Wednesday, September 10, 2008


The weekend before last, the agency that refers students to me called and asked if I'd accept a 13-year old girl as a student. The girl had lived in the U.S. for awhile and (they're guessing) has relatively advanced English ability. The agency hadn't had any direct communication with the girl herself. They negotiated through her mother so they couldn't tell me much about her. They speculated that she was probably studying so that she could maintain the level of fluency she acquired while living in the U.S.

After about a week, the agency said that they'd confirmed a trial lesson with the girl and gave me her mother's name, e-mail address and phone number. They didn't, however, tell me the girl's first name so I asked them what it was. It's at this point that things get a bit strange. They told me that the mother wouldn't tell them the girl's name because she was too "cautious".

The trial lesson is scheduled for this afternoon and I'm not sure what to expect when the girl is supposed to show up at my front door. I have a suspicion that the mother will show up with her and may even ask to sit in with the lesson. If I were teaching in a classroom where the mother could unobtrusively observe from the back of a large room, I wouldn't care about this, but that isn't the case. I teach in a 9' x 9' room which is closed off from other rooms to air condition it more efficiently. There is no "unobtrusive" way for anyone to observe.

Of course, I could be wrong about the mother horning in. I have quite the tendency to panic and extrapolate the worst in any given situation. I'm one of those people who thinks I'm going to prick a finger, get an infection, be given drugs that damage my other limbs and end up a quadruple amputee. It's a tendency I've been endeavoring to reign in for years now with some success. In odd or very uncertain situations, however, I tend to gravitate back to this type of self-defeating tendency.

I know these situations are supposed to be growth experiences and I try to see them in that light, but sometimes it's difficult. In 98% of situations where I play out the worst outcome in my imagination, things turn out to be just fine. In one particular case in my past though, it was as bad as the worst I imagined and I think that still haunts me. That was a situation which I talked about in my former blog where I feared refusing to work on my day off might get me fired, and it very nearly did.

Ultimately, this tendency is part of a defense mechanism which I'm sure I developed as a child growing up in a family with a lot of emotional instability from a depressed and neurotic mother and an alcoholic father. If you can predict the worst possible outcome at the beginning of a situation, you can defend or protect yourself. Though such behavior served me well as a kid in a family with problems, it no longer serves me in most cases and tends to cloud my judgment. It's like an old battered shield that I still raise in times of uncertainty even though I no longer live in the heat of a battle.


Helen said...

I've had parents try to horn in on lessons in the past. It usually doesn't work. The chlld can't relax and neither can you!

I realize that your space is small, but you'll have to set some ground rules at the beginning. It's much harder to set them after the first lesson!

You might want to put a chair in the lobby/hallway/genkan for the mother. That's where she stays. If she's really anxious to observe your lesson (and she might be if she won't give out her daughter's name) keep the door open or ajar. (One time where I'm afraid you'll have to forgo the efficient air conditioning.)

When I worked at l'eikaiwa we got used to leaving doors open so parents could observe. It's fine and I didn't mind much, it's just that they would sometimes try talking to their child during my class. I had to put an end to it immediately. My classes are run in English only. That's what the parents are paying for.

Just be careful that the mother doesn't expect to be included in the lesson too. (Sorry, don't want to make you panic even more!) I've had parents bring along siblings and even friends to their children's private lesson. Needless to say I did not let them in my classroom.

Good luck today!

Emsk said...

With any luck the mom will just want to check that everything's alright to begin with, that her daughter's happy, etc. And that you're not an axe-wielding maniac! Maybe this will bethe only lesson she comes to. I'm sure you'll do absolutely fine though.

Like Helen, moms would often pop their heads round the door when I was doing kids' lessons. I had one little girl who screamed for the first few weeks with me, not because she didn't like me, but because she didn't want to be parted from Mommy (she was only three). I used to invite Mommy to come in because I'd rather the wee girl felt safe - after all, it's quite normal for kids that age to show fear when confronted with someone totally different. Eventually she settled down and was a joy tot each.

As I write this I'm eight hours behind you, so your lesson should be in full swing by now.

Orchid64 said...

Thanks to both of you for your comments. Somehow, knowing you may have encountered similar situations makes it better.

The lesson is over now and I ended up hammering out a "no parent in the room" policy before the lesson. She has a younger son who she went to a local park and played with during the lesson. My apartment is not structured to allow other people in the place. It's not only that there's no place for them to sit (there really isn't unless they want to lie on my bed...which I'm not quite prepared to permit), but also because the layout puts everyone in earshot all the time.

I can see where mothers would be squeamish about leaving their kids alone with teachers if they were young, but this girl is 13, and it turned out that her mother wasn't squeamish and that this was likely another case where the referral agency just never bothered to work things out and gave me vague information. They seem to prefer not to ask anything for fear that it'll screw up the sale.

In the end, the girl was okay with being left with me. In fact, she is more American than Japanese. She was born in the U.S. and has lived there more than in Japan. She speaks fluently, albeit like a 13-year-old. She needs to pass a test to get into a special school for returnees and just needs to be tutored to help her remember advanced vocabulary for the test she'll take to gain entrance.

The son is quite a bit younger, but even he wasn't intimidated by being around me. He jumped all over the sofa and noted my DVD collection and the presence of the Simpsons. The little girl was embarrassed by her mother like all kids are at that age. She "corrected" her mother a bit rudely about where they live when her mother said they live in a particular place and she begged to differ. These weren't squeamish kids.

I don't know if I'll end up teaching her. It depends on how the little girl felt about how I taught her. Her mother is going to talk to her about what we did and then talk to the referral agency. I wouldn't mind teaching her, but I don't really care if she doesn't choose me. The main reason I don't care is that this is a completely short-term gig. Once the girl takes the test (or passes it), that's the end of that. I think it'd be two months tops of lessons. Once she gets into the school, she'll be taught English there.

Wally Wood said...

On anticipating the worst: You're not alone. If I don't hear from a client for a while I have to fight the assumption that not only have I been fired but that the client is now telling the world how terrible I am and I will never work again--or worse. Fortunately in my case the reality has never turned out to be as bad as I imagined. But then, neither have the good things turned out to be as wonderful as I imagined either. So now I'm trying to take events as they come.

Orchid64 said...

Hi, Wally, and thanks for your comment. It makes me feel a little less neurotic to know someone else thinks in similar ways. ;-)

I disabused myself of building up to a "best case scenario" awhile ago, but it's much harder to shake the "it'll all fall apart feelings."

Anonymous said...

I'm glad the lesson went well after all! I wonder if I'll ever be able to do the kinds of private lessons you do. My job being what it is, I don't know how long I'll be able to hang in there, but I'll try, at least until my year contract is up...More on that later, though...I have spent the last 4 work days suppressing some kind of nasty sickness, but because I did nothing but force the fever down by way of ibuprofen all that time, it's finally become resistant to everything I try. After breaking out into uncontrollable chills (in a warm classroom) during my last class last night, I'm finally going to need to take today off to rest...Thank god, no classes (other than the occasional private lesson) are set for Saturdays, but it's still a full day of work, and a day we are meant to plan the curriculum for the next week. I'm worried about not being able to be in on it until I come in to work on Tuesday, but there's really nothing I can (or had better) do right now except be in bed.

The thing I'm more worried about is returning my boss's calls, just to have her tell me I need to force myself on the hour long journey by subway, bus and JR train, into work so I can sit in a long line at the clinic in the building, just to "prove" I'm really sick. How in hell am I supposed to even DO that? I can't even get out of bed right now...I would love your advice on how to deal with this. I messaged her at 7am to say I was going to try new medicine and attempt to actually get some sleep (I couldn't last night from the chills and body ache). My private lesson wouldn't be until 12:30 (but that still means I'd have to leave the house at around 10:30 to make it there on time...I don't know what I should say to her if I call and she suggests that I come all the way out there to go to their clinic (which will likely be packed on a Saturday, and end up a total waste of time). My work hours start at 2:30pm, but I've been in at around 10:30am nearly every single day the last 2 weeks, as it is, just to make sure my lessons are planned for the day. Can't I expect them to cut me a bit of slack without the threat of being fired or written up?...Jeeze....

And now this reply has turned into an off topic rant...I guess I felt it better to post it here, since I don't know who reads my blog and might be able to put 2 and 2 together about who I am and who I'm talking about. I really would love your advice, though. It's always down to earth and quite a comfort, in all honesty.

Orchid64 said...

Hi, Dateline. Let me say how sorry I am about your situation. Also, if you ever want to say something but can't say it "out loud", please feel free to e-mail me about it. My e-mail address is orchidsixtyfour (at) gmail (dot) com. The numbers are actually spelled out in the address (that’s not an attempt to disguise the numbers to keep the address out of the hands of spammers). However, I check that account infrequently so you may want to leave a comment telling me you’ve sent a private message so I’ll know enough to look. ;-)

Your situation is a difficult one. There are some cultural differences at work that are going to make it harder for you. One of them is that the overwhelming majority of Japanese people strongly believe doctors make you better, not rest and allowing your body to mend itself. They don’t want you to go to a doctor to prove you are sick. They want you to go to prove that you are trying you best to get better as rapidly as possible. I disagree (strongly) with the mindset that doctors make you better, particularly in cases like yours where you have the flu or a virus that needs to run its course and the only thing you can do is rest to allow your body to fight it. Unfortunately, I’m not your boss so my opinion doesn’t matter.

A Japanese person will likely be puzzled by your reluctance to go to a doctor if you are honestly sick. In their opinion, you’re defying logic and that may make them believe you just want to take a day off and aren’t really sick. After all, the doctor will make you better and why would you not want to do that? Also, keep in mind that I have not yet encountered a Japanese person who doesn’t run to the doctor the second he or she gets a slight fever. They would have been to a doctor at a far earlier point than you and been loaded up with drugs to suppress their symptoms so they could work during the illness with less discomfort.

Your situation is not uncommon for foreigners in new jobs because of the stress you endure. The same thing happened to my husband when he changed to a new job. His choice was to grit his teeth and work through it because he knew it’d make a bad impression if he called in sick in his first week or two. This is one of your unpleasant choices. Another is to go to the doctor to show you want to get better. The last is the riskiest, but it does draw the line right now about the way you’re going to work with them. That last choice is to say that you’re sick and you desperately need to rest and you can’t possibly work and you don’t want to risk exposing some poor kid to your virus. You can tell them that you are too sick to go to the doctor, but will as soon as you get some sleep and feel you can make the train trip. They won’t like it and they could decide to fire you for it. I believe this is unlikely, but I really don’t know the situation. If they have teachers waiting in the wings who can replace you, they may blithely dismiss you without a second thought. They may also regard you poorly when your return (though this would likely pass with time, again, I can’t know for sure). Or, they may simply just treat you as always.

The final question is how much do you value this job compared to your mental and physical health at this time. Is it so good an opportunity that you’d regret losing it or does you gut tell you that it’s not working well for you anyway so you should just do what is best for you and damn the consequences? Sometimes your body knows before your mind that you’re doing the wrong thing and tries to force you out of a situation (mine sure did, and I ignored it and got into a terrible state). Sometimes you’re just tired and run-down from working hard and get sick. I can’t say which is true for you, but that’s really an important question to consider when making a choice about what to do. I wish you all the best, and hope you get well soon. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that all falls into place in the best possible way.

Emsk said...

Hi Orchid. Apologies for using your comment section to help out a fellow blogger, but I hope I can offer a bit of support to Dateline Osaka here.

I know exactly the predicament you're in, DO, as I was sick myself for one day in January, and it was a horrendous situation. Like you, I was fluey and it had been building up. One Wednesday my body gave in to spending the day in bed, so I called and left a message at work nice and early. Consequently, my head teacher (she was Japanese) called back and said the manager would expect me to go to hospital and get a shot becaue they "really needed" my help that evening, even though it was not a busy day and she could cover my classes. I refused, of course, because I knew that the last thing I needed was to sit in a hospital waiting room and spend money I didn't have when I should be spending the day in bed. Thank God my assistant manager didn't see it that way - she came round with some medicine and told me to relax!

I've only just found out that I could've joined a union while I was working for my Big Eikawa, who shall remain nameless. Without telling you who they are, they recently had to pay out overtime pay to a foreign teacher in Nagoya for hours of extra work, so it might be a good thing to check them out and see what your rights are under the law. After all, you can't work when you're not firing on all cylinders and they should know this.

I was lucky in that the first school I worked for, also for the same mob, I had a kind manager who was sympathetic when I was sick, although she did say if I came in later would I be able to cover the evening classes, which turned out to be fine.

Apologies if you already know about this, DO, but just in case you didn't here's the link:

PS Orchid, I'm sending you a private message.

Anonymous said...

Orchid and Emsk both, THANK YOU for your kind responses! I will just post a quick update here (even though it kinda feels weird since this isn't my blog space! Hope it's ok!).

Yesterday, thanks to the super strong kaze medicine my husband brought home for me the night before, I ended up feeling reasonably better a few hours after posting, and managed to get into work by the time I had to do my private lesson. Fortunately, Saturdays are slow, and usually used to prepare (and other words related to being warned or vaguely informed about, 10 minutes before it's time to go home) for the week ahead, so I was able to take the day at my own pace.

Today has been ok so far, but I'll really need to rest up tomorrow to make sure I'm prepared for the nightmare ahead....Imagine having to do a week's worth of disaster training when there's no set plan in the first place, and you spend about a half hour at best MAKING UP the rules for how to direct the children in the event of a fire or earthquake...I just can't believe the school has been running for 7 years and they're still fumbling around with ways to teach emergency preparedness....And somehow I'm not supposed to worry about it during the weekend. >_<;;;