As an introvert, I hate the layout of the teacher’s room. No matter where you go in Japan (and many parts of Asia) though, you will find that open work spaces are the standard. As an introvert, I have so many problems with the spaces I work in but thankfully I am leaving soon, so now I can air my grievances. Here are the top reasons my work space makes me go crazy:
1. Loud noises
My mom will be the first to tell you I hate loud noises. When I was little, I hated the Fourth of July, which is basically a sin if you live in the South, because everyone thinks going outside in 105° F wearing the American flag is the best thing ever. I don’t like being hot and I usually feel physically ill and lose my appetite in the summer, but the thing I hated the most as a kid were the fireworks. I loved watching them, but that BOOM BOOM POP made me cower in fear and cover my ears as I cried and asked when we could go home. My mom also took me to the circus as a baby and I remember being terrified of the motorcycle engine noise.
In our open teacher’s room, loud noises are a fact of life. The students enter the school near the door to the teacher’s room, and they run up and down the hallway yelling and screaming between classes. Things drop or break or teachers run around the room stomping, huffing and puffing, yelling at one another, the phone rings constantly and the printer never stops printing. Doors open and slam shut behind me, and a few times teachers have come up behind me to scream in my ear, scaring me to death. If you’ve read my posts about being Highly Sensitive, you know things like loud noises are especially overwhelming for me. I have good hearing despite all the rock concerts I’ve been to, so I also hear every tiny rustle of paper and whisper even when I’m all the way on the other side of the room.
2. No Privacy
I bike about 20-30 minutes to school, mostly uphill, so no matter what season it is, I am tired and still sleepy by the time I get to school. When I go inside the teacher’s room in the mornings, sometimes there are meetings going on or teachers are calling students to tell them to come to school, and often it is the only time my teachers can talk to me about class. I would love to be able to quietly sneak in, sit down at my desk, recuperate and have breakfast while I check my email.
I love talking to people most of the time, but I hate getting up early in the morning and am usually still part zombie when I arrive, so I can’t muster up many cheerful greetings before I feel like I am going to collapse. This morning when I got to my desk, everyone was in the teachers room racing around getting ready for class, piles of paper were covering my work space, and the teacher I taught first period with was out of breath trying to get ready for our lesson. I had no time to recover from my bike ride and I had to scarf down my breakfast so overall it was a harsh morning for me. When I get my dream job, I’d like a nice private office where I can have a whole hour to myself in the morning. Until then, my coworkers are going to be at risk of a zombie attack.
This may not be a problem for most people who come to teach in Japan, but I don’t eat school lunch, so it’s a problem for me. I bring my own lunch to school, and I get very uncomfortable when the Japanese teachers come up behind me when I’m eating to ask me what I brought or to comment on my food. Usually they tell me that chips are snacks, not real food, and then they laugh as the walk down to eat their school lunch with the rest of the teachers. I sit alone at my desk because I like my alone time, but I couldn’t sit with the other teachers even if I wanted to. There is limited space and everyone there is eating the exact same lunch. In Japan, you conform or you get out of the way.
Sometimes if I see the teachers at the end of the room laughing and having fun eating together I start to feel lonely and out of the group, but then I remember that I chose to stay at my desk so I can’t really complain. I would rather have peace and quiet anyway. I have tried to eat with the other teachers and sometimes the students in elementary school, but I kept getting comments on what I was eating and everyone treated me as though I couldn’t speak Japanese, so I stopped. I know tons of other ALTs who love lunch time but I am not one of those people.
4. Personal belongings
The regular teachers decorate their desks and set up shelves for their books and documents. They display pictures of their pets and kids on their computers and they put their names on their desks. Some people even have key holders and their own personal tape dispensers. This year, I’ve decorated my desk at junior high school as much as possible. I have a tissue box and a NEWS calendar my friend made me. Sometimes I will leave my pencil case and some study materials, but most of the time the only thing I leave is a memo pad and my weekly schedule. I rotate schools, so I can’t leave much more at my desk.
This has created some issues for me, however. I went almost 2 years sitting in the same terrible chair that was uncomfortable, had wheels that were peeling off and leaving residue everywhere, and was loud and squeaky. When I arrived on my first day of the school year in April, I was pleasantly surprised that I had been upgraded to a nice cushy, quiet chair. It’s perfect. And I had it stolen from me. I came back from my elementary school rotation to find it had been swapped by the guy beside me. He was a brand new teacher, and in Japan, seniority is everything, so I didn’t think it was fair really. Another teacher told me to switch it back, so I did. But I’ve shown up to school with my computer mouse missing, my computer charger missing, papers strewn across my desk, tests stacked on my desk, etc. It is a daily reminder that I am not a permanent member of this team and that mostly no one remembers I even sit here. I don’t think anyone realizes that I take things like that personally, but I do and I wish every day that I could have my own permanent work space.
Have you ever read the story of the Princess and the Pea? No matter how many cushions were stacked upon it, she could still feel that the pea was under there somewhere. I am the Princess and the Pea. I can feel when someone is in a bad mood, when they are happy, and I can hear even the slightest sound, smell the faintest whiff of lingering cigarette smoke, and I can feel when my chair is off balance or has a damaged wheel. These things might not bother anyone else, but they really bother me. Before I came to Japan, I had no idea that I was mostly introverted and highly sensitive. I’m glad I learned more about myself but ever since then, I’ve come to recognize that this type of atmosphere is stressful for me.
I know many of my readers are introverted and/or highly sensitive, but for those of you who aren’t, I hope you understand that there are people like me who go crazy in certain situations. I often have to take trips to the bathroom just so I can be in a cool, dark place alone. The phrase ”It’s not you, it’s me.” has never been more relevant. I know people misunderstand me because of the way I act when I am overwhelmed, but I hope you’ve either learned something or been able to relate to me. Open offices are a hot topic nowadays, but in Japan I don’t think they will ever go away. While there are many good reasons they exist, I personally can’t handle them anymore.