Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Mandatory wastes of my time.

So today was a good day. Kind of surprisingly. Three 3rd grade classes where even the yanki kids were pleasantly, affably and cheerfully yanki. Instead of their standard angsty and disruptive yanki. Which just made today an altogether marked contrast to yesterday...

But first, to help explain... in the Marines, way back in the dark ages when I served, there was... not a saying... but an understanding that the closer you were stationed to Washington DC, the more politically unpleasant and tightly wound your experience would be. East Coast Marines had it the worst, West Coast "Hollywood" Marines were a bit more loose, and those of lucky enough to serve in Hawaii... well let's just say the expressions "you're on vacation" and "not really in the military" came up more than once. So basically, closer to DC = bad, further from DC = good.

That being said, I've developed a similar theory here on the JET Programme, which roughly is this - the more interaction you have with the Prefectural Boards of Education, the more frustrated, annoyed and displeased you'll be, and the more you manage to avoid their bureaucratic nonsense, the better.

It's not a 100% consistent theory [but what is?] but as a rule of thumb, it works for me. And in fact, to be fair to both the hard working Japanese and gaijin who work at the various educational levels of bureaucracy here in Japan and whom, I'm sure, do their level best, it's really not them. It's the structure of bureaucracy itself. The inherent devotion to policy, regulations, process, rules and "the way things have been done" rather than an interest in logic, usefulness, efficiency and intent.

I consider myself extremely lucky, as a Municipal [instead of Prefectural] ALT on JET, I'm by default one more level removed from the highest levels of nonsense. Further, I'm extremely lucky that the local Board of Education that I work for is staffed with excellent, competent, efficient and practical minded folks. Not to mention they're just damn nice.

That being said, some nonsense just can't be avoided...

Such as... yesterday was the monthly required Municipal ALT meeting. Having to attend never fails to put me in a somewhat dispirited and foul mood. [Though, honestly, "it" doesn't put me in a bad mood, I do that to myself, regardless of how much I'd like to blame "it." Strive for a bit of intellectual honestly in your self-talk. It helps.] I just really don't enjoy going, and without fail I spend the majority of time at the meetings thinking "I would so much rather be teaching a class right now."

Why, oh why do they annoy me so?

Well... basically... to say they are *completely fucking useless* would be unecessarily harsh, probably. It would ring emotionally true, but I can't say, honestly, that they have no worth whatsoever. I have picked up some some good ideas, here and there, over the last 3 years.

It'd be more truthful to say that these regular meetings impart about 15-20 minutes of worthwhile information stretched out over about 3 hours. [And worse, next month's Mid Year Seminar takes about an hour or an hour and a half's worth of good ideas and activities and stretches it out over 2 days...] And in the amazing world of the internet age and email, that 15 or 20 minutes worth of good info could probably be filled with a one page monthly email.

The meetings strike me as something that someone thought was a good idea years ago, and may have been at that time, but it now carries on the same way due to the sheer weight of it's own momentum. Look, when the organizers of the meetings are begging ALTs to make presentations to, basically, fill time, it means you don't have to have the meetings.

I do get that for some ALTs, living in areas even more inaka than my rice field surrounded apartment, that these monthly meetings help provide a socialization factor and a chance to see other strangely faced foreigners. For some, they might need that. But I don't. As a natural introvert with a built in social support network via marriage, I just don't. And while I might sympathize/empathize [either way, the Mrs says I kinda suck at both, and she's right, I think] I don't get why I need to drag my ass to a meeting I've no interest in in order to salvage somebody else's psychological well being.

And I would agree that for folks on their first year of the JET, some kind of regular meeting is useful, though once a month would still seem quite a bit too frequent for my tastes. But I'm heading into year 4, and the things a 1st year might need to know... well, this is [at least] my 4th time hearing it. Wasting. My. Time.

Despite my negative opinion, yesterday's meeting actually got off to a good start. There was at least one presentation that I truly did enjoy and got an activity/idea from. So that was a pleasant bit of positivity. It didn't hurt that the presenter was a natural performer/educator [or if she wasn't, she'd trained herself to be damn good] whose enthusiasm was a bit contagious. In fact, that bit of presentation put me in a positive enough mood to participate a bit in the next section - a conversation about the merits of re-contracting.

As an aside, I'm not usually a participator. Not generally speaking, leastways. There was another Fukutsu JET who, years ago, at the meetings, would pull out a book at the start and stare at it until we were once more released into the wild. I tried it once, OCD reader of books that I am, but couldn't shake the feeling I was being rude to the speaker, so I stopped.

But yeah, whether or not someone should re-contract on JET... what are "good" reasons or "bad" reasons to stay in Japan... those kinds of questions strike me as things that, honestly, you have to figure out for yourself. Everybody has their own perspective, values, plans, wants and needs that'll color their decisions.

One example that comes up - yes, every damn year - is "Is it a good idea to stay in Japan for the money?" And the thing is, no one can answer that but you. IMHO, $, by itself isn't a good reason to stay, for me, but you just can't speak for anyone else. If they're in a position in their life where building up a nest egg in Japan is important to them, what with the collapsing economy [92\ to the $, as I type] well, then, it is a good reason to stay.

But the conversation even sucked me in, feeling good as I was, I pontificated uselessly on something or another about not making a decision from an unhealthy fear-based perspective, that it's a bad idea to go back because you're thinking that someone, somewhere was getting ahead of you in the rat race.

[There is no rat. There is no race. And even if there was, and you won, you'd still be a rat.]

And what did I get for my participation? An abbreviated break time, as the presentations all ended up running long.

Following the break, an admittedly useful Japanese language class, the effort which the instructor put in I do appreciate. But honestly, if I was serious about studying the language [which after three years, it would appear, that right now, I'm not], well then, I'd actually put in the study time myself.

Language classes wrap up, everything still running behind...

The next bit was about the Japanese educational system. I'd imagine again, for 1st years, it'd be useful, maybe. But if you've hit October of your 2nd year on JET and didn't know what they were telling you... well, then you haven't been paying attention or just don't care. For me, I was only clock watching as the time creeped closer and closer to quitting time.

And then! Quitting time!

But, sadly, no.

Because of their inability to maintain the schedule they put forth, I got to stay late for another presentation. Yes, it was only 15 minutes, but on top of the fact that there had only really been about 20 minutes of quality information that day anyway, the fact that I have to stay later than I was scheduled annoyed the hell out of me.

And as for the presentation... look, I don't want to be mean spirited, and I'm sure the presentation was planned with the best of intentions, but the topic was, and I kid you not, "How to Prepare for Winter/Stay Warm in the Coming Months."

That's a 20 second presentation, if you have to give it at all.

1 - Japanese buildings have no insulation.
2 - At your school, just like there's no central aircon in summer, there's no central heating in winter.
3 - Plan accordingly.

And you're done.

But I mean... seriously? Everybody there went to college, at least. And while this might be your first time out in the "real world" after college, you've lived outside the onus of your parent's watchful eyes before.

If you have to be instructed to "buy blankets," "layer," "buy a hat," and "check your whole apartment to see what you have before you buy new things" [all, I shit you not, actual advice given yesterday]... well, then, you know what? You really don't deserve to make it through the winter, and we'll dig your corpse out come spring's first thaw. Darwinian rules.

Even in the Marines, we had useless meetings. Section heads, every damn Monday morning. And if anyone above the rank of, say O-3, was there they'd drag on uselessly and forever. So, I mean, clearly, it's not solely indicative of JET.

[OTOH, when it was just the Capts, the LTs and the CWOs the meetings consisted of "Good morning. Anybody got anything? No? Have a good week. See you around the hangar." Awesomeness.]

But I swear, if the world could do just one thing like I ask it, it would be to stop letting people waste my time.

Life's too short and we all have better things to do.

[And yes, that includes ranting on blogs. So there.]

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