This is the cup of coffee my supervisor gave to me on the day in early January I had to tell her I wasn’t recontracting. I have so much love for my placement and my school, and while I felt no pressure from anyone about my decision other than myself, it was still more difficult and emotional to tell them I wasn`t staying for another year than I had imagined it would be. But on her lunch break, my amazing supervisor brought me back a coffee from my favorite cafe down the street to cheer me up. Then she told me that I was going to have a wonderful life. And then I cried, because that`s what I do.
So yeah, I will be leaving Japan in the beginning of August. I kind of always knew in my heart I would only do a year on JET, but that didnt` make it any easier to turn down the offer to stay a second year. Because as I said, I love my school so much. And I also love how inspired I am to write, run, and travel when I am in Japan. I wake up every day so excited to get to school and see my students and teachers.
After hearing that, it probably sounds crazy that I checked off the little box that said I would not be renewing my contract, right? While my life in Japan is beautiful and important to me, so is my life back home 10 times over. I didn`t want to do a second year away from my boyfriend or family, especially my little nieces and nephew–one of whom I haven’t even met yet because she decided to be born AFTER I had already come back to Japan. (Thanks, baby Kiera.) And before I came to Japan, I told myself this year-long experience would determine whether I wanted to officially pursue a career in teaching. The past 10 months have definitely confirmed there is no place I`d rather be (no-no-no-no-no!) than in front of a classroom. So in early 2017, I am considering starting a master`s program in TESOL or International Education.
Now enough about me, and on to my future successor.
I will probably find out who is replacing me in a few short weeks. I keep seeing incoming prefectural JETs posting in Kagoshima`s Facebook group and I keep wondering if one of them will be my Little Me! (When I first talked with my predecessor last summer I kept referring to myself as his Little Me from Coraline just because I like to sneak in Coraline references wherever I can. They are not as easy to make as Mean Girls references, but I do my best.)
I have been wanting to write this post for a while, but it took me some time to find the right words. So here`s what I want to say to my successor (or Little Me) before I actually know who he or she is.
Our school is so special to me. This is an academic school, but at the same time the students here absolutely love their sports and competition, so competitive jeopardy-style review games that result in intense battles of Janken when more than one student knows the answer to a question go over really well in the classroom. Some classes clap and cheer when I walk in with my laptop and projector materials. They are mostly cheering because seeing me means they won’t have a pop quiz that day, but I also think that most of them actually like me too. Teaching English here is a lot of fun.
Sometimes after a class a student approaches me to talk in English about basketball practice, TV, or a word or phrase in English they don’t understand. Recently I’ve been meeting with a ninensei girl during lunch so she can improve her speaking and reading skills. And then there are the two genki sannensei boys who hold up the flow of traffic between classes so they can ask me “where are you from?” and wait for me to respond slowly in the shimaguchi they taught me.
If am ever feeling a bit sad, all I have to do is walk through the halls between classes and I will be bombarded by dozens of waving students shouting “hello!” and sometimes “HowareyouI`mfinethankyou!” before I even have a chance to say anything. My mood improves instantly. It’s the little things that make working at this school so special. Like the morning I walked into school and noticed someone had finally dropped a letter in “Becca’s Mailbox” after months of nothingness. It was a card from a smart and quiet ninensei thanking me for helping her with Eiken practice and then asking me to write another English Newsletter because she loved reading them.
You will likely be inheriting my English club that has 9 sweet students. They work hard almost every day after school to improve their English debate skills because they truly believe they have a chance at winning the prefectural debate tournament in October. And of course I believe in them too. I watched them kill it last year and earn fourth place only as ichinensei who had only 6 months of English debate experience. They are not just good students, they are also really good people. I did a homestay with one member when I was brand new to Amami and her family treated me like another daughter. And when I returned to the island after Christmas, I had 7 handmade New Years cards with sweet messages on them waiting for me in my mailbox. These kids work really hard on debate, but they also love to laugh a lot. Have fun with them.
And if you’re like me and you don`t speak Japanese, fear not, the debate students will translate for you! They helped me write my welcome speech to the other teachers back in September.
You`ll also be working with an army of awesome JTEs. Many of them will want to collaborate with you on lesson planning, writing projects for the students, and allow you to lead teach. The JTEs at our school are really funny too and my days in the office are often full of laughter. And lots of snacks! When a student writes something silly in English, definitely share it with the teachers around you. They love that. Oh, our new Kyoto Sensei is awesome and wants to learn English. Please talk with him!
Of course, you`re going to have slow days like all ALTs do. Some days you won’t have classes, and testing weeks can be so boring that they may make you contemplate your existence, but you`ll make it through just like I did.
When I first arrived last summer I was so worried about filling my predecessor`s shoes. It`s only natural to feel a bit apprehensive when we are expected to take over someone`s position, especially if they are someone who is well liked. But my school made me feel welcomed and appreciated right away. All my worries (as usual) had been for nothing. I get to be my unique self every day and I love it. I know they will do the same for you. To borrow a phrase from Allstate Insurance, you’re in good hands.
I`m actually a little jealous of you already. If I could experience my first year here all over again, I would do so without hesitation. But my life back in America beckons me home, so I have to go.
I hope you love your time here just as much as I did.