Friday, January 29, 2010


I feel like I've finally arrived.

All of the details about teaching that terrified me at first are second nature to me now. Oddly enough, it wasn’t a gradual thing: it just sort of happened recently, like the flipping of a switch. Case in point: The Monday before last, I was looking ahead to tonight, thinking “Man, I am going to be so dead by then.”

It was a legitimate concern. Last week was the end of the semester, complete with final projects, final tests and a lot of grading. Last weekend was the JAM retreat, a 3-day trip up to the mountains with 18 middle schoolers and the HS INCAN team. This past week was the beginning of the new semester which meant a ton of preps and a ton of teaching (and yes, teaching is measured in tons). Basically, I was looking at two weeks of firing on all cylinders, without much rest between the two weeks.

Now, here I am safely on the other side of those two weeks, sitting in a recliner with the dog by my side and my computer in front of me, thinking “Man, that wasn’t bad at all!” I’m tired, yes, but it is the best tired that I’ve felt since I started teaching. I feel like I hit some sort of stride this week that I hadn’t hit before.

I’d always naively assumed that this moment of arrival would be heralded by trumpets and fireworks, that my students would tear the analysis pages from their lit. textbooks, and stand on their desks, saluting me: “O Captain, my captain.”

It was nothing like that. There were no trumpets or fireworks, although there were ocarinas and glow-sticks. Does that count?


and glow-sticks ( didn't believe me, did you?)

And there were no dramatic, motivational classroom moments. In fact, several of the activities I’d planned for the week fell flat, and I earned the resentment of at least a few students for instituting a stricter system of classroom rules. What was different was that I was 100% confident about every decision that I made this week, and I didn’t feel as though I was thrashing to keep my head above water (a move I’ve perfected both in school and on the dance floor). This probably doesn’t make any sense to a non-teacher, but it made a world of difference in my own outlook and attitude about the week.

I think it was this feeling of ease, of arrival, that lead me to think about a subject that hadn’t crossed my mind in some time: girls. And my conclusion? I miss girls.

I spent so much of my high school and college career whining about not having a girlfriend that I ultimately took girls my own age for granted. I just sort of assumed that they would always be there, and that things would work out for me sooner rather than later (because you know how girls go for scrawny, pale, red-haired, whiny guys…).

Now, at a time and place in my life where there are literally no girls my own age, I feel like I’ve finally moved past that whiny stage. That's called irony, for those who don't know.
Although I’m not quite there yet, I feel as though I’m closer than ever to having the perspective, wisdom and maturity to be involved in a serious relationship. Will that relationship happen soon? Probably not. I am going to have to wait a while for the right girl to come along. Perhaps that’s what maturity is—shedding that sense of urgency and immediacy—moving from “I need a girlfriend NOW” to “I need a girlfriend when God wants me to have one.”

Anyway, that’s where I am right now. This revelation has been especially shocking to me, the king of the impatient, emotionally immature whiners. Maybe I’m growing up. It’s a scary thought, but exciting too. So, I’ll wait. I’ll enjoy my new-found confidence in a job that seems more manageable than ever before, and I’ll enjoy my days of single-hood, because those days are numbered (even if I’m not sure what the number is).

This is my second time writing this blog-post by the way. The first time I got to this point, I pressed delete to fix a spelling error and Firefox backed me off the page that I was writing on. Just a temporary setback—this 2.0 version of the note is better anyway. Now, off to bed!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Gomen nasai (Japanese for "I'm sorry I'm such a lazy blogger"....I might've added that last bit, actually).

Welp, that's it: 404 days since my last post. I am officially the worst blogger ever. Except for that one guy who killed all those people.

Most citizens of the blog-spot community would have given up by now, admitted defeat, and committed themselves to lives in which stories are never shared and nobody smiles and everyone wears those clinical white jumpsuits that you see in movies. Oh, but not me... I keep running back to poke the sleeping bear that is the blog-o-verse (is it still cool to make up new words based on the word "blog"? Was it ever cool? Oh how long I've been out of touch!)

I guess I should start from where I left off with my last post. On Dec. 4, 2008, I embarrassed myself yet again in what should have been an impressive and awesome display of Simpsons... well, awesomeness, really, for lack of a better word. ( Little did I know that my entire life would change the very next day.

On Dec. 5, I returned to Unity Christian High school, where I had done my first session of student teaching, to say goodbye to my former students and coworkers. The 7 weeks that I'd spent at Unity were a tremendous blessing, especially when compared to the waking nightmare that was to follow in my 2nd placement at LeMars. At Unity, I learned how to prepare lessons. Not only did I learn how to lecture, I delivered some stirring orations on a level of quality comparable to Cicero...'s dog (who I hear was a pretty decent speaker, actually).

Most of all, I loved the students. This isn't to say that there were no behavior issues or tense moments. Every class brought its own unique challenges, but I honestly don't think that I could've had a better introduction into the teaching career than the one I had at Unity.

I digress... I'm supposed to be talking about the day my life changed. So, on Dec. 5, I said my goodbyes, including far too many cliché "have a good life"s and "oh, the places you'll go"s (I couldn't resist...). As I said my final farewell to one of my favorite juniors (encouraging him to consider teaching as a profession; again with the clichés), an older man who I didn't recognize shook my hand to wish me luck. I surmised that he was a long-term sub, filling in for the math teacher who'd been about 9 months and one week pregnant as I was finishing my Unity placement.
"Any particular job waiting for you this spring?" He asked.
I shook my head. "Maybe I'll do some subbing and work part-time at the grocery store."
He leaned in a little and said, "Y'know, a good thing for a young teacher to do, is to look for jobs overseas."
"Yeah, maybe," I replied (and what I really meant was "No, never", but I was sacrificing honesty for politeness here).
He must have seen through my mechanical and artificial reply, because he raised his eyebrows and offered a testimonial: "I started out my career at a small international school in Japan."
Funny, I thought to myself. I KNOW people who teach at a small international school in Japan. The Vander Haaks were close family friends, and had been in Tokyo for over four years.
"It's not the Christian Academy in Japan by any chance, is it?" I asked.
"So you've heard of it!"
I mentioned Brian Vander Haak's name, which he recognized.
"He's the headmaster, right?"
That was news to me. Last I'd heard, Brian was the high school principal, but I figured that this fellow with ties to the school would know better than I.
"Well, think about it. Even if you are only volunteering, an overseas teaching experience is something that you will take with you for the rest of your life."

And I did think about it, for about 10 minutes or so, at which point I got hungry and started thinking about Pizza Ranch instead.

Six days later, I'd submitted my final education portfolio, graduated (no ceremony this time) and was busy packing my car for the 1800 mile trip home. Sitting in the driver's seat, I turned on the defrost. My phone vibrated. It was my mom.
"Did you check your email?" She asked, unable to conceal her excitement.
"No, I've been packing."
"Brian Vander Haak sent me an email, and I forwarded it to you... there's a temporary volunteer opening in the resource room at CAJ."
I think that some part of me knew in that moment that I would take the job, that there could be no other option, really. Nonetheless, I spent the next few days on the road trying to find reasons NOT to take the job, stressing about the decision and praying about it.

Fast-forward 13 months. I've been at CAJ for one year now. I am now a full-time Bible, English and History teacher. The details of how exactly that happened merit a story of their own, sufficed to say I've seen God's hand work in ways that I never expected. At the end of my student teaching experience, I would've settled down in rural Iowa for the rest of my life if I'd been offered a job. Now I'm living in Tokyo. To call that a 180˚ turn would be like calling peaches "kind of fruity", water "kind of wet", Marilyn Manson "kind of scary", or cyanide "kind of deadly."

Since I arrived in Japan, I have had the opportunity to:
-Be the only guy with a red beard in Higashi-Kurume.
-Carry an open cup of my own pee through a crowded waiting room at a local clinic. Twice, actually (and no, it doesn't get any less weird the second time).
-Learn exactly what it is that a "resource person" does.
-Become an unofficial youth pastor for the JAM middle school youth group (mostly involves chilling with, advising and helping the high school INCAN team that actually leads the youth group)
-Eat fresh sushi... and love it!
-Eat fresh natto... and not hate it! (well, not really fresh; it is a fermented bean dish, after all, and people do die from choking on it each year.)
-Travel to Hong Kong
-Take a picture of Hong Kong's cityscape from Victoria's Peak.
-Eat curry that had a health advisory warning.
-Drink $15 worth of iced tea after eating said curry (evidently refills aren't free in Hong Kong)
-Read Christian apologetics at a Starbucks in a Buddhist mountain village in Hong Kong.
-Stay with two high school guys for an entire week while their mom was in Canada (and then one of the guys got pink eye. And then they both got high fevers.)
-Develop close friendships with all the INCANers
-Say goodbye to several of those friends when they graduated in June
-Grade countless OScARs!
-Learn kana (basic syllabary component of the Japanese writing system)
-Forget kana over the summer
-Coach middle school cross-country
-Debrief the cross-country season at the sento (get it? debrief? ...I'm so sorry...)
-Chaperon several class lock-ins (one I did with a high fever! Yay for bad judgment!)
-Jump over beach-fires at Tak (one of the most beautiful places on earth!)
-Portray a corrupt CIA boss in a student film
-Portray a mad scientist in another student film
-Portray a sleazy, conceited version of myself in yet another student film
-Watch Home Alone without sound w/ the INCAN team
-Shave off half my beard as part of an illustration for a JAM talk
-So much more... Ultimately, I've had the opportunity to discover how petty and insignificant my plans are compared to God's. It's not always been easy. Some evenings, I find myself stressed to tears and unbelievably homesick as I try to fall asleep. I get frustrated with my own inability to manage what can at times seem a daunting workload. I get defensive and cross when people criticize my work. And yet... there's nowhere else I'd rather be. For the first time since high school, I am genuinely happy.
I work in one of the most supportive and encouraging school environments. I have coworkers who I respect and look up to, I have great students who sincerely want to learn, I have the opportunity to be mentored, and I have to opportunity to mentor. And I get paid to do it all. What more could I ask for ;)
Whew. I think I'll call it a night. Just had to get this all out of my system. I'm a teacher, but I'm also a writer. Not writing is like... putting marshmalllows up your nose when you're about to sneeze. Okay that analogy was lame. I'm going to bed.