As the EatMyBeats rap contest winds down, let’s take a trip down memory lane to probably the first “music video” I ever made over in Japan.
Tag: JET Programme
What if I gave the JET Program another go?
I don’t think I ever would, but here are some important considerations:
- Would you take security over happiness? Are you actually unhappy now?
- What do you tell JET as your reason for doing it all over again?
- Why is there an “urgency” to leave your current situation?
- What about teaching in Japan still seems so great?
- Is there some place besides Japan for you?
- Are you looking at everything with rose-tinted nostalgia glasses?
- (Amy’s Second Opinion) Can you remember that JET is technically a dead-end contract job?
- (Tiffany’s Second Opinion) Is there anything more you can offer this time around?
- (Caitlin’s Second Opinion) Do you have a proper exit plan?
From 2009-2011, life in Japan was going great!
I had a great girlfriend (she’ll get her own feature because there’s a lot of girl talk to breakdown there).
Well, for me, it came down to a getting some extra responsibility. Spidey learned with great power comes great responsibility. I don’t know if I actually got any “power”, but the responsibility in my third year really changed how I saw everything.
- Counselling and consultation
- Provision of information necessary for JET participants’ daily lives
- Mediation and promotion of understanding between JET participant(s) and Contracting Organisation(s)
- Response to a crisis situation involving a JET participant
- Keeping and handling of records in relation to 1-4 above
- Outreach to JETs about the JET Programme counselling system
- Orientation at training seminars
- Promoting the formation of a self-help network for JET participants
(Apparently a lot of the counseling was removed as of 2014.)
Being PA made me feel like I was “moving up”– and this was big for a position were you couldn’t get a promotion. On top of my regular teaching schedule, I was now leading meetings and workshops. It was kind of like being a manager I guess, but with even more things to do!
Something that brought a lot of stress, but was ultimate very rewarding, was being on call for emergencies. I didn’t have to deal with any major natural disasters, but there were a couple of cases that really impacted me.
I got a call once from a school because someone was missing. In the process of finding said person and sorting it all out, I had to talk to both police and the embassy.
I had the “I’m not doing okay” call.
Having this extra responsibility– all of this weight— made me re-think what I’d been doing prior. I thought I was in the zone with teaching, but now I knew I was just in a bubble.
And now that bubble burst.
Before I started teaching, my buddy Chase told me that I was going to change lives. And before working as PA, I thought maybe, just maybe, I was on my way towards doing that. I know I started off incredibly ambitious– and my first year of teaching was very humbling. But I had the drive to keep going, to make it work! Eventually, I found my groove.
But the perspective of the PA had me shaking my head. After making calls to the embassy and making hospital visits, it was hard to go back to class to play Battleship.
The ultimate test of a person’s English ability is doing well on Eiken or TOEIC, two popular English exams. Being able to understand and use English in unstructured, free-flowing communication is not.
What was I really doing for these kids?
I helped them prepare for tests, but I wasn’t preparing them for life.
I had one student who lost his dad, but the very next day he was back in school. You couldn’t even tell he was suffering. I guess the normalcy of school was his coping mechanism. Back then, I thought I was doing my part to help contribute to that. Before, it was enough just to cultivate an environment where they could thrive in class.
The role of PA kicked my focus more and more to life outside of class.
In my last year, I had a student who collapsed from a heart condition. He would make a full recovery, but I made damn sure I saw him at the hospital.
Why didn’t I try to see the kid who lost his dad?
What more could I be doing for these kids?
Why can’t I be doing more?
This is no knock on any ALT who’s living up the teaching life now. I hope you are. I hope you bond with your kids. I hope you’re working in a way where you feel like you’re making a difference. To be effective in that instructor role, you have to believe in the system.
I just couldn’t make it work anymore. What I wanted to do and what I actually did weren’t syncing up. To do work that really helped others grow, while growing myself… that’s what I wanted.
It was an odd feeling because I had so much fire to do the JET Program. So much clarity. And now I had a calling for “something greater”, even though I had no clue what that looked like.
I did know, however, that sticking around as an ALT wasn’t going to do me or my students any good. They needed someone who could still believe in the dream. I felt bad in a way because the freshman I had in my last year were way more passionate. But the timing was just off.
The way the PA role opened my eyes– that’s the reason why I didn’t re-contract.
I know my last post on Japan was kind of a downer, but I promise things aren’t actually so bleak. I am rockin’ and rollin’ with my own business after all. It’s just… falling out of love with Japan– especially to this extent– has me more stumped than anything.
I mean, I really thought that love was going to be for forever, guys! Saying stuff like that almost makes it seem like I didn’t mature after all, huh?
Tracing things back to the source might be helpful. The time gap in between feels surreal. But the memories? Reminiscing where that love came from, and remembering the reason why I wanted to go in the first place isn’t hard to do at all.
Over the years, I’ve had many obsessions with Japan. Some were not the healthiest. To be honest, I think a lot of people thought my main reason to go to Japan were the girls. So when my girlfriend at the time dumped me, it’s no surprise those same people thought I’d be on a plane home the next day.
I did have some crazy, yellow fever; but that’s not why I wanted to go over there.
The idea to teach The idea to help students came from one of my anime heroes: 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 teach 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?
He made school more than school. He was more than just a teacher. He gave a shit.
I’ve had my fair share of teachers that taught me about life, but they never hit that level of ambitiousness. And even in the days of having low self-esteem, I wanted to be that kind of leader. I wished at least.
And for awhile, that idea just floated in my head as a fantasy. “Yeah, that’d be nice.” But then in my freshman year, a former JET Program participant spoke at my school, and I was instantly hooked. Here was the path to make that fantasy a reality.
I was so excited to join that I asked the speaker to help me set up an interview. But then I found out I either needed three years of teaching experience or a college degree.
I decided in that moment that I would do both. I would build the beefiest resume that no way they could turn me down. I wanted to be the best ALT in the JET Program like no one ever was.
And that’s a real big reason why I chose my major and minor. That’s the key factor why I tutored and why I connected with the international community at my school. These are the steps, in addition to studying Japanese, that I had hoped would show the JET Program I was the go-to pick for the job.
When I was finally over there, I really felt like I was living the dream. I channeled my anime heroes into the dorkiest introduction speech ever.
(You can tell me how dorky it was. I can’t bring myself to re-watch it.)
But that level insanity worked. That crazy vision of making a difference drove me to learn all 600 of my students names. It pushed me to throw caution to the wind and make the craziest lesson plans on making commercials and building your dream hubby/wife.
I did have some challenges early on (i.e. being able to read the reactions of my students, recognizing shyness, working around low participation, etc.) but I enjoyed the challenge.
I loved my job.
I’d hear other people talk about the grind of the workweek and the dread of the weekend ending. I’d almost slip into the same line of small talk until I remembered, “Nope! I love what I do.”
I wasn’t perfect. I don’t know how close to being the “best” I actually was, but I enjoyed the hell out of the successes of the day to day. Being able to tweak a lesson plan that bombed in the morning into a crowd favorite in the afternoon? That kind of turn around victory is one of the best feelings in the world.
And maybe I could’ve ridden that momentum into eternity. At least, maybe I would’ve stayed the original 5 years like I originally planned. Maybe I could’ve settled down over there, if it weren’t for one change in my third year…