shougayaki

WHAT IS THE KOKOPELLI PROBLEM?

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Who is Kokopelli? Kokopelli is a dick.

‘Kokopelli’ is not even Kokopelli’s real name. Kokopelli is a weird dude sitting in a cave, for some reason, with a ton of computer equipment, for some reason, near the shore.

A group of kids comes into Kokopelli’s workshop, and things go terribly terrible from there. Kokopelli is not a pervert in an ice cream truck, but he might as well be. He lets the kids believe he’s a computer programmer, and asks them if they want to play a game.

Throughout the rest of the manga and anime series, “Bokurano,” the children, one by one, give their lives to play Kokopelli’s game. There’s giant robots and multiple universes and talking rat dolls and children already dealing with some heavy shit martyring themselves every two or three episodes.

It’s a good show, you should watch it.

Anyway, Kokopelli was a dick, and he knew it. He let the kids walk into a terrible situation without a word of warning, and the last thing we see him say (he gets cut off) is “I’m so—.”

As in, “I’m sorry.”

My life as an ALT is not so dramatic. But it is shitty enough that I finally ran out of patience for the fact that I have had to work with at least two English teachers over these past five years who can’t actually speak English. Like, they would like to speak English, and maybe even tell themselves that their English is impeccable, but the lack of communication and direction I’ve suffered here has made me crazy enough to start a blog.

Why a blog? Because I see a lot of unnecessary bullshit in this ALT gig and I see most people saying or doing dick-all about it. Your online ALT in Japan experience comes in only two flavors: Vanilla Ass-Kiss, which has its place, and Raspberry Raspberries (you know, the sound you make with your mouth). Either people are talking about how wonderful and amazing Japan is (and again, that has its place), or flying off the rails online channeling their frustration with the ALT life and taking it out on anything and everyone.

Nobody, at least not in my searches, tries to talk about the bullshit that exists in Japan (and let’s be honest, every country has its own bullshit), without lowering themselves to venom and hatred towards Japan.

I started my blog because I wanted to provide that missing third option: Dark Chocolate. Not really sweet, not really bitter, but still an ice cream metaphor. To bring a little bit of hope to the darkness that ALTs suffered from in silence, alone, with not a lick of solace to be found.

There is a large, gaping hole where support for ALTs should be. Recently the JET Program shut down both its telephone counseling service and the online Official JET Forums, for reasons. There has never been any true, professional interest in training ALTs, and that’s a huge problem too. (Being trained by other ALTs doesn’t count, because those ALTs weren’t trained either. We need more.)

These are the posts I’ve worked on so far:

What Is An ALT, Anyway? — General rant about the lack of training given to ALTs and ominous mumbling about what this job is actually all about.

Am I The Only One? — A sincere, maybe naive, attempt to give ALTs a checklist to prevent stress or general unhappiness and increase well-being.

What Is English? — A conversation on the sad state of English in Japan and some ideas on how it got this way. Also, the wild claim that English in Japan is really Japanese.

Why Do My Students Not Recognize Me As Their Leader? — An attempt to find what helps build rapport with students so that they willingly want to interact with you as opposed to trying to cow them into compliance.

(Every Situation is Bullshit — Working title for a bloated essay that tries to address why ALTs/gaikokujin act like dicks to each other sometimes, but is proving extremely hard to research for now that I’m going to classes again.)

With each of my posts, I have tried to either look deeply into one of the problems of the ALT life or provide information to make it better. I’ve done a lot of research for some of those posts, and though I don’t have as much to do that now that classes have started up, I still want this blog to be something valuable to ALTs who are either as frustrated as I am with the lack of support and training and common sense that surrounds we in less-than-lucky placements.

But I am very conflicted when it comes to my successor.

My tenure at this school is almost over. Five years of ups and downs. I have to move on now, and I have to start getting ready for the transition to the new ALT, which includes telling them about the current state of the school.

I think the cockamamie Kokopelli problem I have regarding how much to tell my successor comes down to this: The dude or dudette who comes in after me, I have no idea what their ALT life will shape up to be.

I think every ALT has this problem when they’re meeting a fresh, new ALT. You don’t want to terrify them with the horror stories you survived, because maybe they’ll spend their entire time in Japan paranoid, on the lookout for something that won’t actually happen to them. You want them to be able to enjoy that honeymoon with Japan they’ll have for the first six months or so before the snags and tears in the system rub them the wrong way one time too many and they start to realize things aren’t as good as the brochure said they’d be.

Maybe this town and this school will be warmer and more welcoming to my replacement than they currently are to me. Maybe he or she will be too blinded by the brightness of living in a foreign country to realize the English teacher who plagues my life can’t speak in sentences of more than three words and uses exclusively one-way communication patterns to avoid exposing his lack of ability. Or that the same teacher brings me to class to do variations of glorified oral recitation for five or ten minutes without involving me in anything else, wasting on average 40 minutes of my time for each class he brings me to, which are many. Maybe they won’t realize how English class is the quietest class in the school, nobody talking, nobody interacting, but with everyone on set, in costume, in character, so the illusion is complete and allowed to go on.

(**BROAD GENERALIZATION INCOMING** Don’t come here if you actually give a damn about education. You will never know if you’re going to have to work with a JTE who doesn’t.)

I have no idea if my successor’s bad experiences will be the same as mine. They will have completely different bads from the bads that I’ve had. They will appreciate and experience Japan in ways that I haven’t. I don’t want to set them up either way—to love or to hate Japan—but I think I have a duty to set them up to be as prepared for this job as possible.

Kokopelli was a major dick for not telling those kids what was about to happen to them, but at the very least he explained the rules of the ‘game’ to them.

I don’t want to ruin Japan for them. I don’t want to ruin Japan for anybody. I realize now, too late, that my goal with this blog was to help support and inform ALTs. Unfortunately, they are probably not interested enough to read through some random person’s 2,000-word vanity project. I also realize that this blog probably makes it sound like I hate Japan because I will overwhelmingly focus on problems for ALTs in Japan and their potential solutions, which on the false dichotomy of Love or Hate? looks like Hate.

I talk about this stuff because I think Japan can do better. I think the problems that plague ALT programs and English education in Japan are major impediments to Japanese progress internationally and a potential backstep in foreign relations for those ALTs who go back home with bad feelings about their time in Japan. I think about ALTs and I think about the Japanese people I meet in my everyday life, with that sad look in their eyes, wishing they could speak to me in English as I speak to them in Japanese, but are unable to after receiving 5-10 years of ineffective education in school.

And I see no reason these problems should exist.

I’m not going to poison the well for my successor. That seems more professional. I’m going to do my best to remain as dispassionate as possible when I write to them about this job, this place, this life. They deserve the chance to make up their own mind and see things with their own eyes, but they also deserve objective information to keep them from walking in totally confused and unawares.

But you, reading this, get the unfiltered version of my take on things. For five years, I’ve seen ALTs come to Japan in good faith, struggle with the lack of support at their job, and go back home upset and disappointed. And far too many of them have felt like they were alone.

I just want to prevent anyone else from having to go through all this bullshit in the dark by themselves, like I did.

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