I remember last year when I was sitting around at home/at the office with nothing to do in my first few weeks in Japan, I skimmed through the JET General Information Handbook (GIH). One part that I read fairly carefully was the "To Re-contract or Not" section. Here's the section (pretty much the same as last year) from this year's GIH:
To Re-contract or Not...
Re-contracting deserves deep consideration and deliberation. Please double check the questions below in
order to be certain about your decision.
・What expectations of being a JET Programme participant did you hold before coming to Japan?
・How do those expectations compare to your actual life in Japan?
・Are you able to learn new things and challenge yourself in Japan?
・How will you use what you have learned in Japan after you leave?
Chances are when you joined the JET Programme you had expectations, preconceptions, and an idea of what the job was going to entail. In addition, you probably anticipated how you would use that work experience in your future. However, the job may not be what you had anticipated. This is the time to re-evaluate.
Realistic Reasons to Re-contract
・You are content with your position and work.
・You feel that you are making a contribution that has a positive effect on others.
When re-contracting, beware of deceptive rationalisations like, ―I‘ll save money next year‖ or ―I‘ll learn Japanese next year‖. The nature of the beast is to be lazy, and unless there is a radical change in your life (a change which re-contracting does not necessarily bring about), odds are that your life will not change dramatically in your second or third year.
Realistic Reasons Not to Re-contract
・Procrastination. Think long and hard about your life path. Do not re-contract only to delay a more
・Money. Participating on the JET Programme for the sole purpose of money-making.
・Obligation. You feel pressure from those people in your community to re-contract with the JET Programme. (Your Contracting Organisation may resist your decision not to re-contract, however, the operations of your Contracting Organisation will not come to a stand still as the result of you not recontracting.)
・For no particular reason at all. You may like the foreigner-centred lifestyle, the kindness you receive from those around you, money in your pocket and time on your hands but, even if you do not tire of these things, they probably will not leave you with anything when they are gone. Your presence in Japan gives you many opportunities. If you are going to stay in Japan, stay for a reason. Do not waste the opportunity.
A Word of Caution
While in a foreign country a person undergoes many changes and mood swings. Do not make your decision overnight. Talk with friends, talk with your Supervisor, talk with your family. Think it through and make your decision with confidence.
At the time (as early as it was), I worried that I might decide to re-contract because of "procrastination." I mean, I applied for JET because I didn't know what I was going to do with my life if I wasn't going to be teaching, so it seemed probable that I might be tempted to stay a second year to put off that decision yet again.
As it turned out, however, I ended up (in a very short span of time) falling in love with my job, so it was a pretty easy decision to make. (It was two BIG check marks for both "Realistic Reasons to Re-Contract.")
This year, though, I think it's going to be a bit more difficult. When I re-contracted last year, I thought: "I'll probably stay for 3 years total." (So, another year after this one.) Up to the end of the summer, I'd have to say I was about 90-95% sure I'd be here for a third year (not to mention 50% in favour of staying for a full five!).
One month into nigakki (second term), though, and I feel like my certainty has dropped down to 80-85%. The problem is that I constantly feel tired. I mean, I still love the work, and when I'm actually in school, I get energy from the job and don't really feel fatigued, but once I get home...
Part of it is my own fault, since I stay up late downloading/reading manga, watching DVDs, reading books, surfing the net, etc. But then too, many nights I don't get home until 9pm becase I finish at school late, or I go to the office after school, and then have some sort of community class at night (eikaiwa, dance, etc.). When I finally get home, if I've got jishu gakushu (extra English class) or an elementary school visit that week, I usually spend an hour or two planning/preparing materials. And when faced with a choice between sleep or doing something to relax, I usually end up choosing the latter. ^^;;
So yeah, even though I think I'm as passionate about the job as before (maybe even more so now that I understand the Japanese school system a bit better), I'm worried that I might run out of energy partway through a third year. And I don't want to be here if I'm going to end up coasting.
Plus I'm a little worried about the possibility of "familiarity breeding contempt" at Kirita (with the students, at any rate). I've already had one jishu gakushu class where I felt like the ninensei were goofing off more so than usual because it was just me there. As much as I love the school (and hope that the feeling is reciprocated), I have to seriously consider that it might be better for the students to get a fresh face in.
Then too, I wonder if I made a mistake in going home for such a long time this summer? I didn't feel it when I first came back (to Japan), but recently I've been thinking a lot more about how much I miss everyone back home. I mean, I've made friends here, but the aspect of Christian fellowship is completely missing from my life here. Of course, part of that is my own fault for not making an effort to find (and stick with) a church. But then again, part of it is also my nature: I don't make (good) friends easily. I mean, I think I'm pretty easy to get along with, but I don't really let people in too far, y'know?
As for the possibility of staying for the full five years, well, the thought is still in the back of my mind, but the probability is probably down to 20-30% (from 50%). A big part of the drop is the fatigue which is making me reconsider even my third year, but there's also the fact that my mom has told me she and my dad would like me to come home after three years. (It's not just that they miss me, it's that my being away affects their ability to make their own life decisions...)
So yeah, I guess it's a good thing we got the re-contracting info so early, since it seems like I'll need all the time I can get to make my decision this year.
I just really hope that every ALT reads the GIH reasons "to re-contract or not." To me, the two "realistic reasons to re-contract" are really the only valid reasons to do so. Certainly people will have mixed motivations--I definitely enjoy the lifestyle here, and I would also like to save more money--but I think that if those two reasons aren't the primary reasons, I think there's the danger of turning into an ALT who coasts. And, as I've discussed a lot in previous posts (Attitudes/Goals & Reality; The "Internationalization" crutch), I think that ALTs who aren't focused on improving student learning or who don't pursue excellence in their work do a disservice to themselves, their students, their schools and the JET Programme as a whole.
My apologies for what probably sounds like a lot of "preaching" lately, but I think it's important that we, as Assistant Language Teachers remember that even if we don't have much experience or training, we've been given positions as teachers. And as teachers, part of our responsibility is to look out for the (educational) interests of our students. That's why the re-contracting decision shouldn't just be about "Am I happy with the job? Living in Japan?" etc., but should put a strong emphasis on considerations of "Am I doing a good job?" and "Will I be able to maintain my motivation to continue improving in my teaching for another year?"
One of my personal checks to see if I'm still appropriately engaged in the job is: "Can I answer "I'm happy/good/great" with full honesty when students ask me how I am every day?" Honestly, this term there've been a couple of times when "I'm fine" was as positive as I could get, and once or twice I had to honestly say I was only "so-so." But still, it's my goal to always be able to honestly answer "I'm happy" or "I'm good" or "I'm great" when students ask me how I am. If I can't do that, then I need to figure out why I'm not happy just to be in the class, because it's definitely a problem if I lose my passion for the job.
But yeah, guess I've got some hard thinking ahead of me in terms of re-contracting.