Advice for ALTs Considering a Second Year

July 7, 2008. Filed under japan 44 jet 31

In the midst of a recent conversation, the word decisions was uttered, and it hang in the air. It is indeed a time of decisions for those within the JET Program. Contracts began last year on July 29th, and will be ending one year later: in twenty-one days.

In my region rather few people are leaving. Which might not seem staggering, but it is. So very few people are leaving, but so few people here are pleased with there jobs. I don't know if the inability to approach decisions is a generational trait, or if it is the consequence of too many of our formative years spent within the decision-free zones of schools. Either way, interia is a reaper who spoils milk and ruins dreams.

Let me explain.

I know that there are good reasons for staying where you are. We are all oversized hampers filled with relevant gems like don't mess with a good thing, but I'm here to tell you that you can never know if something is good. Sometimes you can know something is bad, if its worse than what you've experienced before, but no matter how high you jump you'll never know if you've reached your limit until you stop jumping. And then its just a limit you created for yourself, not necessarily your limit. You see where I'm going with this? No? Well, I'm not quite certain myself, so lets take a detour.

People I Know

Like I said, most of the people around me are staying for a second here. But I'll tell you a secret: most of them hate their jobs so much they don't even know they hate their jobs. Lets have some examples.

First, there is the craziest person I have met in my life. If his mental state was an acholic beverage, it would be cooking alcohol chased with 151. If his mental state was a car, it would be hummer powered by a lawnmower engine and driven by a toddler using a Wii controler and facing the wrong direction. That toddler would probably be simultaniously talking on his cellphone and applying makeup. I think you get the point.

He hates his job, except for when he is talking about how he is the best teacher since Ghandi. He comes to school late, and leaves school early. Except for when he stays hours late to send memos. He refuses to help out during cleaning time, except for when... oh, well, I guess he never can be bothered to do that. He hates his supervisor, but still turns to him for even the most trivial problems. He was planning to quit during the Fall. Then he was planning to quit during Winter. Then he signed the recontracting form to stay a second year.

In the ensuing fit of situationally necesitated euphoria he decided he loved the job and was once discussing his English teaching exploits like he was McArthur abandoning Manila. Then he started hatching plans for quitting next May. Then a couple of weeks ago he went to Korea to interview for another English teaching job: if he gets accepted he'll skip out on his contract here and hovercraft across the Japan Sea into a situation that is about as different as a vache from a cow.

But he's only one person, right? Right? No.

Just last night I was involved in an amazing conversation with another ALT who is staying for his second year. The conversation follows an interesting logical arc, which may not be taught in standard college level courses, but deserves study.

  1. Statement A. "I really serve no purpose at my middle school, I just show up and repeat things in class."

  2. Statement B. "But I really like elementary school, thats where I get to teach and interact with the kids."

  3. Conclusion. "Yeah, I go to elementary school late, and sometimes I actually miss the classes I am supposed to teach. I think it annoys the teachers there. Woops."

So, did you see that conclusion creeping up after building on statements A and B? Well, don't feel bad, neither did I. To be fair, part four of the conversation was confused silence and wondering what the correct response to a statement that translates into I don't respect my job or my coworkers: I just don't care.

If you've caught the current so far you'll know: this guy is also staying a second year.

Unsolicitated Advice

Okay, so here is my plea, for you. For all of you. If you don't like the job here as an Assistant Language Teacher, then don't stay a second year. Period. There shall be no argument on this point. You are not permitted any arguments about not knowing what you'll do instead or having had bad jobs before. You must not stay a second year if you don't like your job. You're screwing everyone around you, but most importantly--to you--you're fucking yourself.

Some people--you know, people who like teaching and like kids--genuinely enjoy this job. I salute these people, although I am not among their ranks. But, please, for your sake and for everyone else's: don't stay a second year if you don't like what you are doing. Life is too short for stagnating.

Let me add one caveat. When you're here, you're going to be a little bit manic. Some people are going to throw a chart at you with labels for different cultural acclimation zones, and maybe you're comfortable with the culture shock angle. Myself, I tend to think that the higher stress levels brings out a bit of mania, but the cause isn't the content here, what matters is that you will be a bit manic. So, please, don't recontract in one of those moments of irrationally happy moments. Rememeber that you're not really balanced, and really consider if you're happy with your overal experience here, or if you're just happy at that specific period of time.

Being an ALT is an excellent experience, or at least a valuale experience, but don't let indecision or self-deceit keep you here a second year if you are not infact enjoying your experience. There is a chain of epically bad decision making in that regard, but you don't have to continue the trend.

Do your time. Then, if you don't like it, leave. Please.