If it weren’t for the internet, April 1st would come and go without me realizing it was April Fool’s Day. Not just because I’m living according to the Japanese calendar now, but also because April 1st is significant in that calendar: it’s the first day of the new fiscal year for companies and government bodies, which includes public schools. Since I spent last spring break in the States, I had yet to see the magic of Musical Desks that takes place in preparation for this day.

The teachers who were temps or not full-fledged teachers had left back on March 18th, the last day of the third semester, some with hopes of being hired on again, others moving on to different professions.  But those who were retiring or who had gotten transferred to other schools where here officially until March 31st. That day, the retirees and those being transferred gave short farewell speeches.

Now, there are several teachers at my school who have been here over 10 years, which is, I am told, unusual. While on the one hand I think it’s an unfair system given that some teachers are assigned to schools so far from where they live that they have commutes of over an hour, on the other hand I think that it’s harder to get stuck in a rut if you’re transferred every 3 years or so. There’s a teacher who I thought was a very nice person, but too gentle as a teacher, and I couldn’t help but wonder if they’d just let themselves sink down to the school’s low expectations. Actually, at their farewell speech, this teacher said, if I understood correctly, that we shouldn’t think of this as the lowest academic school; instead, we should realize that the students who come here are very glad for this school, and think of it as a very important school. I read between the lines and understood this as “if it weren’t for this school, these kids would be in nougyou [agriculture school].” But I didn’t know how to interpret this statement in light of this teacher’s lenient ways in the classroom.

I did feel bad for this teacher, because they got moved to a school very far away from where they live. Meanwhile, another teacher in the same department, who has also been at this school for over 10 years, actually lives in that very same far away area! ^_^;

Overall, the changes in staffing ended up not really affecting me and my co-ALT, because no new English teachers for first years came in, and our Oral Communication class was assigned to a record low of only 4 teachers. I’ve taught with 3 of the 4 teachers before, and the fourth person was actually the ALT Supervisor the year that I came even though we didn’t teach with him. The biggest difference is probably in the seating.

Now, because the teachers tend to move to stay with their kids (that is to say, teachers of 1st year students stay with those same kids throughout their 2nd and 3rd years), and it’s been decided that the desks in the shokuinshitsu must be arranged in such a way that teachers of first years are always on one side, the 2nd years in the middle, and the third years on the other side, on March 31st the teachers rearranged their desks to continue matching this scheme.

According to my previous co-ALT, they used to actually physically move each desk itself, not just its contents, so that each teacher kept the same physical desk. Given that we all have the exact same grey, 4-drawered desk and the same grey, wheeled office chair, and the floor gets waxed at other times in the year, I can’t understand why this would seem like a good idea to anyone. One ALT at another school told me that that is what went down at her school.

Luckily, it seems someone at my school finally questioned the efficacy of this exercise. About two months ago someone from the office went around putting magnetic tags on the desks with the owners’ names to replace the adhesive ones, so I hoped this would mean that teachers would move their tag to a new desk rather than move the whole desk to a new location. Indeed, this is pretty much what happened, and the Goddess of Logic and Mr. Toyoda smiled.

On the afternoon of March 31st, as I was quietly printing out the draft syllabus for the new year, the shokuinshitsu was suddenly flooded by the soccer, baseball, and basketball kids in their respective team’s uniforms, and some art kids in their paint-splattered art uniforms. They went about helping teachers load their desk drawers unto their chairs and wheel these to their new desks. Other kids swept. The change was pretty much complete within half an hour, and the kids left as suddenly as they had appeared.

My co-ALT and I have stayed in the same spot, so we had nothing special to do, although we did clean our desks out in preparation for the new year. For the first time ever, we’re sitting next to people who can easily understand what we’re saying, two English teachers. Interestingly, the vice-principal instructed the teachers not to pile up their books so high that they can’t make eye-contact with the teacher across from them, but a few people have chosen to ignore this request, including the person next to me.

The view behind me (mirror image, taken with my computers camera). The Big Men sit in front of that there greenboard.

Two of the female teachers who retired had little gifts for the other female teachers. The home ec teacher gave out hand-made fabric coasters, and the biology teacher gave out hand-made beaded straps in the shape of DNA! Those who went to the vice-vice-principal’s farewell party got Italian olive oil from an import store in Tokyo that his daughter owns! I felt a little bad about getting presents from the two female teachers because I didn’t give them anything; in fact, I barely knew them. The olive oil I don’t feel bad about, because all or part of its price was covered in the party fee.

Crafty double helix

Actually, the biology teacher was the one who found it amusing to run with me in the marathon 2 school years ago. If I had known I was about to get pwned by a 59-year old I would’ve tried a little harder. ^o^; I thought she was in her forties, early fifties tops! Hahaha, Youth FAIL.

But I’m telling you, I’ma run the living Gehenna outta that marathon next year!! XD

Well, while the changes in the seating chart didn’t affect us, there is a fairly big change in our working hours.

Also on March 31st, my co-ALT and I were ambushed into the principal’s office. I thought we were just going to get our ceremonial contracts, but no. The principal explained that they were thinking it would be better to have us around during the after school hours so we can have time to help the kids more, and that he noticed we stay after school a lot anyway, so he asked if it would be okay to shift our work hours 30 minutes, going from a 8:40-4:25 schedule to 9:10-4:55. At first it seemed like an excellent idea. For one, as a possible case of Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome, I hate getting up in the morning because I usually can’t fall asleep at night. Also, I too was aware of the silliness of telling the kids, “Come talk to us any time!” yet never being available on their schedule unless they booked us in advance on our schedule. The only thing I was worried about was missing chourei; since I’m now able to understand most of the information given at this meeting, I didn’t want to miss it. The vice principal reassured me that he’d let us know if anything we needed to know was said in chourei. So we agreed and went on our merry way.

But then it sunk it. First period starts at 9:15, so any day that we have a class first period (we don’t know our schedule yet) we’re going to have to go in at the usual time anyway to prepare and set up any equipment, if necessary, but still stay until 4:55. Also, while the greater majority of what’s said in chourei doesn’t apply to me, I still want to know what’s going on. Also, the later time means that I have less daylight hours, especially come winter, to get to the gym and back. So while I really enjoyed getting up at 8AM rather than 7:30 today, it feels a little like a raw deal. Sure, I stay here till 5 or later anyway sometimes, but that’s my choice. It’s not having the choice that feels frustrating.

Then again, being asked whether the change was okay may also have been nothing but a formality. ^_^;

次回!Jamie Escalante – English-only mentality + kaizen = what I’m shooting for in the new school year!