Joel Di Venuto is, in his own words, the last of the great, old-fashioned, leather elbow-patch adorned, wry-humored English teachers. He’s been a touch more impassive than the average Eikawa teacher. He has chastised Sunshine English Academy management at almost every opportunity for its lack of respect and loyalty, and its apparent refusal to find a mutually agreeable solution. And now, sadly, the struggle between employer and star employee has come to a disappointing end.
“This morning I handed the student liaison clerk a final note stating that unless I heard from the owner by 11 o’clock that he was prepared at once to grant me a pay rise, a contract would no longer exist between us. I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received, and that consequently I am now officially between jobs. Sunshine may be a language school, but now it behaves more like a soulless corporate entity.
“You can imagine what a bitter blow it is to me that my long struggle to get a better contract has failed. Yet, I cannot believe that there is anything more or anything different that I could have done that would have been more successful.”
So, after all these years, Di Venuto is moving on after being offered a similar position at the Sunbeam English Academy. “They seem like a good bunch, and the KFC opposite them has a nice, modern, eat-in area. Only drug dealers use the KFC restaurant in my home town; it has a real ghetto vibe. But, I think eating at this KFC will be a pleasant experience.”
Adopting the tone of a person who overthinks just about everything, the Portland native adds, “This isn’t a decision that I’ve taken lightly. I had to talk to my family, my girlfriends (sic), and a couple of guys in my international guest house.”
Despite living in the same place for 15 years, and working at the same company for just as long, Joel sees himself as a free spirit. “People ask me the same questions all the time. They want to know why I don’t commit to a normal relationship. They want to know why I don’t open my own business. But that’s not me, y’know. I see myself as one of those characters in a Bob Dylan song; a gypsy man, or a travellin’ man. A guy who’s free from borders and responsibility. People also ask me why the hell I’m still living in a gaijin house.”
A free spirit he may be, but there’s no compromising or deviation from the target language in the classroom. “If you can’t handle present perfect and reported speech, you have no place in my advanced class,” explains Di Venuto. “Pack your bags and go down the hall to the intermediate class or, better still, the beginner class. Don’t waste my time.”
Di Venuto is philosophical about his move to a new school, and he’s doing his best to convince himself that he’s moving in the right direction. “Every year the owner there has cherry picked the most promising and the hottest students. I’d do the same if I were in his position. It left me to work my magic on the second tier ladies. Some were quite beautiful to look at, but they weren’t very shapely. On the odd occasion when I overstepped the teacher/student boundary and entered into a physical relationship, it was usually with a skinny woman. How was it? Well, have you ever tried to have sex with a deck chair? It was like that.”
Realising that he was digressing, Di Venuto corrected himself, “Can we… Can we talk about my professional career now? I don’t want to talk about those battery chickens. I have weathered the changes in the language industry, and I intend to shine at Sunbeam. They’ve got a coffee machine and a refrigerator in their staff room, too.”
Whether they be American, French, or German, veteran language teachers in Tokyo get a bad rap. People assume that they can’t speak or read Japanese, or can’t code or do anything that the labour market demands. Indeed, they are seen as complete and utter chumps by some people. But some, like Di Venuto, have language teaching in their veins. “When I go home people ask me, `Hey Joel, why do you do it man? Are you some kinda classroom junkie?’ You know what I say? I don’t say a goddamn word. Why? They don’t understand. They don’t understand why we do it. They don’t understand that it’s about the vocab and the grammar in front of you, and that’s it. That’s all it is.”