Random thoughts, comments, observations and general fluff from a random bint who left London at the end of September 2004 to embark on a new life and new adventures in Tokyo, land of the cute.... and is leaving mid-June 2010 - and counting!

Monday, April 05, 2010


I'm sure I'm not unique in my feelings towards being here. In fact, I know I'm not, but here's the thing: I did used to love being here. Back in the days when it was new and exciting and different. The first couple of years, in fact. And then the nature of the work I was doing started to get to me. I love teaching. I really love teaching. But in the environment I work in it often feels more like I'm entertaining than teaching.

That's not down to my company, it's the nature of the type of language school teaching that is done here. Students don't have fixed term courses. It's ongoing. Whether a student progresses to the next level is dependent on factors aside from the actual student in many cases. Some learners come for years and show no real progress. But I don't want to really get into this right now.

Tokyo frustrates me. I'm a restless soul, and being anywhere too long gets to me but there are so many other things.

Take kids, for example. And if I cause offense with what I'm about to say, well, it's not intentional, I'm just stating things as I've seen them.

As a quick aside, I read recently that shyness is the most desired quality for a kid to have according to parents surveyed. The same article talked about how the opposite is true in America and how Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the world... and America one of the lowest. No point. I'm just saying.

When I first came here it used to shock me how kids rushed for train seats and left parents standing. It doesn't any more, although recently I've seen TV ads trying to teach kids that they should give up their seats, not throw rubbish, etc or they'll grow up into delinquents. Seriously. Now the fact that the TV is having to teach kids these things is part of my point. When I worked in kindies here, kids weren't corrected for bad behaviour. Kicking a teacher was met with a smile. General misbehaviour was either ignored or corrected by another kid.

In my schools, it's rare for a Japanese member of staff to tell a kid not to do something, even when that something is annoying, loud, disruptive or potentially dangerous. I'm talking about 5.5 years of observations here. Oh and if the parents are around (and often the kids will turn up or be dumped in the school between 30 and 60 minutes before a lesson and possibly left to hang around for 30 or so minutes afterwards) - they won't tell the kids to stop shouting or throw things around whilst waiting. I've seen toddlers run OUT of school and watched the gossiping parents take a good couple of minutes to notice this before.

I'm also shocked by the lack of interaction I see between parents and kids. And I want to highlight that I realise that I only see these things for a very short time and I realise I'm not aware of what goes on the rest of the time, but I can count on one hand - less than one hand - the number of times I've seen any kind of real interaction during a train journey between a mum and toddler. I've also seen a huge number of kids totally ignored while they scream and shout for attention to mums busy gossiping to other mums.

We see kids come to our classes who are uncontrollable, disruptive, rude to each other and have no respect for property.

On the other end of the scale there are children. Children. Not babies. Who are overindulged and coddled to hell.

Many many years ago I was a volunteer for a summer on a kibbutz in Israel where all the babies were grouped together during the day. Even with the babies, once they were toddler age (ie vaguely able to walk by themselves) they were classed as kids, not as babies, and if they fell over or anything, we were discouraged from picking them up. This is obviously the opposite extreme but I'm making a point here.

Further, I au paired for two years in Paris. During this time I saw some interesting things. Amongst them a LOT of coddling by parents who employed people to look after their kids and so overindulged them in the short time they spent together. What was interesting about this was how the kids reacted. One girl I looked, who was 3-4 when I took care of her, was treated as a baby by the parents and acted as a baby when with them. I treated her as a human being and she acted a good two years OLDER with me than her parents. Just saying.

Incidentally, I also saw kids who were given NO boundaries by their parents and grew up to be very confused little beings.

I'm not a mum. I have a psychology degree and am very interested IN child development but that's it. I'm not asserting I know what is right and what is wrong because I acknowledge every case, every family, every kid, every relationship, every culture is different BUT what I am saying is I'm shocked by some of the things I see.

Kids as young as 1.11 months have been thrown into our classrooms by mothers desperate for them to learn English. Now, we're not a kindergarten, we're a language school. We teach all ages and our class sizes range from one through to six students. We don't have a Japanese speaker in the room with us (which tends to happen when you teach in a Japanese kindergarten or school). Some of the young ones cope brilliantly, despite the bizarreness of the situation. I mean, imagine you're a kid and you've only ever seen green people and only ever been looked after by your parents (this is a society where babysitting is NOT a popular thing). Suddenly, you're thrown into a room with an adult person who is red and talks gibberish at you which you're expected to repeat for unknown reason. How would you feel?

I'm not saying that two years old is too young to learn a foreign language, because I don't think it is, BUT I do feel it's a bit.... strange!

To look at the bigger picture though, our job as teachers to these little people is kind of multi-fold - we are giving them their often first contact with a foreign person, and one who looks different to them at that, but we're also teaching them classroom skills, to listen to someone who isn't their mum, and so on. Valuable life skills. In an ideal world.

But often it feels like a losing battle. I honestly don't know what some of the mothers are expecting - other than the chance to go and have a cup of tea quietly somewhere. I see kids of three and four - KIDS - demanding to be carried the 20 metres across reception into the classroom, even after coming for a long time - and the mothers happily indulging this. The mothers don't say no. They don't try and discourage them. Shit, they don't even communicate with them, just lift them up and bring them in. AT THREE AND FOUR.

I have a new class of three year olds that just started. Kid D's brother has long been a student at our school and D's mum decided he should try a class. Kid D refused the first time. The mother allowed him to refuse. The second time Kid D allowed the mother to bring him in but wouldn't allow the mother to put him down. The mother didn't try and laughed at his 'cuteness' when he went shy in the lesson. The third time Kid D came, was to a new class. Kid D's mother was the only mother to come in and sat with Kid D on her lap in the lesson. When we did colouring, Kid D picked crayons, handed them to mum, and mum COLOURED IN THE FUCKING PICTURE. I 'suggested' maybe she let him do it, but she just shrugged. Like, WHAT THE FUCK????? She didn't even try to encourage him.

I've seen so many more things but enough for this post. And don't even get me started on adults who use the phrase 'we Japanese'. As in 'We Japanese don't like Asian countries.', 'We Japanese think all of Asia is the same', 'We Japanese don't eat....', etc.



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