Silly Grins

Friday, April 6, 2012

Interview: Fragmented Exchange

Part II

W: Speaking about school violence and things like that, have you ever seen any or experienced anything of that sort or...what's your take on that? 

FT: I have seen a teacher hit a student once that that was right at the beginning of my time here and I told my supervisor about it and said to him, "Look, if that teacher hits the student again, I am going to walk out of class." And that was it, I haven't seen anything since. But I have heard stories that, you know, what it used to be like in school in Japan, even tens years ago - the violence that went on from the teachers against the students and that has come full circle now. 

I mean, I think the problem is that ten years ago that the teachers were very violent against the students. The teachers kicked around the students a lot. I mean, brutality was very common. 

Now that violence, corporal punishment by teachers has been banned in Japan. The trouble is that they have no viable alternative punishment, and there doesn't seem to be any punishment system in Japan for bad kids. I mean, they can't have detention for bad kids because school goes on for so long anyway. They don't seem very willing to, like, stop kids who are, say, good at baseball from being on the baseball team as a punishment. They don't seem to be into that. There seems to be no real punishment in Japan for bad kids and I think that is the reason why it is getting out of control.

W: Have you ever witnessed any discipline problems or disruptions?

FT: Yeah, there are bad kids. I have some bad kids and the teachers won't tell them off. And I think last week I went to this school and I think it was the first time I met these particular kids even after three years and I was giving my self introduction and because they were first year English students and they had been studying English for what, six months. Some of the more difficult bit of information I would say in Japanese, words I knew they would not know, like earthquake or volcano


And every time I spoke in Japanese, there were two or three boys at the front who would laugh and go, "Look at that stupid gaijin, he's speaking Japanese."

And I looked at them and I said, "I don't laugh at your terrible English and it is extremely rude of you to laugh at me because I am speaking Japanese and I am speaking Japanese to help you because you don't understand what I am saying. I am doing you a favor. Please shut up." 


And the teacher... and I told them this in Japanese and at this point, they laughed again, and the teacher did nothing and they kept doing it. At which point I walked out of class. I had had enough. 


Because that rudeness, that blatant rudeness I am not prepared to accept. And I don't see why I should come into a school as a guest, under the Japanese system as a clear superior to the students, under, in Japanese eyes in the Japanese system and be laughed at and not have anyone disciplining them for it. I just wasn't prepared to put up with it. 

To be continued...


  1. The image of Japanese public schools and the reality are very very far from one another. I was a bad kid and I was instantly sent home for days,weeks and then kicked out. A lot of good kids over here suffer because bad kids like me have no reason to follow anything. They will be sent to the next grade even if they never show their face in School. This country is doomed because THEY are the future.

    I thrive with the control of having my own school and I was emotionally crushed when I worked for the public schools. It is really really bad.

    I feel more pressure to make a difference because I know what some of these smart good kids gotta go through everyday.

    1. It's exactly that gulf between that image and reality that I cannot pretend is not there just for sake of being polite. Part of the reason blogging about this is so cathartic. Not so long ago, blogs were not so accessible and very few people were even willing to talk about the elephant in the room. People would get defensive, make up excuses...

      I too was sent home and put to work a few times. Fortunately no one reported the last mishap (despite a busted knuckle), which would have gotten me permanently booted from the school. The only difference between me and 'bad' kids was getting caught... so I've been reminded. Probably have to give my kids that same speech to.

      The crush from working at schools here is real. How can anyone pretend that a good teacher is so workaholic that he sleeps on a cot in the teachers room instead of going home. And people are surprised when someone just sort of keels over. I Sheesh. God forbid anyone should actually talk about these things while not drunk.

      The future? I'm too busy just trying to slow down the little bit of now that I have to even think about that. But it does worry me. And it worried the fellow in the interview.

  2. Seeing as we're being cheeky...

    The whole 'guest' thing winds me right up. It's a pet hate and I'm sick to the back teeth of JTEs introducing me by saying 'Today we have a special guest', because frankly they might as well say 'Today we're not going to be studying anything useful, so feel free to dick around'.

    Somebody here has decided that there's a role that needs filling. Somebody here has decided to give me that role and pay me to do it. I'm not grateful or thankful to have it, because neither emotion matters a damn compared to my ability to do the job. I'm here to do that job in exchange for money, not provide witty after dinner repartee in exchange for three courses and some decent dessert wine.

    Which makes the JTE's behaviour here even worse, in a way. Not only did they fail to support you with the grace you'd expect from a host, they even failed to show the basic professional respect you'd expect from a colleague. I've never walked out on a class yet, but I can see how occasionally it'd be the least worst option.

    1. Kamo, thanks for the reply. Just to let you know, the interview really happened, the 'guest' Foreign Teacher (Mr. FT) was educated at University of Cambridge. He was a decent poker player and showed now mercy when it came to taking the piss out of Americans (or pretty much anybody). I felt lucky to have had the chance to talk to a fellow ALT who actually cared about what he did and had backbone when it came to dealing with office politics, etc. Although he wasn't one to complain, he definitely wouldn't take anything lying down. Not an overly friendly fellow, but fair enough, and he definitely had a sense of humor that was pretty much lost on me.

      In a few days, when there's just a little more time, I'll post a third piece of the interview and call it done.

      My experience with JTEs has definitely been mixed. The ones who were late 30s, early 40s seemed to have it down in terms of classroom management (keeping the kids under control) and focusing on their lessons. A few of the younger teachers I worked with had a bit of 'tude', but a good number were willing to actually work with me.

      I walked out of one class (a teacher issue) and kicked two troublemakers out of another. Fortunately there was follow up. It all worked out in the end. Both of the incidents are post-worthy. But not too soon.

      It's always good to have a few least worst options to fall back with the understanding that there are consequences, of course.

  3. Ah, my mistake. I'd got the impression you were on the other side of the table. It's the G-word, causes the red mist to descend a bit...

    Looking forward to the last instalment, now that I know what's what.

    1. An obstacle that gets in the way here, in my opinion, is the fact that so much of what's going on is not openly acknowledged. The 'woolly mammoth' Loco speaks of or the various problems a Bad Boy reminds people of. My short-list includes a wild card, a queen, a three-of-a-kind, a good brew... as well as a few others.

      While "acknowledgment does not imply acceptance of the [assigned] value of data" - the data is valuable; it is data. There are people worth listening to.

      And, yeah... it's only a matter of time (in any exchange) before a person finds something they disagree with. At least, that's where I'm coming from.

      Sometimes the messages scrawled on this part of the electronic abyss are intentionally vague. Other times, it's just badly writ. Can't panic. Just need to keep moving...

      Back to the grind.

  4. That's pretty horrid. These kind of problems happen in Australia too. My English teacher got expelled twice for slapping someone, another teacher broke down into tears and my Japanese teacher was hit in the eye by a pen shooter (luckily her eye was ok). The problem was that the kid or teacher would often get sent home and not many people minded missing a day off school. I

    1. Horrid or normal. The "no viable alternative punishment" makes things hard... that lack of accountability. Kids whose parents were on the school board were given leniency when they misbehaved; I don't recall seeing much sympathy toward teachers.