I am in a transition.
I am in transition from being a substitute teacher/trainer to a normal full-time permanent teacher.
I am in a transition from being in constant flux of train schedules, new faces, first impressions, trains to catch, keys, maps, new streets, names names names, new coworkers, new classes, new students, new schools, new apartments, new new new, and then the train to catch, the goodbyes, the kanpais, the good lucks. At first, I would cry every time I left a school. At first the goodbyes hit hard, at first the rip was palpable, and then it became routine.
The train schedule, the map, the new faces, the first impressions, the friendships followed by the see you laters. again and again. I would try to change one thing permanently for the better. I would try to make my short stay mean something. I would organize something. I would find CDs to replace cassettes. As the faces and station names blurred together I wanted to make a mark. As I struggled to remember names, I tried even harder to be memorable.
My life in the last year or so has been in constant flux. I've been to 41 schools. I've trained dozens of teachers. I've taught hundreds of students. I've lived temporarily in 4 different cities for a total of 24 weeks where I could only come back just for the weekend. Over and over I would come back from the countryside to the lights off central Tokyo and every time, just a little, the skyline would take my breath away. Every time I would step off the train at some small rural station, astonished by the silence after the train past and then, looking for my temporary lodging, I would be surprised that I could see stars. Over and over I would return to Tokyo, climb the narrow stairs to my 9x9 room after being away for weeks and not know if I was really home. I would leave my bags partly packed.
Train schedules, new faces, first impressions. a blur of faces, station names, maps. I blur of beautiful places, wonderful people, fascinating surprises. I blur of problems to solve, people to encourage, things to fix. At some point it slipped into a blur. train schedules, points on the map, names names names.
Like floating down a river, hello, hello, goodbye, good luck. The students, schools, teachers stay on the bank and I'm pulled onwards.
And then by chance I came back to one of my old schools. By luck, I had some of my old students, now a year and a half older. There they were fully formed, with history and presence and clear in my mind. The toddlers who were too shy to speak are now 3 and 4 year olds full of personality and things they want to say. The awkward 5 year-old is now a social seven year old. And from the hundreds and hundreds of students that temporarily flowed through my life, my heart leapt at these mostly recognizable little faces. and I didn't want to leave. I felt my heart would break if I had to say goodbye again.
And so I've decided to stay. I learned a long time ago that if I feel like I 'have nothing more to give' it means I've already given far far too much. It's a type of exhaustion that is beyond my power of description.
So now, like the vast majority of English teachers here (with the exception of the poor NOVA workers who have no more jobs...), I go to the same school every day, return to the same apartment every night, see the same students every week. It's a significant demotion that I requested and got. It's simpler this way. It's been both a good and a necessary decision but am still a little sad.
The pull of the tide, the uncertainty of tomorrow, the constant discoveries are addicting and will be missed. But my head is quieter now. My stomach hurts less. I sleep a little more. I can concentrate better. My smile is more genuine. Especially for the toddlers.