“I may not be the best teacher in the world, but they’re all going to love me.”
I was testing fate, and I knew it. Yet it was with these words that I wrapped up my conversation with the recruiter from Company B, my new employer, on the morning of Friday March 1st. Number 2 had just informed me that I would have one week of paid training in Tokyo, after which I would be teaching in four elementary schools and one junior high in a fishing village on the Izu Peninsula.
I spent a few minutes in a state of dreamlike euphoria, after which I began to wonder if it had all really happened. Then I realized that, although some of the horrid uncertainty of the preceding weeks had drained away, my life had become an unfathomable ocean of intricate coordination.
My new job started on the first of April, but the training was during the last week of March, and I had to give Blight thirty days’ notice of my intention to resign and leave my apartment. I could, however, use my ten vacation days to compensate for the lack of warning. I’d already been talking to the new Head Teacher at my school about using some of my vacation time to compensate for the carnage wreaked upon my private life by Blight’s little schedule change (they moved me to a new school with a new schedule in late January, which was inconvenient but no big deal, but a month later they switched me from early to late Thursdays—the day I had kabuki practice for the Shizuoka festival in the evenings). But between one teacher’s resignation, another’s transfer to Kobe, and a third’s approved vacation, I wasn’t sure if I would be allowed to take the days off. Of course, there was always the option of phoning in sick every day, but I wanted to leave that as a last resort.
So I had essentially found out on the last possible day that I had to quit my job and leave my apartment, and I had to figure out how to do both before I left for work at 12:30. I went upstairs to talk to the Assistant Head Teacher from my old school to get some information.
I expected her to express a certain amount of disappointment with me, but she was nothing but pleasant and helpful. I explained my situation in detail, down to the need to accommodate kabuki rehearsals, arrival of The Rover (a friend from home), and my move, and she told me I had to terminate my lease that day if I didn’t want to pay for April, and I should talk to the Assistant Area Manager (AAM) about the vacation days since my Head Teacher was off until Sunday.
I felt a little bad when I had to ask the head of the Japanese staff which number I needed to input to fax my termination of lease forms to the accommodation department. It wasn’t precisely the way I’d wanted to break the news. Quite frankly, I didn’t want to break the news at all. The school was just getting back on its feet after losing nearly half its teaching staff in December, including the old Head Teacher.
The AAM’s office was connected to the teacher’s room at my old school, and I had been sending phone messages to an inside man all day to find a good time to talk to him. By the time I arrived, all the teachers were lined up in the back, prepared to watch me walk down death row.
“Hi, Mike, have a seat!” the AAM said after I meekly knocked on the door. He was very friendly. I had the impression that I was being treated as a bit of a rising star at my new school: the Head Teacher had made me Voice coordinator shortly after he’d arrived, and I think he and the AAM wanted me to stay and eventually become an Assistant Head. The more senior teachers didn’t want the position, and until the new Head Teacher had come there had been nobody in charge of the teaching staff. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do it either. The only benefits were added responsibility and the appearance of being a company lackey.
The AAM continued, wearing a big smile that told me he was more than prepared to do everything he could to help: “So, I hear you’ve got a few problems with your schedule.”
“Um… actually, I’m afraid I’m going to have to resign.”
I could see his eyes widen, and his voice cracked for a moment, but otherwise he took things very calmly. He helped me look at my options, told me that he had no power to veto vacation time taken in conjunction with a resignation, and said I should sort the paperwork out with my Head Teacher when he came back on Sunday.
And that was that.
Even my Head Teacher, whom I expected to be angry with me for accepting the role of Voice Coordinator when I knew I might be leaving, said nothing to indicate his disappointment. He just casually indicated that he’d help me with my “paperwork” after his break.
It was actually quite frustrating. I wanted everyone to kick me in the teeth to remind me of all the reasons why I wanted to leave, and instead they were nothing but pleasant and more helpful than they’d ever been in my six months with the company. It made me wonder if I would have been happier if I’d just felt more comfortable going to people with my problems in the first place. Maybe my real problem is that I just refuse to ask for help.
Things you learn.
This left me with a distracting pile of little things to sort out before I left work: I had to make sure the weekly Special Voice sessions were covered by a rapidly decreasing number of teachers. I had to write a test for my man-to-man “Business English” student and organize all his materials so I could hand them off to the Head Teacher. I had to undo the shift swaps I’d arranged during what had now become my vacation time. I also had to let my students know that I was, in fact, leaving.
I met two friends from my old school for dinner and coffee and to commiserate over our situation: we’d all accepted ALT jobs with Company B, but none of us had signed anything and we’d received very little information. They could have called us up the next day and told us they were only joking while we’d all quit our jobs and terminated our leases.
Due to one of my kabuki-related shift swaps, I got to have one last day at my old school on Thursday. I came in feeling pretty terrible, largely because the night before Mr. Brown had organized a party at my place and one of the girls I’d been obsessing about had ended up in his room at the end of the night. But I saw one of my favourite students in what might otherwise have been a painful low-level class, and she really brightened my day. I left the lesson feeling great, but by the time I got back to the teacher’s room I was nearly in tears because I realized I’d never see her again.
That night at kabuki, some of us were interviewed for the newspaper while cameras from the NHK TV network watched us mess up. For the next two hours, we had our actions and intonation picked apart by a guy I labelled “Precision Man” since I could never remember his name, and half of us headed out to the bar after what we all agreed had been a rough rehearsal.
I still didn’t know how I’d be able to get myself or my stuff to The Village while making it to kabuki practice at 1:00 p.m. on the last Sunday. I couldn’t ship very much ahead of me since The Rover and I needed to be able to sleep in Shizuoka until the day we left, and the biggest items of concern were the futons. I also didn’t know what to do with The Rover while I was doing training in Tokyo.