近海る (Kin Kairu)

JET, Japan, Journalism and other J words

Spring Cleaning

Late post, I know, but I didn’t feel comfortable finishing this until events last night.

Amongst the surprise I get that, yes, Americans also have a traditional spring cleanup ritual, I’ve been in a flurry of cleaning between my two schools. Sure, in my middle school days we just had to clean out our lockers, but here the daily “10 minute cleaning time” is extended to “a couple hours cleaning time.”

But the Japanese office system also likes cleaning up their roster, transferring members to other sectors or locations. In the case with my Board of Education, that could mean getting a new supervisor. The more common change is teachers switching schools within a district. It’s usually guaranteed they’ll still be in the same area, but it is possible for a teacher to be transferred from one side of the island to another, as is the case with one of the teachers I work with.

While none of the Japanese Teachers of English I work with are leaving this year, two teachers that I have gotten closer with are: the two Judo instructors.

While I briefly mentioned them in my initial Judo Club post, I guess I never really took the time to really introduce them. Y-sensei (as we’ll call him) was the one who told me to put on a uniform one day and start practicing. There’s also H-sensei (as we’ll call her), who has kicked my ass many times over but is never afraid to stop in a middle of a bout and show what I could do to beat her…then subsequently throw me down while I try.

Y-sensei is very proficient in English, so he has been great in helping me understand all the nuances of the sport. H-sensei also likes to practice her English with me from time to time, but her way of teaching is a lot more hands-on and “I’m literally going to throw you down and that’ll learn ya.” Needless to say, both have been great in cultivating my interest in Judo. All the while, Y-sensei has been encouraging me to obtain a black belt in June, even though it would be less than a year since I started. Although I would protest, he would always counter saying “You’re strong. I know you can do it.”

However, about a week ago we had the official meeting to find out which teachers would be transferring. As it would be, both Y-sensei and H-sensei would be leaving to different schools.

After practice one day, I confirmed H-sensei just to make sure I had heard the news right. She put her finger to her mouth, implying the kids in the Judo club hadn’t found out yet. When I asked what was going to happen to the club, she told me another teacher would be coming in to coach, but then proceeded to bow and say “please take care of the other members.” It was then it really hit me.

Out of the current members of the Judo club, four are second years with the other three being first years. While all the second years are black belts, all three of the first years are still white; one of them just starting the sport this last year. Even more problematic, the second years will stop practicing in August to prepare for all the high school entrance exams. While I wasn’t being entrusted with the club exactly, I got the feeling that being an outstanding member (with a blackbelt) was important to them. Maybe I was reading into it too much, but their tone seemed to have those implications.

Both Y-sensei and H-sensei have both left to their new schools, after an emotional last practice and last day at work. All of the new teachers have also come in and done the usual introductions, but I would be lying if I said there still wasn’t a little bit of an odd feeling in the air.

Last night, we had the final going away party for all the teachers. As we ate some of the best Nabe I’ve ever had in my life and drink some last beers together, the other teachers and I got to say more casual goodbyes to our old coworkers. While incredibly cramped, I still got to talk with Y-sensei and H-sensei a bit, but the conversation always went down to me achieving my black belt. It was certainly humbling, but I could tell none of us really wanted to acknowledge the change.
Y-sensei had been at my school for 11 years and H-sensei for 8, so I’m sure it was a lot harder for them than it was for me. But both, once again, told me “please take care of the kids.”

Now, I understand why the Japanese system does these kinds grand switches. It brings in new blood, makes people work with a wide variety of other teachers (increases networking, I guess) and also seems to dissolve some of the “clicks” a bit that seem so predominate at times. But I can’t help but be a bit angered by it. For as distant as Japanese relationships seem to be at times, these sorts of large-scale switches certainly don’t help in cultivating those friendships. Students, too, may be introduced to a brand new homeroom teacher even though they’ve had the same one for the last year or so (at least, in the sense that it’s common for many homeroom teachers to move up grades with their class). I can only imagine how frustrating it is for them, considering how tight the relationship between a homeroom teacher and their class can be. All the time and effort that’s been set forth on making that relationship work seemingly thrown out for the sake of bureaucracy filtration.

Maybe I’m just bitter that both of my favorite teachers are gone. Maybe it’s just a grand reminder about the unexpected changes in life. I can’t really say.

I haven’t formally met the new Judo coaches, but I am told that one of them actually does practice the sport. I can only hope that he’ll be as helpful at the previous two teachers were. Lord knows I still need the help.

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