School of the Dead
How stressful has my last week been? Well, I think this is best illustrated by the dreams I had on Thursday and Friday night—which are most significant in that I normally sleep so soundly that I very seldom remember my dreams.
It was the second week after summer vacation, and I had my once-a-term stint of four straight days at my big elementary school, during which they try to jam as many classes into my schedule as possible. Immediately after this, I had my monthly Saturday morning kids’ English class.
In the first term, they told me the grade 1s were too chaotic to teach and gave me a reprieve, which was a blessing given that the grade 2s and 3s were already notoriously uncontrollable. But this time the gloves were off, and there were three new classes of chaos waiting for me. In our limited exposure to a handful of them at our monthly kids’ class, A. and I had already considered vetoing the grade 1s entirely after she spent 90 minutes physically corralling and sitting upon four little balls of entropy who wouldn’t even sit in their seats from stage one. But this was angelic behaviour compared to the grade 3s who, last time I visited, decided to do nothing but roll around on the floor and colour their entire faces green with chalk, which wasn’t half as destructive as the one kid who tried to run out of class twice, then declared loudly that he wanted to touch his teacher’s big, soft boobs and made a grab. I administered a subtle but firm five-point skull-grab, and resisted my natural urge to use it as leverage to lob him out a window. His sister was in the junior high volleyball club, and when I was helping out with practice he would sometimes show up with his mom and remind me of what I was in for when I went back. I spent my idle time alternately imagining what I could do to control him and what I could do to destroy him.
This is what I was looking forward to. I had a completely packed four-day schedule including four classes of evil, three new classes that promised to show me the true heart of darkness, and a follow-up 90-minute session of Evil’s Greatest Hits, Volume III.
In the middle of this, my branch office took advantage of my new Head Teacher position to ask me to design a substitute teachers’ info form, for which I quietly cursed them. But as it was the task that required the least concentration, it became my creative stress output when I needed to clear my mind. It was done by the end of the day.
As the week wound down to an end, I went to sleep on Thursday night in anticipation of five consecutive high-level classes, having painstakingly prepared lesson plans that were undoubted, certifiable, independently confirmed Neolithic Crap, and no matter how much I agonized over them they refused to transmute into anything but crap from different geological strata.
That night, I found myself fleeing from a mob of running zombies (a pox upon you, new Dawn of the Dead) who were so close upon me that I looked like the top seed in the first five seconds of the New York Marathon. They chased me into the elevator of what turned out to be Victoria Hall, my university residence, and a dozen of them piled in with me. As they didn’t seem to register my presence, I just held still and hoped my luck would hold till we got to the 6th floor and I could make a break for it. But then the elevator stopped and began to jerk up and down as if it wasn’t sure if it was going to keep ascending or simply plummet, leaving me wondering if I could survive a 6-story drop in an elevator, and even if I did, what I would do about the zombies afterward, all the while trying to conceal the involuntary twitches of dread that were attracting more and more zombie attention every time the elevator bobbed, leaving me further wondering what I would do if the elevator neither plummeted nor opened before they figured out I wasn’t one of them. I wasn’t so much scared as simply stressed beyond my wits, and it was right as the elevator dropped and the zombies turned on me that I woke up.
That was Thursday. On Friday, I found myself atop a massive blood-red pillar of stone ascending high above a blasted rusty landscape crushed against a liquid-crimson sky, where a giant demonic mouth loomed low above my head. It didn’t speak, or even open, but applied some kind of pressure to force me do something I didn’t want to do, and no matter what I did I couldn’t figure out how to stop it.
So on Thursday, I got served my fear of falling simultaneously overlapped with a horde of zombies. That didn’t worry me so much. Then on Friday, I graduated to abstract forces of oppression in a surreal universe of blood, isolation, and helplessness. That caused a bit of concern.
Of course, in the end, every single lesson went better than I could possibly have hoped, and I barely hit a single snag all week. Even the Boy of Evil had calmed down, and gave me no trouble at all beyond sporting a constant malicious grin that gave me pause. By halfway through each of my three consecutive grade 1 lessons I was sweating rivers from jumping, dancing and running around, but the kids generally listened and behaved as well as could be expected. I completely soaked a new set of clothes every single day.
I kept the 2s safely in their seats where they could do little harm, and the senior teachers who’d complained about too much Japanese in my last evaluation were pleased to see me use more English. Even El Hombre del Requesto, who consistently demands a lesson on something I’ve never taught before that requires a whole new set of resources, was pleased that I’d gotten his kids to think about the clothes you need to put on before going out to play in a Canadian winter. And on Saturday, the kids at the community class were safely distracted by a few puzzles before being placated with pencil crayons for about an hour.
The more I stress, the better I plan, and the more smoothly everything runs. It’s when I think everything’s going to be okay that my plans explode in my face.
That said, on Sunday I got hit on my one undefended front: A. laid into me for not cleaning up my mountain of teaching materials all week and then having the gall to start tidying them without considering that she might not be ready to clean yet, leading to a long, pointless argument in which I was accused of being inconsiderate for making a mess and even more inconsiderate for cleaning it up.
I’d like to point out that every 28 days, A.’s reason not only goes out the window, it commandeers a car and drives to Disneyland. We call it her “Evil Time.” I’ve started to label it on the calendar.
Meanwhile, Back in the Real World
So now I get to go back to the junior high, where they’re preparing madly for the sports day, which is as much about performing half a dozen ceremonies as it is about actual sports. In the meantime, I somehow have to convince four of the kids to meet with me to practice for the speech contest in two weeks so the ALT in the next town doesn’t trash us.
The ALT in the next town is a guy from Boston. He’s also the backup coach for the girls’ volleyball team, so whenever his team plays ours, I make sure I’m there to watch us destroy him. He’s a much better volleyball player than I am, but his team’s last two coaches did all they could to siphon any possibility of skill from their players, so he’s got a long uphill battle.
In Japan, teachers seldom stay at the same school for more than three years, and when they rotate, they rarely end up being the coach of the sport they’re actually good at. Q, the senior English teacher at my junior high, is a baseball coach, but baseball was already being covered by T, the other English teacher, so Q got softball. Meanwhile, T is a soccer player, but since that was already being covered by another guy, he got baseball. Nobody’s sure what The Bostonian’s current coach played, but it certainly wasn’t volleyball. The Bostonian just tries to do damage control without visibly stepping on his toes.
In other—and remarkably happy—news, Grimm and his girlfriend are finally getting married next week. I just rented my tux.
At Japanese weddings, all the guests are expected to contribute 30,000 yen (upwards of $300) in lieu of giving presents. When considering whom among their friends they could trust to collect roughly $10,000, A. and I were quickly selected to arrive early to handle the accounts.