When I first applied to JET, the question of “What sort of person becomes a JET?” was not at the forefront of my mind, but I certainly had an image. The image I had, of a young, straight out of university, genki American or British person, was certainly reinforced the sorts of people who appoint themselves representatives of the programme on social media.
In her poem “Nothing Lasts,” American poet
Jane Hirshfield writes: ” ‘Nothing lasts’—/ how bitterly the thought
attends each loss. / “‘Nothing lasts’ – / a promise also of consolation.”
While Hirshfield may have not been speaking
about the JET program, her words are applicable here. There are good and bad
days in the Japan Exchange Teaching (JET) Program. There are things, people,
and moments that you love as much as there things, people, and moments that you
detest. You can be bitter that it doesn’t last. You can also be relieved.
As I reestablish my life in America, I am
reflecting on Hirshfield’s words, and considering all the things I miss and
don’t miss about JET. Here’s what I collected:
As an elementary school ALT, I’ve played many roles. I have been the tape-recorder: reading dialogue from a script as the children fidget and try to match pictures to numbers based on what I’m saying. I have been the planner. I have prepared materials and designed lessons. I have adjusted things between classes and addressed problems that came up unexpectedly. I have been a kind of class pet: little children literally climbing on me, pulling at my hair, shouting for my attention, comparing hand and foot sizes, marvelling at my non-brown eyes and occasionally trying for that elusive kancho – and that’s where I draw the line.
A few weeks before leaving for Japan, I found out from my predecessor that I would be teaching in five high schools within the Nanyo B region and two special needs schools. Now, I already expected that there would be quite a bit of travel involved in the position since it’s not uncommon for ALTs to have more than one school but teaching in a special needs school wasn’t something I was ever prepared for—hence the panic. While my degree provided a short course on special education, I only had theories and no hands-on training in an environment with special needs learners.
Last summer I had the opportunity to be invited to an all-expenses-paid trip to the coast of Ainan to test a promotion by their tourist board. The trip promised a boat ride out to a nearby island, some underwater sightseeing, and a class held by a local artisan. All I needed to bring was a swimsuit, ¥1,000 for lunch, and a willingness to smile in the group photos.
I honestly did not think that the trip would happen. It had already been postponed once, due to it being ‘a little windy,’ and the weekend of the postponement date was approaching in lock step with not one, but two typhoons. Luckily, I did not schedule anything for that day except a Netflix marathon, so when the call came through that it was time to pack my bags and head down to Ehime’s southernmost town, I was eager to do so.
On March 2nd, Ehime AJET hosted their annual Murder Mystery Dinner. I’m a first year ALT, so this was the first event of its kind that I could go to. I’m a sucker for true crime, thrillers, and mysteries so I had always wanted to attend a murder mystery event of some kind and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. I booked a spot immediately and was happy to see that several of my friends had, too.
My name is Lee Anne Ledwell and, as I’m sure most of you are aware, I was the Ehime AJET President from 2018-2019. Together with the current president, Laura Beardslee, we were able to rejuvenate Ehime AJET into the blossoming organization you know today. I wanted to take the time to write out this article explaining everything that has happened with Ehime AJET from its resurrection to what our council has accomplished this year to where I hope future councils will lead us.
For this article, I tried to thing of an interesting perspective I could provide here. In the past, I’ve talked with some first year Primary or Junior High ALTs who didn’t know much about the Senior High School (SHS) system. I figured I might be able to help out by giving everyone an idea about how SHS work, and what teaching at a SHS is like, at least in my experience.