Thursday, September 09, 2004

Mad decision

Today a very nice man from one of my universities phoned to ask me if I could teach an extra class on Mondays. This is a 'community class', not a credited university class. A lot of universities are now offering these sort of adult learning classes because with the falling student-age population they are afraid they will go out of business. Universities are, when it comes down to it, businesses.

At this particular university they offer two options for 'mature learners'. One is that they join the mainstream classes and study for a degree, and the other is that they join these community classes and study for personal satisfaction. In Japan this is still a fairly new thing. Adult university students are rare. The vast majority of university students are 18 - 22 years old.

This very nice man has asked me to do these classes twice before, and both times I turned him down. There are two reasons for this. One is that I have too many classes anyway, and the other is that these classes don't pay very well. They are paid per class, not per month, so holidays are unpaid. This makes the pay average out to about half what we get for the normal classes.

The students make up for this, however, by being totally motivated and a joy to teach. Also, of course, you don't have to give grades or tests. I used to do one at another place, and loved it. But this year I am far too busy. I messed up my schedule and already have two classes more than is compatible with sanity maintenance.

But I accepted. I said I'd do it. At first I said no, but then I remembered my tax accountant and said yes.

I accepted because I am afraid of my tax accountant.

These classes are paid differently. They are categorised as 'business income' instead of 'salary', and this means that I can claim expenses on them. This year, so far, I have no business income. I have spent a lot of money on teaching materials, none of which the universities will reimburse (because part-timers don't get perks like that), and if I don't take this job I will have no income to set it off against and my tax accountant will bellow at me. He is a scary man who always gets me fantastic tax refunds.

The very nice man from the university was very happy that I accepted, and this makes it a little easier to cope with my stupid decision. He has helped me enormously in the past. He is a tactful, practical and intelligent person. Last year I had a terrible problem with a middle-aged student who frightened me and the other students with her behaviour, in a mainstream writing class. I didn't know what to do about this woman. I couldn't just ignore the situation, which appeared to be escalating, but I was worried about discussing it with administration because I thought that I would be ignored, or even blamed. I'm a foreigner. Everybody knows foreigners are different and tricky and complain about things too much, and often that's as far as it goes. It gets filed in the 'too hard' basket. I had never had a problem at this university before, and didn't know how they'd deal with it.

But I talked to this man in the end. He is in charge of the shakaijin (loose translation = adult) students, and had a friendly face. After a bizarre fist-shaking incident I was afraid the student would turn up to class next time with a knife, and decided I'd better at least make sure my concern was on record. I explained my worries to him, both about the student and about the possible smear on my reputation for reporting the problem. He understood completely, on both counts. He told me not to worry, and that my attitude showed that I was a good and responsible teacher. He talked to her, and reported back to me that she was 'a difficult person' and that he could understand my worry. It wasn't my fault. He didn't tell her I'd reported her behaviour, just asked how her studies were going and then casually inserted a query about my particular class. (I thought 'difficult person' was extraordinarily tactful of him. She was clearly mad.)

He didn't tell me what she said. He tried, and hinted at it, but I could see it was difficult for him to use his customary delicacy and tact. In the end he told me it was not my problem, it was hers, don't worry. He didn't think she'd do anything terrible, not now that she'd told him how she felt. He said she looked embarrassed, afterwards, and tried to retract some of what she'd said. And he said he'd be keeping an eye on her.

She didn't come back to my class.

A few weeks later he called to offer me one of these community classes. I refused, explaining that I was really too busy to do a good job. He called again at the beginning of the next semester, too. This is the third time. I have deeply appreciated it every time he calls. It shows more clearly than words could that he trusts me. He wants me to teach these classes. I always feel bad about refusing, especially because I know it's hard to find suitable teachers at such short notice.

So this mad decision has some benefits. My tax accountant won't bellow so much, and I will be helping out someone whom I respect and admire very much.

But this semester will be a very long one.