Just recently one of my Japanese students, who I had been teaching English on a regularly basis for over a year, quit her lessons with me without explaining anything to me.
I was sad about it because I had really enjoyed our lessons and liked her very much.
About three months ago I had told her about the new part time job in a kitchen I started working at and asked her if there was a chance we could rearrange our lesson time. She seemed very supportive and flexible with the schedule.
Looking back at everything now though this little episode could have been the trigger for her, which snowballed into the "messy" end of our English lessons.
So, a month into my new part time job, it looked like my student and I both got quite busy in our jobs and struggled making time for our regular lessons. After one or two cancellations, my boss/ friend, whose language school I work for and who had arranged these lessons for me, asked me to leave the matter to her; she wanted to be the mediator because she assumed something “Japanese” was going on.
And she was RIGHT.
Finally, after lots of back and forths between my boss/friend and the student, she found out that the student had lost her motivation to study English. In addition to that it looks like she also complained a little about me. Apparently, she thought that I was a good teacher but that I had forgotten to make a copy for her once and another time she had the impression I hadn’t prepared for our lesson well enough.
I do remember those two occasions and I’m surely not someone who doesn’t take responsibility for my mistakes but … HONESTLY!! Out of 24 lessons, in which I believe that I was nothing but flexible with my schedule (I kept all my Sunday mornings open for her even though she just chose two a month), put a lot of thought in the choice of material, and thought of ways to keep her motivation up, she clung to those two things and used them against me.
But what was worse, I thought, was that she had also mentioned to my boss that she was not so happy about our teacher-student distance - it seems it was too close for her and she might have expected more professionalism.
My chin dropped when I heard all this. I was mainly in a state of shock and couldn’t believe my ears. But the whole thing bothered me on so many different levels that I couldn’t process all the mixed feelings at once.
So, I tried to go through every single feeling/level one by one:
feelings, one by one
I was dumbstruck. How was all this possible? How could this be reality?
I felt unappreciated. I had always done my best and yet the student’s focus was on the few occasions she felt dissatisfied. My efforts didn’t weigh in AT ALL.
I was shocked. Why did she not tell me AT ANY POINT how she had felt? A hint, a look, a short comment would have been enough. I’m a sensitive person; I would have understood if something had been bothering her.
I felt disgusted; someone I really liked and respected had expressed her dissatisfaction with me to a third person and had pretended for months and months that everything was okay.
Though I’m not a friend of generalizing things and believe that stories like this happen all around the world, this is not the first time I have experienced something like this in Japan. A lot of times, when Japanese people are not happy with a service they don’t express it immediately or don’t address the issue directly. Instead you’ll often hear about the issue (IF at all) from a third party. But that usually leaves you with having to accept what others have decided to do over your head with no space left to defend yourself or straightening things out.
But most of all, I started to feel anger taking over my body. (Fortunately, I didn’t turn green and sized up.) I recapitulated in my mind:
So, the student felt uncomfortable about being too close? If that’s so, then why did she accept my Christmas dinner invitation and pretended to have had lots of fun? Why did she pretend to be excited about joining my birthday picnic? Why did she say she’d love for me to meet her parents when they come visit her in town one day? And why on earth did her mom send me handmade gifts from her hometown, two pouches to be exact, that I constantly carry in my bag with me?
If she wanted a more professional distance, I can't argue with her. That's her right. But things go both ways. In her view I might have violated the teacher-student distance but then I’d like to point out that she didn’t miss any chance to encourage me in that. On ... the fucking … contrary!!
I went home that night hurt and outraged and exhausted from overthinking. The next day, when I was walking on the streets of Osaka, I caught myself checking out the faces of the people who walked by and wondered how many of them were two-faced.
In that moment I noticed that I felt robbed of my one and only skill I had always been assure of, namely being able to trust my senses about how someone feels.
That’s the one thing I always thought of being good at and suddenly I felt disarmed like a superhero, who has lost her/his main power.
two magic words
I met a friend the next day and felt thankful for having had the chance to vent about this story. She is a great listener and I felt completely understood.
In the end she shared two magic words with me that help her overcome problems she has no control over. She leaned forward and whispered them to me with a sparkle in her eyes:
“Go ahead!” she said, “Say it! You’ll feel free!”
I gave her a doubtful, surprised smile. Never did I think she would use a word like that.
“Fuck it!” I whispered. And then one more time, with a stronger voice! “Fuck it!”
The two words truly felt good.
Of course it was important that my friend listened to me and that I felt understood because if - for example - my husband had responded with not to care about the student episode, I'm pretty sure I would have jumped on his throat (my poor husband).
But this way the two words truly helped to understand that some things don’t deserve too much attention. That overthinking and looking at something from different angles doesn’t make any difference. That you can’t look into the mind of other people and shouldn’t waste your time trying. That you can’t know what’s going on for others and that others function differently than you do. That you can’t and shouldn’t try to please anyone. That some solutions are simply about turning around and not looking back.
That’s when it helps to say “Fuck it!” Mind you, not “Fuck her or you …” because – like I said – I don’t and can’t know what’s going on for her.
Go ahead. Try the magic words!