Sunday, April 09, 2006


The first two days back at work are over, and the schedule is about as grim as I thought it would be. The students seem good, though. I'm already fond of the one who turned up on his first day wearing a shirt that said, in large letters,


I asked him why he was wearing it and he said, "Eh?" He didn't know what it meant. I grinned and told him to look it up, which he did. I could tell the exact moment he found 'stupidity' in the dictionary because he went pink suddenly. Then he started giggling.

Also, I have partly fixed the classroom problem.

When I wrote about it before, I said that I had to go from the third floor of one building to the 11th floor of another, on the other campus ver the road, in ten minutes. I was wrong. It was the other way around. The problem was the same, however. The lifts are small and slow, and there are about two hundred students trying to use them at the same time, and it's a long way to walk lugging loads of paper and books.

Yesterday I went to see the (foreign) full-timer who did the schedules and allocated the classrooms, and showed him my schedule.

"I can't do this," I said. "Not if I'm supposed to teach full 90-minute classes. I can't go from - "

He held up his hands and backed off.

"DON'T TELL ME ABOUT IT!" he said, looking very, very defensive. "I KNOW. I TRIED. BELIEVE ME. I CAN'T DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT."

Then he explained. He had allocated classrooms as best he could to make them as convenient as possible. Each faculty then changed the rooms to the ones THEY wanted. Most language classes used to be taught in the language department building, which is where the language teachers' room is, and all the language teaching materials, and our lockers, and classrooms set up for language teaching. In the last couple of years, however, for reasons known only to themselves, the faculties have been insisting that we teach the language classes in their own buildings. It started with the economics department, and one by one the others started doing it too. Were they jealous? Is it a power thing? I know the various faculties are barely on speaking terms and there are a lot of power games going on. Maybe they're afraid to let their students leave their faculty building in case another faculty tries to steal them.

Our scheduler told me that he'd tried to get the rooms changed back, but came up against an enormous amount of bureaucratic bullshit and ended up with a lot of people getting annoyed with him. He said that they won't even talk to him about it anymore, he's been bugging them so much. It is always ANOTHER faculty's fault. They tell him to get THEM to change their rooms, and come up with all sorts of bullshit reasons why it is impossible for them to change themselves. He had given up.

"If you want to change your room you'll have to try to do it yourself," he said. "They won't listen to me. But make sure there is a room available first, otherwise they'll just tell you there isn't any option."

He stomped off, looking back over his shoulder to add, morosely, "Good luck," and snort cynically.

Things were not looking good. It was time to get sneaky.

I went to see the lovely Ms Yamashita, the full-time language department secretary in our building. She is not actually our secretary. She is the secretary in the faculty lounge for the full-time language professors. We are not supposed to use the faculty lounge, or the secretary. But we know that she will do stuff for us if she can. We are careful not to overuse her (we could easily overwhelm her and/or get her into trouble, because she never says no to a request for help) but it is good to know that there is at least one administrative person on campus who actually likes us and treats us like normal human beings.

I explained the problem, and asked her whether there were any rooms available in the building for the period I wanted. There was one on the second floor, and she double-checked with the main office and reserved it for me, although I hadn't asked her to. I told her that I wasn't sure if I would be allowed to change yet, but she said it was better to make sure it was still available, in case my request for a change took some time.

I then visited the law faculty, who had insisted that I be put in that impossible 11th floor classroom. I put on my best anxious and apologetic face, and told the office lady that I had come to let them know, in case the students complained, that I would not be able to teach a full ninety minute class because I had anther class on the other campus right after theirs so would have to finish early in order to get to that one on time. I burbled on that I was terribly sorry, I knew I should do the full ninety minutes but it was shigata ga nai (couldn't be helped). I would try to hurry, but I thought I'd probably have to cut 10 minutes or so off the end of the class. I was worried about this, and I wanted them to know I was doing my best. I always start classes on time, I said earnestly, but for some classes I would have to leave earlier in order to start the next one on time, and unfortunately theirs was one I would have to finish particularly early because of it being on the 11th floor and across campus...

I carried on explaining and apologizing at the office lady, who was staring at me like a stunned mullet and nodding dumbly (possibly because of my hideous Japanese), but I must have been speaking too loudly (oops!) because suddenly one of the Big Nobs at the back of the office (where the power is) leaped up and hurried over, butting in rudely.

"You can't finish classes early!" he said abruptly. "Where is your next class? Can't you move it?"

I told him.

"Oh, the arts department," he said. "That's the other campus." He frowned.

"Yes," I said. "It takes time to get over there. Sorry."

The office lady informed him that the arts department would NEVER change their classroom.

Stalemate for a moment. He stared at me, perplexed.

"It's possible that there might be a room available in the languages building," I said, tentatively. "I could probably get to the other campus from there in ten minutes, if I hurried..."

"CALL YAMASHITA-SAN!" he barked at the office lady.

She did, and there was a prolonged and tense silence during which Ms Yamashita excused herself to check classroom availability. (Must remember to take a little something for her next week.) Then she came back to the phone and... what a surprise! There was a classroom available!

The Big Nob ordered the office lady to organize the change, and went back to his desk to pick his nose, satisfied that he had foiled the problematic gaijin who was trying to slack off.

I thanked the office lady, and went back to the teachers' room and told our scheduler that I had changed classrooms.

"How the hell did you manage that?" he asked.

"I didn't," I said, smugly. "I just apologized because I would have to finish classes early and told them I would do my best. Changing classrooms was their idea."

I'm thinking now I might try the same trick on the arts faculty next week. Two consecutive classes in the same building would be lovely.


Bill C said...

You are deviously resourceful. This is a useful and - truth be told - admirable quality slash job skill that almost never shows up on a resume. Why not?

crmj said...

Why not? Because if the person interviewing is no good at this themselves, they will be suspicious of such claims, finding them threatening. So better to put something like "I get along well with other team members at all levels" which code should be picked up in the interview by an interviewer who does understand about it.

Note that it doesn't work if you do it cynically. You actually have (within reason) to like and be grateful to Yamashita-san, otherwise she will see through you and your attempts to manipulate will backfire. This is less true if you are a devastatingly good-looking member of the opposite sex.

Human beings are wonderful things. There is one perfectly respectable theory that says that the main reason for the explosive growth in our brains was this sort of thing.

Meegan @ The Harvey Circus said...

ha ha ha ha!
Excellent :)

Silly big wigs thinking that they can outsmart a TEACHER :)

Anonymous said...

I love it. LOVE IT!

Badaunt said...

This kind of devious behaviour is often the ONLY way I can get anything changed in my favour. As a part-timer I don't have the clout to demand anything, however reasonable, so I have to make it seem like their idea.

Yamashita-san was on my side. I didn't make that clear enough, but she knew about the difficulties of getting any faculty to change rooms - we talked about that. She knew that I was going to try to do SOMETHING. That's why when they called she pretended to check and didn't let on that I'd already asked and she'd already booked the room for me. (I didn't ask or expect her to do that - it was a nice touch.)

And yes, she is appreciated and she knows it. All the foreign teachers adore her. We thank her QUIETLY, with discreet chocolates and fruit and things, because if it was common knowledge that she was so helpful to us it could cause problems for her.

Pkchukiss said...

Wow! You are a classic example of what all the "Get along with your Co-Workers" books have been ranting on about!

Now about that pay raise...

kenju said...

I stand in awe of your abilities!

You should see the picture I have in my mind of the Big Nob....tehee!

Lippy said...

Not only are you ever so clever, but you have the patience of a saint. There's just no way in the world I could ever work in such a place. Well, I could - but the assault charges would be rather tiresome... ;-)

Fuzzball said...

Yay smartypants! I loved the "CALL YAMASHITA-SAN" part, it made me hoot. ;)