Even with all the adoration I gave for Dragon Zakura earlier, it can’t touch the sheer cool factor of Great Teacher Onizuka. Onizuka, a high school dropout/ex-gang member decides he wants to become… a teacher?
How lame is that? Sure enough, he’s a klutz, unorganized, and by all accounts a crappy teacher– in the traditional sense anyway.
What separates him from the rest is his resolve to teach his students. It’s not all about books and scores, there’s a lot to learn about life. And what better environment to these these kinds of lessons than a school? For that very notion, Onizuka thinks school is cool. School is fun. He tells his students that he’d go back to school in a heartbeat.
His students react in disbelief. I shared the same disbelief. Can school really be that kind of place?
Onizuka does all he can to connect and bond with his students. He learns about their lives outside of class: the disconnect they have with their parents, the bullying that goes on between classmates, the bouts with depression they never talk about. And, he gives them the tools to confront those problems.
He cares. He really cares.
As a student, I’ve had my share of favorite teachers, but I never really put myself in their shoes. Can a teacher really take on a role to the extent of Onizuka? Is it okay to break away from the traditional and shoot for the unorthodox?
I wanted to do what GTO did.
So when I found out about the JET Program in my freshman year, I did everything I could to beef up that resume. I wasn’t an education major, but I studied speech communication. I tutored in at my college’s Writing Center to get teaching experience. I networked with the international kids. I started my own little group to support them. And I took all the Japanese courses I could.
A lot of people live their whole lives not knowing what they want to do. I’m really lucky to have this point where I knew exactly what I wanted to do.
When I got to Japan, the classes weren’t quite like I expected. But because I wanted so badly to be like GTO, I made it work. If I didn’t believe I could make a difference, there’s no way I could’ve memorized all 600 names of my students. There’s no way I could’ve stayed the extra hours after school was done each day. There’s no way I could’ve stayed there for three years.
So now the question is… why did I stop? I could’ve signed on for two more years, and to be honest, that was the original goal.
In my third year, I took on the Prefectural Advisor role. It surprised a lot of people, myself included. I’d always been a “reluctant leader”. For some reason though, I really wanted to do it. Much like what sparked my interest in the JET Program, I felt compelled to make a difference.
And in the position, I tried my hardest to challenge the traditional manners of meetings and business talk. I worked around the image of being a “guy in charge” to stay relatable and accessible to the people around me.
I want to believe I was able to help people.
I think for me, working outside the classroom was a breath of fresh air. I might’ve hit some walls, but looking from the outside, I could really see the trappings a typical classroom has– no matter how out-of-the-box you try to be. And, that realization was frustrating.
The desire to help others like GTO has never died. I just think trying it as a teacher is too limiting.