Sumimasen! I have been MIA for over a month now. Life just got crazier. Between schools, lesson planning, extracurricular activities and my adult English language group, my dance card fills up quickly!
I can’t believe how much easier lesson planning is when you have the internet. You want to figure out how to teach past perfect? Google it and you can come up with a million different games. And it helps that I have a general idea of what kids like to do because of the games I played in Mozambique. In the high school, I teach the first year students (the sophomores) and the two classes of second and third year students who aren’t planning on going to universities. 16 of the kids in my senior class are going straight into jobs, 2 are going to hair stylist school (is that what you call it?) and 2 more are going to art design and mechanic school. So while their focus is still on learning English and doing well, it is a less stressful atmosphere because the teacher doesn’t have to worry so much about teaching to the college entrance exam. Those kids study more than normal people work anyways. The seniors going to college get to school at 7:30 and study until 7:00 pm. And then when they get home, they probably study some more. It amazes me.
My seniors class consists of mostly boys. 19 boys and 1 girl to be exact. They seem to get restless just sitting in their desks and studying grammar so a teacher and I took them outside on Monday to practice directions. I had them pair up and blindfold each other and lead each other around the school grounds. It was highly entertaining. The person who wasn’t blindfolded had to use only English to guide their partner around without them crashing into walls or tripping downstairs. Admittedly, there were a few boys who found great pleasure in ramming their partner into another blindfolded student or a wall, but overall, their ability to avoid an accident would make OSHA proud. I admit that I was kind of nervous on the stairs – so I walked in front of them. Then I had them do the human knot using only English. It’s where you stand in a circle and grab hands with someone who is not next to you. You then have to untangle yourselves back into a circle formation while still holding hands. You never realize how immature 18-year olds are until you are surrounded by them for 50 minutes three times a week. I have seen them punch each other in inappropriate places. Slap each other. I have seen them spit water on each other. I have seen one boy walk up behind another boy and lick his neck. Strange island children.
In my class of juniors, I had the students make nametags so I could remember their names easier. Well, thankfully the Japanese English teacher was there because they were making nametags that were not their names and she stopped them. One called himself “monkey” and another “eyebrow,” all written in Japanese romaji. Romaji is Japanese words spelled out with the English alphabet. It would have been supremely embarrassing to have the students come to the teachers room to talk to me and have me call them monkey or eyebrow in front of all the Japanese teachers. They drew pictures of themselves that were supremely unflattering too. The one who calls himself a monkey drew a picture of a monkey and the other student drew comically large eyebrows and buck-teeth. But hey, they are making themselves memorable. It is never really a dull day with the high school students. I might just be serving as a human tape recorder sometimes, reading and repeating a sentence for the students to listen to and correcting the grammar, but the kids are spunky.
I went to teach at the elementary school on Tuesday and the first grade teacher forgot that they had English so I went to their class to get them and walked into the room from the back door. The kids all turned around, saw me and started screaming “erin-sensei!” and they all stood up and ran to get their nametags. Now that would melt even the coldest heart. The first graders are my favorite. They are so happy all the time. I see them on my way home from school a lot and I am always asked to push them on the merry-go-round. I have a ritual on my way home now. It’s A) stop to push the kids on the merry-go-round, B) go to the shop down the street and C) pet a neighborhood dog. There’s a dog that lives close to me that is ALWAYS chained up outside and never seems to get any exercise. It is just tied up all the time and sits and watches the playground across the street. Must be a pretty drab existence. So I make a point to pet it every time I see it. And he knows me well. Every time he sees me, his tail starts wagging fast and he dances with his front paws because he’s so excited. I have seen him howl and bark at other people but he likes me. So, I may not speak much Japanese, but dogs and children like me.
I did a Halloween party at another island school last week. There are only five students in the entire school (and I’m embarrassed to admit, but I can only remember three of the students’ names). For the Halloween party, I had them have a mummy-wrapping contest with rolls of toilet paper and bobbing for apples. The school was prepared and had them make “jack-o-lanterns” out of peppers. It worked out surprisingly well. I had never heard of that before. The students also went “trick-or-treating.” I brought them a ridiculous amount of candy and hopefully their parents don’t hate me now for probably making their children sick with sugar.
I received some books in the mail from the JET program this week to help learn Japanese and I am going to study those every day. Hopefully they make a big difference. I am trying to learn about 15 different new symbols every day. It’s very difficult to learn the Japanese symbols because they must be written a certain way and the slightest change can change the meaning of the symbol and an entire sentence or phrase. There are three different types of symbols to learn as well. I am starting with Katakana – symbols usually used to write words that aren’t originally Japanese. For example, the school uses Katakana to write my name because my name is foreign. There is Hiragana – which is the main Japanese symbol. And there is Kanji – Chinese symbols. So, Kanji is usually used for nouns, adjectives, and verbs. And Hiragana is used for sentence particles. It sounds complicated…and it is. At least it is for now, when I am learning the ropes. Until I get the hang of it, I am at least providing entertainment for my fellow teachers who walk past my desk and see me writing words that a pre-school student knows better than I do. They like to see the effort and I am excited to eventually be able to hold an intelligent conversation that isn’t just an exchange of “konnichiwa!” I have been getting a lot of encouragement from teachers. “Ganbatte!” Which means “fight!” in an encouraging way. My favorite saying in Japanese is “Ganbatte, kudasai!” Fight, please. It’s very dramatic and polite wrapped into one.