Friday, March 02, 2007


So this is graduation the second time around. The same pomp and ceremony, the same 4 hours spent cleaning the school the day before, the same suits from last year that haven't been busted out since the last time, the same twee-ness of the corsages for the graduate's homeroom teachers. And then, like I do for special occasions, I put my cynicism away, and watch these people stand for the last time and walk away from what has probably been the most influential period of their lives.

Sometimes I think teaching is kind of addictive. The beginning part is fucking hard, you're completely winging it, ballsing stuff up, but always, the saving grace is the students. It starts getting easier, you gain a tentative grasp on what's needed, confidence grows exponentially, but is just as easily shredded into itty bitty pieces. The students, the few who actually listen, the majority that don't, are what keep drawing me back into that classroom, to teach the same lesson for the sixth time, for that one moment where something is suddenly clarified or you manage to elicit a genuine laugh from a student you've been working on for weeks and weeks.

Say what you like about JET and our lack of qualifications, and the pay that we get for doing not much, but at the end of the day, on days like graduation, you realise that you've had a chance to have an influence on the next generation, that this is your chance to stop complaining about our parent's generation and their fuck-ups, our generation and our fuck-ups, and that this is a chance to actually make some kind of difference. Maybe I notice it more in Japan because there are such apparent societal disparities that I could not stand were I to live here indefinitely, because I'm still not cynical enough to be totally indifferent, because I'm not happy with the answer of "It is the Japanese way". But now, with the opportunity of teaching given to me and these kids who are so open to learning, it's been special to have been of some significance in their lives.

Having just come through a completely hellish time with my school, arguments and tears and more arguments and cultural clashes and really, that's a whole new story, there have been days when I've woken up and wanted nothing more than to not to go to school, having had to convince myself just to go through the next logical step of going downstairs and then having a shower and then having breakfast until eventually I'm walking through the school gates, one of the few things that made me keep going is that I'm vain enough to think that by not being in class would disappoint at least one kid. In not being there, I would be depriving them of an opportunity of viewing an opinion that different to the populist bullshit that seems to drive the education curriculum here.

Graduation is special. The bonds that form at school you think will last forever. For the first time in your life you're being told that the future is up to you, that you're finally being trusted with making big decisions, and from a teacher's perspective, that you've been prepared as much as possible for whatever may come your way. You leave school no longer as one of many, but as your own individual person, full of ideas and ideals. And for whatever crazy notion made me decide to move to Japan (hey, that sounds fun and I can put off real-life for a bit longer!), at no point did I consider that I would be in this privileged position where students were actually coming to me to thank me for teaching them.

This is where I wish I had the Japanese to convey just how much of an influence they've had on my experience of Japan. And sure, call me a JET poster child, or whatever throw-away insult you may care to find, but if only this could be genuinely conveyed to more people, and their schools and powers that be, before spirits are irrevocably broken.

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