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April 11, 2007

Well, it's the first week in the new school year. Here in Japan, for some reason, the school year ends in March (hence the graduation) and starts in April. The third-years I knew have left for High School, and everyone's shifted up a year, making room for a new slew of first-years. Well, new for everyone who hasn't already been teaching them in their final year of Primary School, like I have.


But that's not all. The weirdest change is in the staff. In Japan, teachers aren't hired by the schools. They're hired by either the Board of Education, or the Prefectural Government. One BoE (or pref govt) runs many schools. And so, from one year to the next, teachers don't know where they will end up. There was a bit of tension around the final week or two of last term, as teachers anxiously awaited the news telling them that they would either remain where they were, or have to pack up their stuff and move to a new place half the way across Kyoto.

As it happens, three of our teachers got their packing orders. One of my English teachers, who's been here for the last 8 years; a maths teacher and tennis coach; and the principal.

The English teacher was, I think, quite sad to leave, as he had become quite attached to the place, and at least one of the other teachers who has been working here almost as long. He'll probably never see them again. Middle School teachers in Japan pretty much never stop working. They stay here till like 9 at night. The maths teacher… I didn't even know he was leaving, until his replacement turned up. But, since I had been using his tennis raqcuet to join the kids in the tennis club, I guess that's over.

The principal is the weirdest. I think it's strange to move the teachers about as they do, but I guess they want to keep a balance of old and new, experienced and novice, and levels of talent in the schools… or maybe, if one school is performing badly at a certain subject, move in a good teacher, or something…. but why the principal?

A principal doesn't teach. The whole purpose of a principal is to act as a figurehead to the school, and to unite it. A good principal gets involved in the school life, and the concerns of the students and staff. And he resolves them. He works at the school until the school itself, works. It gets a good image. And people will act as they should, because they respect the principal. If the principal goes to an event, people care.

None of this can be true if the principal is moved around all the time. If the principal doesn't get the time to attach himself to a school, and to get to know the students and staff, and to have them get to know him, he can't hope to run a cohesive school. If he will just be moved at the end of the year, people won't really care about what he has to say. And if he knows he may be moved away at the end of the year, where does he find the motivation to fight to try and improve a school? Especially if he has been moved time after time after time? I liked the principal we had last year. He was a good guy, and got on well with the staff and students. People had good things to say about him, and therefore, the school. But now he's gone. A new guy who nobody knows has walked in and started giving orders. I'm sure he's a good guy as well, but the bottom line is, nobody knows. It takes time to build up the respect needed to be a good head of an organisation… and if they aren't given that time, I don't know what it is that they are supposed to achieve.

Anyway, replacing the quiet English teacher is a new man who seems a touch more lively. So that's probably good, although the teacher who got moved was the only one who actively attempted to have some real team-teaching with me. This new teacher has discussed with the other remaining English teacher about how neother of them actually like team-teaching, and it looks like my hours are going to get cut down to a barely-anything amount. The maths teacher has been replaced with a young woman, who everyone was surprised to find out is actually 34 and married. I really can't decide what to think of her – she seems equal parts nerdy and snobbish. It's weird. The new principal seems fine, although his speeches seem alot more dry and drag on alot more than the previous. Also, he tends to yell things out from his office rather than actually coming out to speak.

When I started here, I never got a welcome party. So it was interesting to see what happened when these guys arrived. Everyone instantly took a liking to the cute new maths teacher. The women took her out for lunch about three times in that first week. The new English teacher, on the other hand – the man – was basically ignored. Here in Japan – at least, in the country – men and women don't really mix socially, as far as I can tell. So I guess the welcoming of the new women is up to the women, and the welcoming of the new men is up to the men. I guess our guys aren't really into that, which explains the reception both I and the new English teacher got. However, I insisted at least our sitting group take him out to lunch once, which we did, albeit at slight reluctance from the group.

One thing that has annoyed me, though, is this: in the lead up to the new school term, there was a bit of preparation to be done. The new teachers understood what was going on and jumped in to help. I, as usual, had no idea what was going on, and was constantly left alone whenever everyone else knew to do something. I'd end up finding groups of people standing around and discussing how to arrange a certain flower arrangement, or where to put a seat for a ceremony. These are places in which I just can't help, due to my language ability. So, I always found myself just standing there or sitting there, doing nothing. The new teachers got to get involved with the groups, and have a talk and a laugh with the other teachers, and start to become part of "the team", while I continued my unbroken role of being an outsider, and never feeling part of "the team". And what really annoys me is that the new teachers seem to have already picked up on that. So, they already don't bother to talk to me, or interact with me at all. They probably think me quite useless.

Two other big changes: the seating arrangements in the office have all been changed, so now I am actually sitting near the English teachers, instead of on the other side of the room to them, which is good, except for the fact it sems like I won't even be getting any hours from here on. Also, my schedule has changed. I will now be regularly spending two days a week at the primary schools, and three at the middle school. This is, quite frankly, going to suck. Aside from anything else, added to the reluctance of the teachers to get me involved in middle school classes in the first place, I think I'm going to be lucky to get one class here a week.

Also, this regularly-scheduled primary school thing means that the school trip I was planning on, and had already been slated in for, as an opportunity to speak to the kids…. now I can't go.

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