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2010 March 4

The school year is wrapping up here. Graduation for all of Hamada’s 26 elementary schools is set for March 19th, and I’ve already had final lessons with several classes. Today was my last visit for the (school) year to one of my smaller schools, and it was bittersweet; the students were distracted by a troup of visitors from their junior high school, but the principal gave me a thank-you present – a collage of photos of me at the school over the past six months. I’m very glad I decided to stay another year. Things move way too fast when you visit a school only twice a month!

The other first-year ALTs in my city have all decided to stay as well, but I realized, in my discussions with them over why and how long we were thinking of staying, that I have a distinct disadvantage as the elementary-only ALT. Junior high schools and high schools have three grades each – within each school they’re called 1-2-3, but they’re equivalent to our 7-8-9 and 10-11-12. ALTs at these schools can therefore stay three years and see a particular group of students all the way through. Convenient, since renewing up to three years is fairly easy; after three years, you supposedly have to have stellar performance evaluations or change jobs to stay another two, although I hear that varies from place to place.

I, on the other hand, teach 11 schools with 6 grades each – first through sixth. Granted, I don’t teach all grades at most of those schools – but at most schools, I take turns eating lunch with all the different grades, and smaller schools sometimes invite me to school-wide activities. I’ve definitely bonded with the fourth graders at a couple of smaller schools, and saying goodbye to the sixth-graders is alleviated by welcoming my new class of already-friendly fifth graders. Anyway, I guess the point is, it’ll be difficult to know when to quit based on my students. There are other things that will make it much easier – Japan is not an easy place to live, especially as a young woman, especially when you live in the middle of nowhere. But that’s the balance. Life is tough, and the kids are what make my job great. 🙂

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