Saturday, March 05, 2011

(Most Accurate) Description of Universe Academy in Miyakonojo Japan

I already wrote a post about working at Universe academy, but now I'm going to really share my feelings on the subject. The other day the management made a comment about how hard it was to replace me and how stressful their life has been trying to find someone to pick up my contract because I’m leaving six months early. At the time I didn't think much of it, but a few hours later, while mopping spit off the floor, I got really angry. THEY were stressed that they had to find another foreigner they could trick into working there? What about my stress level getting tricked into one of the worst jobs I've ever had? What about how hard it was for ME to work a job I hate- that I wouldn't have taken in a second had they given me an accurate description of the job beforehand?

I got in contact with the previous teachers at Universe and I have realized that it's not just me- every teacher who has ever worked there hated it. In fact, we e-mail back and forth quite often, two or three times a week. Why would someone who left this job a year ago, or 6 months ago still have that much pent-up bitterness towards this job? Why do we all hate it? Let me count the ways....

First of all, when you get there in the morning, you've probably got bus duty. It blows. I outlined just how much it blows in an earlier post. Then you arrive at school and all 33 kids have to get changed from their arrival outfit to their play outfit. 13 of the children are four years old and don't need any help. 8 of the children need pretty minimal help; more help is needed when their parents dress them in dress shirts with tiny pearl buttons that their toddler hands can’t handle. (On days when more than five children are wearing these shirts, I’m positive the parents are angry at us for some reason.) That leaves about 15 students who need help changing clothes and maybe a diaper change. Divide that number by the number of teachers, and that makes about five students per teacher. Sounds ok, except one teacher has to stand by the door and constantly greet each parent, and one teacher has to keep the new 20-month-old twins from trying to escape out the front doors and track down Mommy and Daddy. The final teacher has the rest of the 15 students to herself (it's a sexist place too, they would never consider hiring a man to take my position, a fact I didn't know till I arrived), and she tries to get the kids changed from pull-ups to daytime underwear and from dress skirts to shorts while ignoring the twins who are taking turns screaming at the top of their lungs, "Mama ga IEEEEEE!! Mama ga IEEEEE!" ("Mom is GOOOOOOOOD!" The unspoken insult here being, "and you're not.")

Ok, so once the kids are changed from their stupid arrival uniforms that serve no purpose into their play uniforms that they wear ALL DAY and they should just ARRIVE IN, it's recess time. It's time for them to go outside and burn off all their energy and build strong motor skills and climb and swing and kick soccer balls. Actually, since their play uniforms are shorts and shirts and they don't bring jackets, even in winter, either they have to be freezing cold outside, or I have to put my foot down and allow them to play inside because it is too cold for me to be outside in my long pants, warm winter coat, gloves and hat, much less for them to be outside in shorts.

Yes, they wear shorts all winter long. Being cold builds character. (No, the management isn’t Calvin’s dad.) Between the cold weather, the nearby volcanic eruption (the ash is dangerous to breathe), and the rainy season, the students have had to spend about 75% of their recess time inside over the past two months. Inside recess is 100% horrible. Try keeping 33 Japanese toddlers who spend all day watching ninja cartoons from running around and play fighting each other sometime. I am going to guess you'll give up after about 6 weeks and just let them run and fight, reasoning that they will fall down, get a little owie and be more careful next time. How do you think you'll feel after you pick up a crying two year old who ran face-first into the piano and now has to go to the hospital with a split lip? How do you feel now!?!?!?!
So, after recess, it’s the portion of the day where I most utilize my Master’s degree in Teaching English as a Second Languages. I lead calisthenics. Yep, the kids line up and I shout and model jumping jacks, touching my toes, arm circles, all those exercises that the two year olds can't do and don't really care about doing anyways, not when they can be pulling their shirts up and pretending to be sumo wrestlers.

After calisthenics, it's class time. I do my best, but it's disheartening to try to teach when I have two students still screaming "Mama ga IEEEEE!," two other kids sleeping in the front row, and when I try to plan a new activity, the management tells me I can't do it for some ridiculous reason. A few days ago we were studying body parts and I got some sidewalk chalk and swept the concrete behind the school and we were all going to trace each other on the concrete and point to the parts of the body....well, that activity got shut down because it would "make a mess and be impossible to clean up." You would have thought I was giving each kid a spray-paint can by the way the management freaked out.

So, after lesson time, it's lunch time. It's also spilling time, peeing yourself time, and making as much noise as possible time. The kids know the routine very well, they are supposed to:
-go to the bathroom
-get their chopsticks and cup
-sit down quietly and wait till I pour tea in their cup and give them lunch
-eat like human beings
-put away their lunch tray
-dump out any remaining tea and put water in their cups
-brush their teeth
-go to the bathroom again if needed
-sit on the floor pads and read books till naptime
Instead, it goes a lot like this
-ninja fighting
-chopstick swordfights
-spill tea all over the floor and each other
-spill food all over the floor and each other
-having refused to go to the bathroom earlier, take this opportunity to pee while sitting in their chair
-walk through the tea someone spilled earlier
-put away their lunch trays
-empty their cup of tea and get water for brushing their teeth
-spit water all over each other
-scrub their toothbrushes on the ground
-wrap their nap-time blankets around their necks to make capes
-run, wrestle, and scream on the naptime pads

Then, a very special version of hell begins. This lasts from about 11:45 till 12:30 (when I can finally escape for my hour lunch break.) There really is no hell quite like the hell of trying to get 33 excited kids to lay down and take a nap. You can try to have the older kids read books quietly till they get tired, (until the management forbids books during naps), you can try separating the kids so they can't play with each other, you can try laying your legs across two kids, holding two other kids down with two hands, and then taking away nap-time blankets as punishment for the kids who won't stop jumping up and down, shouting, "yatta!"...but if you're me, you'll take the coward's way out. You'll either pull a few kids out to a different room for private tutoring, or you'll grab the two worst kids, take them in a corner, physically hold them down and study Japanese flashcards while you ignore the rest of the little monsters and count the seconds until 12:30 when I can bike home.

At 1:30, (after an amazing lunch prepared faithfully every single day by my wonderful, loving and understanding husband, and then we watch the Daily Show or Colbert Report- gotta keep up to date on Egypt and Wisconsin) I regretfully drag myself from my house and bike to school....arriving a few minutes later and later each month. I go into the classroom and take note of what kind of day it is. Four days out of five, most of the kids are awake and talking, trying to be sneaky and play, throwing socks at each other, and waking up the kids who were actually (mercifully) sleeping, until they got woken up by a sock to the eye. One day out of five most of the kids will be sleeping and I can breathe easily for 20 minutes until it's wakeup time. I can even take a few minutes to work on something school related. The problem with that type of day is that the kids are sleeping so soundly that four or five of them will have peed themselves.

So, after wake-up time, it's recess again! Yatta! The kids don't want to bother with stupid rules, like this one,

"You have to go to the bathroom before you go outside."

So they try to sneak by and just go put their hats on and sit by the door. With 33 kids, it's not hard for one or two to sneak past you- but you always know who it was by the yellow puddle that surrounds them on the floor that spreads out and dampens the kids unlucky enough to be sitting next to them. Seriously, from now on the kids are getting sand in their tea cups.

After recess, the kids change from their play clothes into their POINTLESS arrival uniform. It was crazy enough in the morning, when kids are dropped off by their parents in the space of a half hour, but now all the kids are changing all at once, so it's twice as hard to deal with everything. Also, depending on my mood, either I've used up all my patience for the day, or I'm more patient than usual because I know the day is almost done...there's really no way of knowing which kind of day it will be.

Snack time goes about as well as lunch time and then it's story time. I've made one change to story time that leaves me with my sanity intact. Before, I would have the children sit in a half-circle on the ground in front of me while I read them stories...just like you remember from kindergarten. But this isn't kindergarten, this is a hard rock book reading and anyone lucky enough to get a front row seat is pushed over and climbed on by the kids behind them. Now, I make them sit in their chairs at tables. This makes it hard for the kids at the back to see the pictures, but at least no one is getting crushed.

Then, school is blessedly finished! Yay! I either have to stay and watch the kids whose parents don't show up till 6:30 (when I stop getting paid at 6:00, it makes it very hard to be civil to these parents), I have lesson prep time, or I have bus duty.

And the day is done. Finally. I only have one week left and I can't wait to be gone!

In other news, these sorts of occurrences also make life difficult:
-one of the few girls who actually ate all her lunch throws up all over herself and 12 backpacks neatly lined up for kids to grab on their way out the door
-the management leaves the doors to the school open all day, year round, even in winter. Apparently they like wearing their winter coats all day while also running the heater non-stop. Maybe energy is free in Japan?
-one of the three-year-olds will lean close to whisper something to me and at the last minute will sneeze directly in my mouth. This has happened not once, but twice.
-the kids will decide to pee on each other during nap-time. Why? Who knows?
-the management will tell you on Friday afternoon to be at school at 7:30 on Saturday morning for a fun (unpaid) day with the children.


Anonymous said...

Wow good to know all that time and money on education paid off in the form of babysitting. Isn't Japanese culture always touted as being so disciplined? That must come at the age of 7.

Vance Abby Jane said...

So I didn't realize you had a blog until you commented on mine. So how was being in Japan for such a massive earthquake? Were you near the epicenter? I hope all is well! That is so scary! Congratulations on being done with academy very soon! I'll be sure to check your blog often to see how you are doing!

Lauren said...

Wow...your super detailed account of life at Universe Academy just saved me! This WAS my first choice school to teach at. Thank you so much for writing these entries. It is hard to glean the truth through all the preschool propaganda on the different Japanese school websites. :)

Anonymous said...

wow, sounds bad....and the management seems so nice and accomodating...

Anonymous said...

It sounds to me that most of your complaints in this post are about kids being kids.... Kids this little are tough; they miss their moms, they pee themselves, they throw up, they don't listen all the time. I was a nanny to twins for years, and even though they knew me their entire lives, they would still cry for their mom sometimes. At the same time, they are not ALWAYS terrible. The fact that you portrayed innocent children in this way and called them 'little monsters' kind of discredits your review.

Anonymous said...

Well, like someone said before, it sounds like a lot of your problems come from you don't work well with little kids. I have worked at several pre-school/kindergartens and unless you get a group of little introverts, this is how it is. Also, you seem to have a lot of problems with Japanese style kindergartens. A lot of what you complained about, school uniforms in winter, arrival uniforms, exercises, are all pretty much standard in Japanese kindergartens. They build skills they will need for life and elementary school. I have also taught in the Japanese elementary schools. They wear shorts and skirts through the winter. The Japanese believe it makes a child more hardy and less prone to getting sick. The arrival uniforms are so children get practice dressing and undressing themselves. They are little kids. They are still learning these things. And exercises are to start prepping them for elementary school P.E. and to instill the importance of exercise and physical activity.

As for the management not giving you more than a days before notice, always ask if there are special events that week, etc. It makes things go smoother. I'd come into my elementary schools some mornings and find my schedule was completely changed. Welp! There went my plans. If you work in the Japanese school system, prepare to be flexible. I had some schools in the afternoons and would find I was supposed to be there 30 minutes earlier than normal and no one had bothered to tell me.

Yeah, it's stressful, but when your kids come up and hug your or do something sweet, it's all worth it.

Anonymous said...

To whoever wrote the last 3 comments... You forgot to clock out...

Anonymous said...

I applied to this job recently, and frankly from reading your post it seems like you are definitely not a kid person. Sure, kids get demanding and tiring, and it's hard, hard work, but some of your comments seem downright callous. Best of luck when you get your own kids someday... Hope I get the job and can learn to just enjoy the good things and let the bad things run off like water off a duck. Goodness...

Anonymous said...

Sara Hendricks said...

I love kids, in fact I'm eagerly expecting one right now. I did love all those little monsters. I still think about them and share funny little stories about them. But you're right, anonymous, that this was not the job for me. The main problem was that there were just too many of them. 33 kids (age almost 2 through 4) is WAY too many kids! So, like I said, nothing against the little kids, just the management and the huge class size.

Sara Hendricks said...

Also, I DO have a problem with Japanese-style daycare....that's the whole point of this entry. I was new to Japan when I started working at this daycare, so I had no idea what to expect. Other people from America who are thinking of getting jobs at Japanese style day cares will have the same confusions/problems I did. Hopefully they can see if this is the job for them from this review. Finally, just because you explain the reason why they do things, like the arrival uniforms, doesn't make it any less of a hassle, and it doesn't mean I think it's any less of a nightmare.

Don't work here. said...

I taught there. Mr Seguchi, his wretched sister & her husband are all the reasons why this school is a FAILURE. It is not because any teacher couldn't handle the kids. Take Sara ' s advice, along with every teacher who worked there. Don't work for the horrible people.

Anonymous said...

The school has changed quite a bit since Sarah taught there. The classes have been split up by age, there's an average of 15 kids per class, and each class has multiple Japanese assistants. The foreign teachers no longer ride the buses and get 2 hours a day for preparation. They are a lot more organized now (not perfect) and try to keep the teachers informed. I really like working there. The comment above was obviously made by someone who is extremely bitter.

Anonymous said...

Angry much?