The employment system in Japan is weird. Every so often for no particular reason, people get switched from working at one branch of a company to another. For teachers and people in government this happens in April.
Here's how it works, as far as I can deduce, since noone's ever bothered to explain it. Not because they are actively trying not to explain. Japan just isn't as exposed to the rest of the world, and they have this way of assuming that things that are run-of-the-mill over here are also the norm in other countries.
My colleagues and I are employed directly by our town, so we can't get transfered. But every March when we say our goodbyes to the teachers at graduation, we leave in fear that when we come back all our favourite teachers (ie the ones who speak to us instead of running away) will be gone.
The teachers know about their transfers before graduation, although I'm not sure by how much. At that point it's a "secret". ie, it's not public knowledge. But everyone in the school knows. Except the ALT (me). This year was a strange case however. The earthquake/tsunami combo happened on the last day of school. The transfers had already been sorted. They were supposed ot be announced on March 18th, but they weren't announced until March 28th. We theorise there needed to be some reorganisation for the schools and teachers that didn't make it through.
I went to the Entrance Ceremony at my Junior High School last week. I put my bag in the staff room and headed up to the gym/auditorium. As I walked I glanced through the teacher list, trying to guess at the readings of the new teachers' kanji. Then I realised I hadn't seen one of my English teacher's name. Wait a minute, where's the other one? And where's that crazy teacher's name? The one who was alone with me in the staff room when two phone lines rang simultaneously and he screamed in English, "Claire, HELP ME!!!" They'd transfered 8 of my 18 teaching staff, and had managed to take all the ones who were even remotely close to being friends.
Except the one that lives near me. And it seems to me -once again just from living here for 3 years, because noone told me- that they can't/don't transfer teachers who are just back from maternity leave.
I felt like crying. Who would i talk to in the staff room and at enkais (drinking parties- this culture is weird: it's pretty much mandatory to go out and get drunk with your bosses here)?
When I got to my big elementary school, I discovered that the God Principal was gone. He found an excuse to dress up as God, complete with halo and angel wings at least twice a year. I'm not sure if he retired or if he was transfered. And he loved Mount Gay Rum- the oldest rum in the world and a product of Barbados.
Then yesterday at tiny elementary,it was the super-cool vice principal who has the same favourite colours as mine: pink and purple.
But somehow, it's not been so bad. My new English teacher is amazing. She gives me more freedom than my last English teachers. And even though I miss them, I realise that it's easy to get comfortable. And then you never do anything different. And you don't push yourself. Or those around you. You just cruise.
Maybe I do understand why they have the transfers after all. All the teachers that have been switched around, and all those who've been here and will welcome them, won't be able to settle into a rut. Both the English teacher and I will have a chance to grow. That kind of makes me happy.
Plus she let me play Hangman for half the class.