Failures of Proactive Communication & Other Generic Complaints

January 20, 2008. Filed under jet 31

Probably one of the most frustrating aspects of my job is communication1.

In college you get taught some bad habits about communication. The worst of these is the "its their obligation to tell me" mantra. That is a direct path to a miserable existance where its never "your fault", but you and everyone else is always angry about something. So let me rephrase my first sentence: one of the most frustrating aspects of my job is proactively communicating with my coworkers and supervisors, but still not having things get done.

There is a lot of information I am simply not privy to, by virtue of not being a member of any meetings and being a non-fluent reader of Japanese. I used to get upset about that when lunchtime would arrive and it turned out that all the other teachers had been given the opportunity to order lunch and I was left without lunch for the day. Its blatantly mediocre of my two supervisors to not help intercept these problems, but after a while you can't get upset about these things, because you know they'll never change.

Instead, its situations like this one that frustrate me. My schedule of schools I visit for this semester was clearly made in about two minutes. Every other week I was placed at my small school for two days, every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday I was assigned to the main lower school unless I was assigned at the small school, and otherwise I was assigned at the main middle school.

This schedule looks reasonable for a while, but it starts to deteriorate quickly. For starters I am assigned to schools for all the national holidays, so it is unclear when I am expected to be at school. There is a week long holiday called Golden Week, and it has me positioned at three different schools during that week. Ain't that grand.

Worse, my smallest school is in a very rural area that has an abundance of snow, so it was arranged that I would always go for two days at a time every other week and spend the night. But for two of the four two-day visits one of the days is a national holiday, totally invalidating the premise.

All of these are a bit annoying, but the real frustrating point is when last week on Tuesday I pointed out that this next week I was scheduled in my small schools for two days, and that one of them I was scheduled for a training conference in the prefectural capital. I pointed it out, and I get back an email that the person who handles scheduling at the small school wasn't there that day, but he'd let me know. Six days later I still don't know my schedule this upcoming Thursday.

Do I have to explicitly ask my supervisor a second time? It feels rude of me to ask again, but its getting to the point where its no longer idle curiosity. Because if it isn't explicitly dealt with, then I'll end up at the small school and no one will expect me to be leaving until the next day, and the whole point of going every other day was that driving back in the evening is dangerous with the conditions of the roads (having driven the only remaining open road in the snow, I'll vouch that its shockingly bad, but that I'd rather be allowed to drive it--which I am explicitly not permitted to do--than spend the night).

These situations where I go out of my way to get my schedule fixed, but it still doesn't happen, are not particularly uncommon. Situations that follow this pattern but are slightly different happen frequently as well, like when I was never informed about a meeting I was supposed to participate in, and it was explained to those there that I forgot about the meeting that I was never aware of.

"Oh. I guess the papers got lost somewhere."

But, everyone who was there still thinks I am just some prick who couldn't be bothered to show up. To be fair, they actually did tell me about the meeting... ten minutes after it started in a town forty minutes away.

This gets thrown in with my supervisor badgering me to sign the recontracting form two months before it was due, having to plan and teach twenty-one different classrooms of kids without any curriculum or assistance from their teachers, and mandatory volunteer work on some Sundays.

I'm still here because I want to honor the contract I signed, but I increasingly feel like the contract was a dishonest one. Whats the value of vacation time when in turns out you aren't guaranteed the right to use it? Where is the meaning of being an Assistant Language Teacher when you have to plan and teach forty-four lessons a month on your own without any assistance, along with teaching another thirty-six other lessons per month as an assistant? What if no one had ever once shown any awareness of your work, but instead was convinced that your situation was too easy and you didn't do anything?

By Japanese contract law it is unlawful to impose penalties on an employee who leaves after giving at least two weeks notice, and recently I have been giving that more thought. I feel obligated to remain here, but also like I have given and yet gone empty.

Things are a bit of a mess out here.


  1. It seems worth pointing out that all communication with my supervisors, and coworkers, occurs in Japanese. I am not a fluent speaker, but the difficulties of communication I am discussing here are not the result of a language barrier, but either cultural or personal barriers. In the process of maximizing efficiency you look for the bottleneck where things are getting stuck: even if everything else is very fast, a system is limited by its slowest piece. In that same sense, my Japanese has clear and evident limitations, but I don't believe it is the bottleneck here.