I’m burned out.
Up until last week, my life has been a constant, constant barrage of work.
(Or at least it feels that way. As soon as I have that thought, I think about firefighters or emergency room nurses or children in a sweatshop, and then I tell myself that I don’t have the right to complain. I do have the right to suffer, though.)
I am searching for meaning. I am searching for something to put my heart and soul into.
I spend (at least) 8 hours a day at work, in a school. Since I have to be there anyway, I’ve been trying to make this the thing that I give my heart and soul to.
I work my ass off. I have incredible responsibilities and management tasks. I have a small team that is responsible for teaching hundreds of students.
This job has challenged me a million times, and a million times, I rise up to the challenge.
But nobody gives a fuck. Nobody cares how hard I work. Nobody cares how smart I am. Nobody cares how good I am at making things easy to understand.
I work in a school. A high school.
I’m teaching English. In Japan.
And nobody cares about how easy and fun I make the lessons, nobody cares how hard I work to conceive and prepare those lessons, because I’m not the ‘fun’ teacher.
I do not fit into the box that the people here want me to fit into. I am a minority in a country that barely has any minorities, and thus can have no true understanding of minorities—outside of stereotypes and preconceptions, of course.
In most cultures, the foreigner is seen as a threat. Just having a different appearance makes people nervous around you.
In a country with a rich multicultural or international mindset, the native peoples themselves will endeavor to inoculate themselves against the ills of making hateful or ignorant assumption about foreigners and minorities.
In other countries, you’re on your own.
When you live in a country with no real understanding of multicultural interaction, and thus fears you, you as a foreigner have two basic responses.
You can either smile and play stupid, or helpless, or adopt whatever preconceptions the local people have about you, or you can strive to learn the language, learn the culture, be independent, and make them fear you even more.
My foreign coworkers respect me. They see how hard I work, they think I have good ideas.
The Japanese teachers vary from respecting me to ignoring my existence.
What hurts is that my students have started doing the same.
I have worked at this school for three years, and so I’ve been teaching the current senior class since they were freshmen. I had a bit of a reputation for being strict, but I learned to lower my expectations over the years. While I’m worried about their education and development into adults, they think they already are adults and are much more focused on socializing and having fun.
The school I work at is not exactly known for being an academically rigorous establishment. It’s a popular second-choice school for students who failed to pass examinations needed for entry into more prestigious high schools. It’s a well-known secret that the students who end up enrolling in the English course, in which I teach, often have no desire to learn English, but chose it because it was the least academically intimidating track compared to Japanese-language studies or the sciences.
These are taboo topics of conversation, but some of the students will gleefully do something like show up late to school, make a lot of noise at the bus stop, or whatever else, and then explain it away by saying ‘of course we’re fuck ups—we’re the English course kids.’
I am not a ‘fun’ teacher. I hate ‘fun’ teachers.
I hated fun teachers when I was a kid. I didn’t care that you listened to the same music as us, or watched the same TV shows. If you couldn’t teach your subject, I saw right through you. And I resented being trapped in a room with you for 40 minutes while you prattled on and on, obviously lost and knowing about as much about the topic as we did.
I respected the teachers that were good at teaching, even if I didn’t like them on a personal level. If I could actually learn something new from them, if they made a valuable use of my time, I greatly appreciated it.
I was usually towards the top of my class in grades. I was usually towards the bottom of my class in popularity.
I didn’t understand my classmates. Why not shut up, listen to the lecture, follow the instructions, do the assignments, and then go home and chill with your friends? Why invite detention, whole-class detention, suspension, low test scores?
Maybe because they didn’t give a fuck about school. I myself, while towards the top of my class, wasn’t the number one best student, and nor was I very concerned with being so either. I couldn’t understand the appeal of inviting trouble.
But maybe something about it was fun. Maybe my classmates didn’t give a damn about school, didn’t think they would amount to much anyway, and so they distracted each other with gossip and jokes to try to make the time go faster.
And now I walk down the halls of a giant school, and students I’ve spent two or three years with pretend I’m not there, and I don’t know why.