April 17, 2001


Right now I'm feeling: Thankful

Right now I'm listening to: Mai Kuraki

Mai Kuraki -- Stay by My Side   

Bad to the Bone

Time to update the worst of the worst!
Like I said, I love my job, but I just thought you guys might like a few pieces of gossip that were tossed around the old ALT roundtable.

Over the past year, my schools have gotten a bit better, a little easier to work at. Two of my schools have almost no problems and happenings at the other two are fairly easily handled. The other schools in the city, have not. Every school changes, year to year. Some go up in the "rankings" (the ranking system every teacher has in her mind of where his/her school fits in the best to worst scale of the city's schools), some go down. Some faster than others. And while some may disagree on which is the worst school, they all agree that things are getting noticeably worse. In the city and probably all over Japan.

The biggest problem I had this past year was when a student decided to throw my shoe out of the second story window and the lecture I had to give afterwards. I've been poked and groped on the butt, called a few names, and at one of my schools two of the teachers were attacked by a student and injured. I've had it pretty easy and I try not to complain about it. G, my neighbor and friend, has two of the worst and largest schools in the city. One has gotten quite a bit better, the other has gotten far worse.

My supervisor is shuffling the schools between the ALTs because he needs a male ALT at certain ones, preferably large and intimidating. A female ALT friend of mine has been told a number of times to "Go to hell!!" by her 12 year old students, another is cursed at regularly with "Fuck off!!". Being groped by students is an occasional story told by ALTs at get-togethers. At the schools where defiance, cursing, spitting and fear is something the teachers have become accustomed to, learning is nearly impossible for the students.

"Gakkyu hokai" is what the Japanese call it. "Classroom breakdown". There are kids who have what in most western countries would be serious psychological problems. They need help, but don't get it. Stories that the Japanese like to bury and don't get much coverage in foreign countries. Like the student who was cutting heads off of his classmates two years past. Or last year's headliner student who stabbed his English teacher to death when she asked him why he didn't have his assignment.

These students don't deserve to be put under the blanket term of gakkyu hokai, they are a symptom of the larger problem of the Japanese ignorance of the need of proper mental health. But I digress…
The teasing that goes on in Japanese classes is merciless and entirely unchecked. The class dynamic here is sick and there is little or nothing done about it. The system is suffering and there is nothing I can do about it. I change a teachers' ideas here or there about what can be done, but the massive resistance to change is suffocating.

Some problems will not be solved. Some problems the teachers haven't the foggiest idea how to solve because they are afraid. If they confront them, stories get out, reputations are soiled, or students' futures are ruined. Some of the problems are so outrageous they would have a serious affect on the community if they were widely known.

There is an ALT in Osaka whose junior high school has the unusual problem of trying to get the students to stop having sex in the restrooms during classtime. These kids are 12 to 15 years old. I wouldn't even know where to start to solve this kind of problem, and I'm damn thankful that I don't have to.

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