25 February 2008

English teaching post

As I prepare for my new college teaching post, I'm just about to finish up a rather significant part of my career teaching conversational English at conversational English schools and high school. It's made me think back on the time I've spent over 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 conversation school is sort of French restaurant here. It's 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. Actually learning any English, as far as I can tell, is not really essential.

At high school, it's a little more complicated, but has the same root — a school gets 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 in Japan.

I don't have a problem with any of this in theory, as long as people understand what it is that they're doing and English teachers understand that they are entertainers, not teachers. From next month, I will be venturing more into the real world of education, I suppose, with credit-bearing course in which I give grades and pass and fail real students without some Japanese person looking over my shoulder 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 or if I will find myself in an more elaborate marionette'd world, where the strings and puppet masters are just harder to see.

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