Growing pains

     I do a lot of things on my own in Japan. I make my own activities on my days off, (most people work on Mondays, but I don’t, hence I’m usually alone). I’m learning to enjoy my own company. I cry alone, I go through struggles, I explore on my own, I laugh by myself, and I learn on my own. But lately, I have been having some problems I can’t handle on my own.
You need to reach out to others for help, even if it scares you.
     I have been filled with anxiety and self doubt recently, particularly after my hajimete (3 and 4 year old students) class this past Saturday. During the class and immediately after, my thoughts wavered to a panicked, “I want to go home, now. I can’t handle teaching,” “I’ve made a big mistake,” etc. The students were running in every direction, all of my games and toys were thrown off the shelves, the class was a total disaster (or so it felt like to me). The students didn’t repeat the vocab, some were sitting while others were standing, they tried crawling on the table, they hid under the table. My class looked like a war zone as it came to a finish with Jenga blocks scattered across the floor and letter pieces strewn about.
     Recently, I’ve thought to myself “am I the best teacher, is this what the students deserve? Is there someone else who is more energetic and has more to offer than me? I bet other teachers are more fun and would do a better job than me,” etc. etc. My mind keeps racing with these sorts of thoughts. This past weekend was really fun, but I still couldn’t enjoy it fully as my mind has been cluttered with worries and negativity. I’ve also been juggling the stress of trying to please the parents of my students by having their kids learn English, while also ensuring the kids have fun and are engaged in their lesson. There are also cultural differences to take into consideration.
     Another stressor in my life has been my bills. Not only is this worrisome financially, but it’s also been a problem because 1. I can’t read kanji, and can only  read hiragana and katakana, and 2. I don’t know how to pay bills. I am now learning how to do that finally (thank you Japanese convenience stores). I still can’t read my mail, and I have troubles distinguishing between junk mail and legitimately important documents on occasion. On an almost daily basis, I send a photo of my mail to my best friend (she’s Japanese) and ask for her assistance. Where would I be without her help? I’m not always alone, my best friend has been very helpful in my transition to Japan. But even your friends can’t be there 24/7 to assist you.
     After speaking with my coworker, and reaching out to one of my supervisors over the phone today, I’m feeling a little better and less likely to book the next flight home. My supervisor gave me some good teaching advice, and they both gave me good encouragement. As my supervisor noted, I set my goals too high, so I am filled with stress when I miss the stars. But when you aim for the tops of the trees, metaphorically speaking, you’ll be pleased and less stressed when you find you’ve made that goal. I think I’ve been trying too hard and wishing for too much to happen all at once. Teaching is a process, and it will take a while for rules and boundaries and routines to be established and understood.
     It took the encouragement from both of these people, but it’s helped me see my own self-worth a bit more. Young children can’t be expected to sit still. It’s okay if the class didn’t go perfectly. They had fun, my coworker mentioned to me. She spoke with one of the parents and their kid said they enjoyed the class. That is the main point. It was out of control a bit, but the biggest goal is for the students to have fun while learning English. My coworker said to me today “I’ve seen many young teachers, and you are the best one I’ve met.”
     It takes difficult experiences like the ones I’ve been having in order for a person to truly grow. Sometimes I wish I could repress my negative emotions and avoid experiencing them, but that would only make the problem worse, and it would come up later. Sometimes I wish I was just a tourist and could see the fun, sparkling side of Japan and not have to deal with the harder side Japan and figuring out the not so candy coded parts of society. But that’s a different conversation. My thoughts boil down to this: we must deal with the emotions that come to us, even if they’re ugly or unwanted. It’s important to filter through them, realize they serve a purpose for use, and then let them go.
Until next time,
Sarah
“Nobody said life would be easy, they just promised it would most likely be worth it.”
-Harvey MacKay
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3 thoughts on “Growing pains

  1. Excellent blog Sarah. You are new to teaching add to that the cultural barriers you struggle with and honestly you are ahead of most millennial I know. Be kind to yourself, think your thoughts but remember they are only thoughts. The more we focus on negative thoughts we invite them to build and take up residence in our consciousness. Put your energy into your teaching, and go gentle with yourself. You will get there. I have faith in you.

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  2. Sarah, you are a bright young person who cares deeply about what you do. You will get through this and your students will be better off for having you as their teacher. Yesterday I met two students who were in my class in 1953, and they told me how much they enjoyed the experience. This will happen to you, too.

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  3. Classroom structure is so very important. It’s a good practice to start and end each class with some ritualized group activity (a song, an exercise routine, a dance). Pick something the students will enjoy, but remain in control and not get too silly. Repeat these activities in exactly the same way, every time. Once these routines are established as part of the classroom culture, the students will find much comfort in the predictability this gives them. This will reduce their anxiety, which is driving their disruptive behavior.

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