A couple of months ago I had an odd experience in the classroom (not that I’m a stranger to these things). One of my mature students, a well-heeled lady in her forties, kept running out of the room to answer her cell phone. Whenever she returned, she looked pale and distressed. I was surprised by this behaviour, because she was one of the students that I regarded as being mature and stable, and it wasn’t like her to be disruptive. She kept on dashing in and out of the classroom, phone in hand, apologising profusely all the while.
Finally I could stand the suspense no longer, and asked her openly “is there a problem?” To which she replied, “yes, my husband has been laid off from his job, and I dont know what to do!”
Well! We were gobsmacked! But only for a few seconds. The other students, bless their dear hearts, were swift to offer reassurance and advice; she quickly calmed down, and I was able to continue with the lesson as planned. I have to admit that I was quite shocked myself, though. For some reason I’d been assuming that the nasty old recession wouldn’t touch any of my mature students, who are mostly upper-middle-class housewives married to professional men (doctors, lawyers, university professors), or to executives in big companies. The aforementioned student’s husband was a bigwig with a large regional bank in Japan. He had pretty much dedicated his life and soul to the company, and in return he expected lifetime employment and a fat pension at the age of 65 … as did his wife, who had pretty much married him on those conditions. And they were right to do so, because until recently, lifetime employment was a given in Japan. It really did shock me that he could be discarded so suddenly at the age of 53, like used tissue paper. But these days, that’s the way it seems to go around here.
Anyway, the story has a happy ending. My student took immediate action: she reassessed the family budget, and called their two kids in college to inform them that they had to reign in any unneccessary spending. Then, she signed up with a job agency, and very quickly landed a job working as a medical receptionist (no small feat when you consider that she had never worked at a “real” job in her whole life). All the while she continued to stand by her husband, and support him in his job hunting efforts. And fortunately those efforts paid off. Today she told us that her husband has managed to land a managerial position with a small but promising firm. For them, the hard times are over. (However when I asked her if she was planning to quit her job, she said “no way!”)
All the while I was impressed with how the whole family rallied round at this time of crisis. A real family sticks together through thick and thin – it never occurs to them to do otherwise. Watching my students has taught me a lot about the meaning of family.