Teaching English in Japan with Ato – Question Everything, Pt. II


Part 16: Safe?! No I am not!

5-minutes before the beginning of the class and I am still unable to find one of the teachers. I had assumed that she was in homeroom, the bathroom or late but i could be mistaken. I decide to wait in the class. I double check my printed schedule and find the class (making sure to walk by all the other classes in case she’s in one of them), but she is not there. The science teacher is there…and he doesn’t speak English.

After enlisting the help of some of the Philippine students (whose English is invariably better than that of the Japanese students) I discover that she is absent today and that he, the science teacher that doesn’t speak a lick of English, will be supervising their self study(?).

In broken English and even more broken Japanese I inform him that I would still like to try to teach at least the target phrases, but it turns out to be a disaster since the students speak more English than he does and use the opportunity to make fun of every single thing I say. Not being able to understand what they’re making fun of (because he (*sigh*) doesn’t speak English), he cannot reprimand them properly and classroom order disintegrates…

…I decide that I cannot teach this class without a Japanese English teacher present and leave the room to the hyena-like laughter of the students.In the staffroom, another Japanese English teacher wanders around aimlessly, trying to look busy. I inform her of the preceding events and she looks at the roster..surprised.

“Oh! Miss Nantoka is absent today!”

I almost reply “Really, b*tch?” but manage to downgrade it to an “Oh..ok..”

“Also, we have to teach her next class together!”
(I place exclamations at the end of all the Japanese English teachers’ sentences because that is exactly how they speak – exaggerated in every sense..even when they’re whispering)

“So..” I start, then continue in my head “you knew this morning when I asked you if there was anything I should know about today, that she was absent, you knew that you had to cover one of her classes with me in third period, but you didn’t think it pertinent to inform me of this fact for my second period class which is taught by the same teacher…and which is being covered by the science teacher who doesn’t speak a word of English? Furthermore, why is he the g*ddamned science teacher up there and you, an English teacher, down here fucking around with coffee. What is f*cking wrong with you? What the f*ck is wrong with this place? Why do…?”

I grow faint trying to follow her logic and my legs buckle as my brain fights off an aneurysm, but I manage to steady myself on a desk. She is staring at me through thick glasses with this really innocent, cheery smile on her face.

Then I feel it. Like a wave crashing onto me then receding. Like that scene in Van Wilder..holding a number 1 for a very long time in front of a room full of people, then being unable to hold it anymore and just wetting yourself and not caring who sees you. I had officially stopped caring!

And that’s sad for me because I want to care. I want to do a good job, I want to give 120%…but I can’t. I can’t because I’m not able to.

This kind of thing continued throughout Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday for various reasons…but I didn’t care. I went out and bought a 6000 yen set of headphones with noise cancellation, an ipod and I loaded the entire first season of “The Wire” onto it.

I sit at my desk calm..uncaring..flowing like water with whatever comes my way. Tomorrow I think I’ll wake up a full hour later than I usually do and miss the morning meeting entirely. In fact I think I’ll arrive 5 minutes before class begins. I think I’ll even print the handouts for my private lessons at my school like everybody else does. I don’t even think it’ll matter. Nothing matters..

I have become the calm, little centre of the world!

Black Tokyo Monogatari: Teaching English in Japan


  1. We must be working at the same school! The staff forget to tell me when I have a day off – I don’t find out until I arrive. I’m greeted with a “Oh! What are you doing here. It’s your day off” I’m surprised there hasn’t been a workplace shooting involving a ALT and all the Japanese English teachers.

  2. I don’t know if the writer is male or female, but sorry, I cannot sympathize. Regardless if you’re in Japan or home in the U.S. — the issue of relationship building is critical. (The writer of this post was far too concerned about his/her performance. Ego).

    “Where there is big ego, there is (also) big pain.”

    Teaching conversational English in Japan with NO Japanese language skills … then being arrogant enough to THINK that what little you bring to the table is equal to that of the Science teachers class time … well, you deserved the humiliation. Those kids knew their priorities.

    Too, there’s the issue of ARROGANTLY “pushing the river” … as in, “I want what I want, when I want it.”

    If the writer had done his/her homework, the writer would have known that an ESL conversational English teacher is basically an assistant baby sister. You have to know the culture if you’re going to enjoy your time there. Relax … chill … and don’t take yourself so seriously. It’s a gift and you’re making like you’re The Great Professor there to enlighten all Japan. C’mon … get right sized.

    Here’s a suggestion: Study Buddhism.

  3. This is a rant if I’ve ever seen one. It’s good to get frustration off your chest, but the internet is already raft with ALTs venting pure negative about teaching in Japan, horrible horrible Japan. It’s not Japan, it’s not the Japanese, it’s not the absentee teacher, it’s not the unawares teacher in the office, nor the science teacher, nor the students: it’s you. You’re not cut out for this job. And that’s okay, because not everyone is. If you’ve stopped caring, then you’ve already halfway quit. Next step is buying a ticket home.

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