02 May 2016

Big Change Coming: Japan!

Photo by Galen Crout, via Unsplash
One of the most difficult things about being an educator has been maintaining a work-life balance. Long-time readers of this blog will note that this has been a pretty consistent refrain for the past couple of years, and that I've never accomplished this balance at any point since becoming an adjunct professor. Hence the lack of blog posts, updates, and good news.

Anyway, I've reached the time where I feel safe enough to admit that I'm burnt out from adjuncting and am walking away from it. I don't want to chuck the teaching profession altogether yet, but I can wholeheartedly say that after almost 2.5 years of adjuncting (working part-time for a college on a semester contractual basis), it's time for a change.

On my one-year anniversary I realized that adjuncting was not a sustainable way to make a living (see the article, "Adjuncting Ruins Lives" and my blog post here about my MFA and adjuncting). Since last January, I looked for other work. Long story short, I could only secure a second education-related part-time job (and seasonal at that) on top of adjuncting, so when I'm not grading my students' writing or working on lesson plans and handouts, I'm scoring standardized tests for the state of California through ETS.

I've been struggling these past few years, and while I had some bright spots here and there while adjuncting, I couldn't shake the dead-end feeling of stagnation in poverty. The job pickings and economy where I'm at now are pretty grim. I typed in my zip for the the Washington Post housing map  and the Slate economic recovery map  and my current city's bottom-ranked in both: housing values are down over $15,000 since 2004 and 20% live in poverty with 52% of adults in the area not working. I realized that if I wanted to live better, I had to get to a better place. And that meant doing something a little crazy and adventurous to get there. 

I applied Fall of 2015 to JET (the Japan Exchange and Teaching program), one of the longest-running cultural exchange programs out there, in the hopes of teaching English as a Second Language in Japan. I interviewed February 1st, and I've known since March that I'll be heading to Japan to teach in the summer for a minimum of one year. I don't know which age group or which location I'm assigned to yet, but I'm hoping that my experience with JET will help me come to terms with what I can do in education, or determine if, despite teaching being a lifelong dream, I'm even cut out for it.

I know now, after giving it two years to try it out, that adjuncting is rough and that I can't live comfortably doing it. I don't want to invest any more money in schooling until I find out more about what I can do, and enjoy doing. Maybe ESL will be that for me, or maybe the solution is with switching the age groups I teach; who knows. But I don't want to consider licensing or teaching K-12 at all until I've had some practice in the classroom through JET.

What I do know is that it'll be my first full-time job since 2009, and I'm excited and nervous.  I could run into the same issue where I have no work-life balance and everything I do in my spare time will be used on teaching, but with JET, I know that at least my compensation for the work that I put in constitutes a living wage. 

My take-home from both of my education jobs for all of 2015 was under $12,000. JET pays ¥3,360,000 the first year alone (over $31,000 with today's exchange rate). The last time I was paid a wage like that was ten years ago, as a 22-year old with a bachelor's just out of college. I never imagined at 32 I'd have an MFA, essentially be a college professor, and make almost 3.5 times less than what I made ten years ago with just a bachelor's. Whew. Anyway, I don't want to go back to adjuncting wages again, ever, unless the only other option is no income at all

In the meantime, I hope to be smart with my experience in Japan. It's a huge dream come true to be able to even go over there, and I loved living abroad when I lived in Wales in 2004, so it feels like a bittersweet return to an age when I felt way more adventurous and excited about living. I want to get healthier before I leave (and while I'm over there) and reacquaint myself with adult independence, and learn more things about the world and my place in it. 

In the meantime, Monday (tomorrow!) is finals week at the college, so I'll be grading like a madwoman during that time. July is when I leave for Japan and I'm picking up as many scoring shifts as possible with my second job before I leave the US.

I want to try to update the website with a Matsuricon 2015 review and my Ohayocon 2016 review, as those are reaaaaaallly overdue, but I don't have much else lined up for the site because I'll be frantically running around trying to wrap things up before I go.

I'll try to keep everyone posted with details as they come. Back to work!


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