And So Ends Another Chapter in My Life…

My first day as an Eigo no Sensei (that’s Japanese for “Human Tissue and/or Punching Bag, Jungle Gym, Disney-Princess-Come-to-Life”) started in June, at a daycare center.

I remember shortly after arriving, the teacher whom I was replacing, affectionately patted one of the toddlers on the head and said something to the effect of:
“Aw, I’m really going to miss these little bastards.”

I looked from him, to the three year old climbing up his back, to the pile of babies sitting in a puddle of drool at our feet to the zoo of children running, screaming, and wailing from every inch of the room and I felt certain he was lying…or crazy.

Today was my last day of teaching. And as I said goodbye to those same kids, I found myself in tears. And not because the children had pinned me to the carpet, wrestler-style, in a massive toddler/teacher pile up. And not because one of them was trying to brush my hair with a lego.

I cried, because holy crap, I’m really going to miss those kids.

It’s strange, but in many ways, I know my students better than I know most adults here in Japan. I know their favorite sport, animal, food and color. I know what they look like when they’re nervous or angry. I’ve comforted them when they’ve cried. And somehow in the process, I’ve grown very, very fond of them.

But it wasn’t always that way.

Ironically, for my first few months of teaching, I made every effort to remain emotionally- detached.

This is just a job. It doesn’t matter. These children don’t matter.

I attacked my teaching job like an actor attacks a role on Broadway. And I put on one Hell of a spectacular performance; dancing and singing and memorizing students names and personal data like lines of a script. But behind the enthusiastic high-fives and fake smiles, there was a definite disconnect. I was ingenuine and phony and through the cracks of the Fourth Wall I’d so carefully constructed, I think that this peeked through. On some level, the students knew.

But then, over the months, I became more aware of my audience. I stopped seeing them as these faceless blobs of clay that I needed to mold into English speakers, but rather, as individual human beings; kindred spirits. I then dropped the Teacher Role, quit acting, and used that energy to get to know their unique personalities.

One of my favorite students is a two year old named “Go”. He’s got this giant head and spindly little arms and legs and he’s constantly on the ‘go’, full of energy and excitement. I’m always yelling after him “Stop, Go! Stop!” as his enthusiasm for dancing overtakes his little body and he skips excitedly out of the room.

As I was leaving this morning, Go ran up the gate yelling, (like he does every week) “See you next week!” and I had to correct him, “No, it’s ‘See you next time‘. Next time.” But even that was a lie and it broke my heart.
One of the five-year- olds, Aya, stopped me before I left. I crouched down so that I could hear what she had to say and she put her tiny hands on my shoulders and looked me right in the eyes and solemnly whispered, in English: “Everything is okay.”

Tomorrow I will be officially jobless and homeless and alone. I’ll no longer have the comforting safety net of an income or the reassuring familiarity of the smiling, earnest faces of my ‘little buddies’.

Closing a chapter of my life and saying goodbye has always been tough. But facing the endless sea of blank pages of my uncertain future is even harder.

I sure hope Aya is right.
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Comments ( 7 )

  1. Anonymous

    Wow! This was very touching... My heart ached as I read your words. Good luck!!

  2. Rhi

    It -will- be alright. I think it's the scariest, but perhaps the most exciting thing... not knowing what to expect. You don't know what you're going to do or how you're going to do it, but somehow the adventure and finding out make it worth the while. Can't wait to hear more of 'your story' - and hope you have a great week.

  3. Ryan

    It is much easier for white people to find teaching jobs in Japan. I am asian and I think it is harder for me to find a teaching job in japan because well...I'm asian. They are looking more for the "american" or "european" teachers. Even though I grew up here in the US they don't see that. They only see an asian guy that wants to teach and they assume I don't know jack shit about the English language and american culture even though I majored in English. But I'm pretty sure you will be alright because you have alot of advantages going for you when companies are looking to hire ASL. Nonetheless good luck and find your calling. I am the same age as you and I'm glad I found my calling. I wasted alot of money but through my experiences in life I finally found what I was meant to do in this short life we humans have. So actually the money didn't really go to waste since it helped me find my true calling. Once again good luck and the rocky road path that you are trudging along to, to find your calling will be worth it once you find it :-)

  4. Lisa

    Do you have another job lined up? I hope everything works out - keep us posted!

  5. Elle

    Wishing you all the best, as they say in my part of Asia "jia you!" you can do it!

  6. Reannon

    Thanks everybody, for the words of encouragement! I'm actually doing pretty well, considering I have no idea what I'm doing with my life. But I'm trying to be content and satisfied not knowing. I'm trying to enjoy the journey.

  7. Reannon

    Hi Ryan,

    So you found your calling? What would that be, exactly? How did you figure out what it was?

    I can imagine it'd be tough for you to find a job, being Asian. That really sucks. I'm sorry. Finding another job was really easy for me, actually! I got the first job I applied for. : ) But I think it was because I'm female and have a lot of experience working with childen...but yeah, it's not really fair.

    Did you find a job teaching English? Or are you still looking?