My eye caught the hand movement and spotted the projectile as soon as it left its source: Matsui-kun (not his real name). Takahashi-sensei (not her real name), the other half of my teaching team, was writing something on the board, her back to the class. She didn’t know she was a target. She probably couldn’t imagine being the target of anything thrown (or fired) by a student. Myself, along with most of the class, watched this object sail across the room, in slow motion, from the back of the class where Matsui-kun sat on a beeline for Takahashi-sensei, only to land short of its target somewhere between the first row and the teacher’s desk, then roll towards Takahashi-sensei’s feet. She never saw it.
But I did.
And, immediately, I saw red. It was the first time I’d felt rage directed at a student. I mean, as far as I was concerned what Matsui-kun did, even if done playfully, amounted to attempted assault and battery. And to make it worse, it was done practically in my face as if to say, “you don’t even matter in my world, Loco-sensei,” confirming my suspicions about how many people here consider my feelings and dislodging some other deep-seated insecurities as well, I suspect. On top of that, I have about as much tolerance for that kind of shit as my mother had for her kids cussing in her house: Zero!
…And, before I knew it, before I could consider the ramifications of such an act, I had hurled the piece of chalk in my hand across the room and hit Matsui-kun square in the chest. If I had been holding a coffee mug, that too would have been sent flying his way…perhaps anything as big as a dictionary would have grown wings in my hand.
Why? A little background:
First about Takahashi-sensei. She is still relatively new at this teaching thing. 2 years she has been at it so basically she’s still an apprentice, a New Jack English teacher. She’s very nice, smart, and her English is not awful. But, unfortunately for her, something about her rubs her co-workers the wrong way. At least that’s what I thought. I mean. I couldn’t imagine that the stern treatment, the accusatory tones, and harsh criticism she received was simply hazing. Hell, I had been working with these people almost two years when she arrived and they had (with a few exceptions) from the start shown me a great deal of patience and consideration…even after my Gaijin Honeymoon (the special treatment and allowances granted because I was a foreigner) was over.
Even my closest friend in the school, Kawaguchi-sensei (not her real name), who I’d never heard and therefore couldn’t imagine doing as much as even raising her voice, treats Takahashi-sensei worst than an 穢多Eta. Every conversation any teacher, (in particular the other female teachers…I haven’t actually seen a male teacher say anything too strongly to her) had with Takahashi-san, they seemed to be at the brink of exasperation, like at any point they might storm away, spit in her face or drop-kick her.
At first, I thought it was simply jealousy. After all, all of the teachers aside from Takahashi-san are well over 40 and some over 50, while Takahashi-san was 23, fresh from university, cute, fashionable, and to kick them all while they were down, she’s been blessed /cursed with bountiful breast; and she favors tight-fitting cleavage-accentuating sweaters. At least she used to. But, I couldn’t believe it was that simple. Whenever an answer seems to be arrived at without much thought I question it. It’s my habit.
So, I asked my buddy Kawaguchi-san (who seemed quite beside herself sometimes when she interacted with Takahashi-san) what the deal was. She told me, in no uncertain terms, that Tahakashi was a fuck-up and lies to cover up her fuck ups. I was shocked. Not at the prospect of Takahashi fucking up. She was a new jack. There were bound to be fuck ups. Not even about her lying about it…there are approximately two ways to deal with having fucked something up: face the music or duck blame. Most people, in my experience, duck blame if possible.
No, what surprised me was Kawaguchi’s venom and loss of decorum. She’d usually hedge around harsh declarations…with her, nothing was ever absolutely wrong, it was always chotto chigau to omoimasu (a little wrong /different to my thinking.) Nothing tasted like shit to her, it was always aji ga chottoooooo (The taste is a little ummm….) She even uses keigo when she is addressing students, something very few teachers do. So, who the hell was this woman, I wondered. She told me about how on several occasions Takahashi would screw up such and such a report and lie about it or she’d be late for meetings pretending not to have been informed about such and such and blah, blah, blah… While she was talking I just kept searching her face for some sign of the women that was there before Takahashi had joined the staff. The woman I knew wasn’t petty or malicious at all. Then again we had only worked and sat side by side for a year or two. How well does anybody know anybody anyway? Not to downplay the seriousness of these misdemeanors Takahashi was accused of (and being punished for) but Kawaguchi-san was going off the deep end over them.
In her first year, Takahashi-sensei was the home room teacher of a third year class, but this year, she was given a class of first year students. I actually thought it was a great break for her. The third year students know all the ropes and I figured they’d drive her crazy. Just last year, one of the crazy third year students hauled off and slapped the shit out of the home room teacher, but that student, Senri was her name, was certifiable…an actual future mental patient, and by no means represented the student body. The first year students last year had been soooo sweet. You could just eat them. They spent half the year shy and obedient and the second half obedient, fun and eager to learn. This year’s crop of first years, however, are another fucking story. It’s like there was some kind of rotation, equally dispersing the worst of the worst from the worst elementary school in the area among all the junior high schools in Yokohama, and it was our school’s turn to take on this lot from that Elementary school…
Poor Takahashi-sensei. It was bad enough she was being bullied by her colleagues, but now she has to figure out how to get a class of future nine-fingered Yakuza, hostesses and Pachinko parlor employees to appreciate studying anything, especially something as utterly useless as English. I started feeling sorry for her, despite my buddy Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Kawaguchi’s admonitions about her. I hadn’t even realized at first that I had become her ally. Maybe I commiserated because I saw some parallels between our predicaments. Like me, here she was in an environment where the natives treat her with hostility for reasons beyond her control. Maybe I’m just a sucker for a pretty face and bodacious assets.
Sometimes she comes to school looking like she’s one harsh word away from losing it. What she would do then, who knows. In America, emptying a 45. automatic into your boss or several magazines of M-16 shells into everyone in the office or simply quitting might be option A, but here in Japan, people in her situation- disliked, and treated like shit, even due to the standard hazing at a job- have been known to off themselves; suicide seems to be option A and B. I became really concerned about her. I really didn’t want anything like that to go down on my watch, knowing I could have done something about it.
Sometimes Takahasi-san and I will have private moments together. Like in the recording studio when we’re preparing tests for the students and we need to record English conversations…we’d be alone in the booth behind closed doors and she’d give me some deep eye contact and say, “Tsukarechatta.” (I’m tired!) I’d heard that word used that way several times before. Like when I broke-up with my ex-girl. She’d begun using that phrase in reference to our relationship months before as our relationship slowly deteriorated. The nuance being more at “I’ve exhausted all options,” than simply “I’m tired.” At those times I’d share little anecdotes about my experiences with Takahashi-sensei. Stories from my first year at the school and how trying it was, and continues to be, to fit in but how, little by little, it had gotten more bearable. I’d end these stories with a “Gambarimasyou” (let’s hang in there) so she’ll feel less alone.
When I spoke to Kawaguchi-san regarding Takahasi-san, I never failed to mention how well she was coming along and give her examples of how she’d handle a particular problem or resolved an issue in the class. Kawaguchi-san was beyond appeasement though. She’d listen to me, not knowing where I was coming from, not realizing that I had taken on the task of Takahashi advocate, and counter every kudo I came up with with some slander.
I couldn’t really argue with Kawaguchi-san though. I too noticed that though Takahashi-san was clearly qualified to teach English, she lacked certain other skills necessary to manage a classroom. She was at the bottom of the totem pole in the office, and scolded constantly, and it seemed the students (these worst of the worst students) sensed her feeling of powerlessness and instability, and instead of seeing someone they should handle with kid gloves, they saw easy pickings. Walking into her class was like walking onto the set of a new TV series called: “Kids Gone Wild.” Whenever I joined the class and once they saw my face, a face they didn’t see everyday- due to my schedule- but every two weeks or so, a ripple of uncertainty would course through the room. “Should we continue to act like we ain’t got no sense in our heads or comport ourselves in a respectful manner?” Most would go with the latter…but there are two kids who opt, unfailingly, for the former.
One is Satou-kun, a 13-year old future henchman / Yes man for some Yakuza boss. He doesn’t have a bone of leadership in his body, which is not unusual among kids of any country most especially Japan. He sits quietly waiting to see which way things will go. He takes his cues from another student, the leader:
to be continued…