25 February 2008

English teaching post

I am rounding the metaphorical corner of third and just about to finish up a rather significant part of my metaphorical career teaching conversational English at conversational English schools and high school. This has me waxing a bit philosophical about how I have spent the last four and half years of my life and what it is I have learned as a hired dancing bear.

It took me about a year and a half to realize that teaching English in Japan has nothing to do with English and even less to do with teaching. Education is really not a part of it at all. What English education in Japan really stands for is a chance at safe multicultural entertainment. Sort of like an American in a big city going to a French restaurant run by an actual French person every month. You can then tell your friends that you know a French person and like French food and everyone thinks you're international and intelligent.

English is sort of like that in Japan. English conversation is a chance for middle-aged people to get away from whatever they're doing in their regular life and be international for an hour with a real live American. But actually learning any English is not really a part of it.

At high school, it's a little more complicated, but it has the same root of a school getting some international points for having a couple of foreigners on staff. We, the foreign staff, however, end up feeling a little bit more like well paid furniture than teachers. And learning to accept that is part of being a successful teacher, I suppose.

I don't have a problem with any of this, really, as long as people understand what it is that they're doing in the English conversation world and English teachers understand that they are entertainers, not teachers. From next month, I will be venturing into more of the real world of education, I suppose, in which I give grades and pass and fail real students without some Japanese person looking over my shoulder (in theory) or telling me what to teach or making money off of me specifically as a foreigner... but I'm not sure if I am actually going to be good at this.

I'm a pretty good English conversation teacher because I am pretty good at bullshitting and being agreeable. I am good at pretending to be interested in what people are saying and acting like I'm teaching when I'm not. I am sort of sad to be leaving this work because I have been pretty good at it and part of me really enjoys it. But I guess when it is time to move on, it is time to move on.

Or maybe it's just this...
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