This column is for all the Nova teachers out there who have lost their teaching jobs. And should you be packing up to go back home, I wish you all the best of luck.
But please don’t forget Japan and the things you have learned here in spite of your unfortunate experience at Nova. There are still many things to be gained from Japan. I know. I used to teach English here too.
The skills you have picked up teaching in Japan will stay with you forever and will even come in handy at the most unexpected times.
The other day in Kyoto, for example, a sixtysomething Japanese man approached me with a trail of uniformed junior high school students behind him. “Hello!” he called out to me in perfect, cheery, isn’t-it-a-beautiful-day English. “May I help you find some place?”
Before I could answer, “Yes,” he announced: “These are my English students!” and made a sweeping motion with an open palm in their direction as if blessing them.
I immediately launched into full English teacher mode. “Hello, what’s your name ?” I asked each student. “My name is Amy. Nice to meet you!” I said in a tone of voice that said, “Isn’t this truly fantastic to meet a complete stranger?!” I insisted on shaking each of their hands.
Which is most likely why the students stood there very stiff, with terrified looks in their eyes. Barely able to even squeak out their names, they were surely thinking: Mad gaijin! Why is she introducing herself like this? I’ve never seen this woman before. She’s probably a criminal. Everyone — take cover!
And they have a point. Why do we English teachers feel this sense of duty to become raging introducers? Would I do this in my own country? Would I even shake hands with an American junior high school student? Of course not.
As I walked away from my stiff new Japanese friends, I heard a foreign woman address herself to a different group of Japanese students with:
“I . . . am . . . an . . . English . . . teacher . . . in . . . Saitama!” pausing so long between words you’d have thought she was counting seconds between lightning and thunder to figure out how far away a storm was.
But these things never leave you. There will always be an English teacher inside of you. And there will be times when the English teacher inside of you escapes.
It may be years later when you spot a group of Japanese students touring your home city. At first, you’ll think “Ah! I remember Japanese students!” But as you watch those shy girls twirling their pigtails and the boys hanging on desperately to their baggy pants, you will find yourself drawn to the nearest phone booth. Once inside, you will change into your cosplay outfit and come out as. . . . the Diplomat! And you will launch yourself at these students in full textbook mode. “Hello! What’s your name?!” you’ll ask them in cheery, isn’t-it-a-beautiful-day English.
You will carefully use only the exact vocabulary you know they have studied for being third-year junior high school students studying for Eiken Grade 3, with a smattering of last-minute home-stay English. You may even feel bold enough to throw them completely off by asking some of your own questions, such as: Can you eat Western food? Can you use a fork? Which do you prefer, cats or dogs?
In addition, you will be able to use your English teaching skills to give clear diplomatic directions to Japanese tourists who ask you, “Where is the movie theater?” You’ll automatically lift your left hand in the air as they speak, and when it is your turn to answer the question, you will take down your left hand and raise your right hand and say, “Go straight. Turn left at the post office. The movie theater is the last building on the right.”
If someone asks, “Where is the bank?” you’ll raise your right hand and say, “It’s behind the vase, on top of the TV.” Oh, wait a minute, wrong page.
“The bank? Sorry. Turn left at the post office on the corner. The bank is on your left, across from the park.”
But if a pink bunny shaking his hips comes up and asks you directions to the park, I suggest you raise your right hand, take aim, and say, “Hasta la vista, baby!”