The Long Way Home From Farthest Away

When I first got to my schools in Niigata the first thing I noticed was that a lot of my Japanese English Teachers (with a couple exceptions) were young. In fact, a good percentage of the staff were young. At the end of the year, I also noticed that a lot of the young staff went away and were replaced with more young staff. (With exceptions.)

This is partly the result of the way a lot of prefectures in Japan treat their teachers. They tend to do military style assignments of three years before moving on. In the case of Niigata, the prefecture tried to send young teachers as far away from home as possible for their first job. Since Nou-Machi was hell and gone from Niigata City, it got a lot of young teachers.

After three years, the teachers moved to a new school a little closer to home for another three year assignment. After that the explanations got confusing and I started to get a headache trying to understand it but the gist was that by their third assignment teachers began to have some choice in where they wanted to go. There is also some politics involved because the school boards also get some say in who they want.

This system had a lot of odd effects. First, it guaranteed that every district, no matter how small and/or undesirable could get teachers. (This would solve a lot of problems for district in Western-Kansas.) On a personal level it also forced the teachers to be less dependent on their families for support which was great for their personal development.

On the other hand, it also meant that Nou-machi was full of new teachers suddenly discovering that a couple weeks of practicum (not a joke) with little time in front of the class didn’t really prepare them for teaching.

The other effect was that, because Nou-machi was rural and out of the way (I could get to Tokyo just as fast as I could get to Niigata City), not a lot of teachers volunteered to work there once they had enough experience to make a choice. The school boards then played some politics and a lot of older teachers ended up having their choice taken away and were sent to Nou. That also had some interesting effects.

When I was working with younger JTE’s I could pretty much raise them up in the way I wanted them to go. They were also really good at speaking English. My last year though, Nou Junior High School was issued two older teachers who very much wanted to be some place else. Because they were older, it was difficult for me to raise them up in the way I wanted them to go and that led to a bit of tension. I, of course, was very flexible and did my best to support them. Well, not really, I didn’t get along with them at all. I don’t remember a single class I taught with them even though I can remember at least one class from every teacher I worked with. I don’t even remember their real names.

The first I remember only as The Airhead. I all fairness, she  was much more concerned about her pregnancy than dealing with a loud foreigner and/or doing much teaching. She did her best to fit in but she was distracted.

The second I remember mainly as the Bitter Bitch. She resented being in Nou-machi and was convinced that everyone and everything in Nou was backwards and illiterate. (Especially the loud foreigner, who I’m pretty sure she remembers as “that self-righteous asshole”.) I would try to show her that the students already knew the alphabet and the days of the week, etc. but she just went ahead and taught as if they didn’t. The tension eventually led to swearing (the f-word was involved at one point) but we learned to get along and just do our own things.

Eventually, I was the one who went away. My successor, who was a heck of lot nicer than I am, said that the Airhead improved a great deal and that he pretty much kept his head down around the Bitter Bitch and they got along to get along.


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