San versus Sensei

I don't know how everyone feels about the -san vs. -sensei ending in the way that you are addressed by your teachers in front of the class, but this has been one of my bigger pet-peeves since I have arrived in Japan. I think that it also goes along with an element of passive aggressiveness in Japanese culture, in that it is just subtle enough that you don't know whether it is an offense or not. But, the simple fact that I am questioning it, and that I am the only teacher in the school that I have noticed it happen to, makes me believe that it is, in-fact, a pretty clear offense. Sorta like when they forget to invite you to assemblies.

Let me paint you a picture:

On one hand you have a third year ALT that I think you could adequately call, at least, competant at his job. He is a professional teacher with years of experience in the classroom. Yeah, sure, he is an ALT. And, yeah, sure, he may approach the edjumacation process with something less than the same "umphhh" than he once did... But he is respectful, prepared, and secure in the classroom with the finite amount of classtime that if offered to him on a weekly basis. He is also secure with his computer usage time (but this is another subject entirely).

On the other hand, you have a first year, 23 year old teacher, who's whole experience rests in that measely 3 weeks of teacher immersion that she recieved during the final year of her university career. She is quite clearly insecure, and, while not incompetent (unlike some other people who's place she has taken), she is balencing a lot with the rediculous demands that "first year teaching" and "first year Japanese teacher" are placing on her. The result being that she is flailing for a connection with her students and her teachers, while also looking for a way to elbow out some space for herself in the classroom.

Now you might say that this is an opportunity to help, to educate, to assist her in finding her place to be a great English teacher for years to come. And this would be true, if it weren't for the fact that that is not my job and that is not the disposition that I am currently in at this moment (refer to the part about third year ALT). But, I think that you can see (and I think that I can too), that some resentment has been created by this other person (me) creating my lessons with apparent ease and my wasting time, while she, the first year teacher, must appear to be busy and flustered at all times (even if she really isn't). In addition my generally good, if not clownish, rapport with the students doesn't help either.

And so you encounter a dynamic where one day I am adressing the class and she translates something (to the class) where she uses the honorary ending "-san" in the when refering to me, rather than the ending, "-sensei" (which I have just used to address her when asking her to translate). It happens the first time and I think that it is a slip, maybe, but it is something that the kids hear and I take note of. But I feel like it is definately a clear placement of her above me in the general ranking of things.

So, I say nothing. A "-san"less week goes by. And then: BOOM. At the end of class she lowers another "-san" bomb. It detonates. I explode.

Now, there are ways to handle things as a grown up. There are ways to handle things as a child. And, there are ways to handle things in Japan. I will now discuss all three.

I did not yell at her. I did not throw anything. I did not walk out of the room. (ie. I did not act like a child)

I, also, did not leave the room and say nothing. Then, at some removed time, approach another teacher and share my concerns about her behavior with that teacher (gossip) and request/imply that that teacher should talk to the offending teacher to tell her of her offensive behavior. (This would have saved her face, and would have been a very Japanese way to handle the situation, but I care little about either at this point.) --This is something to take note of you newbees coming to Japan with expectations of "blending in" and such.--

What I did do was wait until the class was over and I ask her for a moment in the hallway. I then said, "You just used the word -san to refer to me in front of the class. This is not the way that I refer to you, or you refer to any other teacher in the school, so I would appreciate it if you would call me either, 'Matt' or 'Matto-Sensei' in the future." Professional. Clear. Not Japanese at all. Needless to say she hasn't voluntarily spoken to me since.

Was I right? Was a wrong? Do a care with one month left to go?
You can be the judge. But I would be curious to hear of other subtle insults that you've experienced, or whether you think that I am just over reacting?

Talk to you all tomorrow....