My year teaching English at a Japanese university, part 3

My usual schedule at our own school is Tuesday-Saturday, 3-10 PM with an extra class Saturday mornings.  Fairly typical eikaiwa stuff.  While I was working at the university, it was those hours plus 8 AM-12:10 PM on Mondays and Thursdays.  So yes, I was working 6 days a week, one of those a half day and the other one I called my salaryman day.

salaryman_asleep_on_the_tokyo_subway
Optical illusion – the other passengers are actually sitting sideways and the salaryman is upright.

On Thursdays I woke up around 5:30 AM (after working until 10 the previous night) in order to catch the 7:02 train in order to catch another train in order to catch the 7:50 bus to finally get to the part-timers’ room at the university around 8:15, in time to have first dibs on the copier.  My first class was at 9:00 and if I didn’t stop to chat with a coworker, I got to the classroom around 8:40, after the student who always came early to play PSP undisturbed.

Both semesters I had Listening and Speaking for freshmen first period and Reading and Writing for sophomores second period (small culture shock, I never had “periods” in college), which means I really looked forward to extensive reading time around 10:40 because it meant I got to sit down for 15 minutes.  After the second class I hurried to the bus stop to reverse that morning’s bus, train, train trip, at the end of which my wife picked me up at around 1:30.

That afternoon and evening, we had a normal full Thursday of classes, kids and adults, and I finished my work for the day at 10 PM again.  So that’s a 13-hour day from the start of my first class to the end of the last one.  I only did this on Thursdays, and it turns out one day a week of this is quite enough.

Now that this quite short period of my working life is over, I have a few somewhat unexpected reactions.

The first is that this kind of schedule is not impossible for teachers, provided you have something of a break in the middle.  In my case, it was the train ride back from the university to my own school, an hour or so in which I listened to podcasts like WTF (better than any current late night show imho), read homework and generally disengaged from people, as is the custom on trains in Japan.  Provided I was able to find a seat and didn’t have to do my disengagement standing up, I enjoyed this hour quite a bit.  It also allowed my brain a chance to reset from the mindspace you need to be in to work with groups of 25 college students to groups of 5 elementary schoolers.  To work straight through, 9am-10pm, as many of my adult students do EVERY DAY at their office jobs would have probably resulted in brain death by the 3rd week.

The second is that the hardest part of a long day like this is not the end, when your brain is like a jalopy that still starts but has a top speed of 40 mph, but rather the middle, where you find yourself making 50% of the class songs and TPR-type games just because, to reuse the jalopy metaphor, if you take your foot off the gas the engine will die.  Luckily Thursday afternoons were always full of high-energy students.

Third, trains feature the best and worst of modern Japanese society.  If there are two things this era in Japanese cultural history will be remembered for, they are excessive and obsessive but quiet hedonism and prizing the appearance of peace above calling out anyone’s excessive, obsessive, quiet hedonism.  For now that’s all I’ll say about it.

Last, among part-time university lecturers (adjunct faculty in the US), particularly in the major cities like Tokyo, having several part time gigs at different universities is not uncommon.  My train trip back to my school sometimes had teachers I had just seen at the office, on their way to another university about 50 minutes away.  Some people in this situation are there by choice – they don’t want to have to sit in meetings, go on school trips, or pretend to like the syllabus.  Sometimes it’s also because full-time work is paradoxically more temporary than part-time work because full-timers have a set number of possible renewals on their contracts before the university would be legally obligated to offer them jobs in perpetuity.  This is a very controversial issue among university English teachers (controversial in that all of them hate it but like to talk about how horrible it is to varying degrees), and one consequence of it is that part-timers can generally stay in one place longer than full-timers, who have semiannual bonuses, business cards and official-looking email addresses but have to pack up and move twice a decade.  Anyway part-time university teaching is not much more stable than eikaiwa in terms of scheduling and possibly not even as lucrative.  I believe most people working schedules like mine for the past year are hoping the condition is temporary.  Mine sure was!

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4 thoughts on “My year teaching English at a Japanese university, part 3

  1. […] Teaching reactively means trying to bake wholesome loaves from the grist that your students bring in, and in that sense students’ backgrounds and expectations can greatly affect the flow of the class.  Not that teachers need to completely modify their teaching styles to work with students of different L1 or educational backgrounds, but some adjustments do need to be made, especially when the proportion of students of one national background reach a critical mass of (say) 60%.  I demo-taught a class of almost entirely Chinese students, and the scene where I asked them to do a worksheet in pairs and they proceeded to do it silently themselves and then show their “partner” the completed worksheet was achingly familiar.  I had seen it almost every class back when I was teaching in Japanese university. […]

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