**To read Part 1: Spain vs. Japan please visit Gina Bear’s blog, who was my predecessor here in Okinawa**
When I started working in Valladolid, Spain as a language assistant it was my first real job. I had no idea how important relationships with co-workers, administration, and students affected your job as a whole. Looking back, I would probably do a lot of things differently and be mindful of how relationships can make or break your job. Getting into a little more detail, Spanish schools seemed to be a bit more “bare bones” in terms of technology, supplies, and materials. I was never given anything to work with other than the old computers in the teachers’ room to scour the internet for source material. If I wanted to show a movie, there was a nice CRT box TV for me to show it on (no thanks). I was not given access to any computer labs or really any technology unless I brought it myself. Computer labs were reserved for classes of information technology or basic computer skills courses. Once I got a handle on how to be a good coworker, I had great relationships with my fellow English teachers, especially in Madrid. Spanish people are wonderful, friendly, cheerful people and I was constantly asked to go out after work to a bar or restaurant or even to eat at their homes with their families on the weekend. I have vivid memories of one of my coworkers who I referred to as “Dad” who would ask me to go with him to the taverna every Wednesday and he would pour me glass after glass of clarete (pink wine mixed with carbonated water). I would be totally smashed by the end and I wouldn’t ever pay a dime.
Spanish high school students were what you might imagine: loud, wild, energetic bunch but always kind. I never really had problems with any of the students except trying to get them to pay attention. In Valladolid I had to teach by myself and I don’t think I was too successful but it was my first time to ever step foot in a classroom. In Madrid, I shared the class with the Spanish English teacher and had zero problems with students. Sometimes I would prepare my own lessons and sometimes I would supplement the other teacher’s lesson. One thing that I noticed that was very different from American high schools is that teachers move from class to class instead of students. It makes things less chaotic during class changes, but each room is practically barren because teachers don’t hang up or put anything on the walls since they don’t have their own classroom. The best thing about working at a Spanish high school is that you are done at 2pm always. The siesta period starts at 2pm for the whole country and people go home to eat with their families. I never left school later than 3pm and that was just if I was lesson planning or something.
When I first stepped on the school grounds in Okinawa, I thought to myself “Wow this school looks nicer than my American high school.” I’m not sure why I expected it to be worse; I guess because many of the buildings in Okinawa weren’t really built for the sake of appearance. Yomitan High School is big school complete with a swimming pool, baseball field, and a huge gym (none of these things were present in Spain). One of the first places at the school I was introduced to was the CALL room (I’m not sure if that’s an acronym or not), which as a big computer lab where I could show movies, use the internet, powerpoint, etc. I was really impressed because we didn’t ever use any of this in my own American high school or in Spain. Now that I’ve been in the workforce for 5 years I know more about handling relationships with coworkers and was able to befriend the English department and other teachers as well without a problem. I still think they possibly resent me for leaving at 4:15pm most days, but that is what my contract says. The general sentiment about work for Japanese people is to basically work until you drop. Many teachers don’t leave school until 8pm because they have so many other duties besides just teaching. I run the English club after school on Thursdays and help students with certain projects like speech contests, interviews for college, and standardized tests, but I haven’t ever stayed later than 6:30pm. For the most part I think they understand that I am a foreigner and we just don’t have the same values placed on work ethic. I just want to go home after my official leave time has passed please!
Every so often I will be invited to nomikais (drinking parties) where some teachers will meet at a restaurant and we will do an all-you-can-drink/eat event. These are good times were I can meet some of the other teachers and try to gesture/communicate with them. Sometimes they go on for way too long (after midnight one time) and I am bored because I can’t speak Japanese. Japanese people and especially Okinawans are very nice but much more reserved and shy than the Spanish. It has taken me longer to get to know my coworkers, but I really could not have asked for a better staff to work with. The students are so great. I couldn’t really say enough great things about them; I know I got lucky because I hear horror stories from other JETs. My students are so sweet and innocent while being funny and good natured at the same time. They are always respectful and I hardly ever have to raise my voice to make them be quiet. I also teach with a Japanese English teacher who monitors the class, but on the rare occasion that I am alone, I never have any problems. In short, the kids are every teacher’s dream.
Winner: Japan. With my exceptionally well-behaved Japanese students and ability to use technology in the classroom, I have to give this one to Japan. Spanish students are definitely not rude or disrespectful like many American high schoolers, but kids here in Japan know how to respect their sensei.
Part 3 and 4 are coming soon!