“If the teacher isn’t happy, you can’t teach anything,” Eddy Yaw tells me over Facebook chat after a one year hiatus. “We are not just teachers, but people children look up to. And if we are not happy we cannot have any positive impact. Students don’t learn anything from teachers they don’t admire.”
And I admire Eddy. In 2015, we were colleagues in Oita. Team-teaching with him was really something. He’s simply superb with the little ones. Affectionate, fun and kind – it was a joy watching him in action.
Originally from Ghana, Eddy has been teaching English in Japan for ten years. Next April, he opens his own school.
“Why did you decide to start your own school?” I ask.
“Not just to teach the students how to speak English,” Eddy says, “but also to introduce them to the bigger world and help them understand diversity; and how to cope with that diversity so in the future they can use that towards the good benefit of this country.”
“Is there a big difference between male and female teachers?” I ask. “In a lot of places, teaching is still a female-dominated profession.”
“I think we all have the same teacher shell,” Eddy says. “I know female teachers who are authoritative in the classroom and I know male teachers who students just run over. Male teachers can easily intimidate as a figure.
“Overall it depends on what kind of trend the teacher has and what kind of passion they have for teaching. There is no difference between male and female teachers.”
“So what’s the biggest challenge in this occupation?” I ask.
“Every job has its frustrations, but I’d say financial security,” Eddy says. “With most teachers, with how much we’re paid; it’s very difficult to do the job and still have a family. If you take health insurance and pension out, you basically can’t save for a rainy day.
“But aside from that, teaching is teaching. You’re training children and children can always be difficult to handle. But when they get what you’re teaching them, you feel very satisfied.”
“What makes a good teacher?” I ask.
“Just ask yourself,” Eddy says, “who was your favourite teacher in elementary school. Was it the straight-faced teacher, or the fair teacher who was fun and kind; but was also fair that she would tell the student when they’re wrong. She isn’t strict, but straightforward and nice to be around. She’s the kind of person that you just don’t want to disappoint.”
“Teaching is a profession where we’re always learning,” I say. “What has teaching taught you?”
“Teaching has taught me to be very sensitive to children,” Eddy says. “We as adults may not put a lot of significance on our actions, but the children do. For example, I have a student she’s very cute. She brightens my day. One day she was messing up a bit. I was so disappointed because she’s always cute. I cautioned her quite strongly. She cried a lot. Maybe the way I did it was too harsh.
“As teachers we have to be mindful of our students feelings. And to do that you need tons and tons and tons of patience. You cannot be temperamental and be a good teacher. But it was good that I cautioned her. It brought her back in line.”
“What have you learnt about childhood?” I ask.
“All of us were born crazy,” Eddy says.
I laugh. It takes me a while to stop. It’s true. It really is.
“That’s what I think anyway,” Eddy says. “We’re so messed up in there. The kind stuff kids do. Children pick their nose and then eat what’s inside. Our parents and teachers help us arrange things and put things in formal order. If the teacher is not patient enough, you grow up not putting everything in the kind of order you need.
“Sometimes you have to give children directions. Sometimes you just have to tell them. Kids ask a lot of questions because they want to understand and put everything in order. You have to put yourself in that kid’s position.”
It takes a lot to teach. A big heart. A cool head. The patience of a saint. Eddy has all that and so much more. His students are lucky to have him as a teacher. And I’m lucky to have him as a friend and mentor.
Even teachers have their teachers.