Sunday, October 24, 2004

Confusion, Frustration and a dollop of Satisfaction

This past week contained confusion, frustration and satisfaction in equal measure. As I mentioned in a previous post, I got to visit one of my Elementary schools for the first time this week. Usagi primary school is unique in that it has only 6 students. So I was supposed to take a bus to get there, as Usagi is located in the mountains above Taisha, but when I attempted to find out what time the bus left Taisha, there was some confusion in my staff room and no one could figure it out apparently. The frustration of the language barrier really grates at times like this - trying to communicate with someone on the staff about something so simple becomes really tough and having to rely on others for every little thing at times is tough for me to adjust to. So it was decided that Kobayashi-san, the school engineer and jack-of-all-trades, would drive me to the school Tuesday morning. It was raining that morning as we set out at 8:10am. After climbing up some very narrow and twisty roads, we arrived at the school about 30 minutes later. I was ushered into the small staff room after changing into my indoor slippers (I bring my own with me so I don’t have to cram my feet into the visitor sandals all the schools have).

I was offered Japanese green tea, which is not a favorite of mine, but politeness dictates that I accept and sip occasionally. Coffee is always offered as well, but I really don’t like coffee, and water is not something they have at the ready like we do in the states. I sat as Kobayashi-san and a woman who might have been the school principal chatted about me and the weather. They were old friends apparently. After a few minutes, a young, male teacher came in the room and bowed and introduced himself. Turns out he’s in charge of the 2 older students. Later on I met the slightly older, female teacher who’s in charge of the 4 younger kids. There is also a kindergarten class with two 5-year-old girls, both younger sisters of another student.

Taru-san (the male teacher) explained the game plan for my stay. I was to be there for 3 periods and leave at 12:02 on the bus that goes back to Taisha. He took me to the gym and had me wait until the kids all shouted “Jason sensei” and then I entered the gym to applause and cheers. OK, cheers from just 8 people, but it was a nice start to the day nonetheless. So we started out with easy greetings and my self introduction speech, followed by questions from the kids and then some easy games, like concentration with picture cards. I also played the memory game I use to learn their names where I say we’re all taking a trip and you can take one thing that starts with the same letter as your first name. I used to say, “My name is Jason and I’m taking jellybeans,” but many of the kids have never eaten jellybeans and didn’t know what I was talking about, so now I say I’m taking a jacket. So I learned all the kids names: 4 boys, one each in 1st, 2nd, 5th and 6th grades and two girls, in 1st and 2nd grade.

Then it was time for me to hang with the older kids, meaning Yusuke (pronounced You-skay), the 6th grader, and Sho, the 5th grader. They have their own classroom, and their own teacher. They got to ask me more questions and I asked them some, and then we went thru a “day in the life” of Jason. They both speak fairly good English for their ages and Taru-san was also pretty good, which was a big relief. After that we went back to the gym and played frisbee (I always have one with me) and then I sat with the kindergarten girls as we watched the 6 students perform a traditional Japanese song and dance. They two older boys played a type of recorder/flute, the two girls played drums and the two younger boys did this stylized dance with a stick. After that is was rest time, so the teachers all gathered in the staff room and had coffee, and I had juice. We chatted as best we could and I ate some Japanese snacks.

Then we went to the music room and I got to watch more traditional performances. The kids were really talented, playing different types of drums and stringed instruments while the teachers played the piano or flute. During break they had all made me origami presents, which was cool. When it was about time to go, the woman I had met first offered to drive me to the bus stop as it was raining. As we left, all the kids came out and waved goodbye and shouted “see you” in English. Very cool. I had a great time there, and can’t wait to go back. I’m not scheduled to return until the end of November, but they invited me to a weekend festival they have in early November so I’ll do my best to attend. Got back to Taisha but the bus stops up at the Shrine, so I had to walk back to my Jr. High in the rain. Luckily I had my umbrella.

Wednesday was another typhoon day, so school ended early at 1:00. I was supposed to teach two classes of 2nd graders at the nearby Taisha primary school, during 2nd and 3rd period, but a call came in asking me to be at the school by 8:45, just before the start of 1st period. I went thinking they might be rescheduling me to an earlier time because of the approaching typhoon. I went upstairs with the homeroom teacher. I did my morning greetings to a rather uppity class, and then according to my lesson plan we were supposed to sing a song (“Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes”). But the Japanese teacher said no, next we would be learning about the phrase “how many?” I asked “Ni-nensei (2nd graders)?” and she said, no this was a 4th grade class. Well, I was scheduled to teach 2 4th grade classes the next day, so I hadn’t brought my 4th grade lesson plan with me. After some confusion we continued, but the class was not a good one. During a group game where all the kids are supposed to ask me to play “janken” (Rock/Paper/Scissors) and then ask me how many of something I have and vice versa, only the girls came up to me. The boys either ran around being disruptive or ignored me. The teacher seemed unable or unwilling to discipline them, so it was not a good start to my day. I tried to make a point at the end by handing out “Jason money” (American dollar bills photocopied with my picture or Batman or Darth Vader where George Washington would be) only to the girls and saying that next time everyone had to join in, but who knows if they understood my English rant. The teacher could see that I was a little upset, but all she could say was “sumimasen” (sorry) and all I could say was “OK” even though it really wasn’t.

I then taught a class of 2nd graders, like scheduled, and it was like night and day. They were all attentive and happy to see me and the teacher was totally prepared and everything went well. I gave “Jason money” to all of them and they were thrilled. We played “fruit basket” with pictures of fruits and vegetables and had a great time. After that I went down to the staff room and said my goodbyes thinking I was done for the day. But two of the teachers chased me out into the hall and asked me where I was going. I explained I was scheduled to teach two classes so I was going back to the Jr. High. But they explained that I was supposed to teach 4 classes that day and I wouldn’t have any classes tomorrow. Turns out that one of the 4th grade teachers wouldn’t be there Thursday, so they wanted me to do all 4 classes Wednesday. I was visibly upset at this unannounced change, but what could I do. I trotted off to my 3rd class, another class of 2nd graders. That went well too, and the kids had fun. The wind was really swirling around while we were in class, so we went back to the staff room before 4th period only to find out that they were sending the kids home due to the oncoming typhoon. So the teacher we had changed everything for never got me in her class after all. I went back to the Jr. High frustrated at the confusion and my inability to express my frustrations to any of the teachers and make them understand that they had to let me know if they wanted to alter my schedule.

When I got back to the Jr. High, another low point was waiting. All week I had been looking forward to lunch on Wednesday, because I was scheduled to start my English language radio show, where I would get to play Western music I liked and talk to the kids over the PA system. But because of the typhoon, the kids at the Jr. High were going home right after lunch, so my radio debut would have to wait 'til next week. :(

So it’s 1:00 and all the kids are heading home. You might think that the teachers would get to leave soon after, but you’d be wrong. We are required to stay until Kyoto-sensei (the vice principal) says we can leave or it’s 4:00. So I had to sit at my desk with nothing to do for 3 hours waiting for it to be 4pm. As I headed for the door to leave, it was pouring rain and very windy. One teacher told me it would be dangerous to ride my scooter home, but I assured her that I’d be OK. And even though I was leaving, almost all the other teachers stayed. No clubs or sports that day, but I guess they were waiting for Kyoto-sensei to give them the OK.

I’ve started helping a group of 5 female students prepare for an English recitation contest that takes place on November 13th. So no after-school Kendo right now, altho I did attend nighttime practice on Thursday night. The girls never came and got me Tuesday night to help them, so I sat at my desk and waited in vain until 5pm before I gave up and went home. But we practiced Thursday and Friday and they’re a talkative bunch of 9th graders, so it’s been fun.

Speaking of sitting at my desk, that’s all I did on Thursday. Since I didn’t have any Elementary visits, and none of my Jr. high teachers had asked me to join their classes that day, I literally did NOTHING all day until speech practice after school. Sure, i found things to do - like make audio cassettes for the girls in the speech contest with me reciting their selections, and I even watched a bit of the Yankees game and took a short nap in the upstairs English teachers room, that no one really uses during school hours. So on Friday, noticing that my sign up sheet was empty for both Thursday and Friday, the JTE that sits next to me, Hama-sensei, asked me if I was a little bored. Uh...duh! So she asked me to help her with two of her classes that day and then Moriyama-sensei asked me to help her with the special ed class 6th period. Now that’s more like it. And then Ishitobi-sensei wanted me for his 4th period “optional” English class (an elective where the kids CHOOSE to study English), which was the same period as one of Hama-sensei’s classes. So they fought over me a bit and Ishitobi won, since the optional class only meets once a week.

So after a disappointing mid week, Friday was a fun and active day.
Funny side note - I wore my black Levi’s jeans to school on Friday for the first time. At least 5 groups of kids came up to look at the tag and ask if they were Levi’s. One kid even asked me what my waist size was. I said I wasn’t sure in Japanese measurements, but when I said the size in American measurements, his eyes grew wide with astonishment. The kids in general are still amazed at how “ookii” (big) I am and how furry my arms are.

I’m typing this on Saturday night and it looks like it will be a mellow weekend. Today was gorgeous, with the type of weather I love - cool (50s or low 60s) and sunny with a slight breeze. I did some shopping and had a burger and fries at a local Burger chain restaurant called MOS Burger. It’s a really small burger, but tasty and a bit of a treat after all the rice and school lunch I eat all week. Tomorrow I’m off to Kendo practice at 10am and then I’ll have dinner with my friend and fellow JET, Rusty, who lives over in Izumo, which is about 15 minutes away by scooter.

Hope all is well where you are.


PS - the typhoon was pretty severe, but didn’t really affect the area of Japan I’m in. I’ve seen some ripple effects - like the price of vegetables and some fruits has skyrocketed, since many crops were flooded or washed away. I’m talking $10 for a head of lettuce. Fruit is always expensive ($5 for an apple - yes, a single apple and $19 for a small melon), but right now I’m only buying pre-cut pineapple and bananas.

Tonight there was an earthquake in another region of Japan that was also pretty severe, but I didn’t even feel it. I hope that doesn’t mean I’m in for a doozy of a natural disaster since I’ve been relatively unscathed so far. Let’s hope not.


Anonymous said...

hey jason thanks for posting all of this cool stuff on a blogg it really makes my day to read your post. it sound like u are haveing a lot of fun in japan and i am glad that even when u r in japan u still find time for a hamberger(jk)

Anonymous said...

sounds like fun =). at least life is more interesting for you than back here in the states... high school is sooooo boring without jason sensei to relive our boredom after school 16 hours a week...
best wishes on the natural catastrophes note,
a former student