Friday 5 April 2013

Guest Post

Today we have a Special Guest! Say ‘good morning’ to Kamo-sensei!

*Hysterical cheers from live studio audience*

One of my pet hates is being introduced in class as a ‘special guest’. Like an infinite clockwork dildo, it winds me up fucking no end. While I clearly am incredibly special, I’m not a guest. I’m being paid money in return for providing a service, not being served a three course meal and a range of after dinner mints in exchange for witty repartee and a succession of bons mots.

I am no more a guest in the classroom than the plumber I call to fix my sink is a guest in my house. I don’t expect him to drink my tea, eat my biscuits, and then bugger off. I expect him to do the task I’ve paid him for. I expect him to fix the fucking sink (in this metaphor ‘fixing the sink’ = teaching English, in case you’re getting lost. ‘Drinking tea’ = playing games, and ‘eating biscuits’ = getting drunk at enkais or something. It’s probably best not to examine it too closely).

When workmen come to my house, the first thing I do is show them what needs doing, not offer them a cuppa and a sit down, which is why being introduced as a guest hacks me off so much. It speaks to such feebly lowered expectations.

In fairness to my warm-up men/JTEs, there may be a good number of reasons for them to have those snake-belly low expectations. A depressingly large proportion of ALTs are piss poor, and really do see themselves as guests. I’ve worked with, assessed, and trained a decent number and while I do think the majority are honestly trying to make a decent go of something they are (despite my best efforts) woefully under-prepared for, I’d be lying if I said that those who are happy to take the piss and cash the cheque only represent a small minority. They’re in a minority, certainly, but it’s a pretty sizable one.

With less figure-hugging clothing, fortunately.

However, somebody in a position of authority in Japan, somebody Japanese in a position of authority in Japan, has decided that my/our particular skill-set is something that this country needs and is unable or unwilling to obtain domestically. You can (and indeed should) quibble about the validity of that decision and whether it is a wholly unforced one; the US State Department is apparently quite keen on the JET programme as a politically acceptable way of addressing trade imbalances, so maybe there is a bit of outside coercion. But where do you stop as you work your way up that slippery slope? It’s not like foreign governments are holding guns to the heads of the Japanese (any more, at least) and demanding their citizens are allowed to teach English here with more enthusiasm than skill. If you insist on continuing that climb we reach the point where you’re arguing that the dissolution of the eikaiwa industry is dependent on the abolition of Article 9, and I hope it’s not just me who finds that a little overblown.

So, I feel it’s safe to assume that I was granted my initial working visa by a Japanese person following criteria drawn up by other Japanese people who had done so in order to pursue the best interests of Japan. This will be the case for anyone on a professional visa, as well as a large number of people with different visa statuses who work in education, translation and the like. We owe our continued employment, in part, to the fact that we are not Japanese – to the fact that Japan has decided it needs people like us to come here, quite often with the stated aim of ‘internationalizing’ the place.

This is exactly how it works. Exactly.

Does it make us better than the Japanese, or them better than us? Does it mean we should show them gratitude for being allowed to work here, or they should show any to us for gracing them with our beneficent presences and manifestly superior worldviews? If we love Japan super-hard does that excuse a lack of basic professional competencies?

No no, no no, and of course no. Do you think you’re better than the plumber? You’re a bit of a twat, if so. Sure, you’re the one with the cash, but if you were able to fix the sink yourself you wouldn’t have called him in the first place. Likewise, you’re the one with the cash, so if your plumber gets all uppity about your lack of skill with a spanner then he’s not in much of a position to be questioning your life choices. But does that then mean he should show you some gratitude for being allowed to crawl around on your kitchen floor whilst fixing an eminently avoidable problem (don’t put human hair in the garbage disposal, if I’ve told you once I’ve told you a thousand times)? Of course not; you’re paying him a mutually acceptable rate for a service rendered. Although I’ve seen a few movies where the lonely housewife has thrown in a few extras as payment as well, so maybe gratitude is appropriate on those occasions.

Actually, and once more, no. Who says, “Thank you,” after sex? That’s a little freaky. Let’s stick with the plumber metaphor though before we get properly sidetracked. You and your constant porn references. Just can’t help yourself, can you? Get some help.

No no. Thank you.

Finally, even if your plumber is, like, totally into drainage and has been collecting flange nuts and ball valves since elementary school, that in no way excuses him if he can’t actually fix the fucking sink. Have I made that clear yet?

My students get praise for effort. My plumber gets paid for doing his job. Obviously I’m going to be polite and personable when talking to him, and I’ll help him out when necessary if it means getting things done more efficiently (it’s pretty much my fault if I refuse to tell him where the stopcock is and then the kitchen floods), but when he packs up his tools and leave what matters is that he’s done his job and everything works as it should, not whether he’s enjoyed his brief sojourn into my beautiful, unique, enigmatic home.

It has four bedrooms, you know. Famously so.


  1. "It has four bedrooms, you know. Famously so."

    Love it. End on a killer punchline.

    1. Thanks. Always nice when someone gets the joke :)

  2. "Who says, “Thank you,” after sex?"

    Do we have to answer that one, Kamo-sensei?

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Well, to my mind "Thank you" is always inappropriate after the act. It may, MAY, be ok during provided it's followed immediately by "...sir/mistress. May I have another?"

  3. "while I do think the majority are honestly trying to make a decent go of something"

    You made Baby Buddha and Baby Jesus cry with that sentence. Buddhists are building a Hell ..they are incorporating it into their religion just for you... to throw you into it if you keep spreading falsehoods.

    In this area that number (majority = 51% and most = 70%+??) No way Jose'. They are a rare bird and are a clear minority far from most. Seriously.

    Next time someone talks like your gonna do a fucking duet on a new single with them politely ask them to go make you a fucking sandwich...for 50 minutes....and then eat that fucking sandwich and never ever disrespect you again or you will make the sandwich and after gently spreading the mayo across the fresh white bread your GOING TO STICK THE FUCKING KNIFE IN THEIR EYE.

    Consider it a listening test for the teacher. If they never fucking go near you again and just breeze by while you come in they ...they got good hearing.

    1. I half suspected you'd take issue with that line. I'm going to stick by it though, if only because "honestly trying to make a decent go of it" is so usefully vague. You'll notice I didn't say the majority were actually good.

      I can believe what you say about your area though. You're out in the sticks a bit, so there's probably quite a bit of selection bias. The ones who didn't choose to be there really want to be in Tokyo, and the ones who did are more than usually fixated on 'experiencing the real Japan'. Maybe.

  4. You know, I really enjoyed my work as a teacher, but I can't say that I miss the whole contextual thing about being an ALT. What an utterly bizarre way to run an education system. At least I spent most of my time in dysfunctional ghetto schools, so there was something to it besides standing in the front of a classroom yelling lines from New Horizons at bored future salarymen, even if that something was trying fruitlessly to prevent garbage cans and textbooks from flying out windows.

    1. "What an utterly bizarre way to run an education system."

      On so many levels, that. Education in every country is massively political, but it always makes me laugh when people hold up Japanese or 'Asian' schooling as a model we ought to be following. One of many reasons the current education secretary in the UK absolutely terrifies me.

    2. Just wait until you have to defend your home country's education to an education-centric Japanese wife...... I think the "you Americans suck so hard at math" line comes out 4-5 times per week. (I realize that we do, but I'm still not ready to send the kids back to Japanese schools.)

    3. Yeah, so do Canadians, but we use calculators, not abacuses. Should I mention there is thing called research one can do to find information once one has research skills, rather than have none of those and stop learning after you finished stuffing your J-heads for exams with information someone fifty years older thought was relevant?

    4. Ah, the kyoiku mama. I'll just rub salt in both you gentlemen's wounds by saying that as my wife has studied at both Japanese and British universities, she shares my opinion that Japanese tertiary education blows. More importantly, she also agrees that the main purpose of secondary education in Japan is to prepare students for university exams. This means we're looking at some pricey decisions in about a decade, one way or another.

      I also feel I should play the host as Pep's still a little new here and point out that Ant's frustration (I think) stems from too much sympathy with your position, rather than too little.

    5. She's not quite kyoiku mama level yet, fortunately, but the US doesn't do anything to encourage concerned moms, what with school shootings, awful test scores, crazy hippie education, Creationism, etc. I'm worried too.

      And education is just one proxy in the never ending culture wars at our house. Eventually we'll compromise and move to N. Europe.