the nikku

reflecting on ESL/EFL and its relation to faith

Friday, February 06, 2009

How's School?

Another excerpt from an email to an interested friend:

Like I said, currently at my school they are really running low on
funds. Enrollment is steadily going down, and they've started all kinds
of new programs to try and get people in the door, but nothing has
really worked and basically everyone is working harder and getting paid
less. This is great for moral.

The high school has always had a college prep course (tokushin) and a
basic course (ippan). It also has a related college that was birthed
from the high school in the 70's, but now we're pretty separate.

Five years ago we started English and Nursing prep tracks in high school
as well. At the time enrollment had gone down from 10 homerooms per
grade to 7 homerooms per grade. The college had started English and
Nursing specialty programs to try and up enrollment, and encouraged the
high school to do the same. The theory was that students from our school
would go to the college (this partly worked for the nursing program).

When I came (three years ago) we had also started a junior high program
to try and keep the doors open. The junior high also has basic and
college prep tracks (college prep junior high is just too serious). As
you may or may not know, college prep in Japan means you have lessons
until about 5pm.

Also, to try and up enrollment, we have started separating students by
ability - even within the basic track. Apparently if our average test
scores are higher, we might get more students. So for example, this
year's first grade homeroom 1E had an average score of 100-85 on the
entrance exam test, 1D 85-65, 1C 65-0, 1B 65-0, and 1A 65-0. In this
way, students could achieve have the chance to, and students can't won't.

Since the school needs enrollment, we generally accept students who got
any double digit score on the entrance test. We might even accept a
single digit score if they will be good for a sports team.

As the sole native teacher at my school, they like to spread me around,
and advertise me on the front page of the junior high and high school
programs. This basically means that I see classes from almost every
section of the school once or twice a week. I'm everywhere at once every
week. This gets to be kind of stressful during grading times, as most
teachers grade about four homerooms, and I grade about 14 homerooms.

Speaking of grading, I do the paperwork in Japanese (I have translations
of the paperwork that various members of the English department have
done for me). And I also go to all the meeting, but I don't work
Saturdays unless there's a special event. I also don't do clubs.

The principal came about five or six years ago. He has made a lot of
these program changes unilaterally without asking the faculty for advice
- just telling them what to do. But that's typical Japanese bureaucrat
management.

The former principal usually asked the faculty for advice, and he was a
Christian. The current principal is not a Christian and was chosen
because "he was a good volleyball coach and a respected community
member". However, most of the faculty dislike him.

He usually fights with the high school chaplain. He would like to get
rid of chapel in the morning, prayers, special Christmas and service
events, etc. Since he is not a Christian he see these as a waste of time
and a chance for students to be "undisciplined in their studies".

However, the high school chaplain herself seems to be preoccupied with
up holding the rituals of church - even the rituals of our school -
rather than actual faith in Christ. If there are no events coming up,
she usually cancels religion department meetings. However, her general
comment about meetings, events, and the school in general are "mendou"
and "taihen". She is usually short and blunt with both students and staff.

Since she is chaplain she only teaches 12 lessons a week. However, she
seems most interested in going from one staff office to the next taking
coffee breaks and gossiping. She attends an area church, but refuses to
do "pastor-like" work at local churches like preaching when a pastor is
absent, teaching a Bible study, etc.

With the addition of the junior high we also hired a junior high
chaplain. He actually helps in the local churches, and is usually polite
and encouraging.

Finding a Christian teacher who is willing to talk openly about their
faith other than the junior high chaplain has been difficult. There are
a few, but most of them are older (one will retire in about three
years), and I wonder what will happen here when they are gone. As I've
stayed here, they've become helpful, but they still keep their distance
a little - only about half of them attend church regularly themselves.

Most of the other teachers here will say Christianity is a great
teaching and they respect it, but after that they don't really care. And
that's ok. That's what generally happens when you need to staff a
Christian school in Japan.

I've thought of trying to start a student or faculty Bible study. But
I'm worried that between classes I won't even have the time myself.

There are many great teachers here, but most of them don't speak
English. The junior high English teacher is a great guy, very open, and
he will be the chairman of the English department next year.

There are many great students, and it's usually nice to see them around
town. As I've stayed here and attended PTA meetings, it's even been nice
to get to know their parents and see the families around town. It's a
small town here, only 180,000 people. :)

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