The Dreaded Doldrums

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Right now, that calendar is the bane of my existence. All those Japanese squiggles, while they might mean a myriad different things, can be translated into two simple words: “no lessons.”

I absolutely hate this time of year (and not because it’s Valentine’s Day, trust me), because it means that I won’t teach another lesson for nearly two and a half months. Last week was my final lessons for the academic year. In Japan, the school year ends in late March and starts in mid-April.

Right now, my kids are knee-deep in studying for their final exams, which are next week. Then the last week of February is one huge heyday preparing for graduation on March 1st. After graduation, the tenth and eleventh graders still come to school in order to prepare for the upcoming academic year (Japanese kids, I’m convinced, do not know how to take a study break) and reorganize the classrooms, offices, and school as a whole. It’s madness.

Late March is consumed by entrance examinations for high schools. As mine is the most prestigious in the prefecture, wannabe Aomori Koukou students flock to the school for the exams. And on the teachers’ side of things, personnel changes mean that some of the staff will be transferred to new schools. (That’s also a big reason why I hate this time of year; favorite coworkers will inevitably be transferred.)

And once the students come back from their two week spring vacation, the madness starts again. Loads of ceremonies, administrative meetings, and introductions start the year off hectically. And because my school is highly academic, I won’t teach lessons until late April at the very earliest. The students have to become acclimated to their new grade level before I’m brought in, as my lessons are usually more difficult, what with their straight English explanations and extremely limited Japanese content.

Last year, I was wholly unprepared for these two and a half months of inactivity. My morale and level of content were absolutely at their lowest. I found myself asking why on earth I had recontracted for a second year when I dreaded coming to work. While it might seem that having nothing to do except try and look busy is absolute heaven (and getting paid for it, even), it’s not. For the first week, it’s nice to relax and catch up some of my own personal things. But after that, the days and weeks drag on. While I’m free to study Japanese, trying to do that eight hours a day, five days a week makes me want to scream.

These early spring doldrums make me realize that of all the things that I love about living in Aomori, the students are by far the most important to me. Though I relish the random weeks without lessons, because they allow me to recharge, more than one consecutive week makes me really antsy. When I don’t interact with my kids, my mood takes a dive. I’m only really ever homesick when I’m stuck at my desk, instead of teaching in a classroom. As clichéd as it sounds, my kids make my job far more than putting in requisite hours to take home a paycheck every month.

Hopefully this year won’t be so bad, since I know what to expect. Plus, I didn’t have a blog to keep myself occupied last year, either. Regardless, I know that once late March rolls around and the halls of Aomori High School are largely silent, I’ll start counting down the days until I get back in the classroom.

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