. Here, the students hugging me or me messing around with them is just normal. But in Canada or the US, that is deviant behaviour and automatically a signal of trouble, for some reason. Everyone is so afraid to have physical contact that any contact is deemed to be dangerous, but in Japan, they are just starved of it.

Big picture

I should note that there are still lines that separate behaviour. While I might tickle a boy that’s hanging off of me, I’ll give a girl a high five or fist bump. And while I might run over to a boy who’s having his arms held and pretend to punch him a few times, I’ll go over to one of the girl’s who’s drawing and tell her how good it looks, or join then in their game of “hold the door shut on the other girl.” I’m never the instigator of the physical contact, as I shouldn’t be. So there is definitely boundaries and appropriateness still in play here.

I guess the other thing to remember is that this is a very special kind of job and these things would only happen in Japan as an ALT. Everything would still hold true, but the relationships and the expression of them would take a different form. It is because I am an ALT that makes this ok. I’ve heard a few times that being an ALT means that you are a little outside of the system and have a chance to shake things up a little and go off script. Because I am not one of their Japanese teachers, it’s ok for the kids to hug me and rub my belly. And because I’m not one of their Japanese teachers, it’s ok for me to poke them back or hold the door shut on them.


Posted in Living, Teaching

Why is he slow?

October 21, 2015
Leave a Comment

A little while ago, I was asked to help out some students with their presentations. All of the grade 8 students were writing Silver Week holiday recommendations for me, but a handful hadn’t finished. Since the group was pretty small, I ended up helping one student almost exclusively.

This student, who I’ll call Kevin, was having a really hard time writing in English and was thus slower than his classmates in completing his presentation. Just about all of the work was already there, but he was taking much longer to write it. I did my best to help him out and correct a few mistakes he made so that he could do well in delivering his presentation. Basically, that was that, and I walked away having done my job.

Fast forward a few days, and my brain almost broke. The class was working on a translation assignment, and I couldn’t help but notice that Kevin was working a bit more slowly. But there were other kids who were working slow or being lazy, so I thought nothing of it… until I noticed more things.

The observation

In no particular order, I started to see some unusual behaviour. Kevin was overwriting when making corrections. From time to time, different letters or parts of them were darker, having been written over more than once. I didn’t really see him doing this in Japanese, but he was over-correcting when I saw him make a mistake (he tried overwriting, but then erased the whole word to write it again). I also noticed that he was getting help from the student next to him, and even seemed to have some trouble copying the Japanese the other student was writing, as if he needed more time to work. I also noticed that when he wrote in English, he was writing letter by letter, with irregular spacing in between each letter. It was here that I started to think harder. See, when Kevin was working in the computer lab on his presentation, he was hunting and pecking as he typed. He was processing the language letter by letter, just like how he was writing.

On it’s own, none of this looks that odd. Maybe his motivation is down. Maybe he’s just not very good at English. But no. Now I was seeing something. I had a hunch that something else was happening.

So I kept walking around the class, but paid more attention to see how everyone else was doing. Patterns started to form as I looked at the other students’ writing and behaviour. What immediately popped out was the clarity of everyone’s writing. In a grade 8 class, after only a year and a little of formal English education, you’d expect to see some students having messy writing, but it didn’t stop there. Nearly every single student had a pattern. The kids who wrote messy in English were also writing messy in Japanese, while those with neat writing continued to have neat writing in both languages. But Kevin’s writing was inconsistent. His Japanese was really good, but his English was messy and spaced out, unlike what I was seeing from everyone else.

Again, not really anything by itself, until I looked closer. Kevin was trying, unlike other students working at the same pace who were joking around or sleeping. There was more too it. Kevin has really inconsistent writing in both English and Japanese. As he wrote, his writing kind of wandered along the lines, moving up and down with no real pattern. It’s as if the line were bending or he couldn’t actually write along them straightly. And I recall that during an earlier speaking repetition exercise, I could no longer hear Kevin’s voice, as if he’d become lost.

And that’s when I knew I was onto something. I picked up on Kevin’s behaviour because I do the same things. I hunt and peck as I type, I sometimes struggle with writing in a straight line, I overwrite like crazy, I struggle when writing in Japanese and almost do so character by character, and I needed extra time in school to process what’s happening so I can complete my assignments. I have trouble reading along with text and can get lost easily in a difficult task. I do many of the same things, and this resonated with me.

Flashback

I remember being a kid, struggling through school with two parents with wildly different ideas about education and help. While my mom simply wrote me off as being lazy, bored, unmotivated, or whatnot, my dad took special efforts to help me with homework. He had no special training, and at the time wasn’t yet (I think anyways) working in high school kitchens as a part of the culinary programs where he works today. He had no special insight into why I had trouble in school, except for the fact that he did too. I would only learn decades later that my dad, like child me, probably has an undiagnosed learning disability. He took more time to help me because he instinctively knew that something was going on.

Back to the Present

Was I seeing Kevin’s behaviour because I might know what he’s going through, just like how my dad did with me? Initially, I thought he was just behind or whatever, but then I started to think it’s something else. And why was I picking up on all of this? I think I know the answer.

I think Kevin is dyslexic.

While it’s easy enough to pass off this kind of behaviour as being unmotivated or unskilled, it kind of takes one to know one. Even in English, dyslexia isn’t well understood. Heck, I’ve never even received a formal diagnosis for it, though I’ve been thrice diagnosed with related conditions and just connected the dots.

Now, I’m not a doctor, a psychologist, or an education specialist. I’m not going to pretend I know everything about dyslexia or even the broad topic of learning disabilities. And maybe I’m completely reading this the wrong way. But I’ve finding this to be really interesting, and the rabbit hole seems to keep getting deeper.

Japanese people aren’t dyslexic

A quick Google search turned up some fascinating articles on Japan and dyslexia. I know from prior studies that the Japanese hive mind prevents students from being properly identified with many kinds of learning disorder since that separates them from the pack and makes them individuals. I know that, if Kevin was dyslexic, he probably didn’t know or has ever thought about it. But it gets more interesting.

See, a number of scientists have been looking into the claim that Japanese people aren’t dyslexic. I even read a claim that one could not be dyslexic in Japanese since it’s pictographic language doesn’t really permit this kind of behaviour, and that dyslexia was basically an English problem. Frankly, research has proved this to be complete nonsense. What’s really at play here is that Japanese people don’t identify these situations and know even less about them that we do in the West. I read some stats presented by some researcher that said Japan’s rate of dyslexia was several times lower than in the West, but was likely just as high due to a lack of proper education, diagnostic tools, and support systems. Like I said, if Kevin is dyslexic, it’s extremely likely that I am actually the first person to notice due to this complete lack of information and training surrounding this.

So…?

What does this mean? I’m not really sure. As compelling as what I observed was, it’s not enough to make any kind of decision or diagnosis. And given how Japan treats this kind of topic, it’s likely that having a diagnosis wouldn’t do Kevin any good. Handled the wrong way, he could be ostracized by his peers and demeaned by his parents and teacher, and removed from normal classes, instead of being empowered or understanding why this is happening. Misunderstood, this could throw up a block on English and related activities, citing that they’re just too hard to bother with, instead of better understanding how he needs to succeed. And for me, stepping in with claims that a student is disabled is a pretty bold move in a culture where I’m expected to come and go like the wind.

But I can’t help but wonder what could be done. Another site I read was about the accounts of two Japanese dyslexics who are calling out for people to better understand their struggles. They want to learn, they want to do well, but they simply never learned how. Knowing about my own learning disorders empowered me to work harder because I now understood what was happening. I learned what pitfalls there were and how to overcome them. I learned how to learn. And it was all because of those diagnoses. To better understand this could turn around the lives of kids like Kevin. To be able to notice this… it means that I can give him better and more appropriate attention. And if I can get a diagnosis or learn more, I can try and get something going in the classroom to help him succeed.

Japanese people are dyslexic

All of this highlights a greater issue that perhaps only a foreigner can see. Japanese people are just as capable and incapable as anyone else. These kids are just kids, just like kids their age in Canada. They have the same struggles and problems that kids in Canada do (even juku, after-school school, because that’s actually a thing in Canada). Recognizing that Japanese are just like me or you or the guy down the street, we can approach a problem the same way. Japanese people can be dyslexic, and understanding that can make me a better teacher, even if I’m wrong about Kevin. If a kid’s struggling, it doesn’t immediately mean that he’s a bad kid or a trouble maker. If a kid is having trouble in English, it doesn’t mean he’s unmotivated or disinterested. The first and fourth periods (fourth being right before lunch) are always the hardest to teach. Kids in the morning are tired, and fourth period is and obstacle between the students and their lunch. If the students are rowdy and troublesome, it could just mean they are hungry instead of jumping to the conclusion that they are bad kids. And if Kevin is having problems in school, it could mean that he’s having problems, instead of jumping to the conclusion that he’s just a bad or unmotivated student.

Is this where I come in?

Maybe there is a part for me to play in this after all. As an ALT, I can get students interested in English in a way their Japanese national teachers never can. I can work to trigger their motivation, but I also bring insight to by job that no other ALT has. I’m learning disabled, and if I can find a way to use that, maybe I can make a difference for all the Kevins in Japan (or at least the ones in my classroom). And at the end of the day, it’s through my eagerness and knowledge that I can perhaps best touch the lives of these students, whether or not they are disabled. I wonder if, literally by thinking about this, I’m now a better teacher.


Posted in Teaching

My life with my predecessor

October 2, 2015
Leave a Comment

Another article cross posted for JET Coaster, a user contributed blog for other JET Programme participants. Read the advice, tears, struggles, and joys of a network of ALTs over there.

It’s finally come. I am finally alone.

I should back up a moment to explain. My predecessor, C, is an old university friend of mine. We were in the same Japanese classes together and studied and worked together often. He was offered a job with the town, and is thus staying in town following the completion of his JET contract. He’s been working alongside me for the last two months until Oct 1, when he started his new job.

All you jealous JETs are probably thinking, “Wow! You’re so lucky! I wish I could have bee trained with my predecessor.” But that’s not really the case. I can only describe my feelings about this as a pleasant miasma of oppression. I’m friends with C, and it is really nice having another foreigner in town. And I loved having someone to train me and help me along while I got settled. But working along side him for the last two months has been both a blessing and a curse.

The Good

That young feller is so kind and helpful.

Working alongside your predecessor is really cool. Not only can they help you learn the lay of the land, but they can walk you through your job. I worked alongside C, bouncing ideas off of him, comparing lesson plans, and actually team teaching with him. C left me a wealth of knowledge in his old lesson plans, materials, and such, but was also able to explain what everything was.

The other day, he was going through the ALT’s desk at the elementary school, and he explained how a number of the flashcards were used and even who made them. Instead of just finding them after he was long gone, I know how I can use them, both following the plans of ALTs past as well as well as coming up with my own uses. It’s like sitting on a warm seat, provided that kind of thing doesn’t freak you out.

We also talked about the history of the town and it’s previous JETs. I feel like I’m part of a legacy while also being in touch with it. C succeeded his pred, W, who also stayed over to train him, and has been in loose contact with another previous local JET. Being the town’s JET is suddenly more real that I thought and I can appreciate the history a bit more.

Linguistically, C has been amazing. Since he’s been here for the last 5 years, his Japanese has improved greatly while mine atrophied in menial jobs in Canada. He has been by my side to help me open my bank account, help with the initial call from my internet provider, and translating during the process of buying my car. Since I live in such a small town, few people here know more than a trivial amount of English, so having him by my side has been a tremendous help in meeting people and getting things done.

Lastly, as I mentioned above, having someone else here has been great. I know someone if I’m feeling down who lives feet away from me. If I need help with my garbage sorting or recycling, help is just a text message away. I can talk with him about movies, dating, foreign residence, and other topics that might be too hard or awkward with a co-worker or other resident.

The Bad

8a1efae8db9d80545e56505dfb8eec41_iMe after a few weeks at work.

While a lot of good has come from my pred working with me, not everything was sunshine and rainbows. I left university with a complete breakdown, and spent years struggling to get back my independence, medically, emotionally, and psychologically. Having C around, telling me what to do, has been insanely frustrating. I finally go to a point where I was ready to be dependent again, only to have to surrender that at times.

I needed C there to help open my bank account. I needed him to translate the call from my internet provider. I needed him to translate the car buying process. I needed him to introduce me to people. It was maddening to have to rely on him for everything. But it didn’t just stop there.

At time, I came to rely on him for everything. I need groceries. Can you drive me there after work? I need something for my house. Can you drive me to the city? No? Well, I guess I’m staying home then. Stuff like that. It was so difficult getting settled that I started leaning heard on my pred for almost everything.

I think the worst was when I needed to buy some rubbing alcohol. One of my toes split along the bendy-fold and wasn’t healing over right. After a few days, I knew I needed to find a drug store so I could get some proper medical supplies. Not that there is anything embarrassing or concerning about, but I lied to him about needing to go anywhere after work just so I could go there myself and be alone. It seems so stupid now, but this was driving me mental. I didn’t want to talk to him about this. I didn’t want to tell him that I might have an infected or troublesome cut. And I didn’t want him to look after me. I wanted to buy the damn rubbing alcohol myself, and I wanted to do it on my own terms and at my own leisure.

Life problems aside, I also felt that my job growth was stunted. It was almost a battle to get him to start relinquishing control in my job over to me, and that control really didn’t fully pass until he started his new job. It was more like I was his assistant than his replacement. But it wasn’t just us. While one of the teachers at the main school started coming to me more and more, the other kept going to him first. He was still the ALT, and it was really confusing where I fit into all of this.

The Ugly

Where does this guy buy his pants?

This is where things get weird. I don’t mean to badmouth him, but I need to call this out. C was a shitty teacher.

Maybe this is a consequence of being a 5-year JET. Maybe it’s a consequence of our different backgrounds. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t want to be a teacher. I don’t know. But it meant the result was that he really wasn’t that good at his job. He didn’t innovate. He didn’t push for better lessons in the class. He picked favorites among the teachers and gave the cold shoulder to everyone else. He didn’t take on new teaching responsibilities (he did do other things for the town though).

And what’s worse? Everyone loves him. He’s the superstar of the town and he didn’t really do anything. He openly told me that he just gave up a few years ago and did little to push the job forwards. Yet everyone things he is amazing. And here I am, trying to put the students first and improve their language skills, trying to work with my JTEs and other teachers, and trying to build new bonds, and it’s not going well.

Another annoyance was over a semi-private lesson we were teaching in order to prep some students for a week long trip to our sister town. They were having trouble with a presentation they will be giving and the teacher asked if we could help out one more time to get them ready. When the time came, C tried to blow them. Like, literally blow them off. Something to the effect of saying “let them fend for themselves.” I insisted that I wanted to go and help them, because a few hours could really help these kids and change their experience. He agreed and it went well, but it was frustrating that he was ready to dump this the second his obligation was finished (but a few days before his ALT job ended).

Finally, there was a lot of passive aggression going on. He would baby me at times, doing things like telling me how to behave or how to dress (not that I was actually doing anything wrong). He even had the gull to ask me why I felt the need to use and ask people about Japanese sign language, something that is unique and rather important to me.

Moving forward

First thing was to take a deep breathe. I have to take the good with the bad. For some of the dickery, I know that he was just trying to help. For the poor performance, I get that he isn’t on a teaching track like I am and maybe just got tired of the job. Further what’s important now is that I’m here and I’m free to approach my job how I want. I’m free to make my own relationships with my teachers and free to try and build better lessons.

I started my approaching some of the classes differently. Instead of using flashcards to teach shapes, I also got the students to draw them. They were in kindergarten, so it was pretty brutal, but by varying the activities, I can better present the material and do so in my own way. I can build on this and try and bring new ideas into my other classes.

One thing I want to push for is more time in different classes, part of which is something C can actually help with. I teach more classes in high school than anywhere else, yet am only there once a week. In C’s new job, his first assignment was to brainstorm ideas on making the high school more prestigious and improving the English content. I suggested, in the future, hiring a second ALT, thus allowing one to work in the various high school classes while freeing up the other to work more closely with another seldom visited school. He completely agreed, and we might be able to work together on that and other proposals in the future.

I also want to start approaching my schools in different ways. One thing I’d like to do is sit in on a class for the entire day, aside from my teaching time. I’d like to know how a Japanese classroom ticks and what other teachers in other subjects do. I also want to see what life for a Japanese student is like and how I can use that to build new activities and opportunities for them.

On the heels of a JET survey about free time, I want to start exploring what else I can do between classes. I mentioned to one of the administrative staff about putting together super short English lessons that I can teach in the office between classes or as teacher have a few moments of free time. She liked it and wanted to know that that day’s lesson was.

Lastly, I want to push for a greater role in the classroom. One of the teachers already asks me to help mark for her (which is awesome). I want to find ways to build on that while also presenting new content in the classroom. I also want to meet some of the single-student classes and maybe visit them once every few weeks. They are learning English too, and being in a special needs class shouldn’t rob them of that experience.

In my predecessor’s absence, I am finally free to approach my job the way I want to, and that’s not a bad thing. He put in a lot of time and paid his dues, but now it’s my turn. Maybe I’ll do a good job, maybe I won’t. But now it’s my time to try.

What did you learn?

I’m not really sure why this picture is here.

So while the thought of having your predecessor working with you might sound kind of amazing, it comes with some strings attached. There are good and bad things that went with it, and I’m not sure which way I would have preferred. I definitely appreciate all the work he’s put in and help he’s given, but the experience wasn’t entirely positive. When my time comes, I’d certainly like to stay and help, but I’m not sure if I would do it for as long, or if my successor won’t end up having the same feelings. You’ll never run if someone is always holding your hand, regardless of how much you may want that.


Interac: It’s pretty good

July 14, 2015
Leave a Comment

Stay in the–wait. Wrong Interac.

So pretty much everyone knows about the JET Programme. It’s the most well known and most reputable of the teacher recruitment options. But it isn’t the only company out there that recruits teachers, nor is it the only option to work in Japan as an instructor of some kind.

One such company is Interac (no, that one about staying in the black). Like JET, Interac recruits teachers and places them in school, rather than applying to a specific company or school board. I’d read about Interac on a few occasions over the many, MANY years I was in school and not applying to JET, but I heard really mixed things about it. It also has a much shorter application window than JET, which led me and others to think of it as being more questionable.

But it turns out that’s not the case. I bumped into another incoming JET, named “I” (confusing, huh?), who had some experience with Interac and their application process. Since I was interested in documenting and sorta mythbusting JET’s application process, I started poking his brain about what it was like to interview with Interac. And we did a little bit of an interview before I went on holidays.

Let’s rap.

Scooter: So I, can you tell me a little about Interac? I’ve heard the name before, but I don’t really know a lot about it.

I: Interac is a company that is sorta like JET in that they provide ALTs to schools. To really get into the specifics, Interac is a private company that gets contracts from schools, recruits ALTs, and hires those ALTs to work the specific contracts at the schools. They’re basically a middle man. They take a cut off the top of what the full contract would pay, hence why they pay less.

S: In researching JET for many years and finally going through the application myself this past fall, I found the JET Programme to have a lot of those complicated levels of communication, bureaucracy, and coordination, typical of both Japan as well as a large scale program like this. I felt that this was a lot of the reason for JET’s lengthy process. What about Interac? I know their application is much shorter. How does that differ from JET?

I: The difference between JET’s application process and Interac’s application process [are] huge. I applied to JET last year in October, interviewed in February, got wait-listed in March, and just recently got upgraded in late June. I applied to Interac in late April, interviewed with them very early June, and was offered a job mid-June.

S: Wow. That’s pretty quick.

I: So, what exactly is the difference? JET’s application process is much bigger and longer, and I would guess that is generally because they get to be picky since they pay the best. The JET application takes at least a couple of weeks to get everything sorted out, and I even know that I spent 3 weeks – 1 month on it and have heard of some people taking even more time than that to do it. After you submit your application, you get to play the dreaded waiting game (it really is as horrible as people say it is, because you know how difficult it can be to get into JET. It’s a constant stress). After waiting for probably 2-3 months, you might get to move on to the next stage, where you’ll go into a board room of 2-3 people and be fielded questions that you likely are not prepared for, on top of the very basic ones. After this, MORE WAITING! Now you get to wait another month or so and maybe even find out that, like me, you got wait-listed instead of short-listed (or worse, rejected). I’m honestly not sure if it’s better to be wait-listed rather than rejected, since if you’re wait-listed you could end up waiting anywhere between 3 weeks to 8 months to hear back and get upgraded.

Now, what about Interac? Interac’s application process is much simpler and quicker. You go on their website, fill in an application which asks basic things such as all your basic information, what your education is, where you got your education, what’s your work history like, and things like that. You’ll be asked to write a few small essays, such as things like “why do you think you’re a good fit as an ALT?” You’re given something like a few thousand characters to respond to this in, and then you provide some documents showing you are who you say you are, and the like, and submit it online. Overall I think this was a two week process for me, but I could have easily gotten it done quicker if I had chosen to do so. Next, you wait a few days to a week or so (mine was just a few days) and are called by an Interac recruiter to verify some of your information and, if everything checks out, set up a time slot for a phone interview. After this, you have your phone interview, which likely only lasts 15-20 minutes. For this you need to come off as excited, energetic, and enthusiastic (probably not too hard for most to do). Once the phone interview is over, you might be told that they’ll contact you in a few days with whether or not you move on, or they might tell you right then and there that you’re moving on to the next step (that’s what happened to me). If you move on, you’re invited to a seminar and interview session. I believe these happen every month and I scheduled mine for about 4 weeks after my phone interview. With the seminar you need to prepare a bunch of documents (things like a copy of your diploma and an official university transcript) and either mail them off ahead of you or bring them with you to the seminar. Next, you travel to the city where the seminar is held, sit in at a small group meeting (mine was 6 or 7 people being interviewed), get to know each other a little bit, get to know your interviewers, and are given a presentation on what Interac is and what you need to know as a potential ALT. After the presentation is over, then the nervewracking part starts. Each person interviewing has to do a demo lesson. Demo lessons are about 5-6 minutes long, go over a few different topics (self-introduction, reading and pronunciation, grade school level demo, and high school level demo). The idea with the demo lesson is to be educational, fun, energetic, and not afraid to make mistakes or to let them stop you. Once everyone has done their demo lessons, times are set for 1 on 1 interviews, you’re given a grammar/English test sheet and a multiple choice personality test. You fill out these tests (that grammar test was hard, and I’m an English teacher), go to your personal interview, where you’ll be asked questions like “do you have any reason why you would need to break this contract if hired?” or “why do you think it’s important that we insist ALTs eat the school lunch with their school?”. Once this is done, you’re personally done for the day and free to go. After this is all said and done, your documents and demo lesson are sent to the Japanese Interac office and then you wait a few days to a few weeks to hear back from them (I waited about 4-5 days).

So, in all, JET takes about 6 – 9 months from start to finish. Interac takes about 2-3 months from start to finish.

I think Interac’s process is so much shorter because they very actively weed out applicants throughout the early process. For example, I remember reading a warning from Interac themselves that applicants should be careful of how they write on the application, as slang, misspelled words, or improper grammar would likely disqualify them. There were a few other things they warned about as well. So, they can eliminate a good portion of candidates based on the application. Next, they have the phone interview, where you can also be eliminated for any number of reasons. Finally, you get to the seminar. As my interviewers there told me and as I’ve almost always heard from others, if you make it to the seminar, there’s a good chance you’ll get hired. It seems at this point, Interac has weeded out what it considers undesirable and has a good view of who you are and what you can do, they just want to see it in person to be sure you’re not lying. If you weren’t, you’re hired.

S: That’s actually pretty cool. See, I was always under the assumption that Interac was a little more… I guess the word is questionable. That actually sounds like an even more involved application process than JET’s.

Now, you got your JET upgrade recently. Congrats again. And you were saying that you had been accepted by Interac. What a tough choice. What were the deciding factors to finally select JET over Interac?

I: For me, when I was applying to Interac, I knew that if I got an upgrade email from JET, I would be switching to them immediately. It’s simply not really a hard question. JET pays significantly better (Interac pays 230,000-250,000 JPY per month, with some months getting reduced pay due to school breaks. JET pays 300,000 JPY every month). JET is generally the better renowned program. JET will sometimes subsidize your apartment or things like that. JET goes out of its way to make sure you have someone to help you out when you first arrive to figure things out (not 100% sure that Interac doesn’t do something like this too). JET has better support groups and community infrastructure.

The only things Interac had going for it that JET does not, is that Interac offers significantly more vacation time (due to being off work due to school breaks) and, while I cannot confirm it for sure, Interac apparently does not mind if you pick up side work (such as private lessons), so long as it does not interfere with your contracted work. However, the significant pay cut makes these two things null in comparison to JET.

S: It’s funny that you mention the pay difference. JET’s obviously an elephant in the room here, and pay is one of the first things I always heard mentioned. Between that and the supports, it’s obvious that JET is the most popular ALT recruitment program. Did Interac ever do anything to acknowledge or try and combat this?

I: Actually, yes. One of my interviewers [was] very high up in Interac’s corporate ladder. However, he was a very honest and open man. He said his reason for this was that he did not want us to get to Japan and think to ourselves “that bastard so-and-so didn’t tell me about this!” He actually flat out told us that JET offers better benefits and that if we could get into the JET Programme, we should. Personally, I respected this a lot.

S: That’s so humbling and admirable. That shines really well on Interac.

I: I actually have nothing negative to say about Interac. Granted, I did not actually work for them, but the entire application process was pleasant, I was made to feel as comfortable as possible during the seminar, the seminar was held in a professional but friendly manner, and the interviewers were completely honest with us.

S: So aside from pay and the application itself, do you know of any other significant differences between the two programs? Did anything come out in the interview that separates the two?

I: The only thing that I didn’t really mention…is that JET only allows their ALTs to renew their contract for a maximum of 5 years. Interac does not have a limit on how many times you can renew your contract and it was even mentioned during the seminar that the longest contracted ALT started in 1988 and was still with Interac (26 years).

S: 26 years?! *spits coffee all over his keyboard* You know, I’ve been hearing all these negative comments on YouTube about how ESL teaching in Japan is kind of a dumpster fire. Not only has this person stick with it for so long, but that again really reflects well on Interac.

Lastly, for those looking at different options to teach, I did note in my uncountable ages of research that JET likes to put its ALTs in more rural placements, while eikaiwas (private conversation schools) tend to be more urban centres. Do you know where Interac tends to fall?

I: Interac is basically the same as JET in this regard. If you’re applying from overseas, you will very likely get a rural placement. If you’re applying from Japan and you have a decent grasp of the language or some other qualifications, you might get placed somewhere that is more urban or even in a bigger city. Like JET, most Interac ALTs can expect to get a rural or suburban placement.

S: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. I really appreciate it.

As it turns out, I was fairly wrong about Interac. While the program does pay less than JET and is less well known, I was surprised to learn about the application and screening process. If what “I” had told me was true and the more flexible and broken up application helps immediately separate the more serious applicants from the less desirable ones, that really goes a long way to show how serious Interac is about their job.

Plus having to teach an actual lesson… That’s such a good experience. We had nothing like that with JET (at least in Canada), but I did have to do a lesson when I was getting my TESOL certificate. It’s a really great experience and shows you a lot about how to teach in another language. That Interac applicants get to go through that… I’m a little jealous. Well, maybe not jealous; I think my brain would have melted if I had to do a mock lesson during my JET interview. But yeah. That’s pretty cool that they do that.

Come out of this interview, I really have a lot more respect for Interac. Although every job is different, I’s experience really paints Interac well, a reputation I don’t feel like it has online. I really think now that there is a lot of misconception about the company, some of which really isn’t fair.

So for those trying to get into the Mystic East to be a dirty foreigner, I’d be happy to recommend Interac alongside JET and more direct options. This really comes off as a professional company that cares just as much about the quality of teachers as JET, yet doesn’t have to be as (understandably) anal about it.


Posted in JET, Teaching

JET Application Project

April 24, 2015
Leave a Comment

paper-mess-1024x1024

Japan loves paperwork.

While I’m waiting on my contract and placement details, I thought I would get the blog ball rolling by talking about the JET Programme application process and what I’ve learned about ESL teaching in general.

JET Application Timeline

From the outside, one might think that the JET Programme’s application timeline is WAY too long and complicated. And it totally is, but there’s actually a lot going on. This year (2014 deadline for 2015 departure), I recall the application opening in early October with a submission deadline of late November. This is where the first bit of confusion comes from. See, all of the deadlines and dates are the mail-by or post date. With a Canadian application deadline of Nov 21, this means that you can expect another maybe 2 weeks in postage, pushing the administrative process back to early December before they actually received and reviewing everyone’s applications. And assuming the applications stayed in the country of application, this only gave whatever selection committee a few weeks to sort through them and choose their interview candidates.

The second step of the application process is the interview. I received my notification around mid January for an early February interview. With interviews taking place at local Consulates and Embassies, this breaks down to just enough time to recruit and prep interviewers (my panel included a university professor, so it wasn’t just about getting a bunch of Consualte/Embassy staff to pull double duty) while also providing enough lead time for applicants to make their travel arrangements.

The third stage is the notification of short listed candidates. The timeline here varies depending on early vs. regular departure, but my regular departure notification came in in early April. As with the application period, left the administrators with enough to time to interview applicants and then maybe a month to collect their recommendations. And following the notification of being short listed, I expect to have more details about my contract and placement by early May, which would likewise be just enough time to post our acceptance letters and to dot all the t’s and cross all the i’s with regards to placing all of the successful applicants. From there, it’s pre-departure and visa applications, which are a lengthy process anyways from what I remember of my student visa application.

So with regard to the timeline, while it feels like it’s taken forever, I’m actually pretty happy with it. A lot of the extra time is really just the length of postage and communication, with a heavy dose of super hard working administrators. While all of us applicants are chomping at the bit for into and updates, when you break it down, this really is probably the quickest such a selection process can be.

Considerations for Teaching Abroad

On to something different. From speaking with (then) current as well as past ESL teachers, teaching in Japan as well as other countries, the single most consistent comment I heard was this. Schools pay a lot of money, complete a lot of paperwork, and take a big risk bringing in foreign teachers. As such, they are almost more concerned with one’s ability to live abroad and complete their contract than any other factors. This was a big theme that I tried to (and seem to have been successful at) include in my JET application. While I’ve also done some light teaching and training, probably the single most notable factor of me as a candidate was my ability to live and work away from home.

When I was 13, my parents divorced, and I found myself having to make decisions than no child should be making. At 18, I traveled to Japan for the first time on a school trip. At almost 19, I moved across the province to another city 3 hours from home. At 21, I enrolled in college and then university. At 26, I traveled to Japan for the second time for a period of nearly one year, then returned to Canada and the city I was living in since age 19. It wasn’t until 2012 when I returned home due to some medical problems and having difficulty transitioning from university to full time employment. Every since I can a teenager, I’ve been making decisions on my behalf, and had lived on my own for nearly 10 years in two different countries. Now, that isn’t to say that I’m an orphan or that my parents and friends never helped me, but what I’m saying is that I have experience being away from home. I didn’t go to university at 17 or 18, only to come home on weekends and during the summer. I really had to make things work on my own for many years and try my hardest before turning to family for help.

A childhood of taking the reins, nearly 10 years on my own, and almost one year living in the country I hoped to return to surely helped with my JET application, since I can prove that I can handle the stresses of leaving home and being on my own. Having lived in Japan once before, I know what to expect, and am far less likely to have the kinds of culture shock or other serious problems that would make me want to break my contract and return home. So while I lack a teaching degree or direct experience (something you think you’d want teachers to have), I have the vital skills necessary to be a successful applicant.

Now you might be saying, “Oh no, I’ve been living at home this whole time,” or “but what if I haven’t traveled abroad before?” You can certainly be a successful JET or ESL teacher without having the same experiences and troubles I’ve had. I’m sure there are far more people who have traveled abroad without that experience than those who have. My point is that you want to consider how comfortable you’ll be when faced with a new and isolated environment, and you want to showcase then when looking for work. You want to bleed confidence that you can adapt and adjust to the changes you will be facing and that you have every intention of completing your contract. If there was one thing I could tell anyone traveling abroad, I think that would be it.

Another serious consideration would be to complete a TESOL or similar teaching course. While you only need a Bachelor’s Degree to teach English in Japan, having TESOL certification will not only help prepare you for the job, but it also shows your devotion to the occupation. In a scenario of two applicants of similar though slightly unequal qualifications, I would think that the one with a TESOL certificate would be preferred to an applicant who is maybe more qualified but does not hold one. There is also a secret benefit to taking a TESOL program: native speakers don’t know how to teach their own language. In Linguistics, there are marked differences in the acquisition of a first and second language. Simply put, native English speakers already know English because we acquired it as children, whereas the students you will be teaching must learn it. Native speakers don’t know the names of parts of speech or the snappy catchphrases that a 2-L (second language) learner uses to study. Most of us don’t know what a past participle is (and to be honest, I still don’t) or how we actually conjugate verbs; we just know it. I remember one time when some exchange students were helping in my Japanese class. We had to explain to them first how we conjugates verbs and how we were studying grammar so they could turn around and help us. Sounds kind of backwards, doesn’t it? Well, this is the situation that many, if not all, ESL teachers find themselves in. Just like when your Phys Ed teacher had to teach your Science class, we already know this material but don’t know how to express it in a teachable fashion. TESOL courses can help you with this, making you aware of introductory Linguistics and 2-L teaching. By taking one of this kind of certification, you’ll be a leg up on those who don’t, making you a better and more helpful teacher.

My last piece of advice when applying for an ESL position would have the be leveraging your interests and experiences into a workable and valuable form. Simply put, a lot of people trying to get into Japan are nerd, and I’m one of them. But that’s not to say that I’m some rabid anime fan, or rather, am not one anymore. I’ve been down that road. I attended and worked conventions. I programmed events for my university’s anime club for almost 7 years. I even ran the darned thing before I went to Kansai Gaidai. But when I look back at those experiences, I don’t see myself in a dark room full of sweaty teens and 20-somethings watching cartoons. When I look back on the truth that it was anime that got me into Japanese language and culture, I do it with pride because I gained a lot from it. It was anime that got me started. It was anime that got me to transfer schools so that I could take a vacant event planning position with the aforementioned club. It was anime that got me into higher level event planning and operations. It’s because of anime that I’m here right now, holding an almost completely unrelated degree and having a breadth of event and teaching experiences, and I’m not afraid to say it.

Or rather what I should be saying is that anime was an entry into Japan for me, and I learned over the years how to leverage that into skills and experiences that make me an ideal candidate for continued cultural research and teaching opportunities. While many members of my anime club were content with watching anime, partaking in cosplay, and playing video games, many of us leveraged that experience and grew it into something else. Fascinated with this idea, I once held a presentation of “turning your passion into profit,” which was a brainstorm on how to likewise leverage interests in art, games, costume making, and language into sources of study, new hobbies, and potential work. I also used this same theory to explain movement and activity patterns we had been observing in the club and conventions but couldn’t quite figure out, and to explain why everyone in my Japanese classes were self-hating but closeted anime fans.

So in leveraging those experiences in my JET applications, not only could I express an deep interest in Japan, but I could also present training and experience in group management, activity planning, observational research, problem solving, and analytical reasoning, all skills that will be a help to me both as a teacher and as an active foreign national. During my interview, I was asked how I would get involved with the school and community, and I referred back to my time as an event planner for my school’s anime club. I explained that I’ve both planned and facilitated a variety of events, and would have no trouble working with and getting involved with students groups, other teachers, and members of the community.

The Next Stage

Now I’m sitting here, playing the waiting game as I get ready to embark on the next stage of the JET application process and my preparations for foreign travel. As I learn more about the JET Programme or have more thoughts to share on teaching and travel advice, as well as maybe writing up a sort of road map for high school and early undergraduate students who are still a few years away from applying to something like the JET Programme, I’ll happily try to share them here.

Until I get my contract and placement info or I think of something else to write to pass the time, take care and may Godzilla never step on your post office.


Posted in JET, Teaching

About author

Scooter is an ESL teacher and Japanese anthropologist. He hopes to document his thoughts of living in Japan, continued cultural studies, and to provide advice for others looking to hop the pond.

Search

Navigation

Categories:

Links:

Archives:

Feeds