Friday, January 28, 2005

Good for the soul

Being a part-time language instructor at Japanese universities can be nerve-wracking. You have no job security, no contract beyond one year, no medical plan, no pension, and very little support from the individual universities. Every year around November/December you go through hell as you try to juggle next year's schedule. You never know what your income will be from one year to the next. (There are advantages too, of course, but that's not what I'm writing about today so I'm not going to mention them.)

I work at three places. Two are fairly well organised, which makes my life easier. One, in particular, is wonderfully reliable. I've had the same four classes there for at least eight years now, always on the same day. Another always gives me the same number of classes on the same two days, although occasionally the schedule and types of classes will change.

If I only had those two jobs I'd be able to survive, although I wouldn't be able to save money, and this is why I leave two days open for the other university, where the scheduling system (if you can call it a 'system') is a horrible mess. This university is a 10 minute bicycle ride from my house, and this is the only reason I still bother working there at all. I can be flexible. They use my flexibility. They bend me until I almost snap, on a regular basis.

At this university the new person in charge of hiring approached me apologetically and told me (last November, early for them) that I would only have one class next academic year. I made a fuss, but not a very loud one. They told me the same thing last year and I ended up with six, which was far too many. Three is ideal. I can manage with one.

A few weeks later I was asked urgently if I could do one more. I accepted. That made two.

At the end of December I received the paperwork (syllabi, course book selections, etc) for three classes. I put it aside, ignoring the 'due by' dates. I was pretty sure it wasn't over yet. (The other universities' scheduling was finished back in late November, kinks ironed out by mid-December.) There was no indication of when these classes would be, but I hoped they had remembered which two days I was available.

Today I received the paperwork for yet another class, along with the schedule. There was no 'could you possibly do one more class? consultation. The paperwork came out of the blue. Four, eh? I thought. I suppose I can manage that. Thanks for asking. I giggled hysterically to myself.

The problem is that I happen to know that another teacher there, who was hired last year FOR ONE YEAR ONLY, YOU MUST UNDERSTAND THAT IT IS FOR ONE YEAR ONLY, WE ARE EXPECTING THE TEACHER YOU ARE REPLACING TO BE HERE NEXT YEAR has also received paperwork, for the same classes he had last year, but has already accepted classes at different places because he thought his job was FOR ONE YEAR ONLY YOU MUST UNDERSTAND IT IS FOR ONE YEAR ONLY and nobody had approached him to ask if he could do another year after all. He hasn't told them yet that he isn't available. Well, he has told somebody, but it is the wrong somebody, and at that place information is guarded jealously. It doesn't get around.

I do not want to be overworked again next year, but I just know they are going to ask me to take over at least one of his classes.

One year, at this school, they were three weeks into the first semester before one lone student thought to inform the office that her class had no teacher. Thirty or so students had been turning up for class for three weeks, and when no teacher turned up they ... went to the office and complained bitterly? Protested because they had paid good money for their education and there was no teacher? No. They went home again!

Heads rolled over that one. I'm wondering how many heads will roll this year. It's shaping up nicely.

I like working there. There is never any shortage of drama and entertainment, and a little uncertainty is good for the soul.


Bowman said...

those of us who have taught in korea view Japan as the more professional place to teach where random crap like that is non-existant. Damn it man, you're ruining my mythical ideal of working in Japan!

Good story. Nice to know some places in Japan are a bit screwy as well.

Badaunt said...

Japan is the professional place? PROFFESSIONAL? I'm... gobsmacked.

Actually, if you teach adult (i.e. business) students you can come across some very professional situations. But universities...? Well, I've heard some good stories about the better universities, but the problem is that after you've been here for a while you tend to lower your standards of what 'education' is and be happy with a lot less, and I'm never sure how much these stories are coloured by worse previous experiences.

I have some Korean and Chinese students, at one university where they're taking in a lot of exchange students (dropping domestic student population requires this for them to survive at all), and the Korean students I've had have been, consistently, the most hard-working and serious about learning, and their level is quite a bit higher than the Japanese students.

Where on earth did the idea come from that teaching in Japan is 'professional'? (I should say that most of the native English teachers at universities where I work are very professional, but the system we work in makes our jobs difficult.)