A history of Let’s Eigo pt. 2

As an independent teacher i was free to set my own schedule and move around to teach in many different places. i taught at community centers, public cafeterias, kindergartens and at large companies. i felt happy because i was able to teach in the most effective way in each situation and i was not limited by a boss or any rules. i was able to do whatever worked and in this way i gained a lot of experience. i was very happy and proud that my number of students slowly began to increase.

My next goal was to establish a home base, a headquarters, a place where i could call my own and provide the chance for my students to study in a more private atmosphere. i felt that it would help make my teaching seem more professional. i had always assumed that people taught at coffee shops and public places simply because there was no other choice and that not having their own private classroom was because they were not doing well enough to afford one. i never thought that it was a good thing to teach in public places but rather a last resort.

i had the idea (and finally the money) to rent out a small single room apartment to be used for teaching.

Some of my students may remember this. It was very small maybe a single 8 tatami sized room and meant to be a living space for a single person, but i furnished it with a table and a shelf. It must have been strange for students because it felt like you were going to an apartment to visit someone, but actually it was a mini classroom.

So at this time i had two apartments, one was for me to live, and one was for teaching. The “classroom” was simple, quiet and clean. It was difficult because all the money i was making now had to be used to pay rent for this new space, including of course, water and electricity. i was working really hard but still just barely able to survive. i knew that when my students increased in the future things would finally be ok.

There was no space because the room was so small, i had to be very careful with my timing of classes because i didn’t want students waiting outside for a lesson to finish before they could have their lesson. i asked students not to knock on the door and to always open and close it quietly. I realized that my neighbours would hear people coming and going all day long, so i was careful not to disturb anyone.

After some time i learned that the person living beside the classroom was related to the landlord and began complaining about me even though i was very quiet and respectful. The next door lady was just very nosy and bossy, i think she didn’t like the idea that i was using the room for teaching and not for living even tough there were no real problems. She was the kind of person who would watch everything around the building from her window, noticing every car, every person, so it became a little stressful for me. i always wondered how my students felt and was always thankful that they put up with the situation and continued to study with me.

Now that i had a place to teach, i didn’t have to move around the city so much, i could have a tighter schedule and teach more students. My situation was tough but slowly improving.

What do you Canadians think of the character of Japanese people?

A student asked me recently about what Canadians may think of Japanese character. She meant “character” as in personality, not as in a TV or anime character. She also asked what the character of a Canadian is like.

First i must say that this question asks me to generalize two very large and diverse groups of people. i don’t like doing this because it suggests that whatever i say may be thought of as being true in all cases. Of course, this is not possible.

What do i think about the character of Japanese people?

i have close associations with many people from a good mix of society, i have lawyer friends, an accountant, doctors, teachers of various traditional arts and culture as well as many sempai and kohai, a monk, parents of many of my students, etc. What i can say is that the use of “honne and tatemae” makes most people feel that everyone is friendly and polite, unfortunately it is difficult for me to know how people really think, in a sense people hide their true character, and only display one part of themselves publicly. So generally i would have to say that everyone is friendly and polite although i still often feel confused.

Even more confusing however was the great earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster that happened 2 years ago. When things are in chaos i imagined that i could learn more about people’s true character. From this experience, i might say that Japanese people are very well organized and tend to follow directions well. People are very community oriented and make many decisions thinking very much about what effect their choices will have on their communities. On the surface people could be said to be friendly and polite, considerate, and supportive, however is this “honne” or “tatemae”?

I know of some people who feel that they wanted to make certain choices but could not because of the pressure of their communities. i’ve seen situations where others were blamed for making certain decisions about safety which may give their family a bad image.

Finally i can say that even in such an extreme situation, there were so many different choices and people, it would be reasonable to say that people’s characters were diverse and that would likely be true in any country.

What are Canadians like?

This is an easy question for me. i would say that since Canada is a salad bowl of so many countries, Canadian character would be as diverse as all the different people from different cultures that live there. People bring their own cultures to Canada and share it and also learn about other cultures not their own. In the end we have people who are very diverse, but simply due to the expanded knowledge and experience through shared culture, Canadians are more interested, and tolerant of diversity then most other countries i would say. However at the same time, being in an environment of such diversity also creates opportunity for the opposite. Racial, religious or political intolerance is much more obvious in Canada than say in Japan.

In the end

In the end, people are people and have very different characters, they express their characters through their cultures. Looking at modern Japanese culture, i think that a good image seems to be very important, and everyone’s character is expressed through this idea. By contrast Canadians aren’t image conscious in quite the same way when they express themselves, so we have more upfront confrontations, and direct expressions which can be stressful sometimes.

A history of Let’s Eigo

Starting and running an English school is very difficult. As some of you know, i have been teaching in Fukushima since 2006. i started out working for a very badly run English school, typically poorly paid and very restricted. A small school which had comfortable financial backing, poor leadership and no incentive to really improve, it eventually collapsed but not before teaching me a lot about how not to do things.

rios

i had realized from the beginning that i could never work for a chain school, i understood it as a style of teaching that puts on the appearance of teaching and putting the student first, but is in reality all about making money. After my first few years in Japan, NOVA collapsed and became a shining case and point. Unsurprisingly, shortly after that, new companies moved in and replaced NOVA, operating basically the same but under new names and catching up ex NOVA students who  for the most part had been groomed and accustomed to the NOVA way of things.

i realized early on then, that whatever i did, it had to focus on individual students. i accepted that i wouldn’t make a lot of money, but as long as i could survive, there would always be a chance to grow. i took advantage of the fact that working for a poorly managed private school i could develop my own teaching methods and material. i worked hard in the day for my then employer, and then doubled my efforts off hours for my own future. In those days i remember it was pretty difficult to make ends meet, i skipped many meals and lost weight but i never lost sight of the future which at that time was going to be English House.

After teaching in public spaces for a few years i finally was able to afford English house, a place dedicated to helping students keep up and improve their skills. English house had always been a very modest place but one with a really good atmosphere. i realized that though i made mistakes along the way, i was learning fast, my teaching and coaching was improving and my student base was steadily growing and my ability to speak and understand Japanese was reaching functionality. English house while now on the map, remained relatively quiet, hidden and known only through word of mouth but a home base was finally established.