Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Hello! See you!

I have vastly differing ideas as to when it is appropriate or necessary to turn on the gigantic kerosene heaters in the teacher`s room. When you turn them on or off, they let off noxious fumes and you have to open the windows in order to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. For safety reasons, I doubt these would ever be allowed within 10 feet of an American school. Being from Wisconsin, I can handle cold. If it`s not below freezing, I will be okay. Today it is a balmy 48 degrees outside and the sun is shining so it feels even warmer in the sunlight. For me, this is great. But the other teachers seem to think that this is still frozen tundra weather, judging by the way they swarm to the heater like mosquitos to a zapper in the summer time. Our body chemistries but be fine tuned to different levels because they are too cold in the winter and I am maybe a little chilled. But in the summer, when I roll up looking like I just dumped a gallon of water over my head, they arrive at school, dry as the Sahara (provided, they all drive to school).

The popular post-graduation activity in Japan seems to be to dye your hair once you are released from the clutches of secondary education. After having spent 18 years in an educational system that doesn`t allow makeup, dyed hair or any major variation in physical appearance that makes you stick out, these kids scream for rebellion - even if that rebellion is them all using the exact same color of hair dye. Rebels! No, you won`t see too many tongue rings or tattoos, since the latter is associated with gang activity. But the students do finally feel the freedom to change it up a bit with their black, close-cropped hair. I just find it humorous and ironic that everyone associates freedom with that same box of brownish-red Loreal hair dye. Some former students of the high school have come to the school to visit teachers since I arrived here and almost all the boys have tried to change their hair and colored it.

Here is how the Japanese education system is set up:
- Elementary - Grades 1-6
- Junior High - Grades 7-9
- High School - Grades 10-12

The new school year starts April 11th. That`s when the 9th graders move up to the high school, the 6th graders move to the junior high and I get to teach a whole new batch of first graders in the elementary who are moving up from the nursery school. The first graders are my favorite, despite one saying he thought I was 40 years old to the teacher - oh, from the mouths of babes. The teacher couldn`t stop laughing at that one. I`ll let it slide. I was walking home yesterday and I was passing the park and it seemed like the entire first grade posse was there and screamed my name as I walked past - even though they only know how to say "I am great!", "Hello!" and "See you!" It`s funny because as I`m approaching the park, I hear "HELLO!" and then as I continue passing the park, they yell "SEE YOU!" They give very fleeting greetings. "HELLO!...,,,SEE YOU!" And it`s hilarious every time.

This summer they are going to tear down the elementary school and begin construction on a new one because the building is in such rough shape. You can see mold on the ceiling, the floorboards are questionable and there was one time that I found unidentifiable animal scat on the floor by the English room. I don`t even use the English room anymore because it smells like something curled up in the walls and died. All of the elementary kids are going to be in the junior high school with the junior high kids so it will be a fuller school with a higher noise level. They are already kid-proofing the junior high, putting up barriers so students can`t slide down the stairway banisters and slip through the railings to fall to their deaths. Below, that is one banister I wouldn`t want to ride.

The junior high kids were in the high school yesterday taking the "entrance exam" for the high school. In Japan, all third year junior high school students take entrance exams to enter high school. While it may make more of an impact on the mainland, where the number of schools and options is greater, in all reality, these students won`t be denied entrance to the high school because it`s the only high school on the island, with a student population of less than 80. But they go through the motions anyway. I am looking forward to teaching those kids in the high school. They have a lot of energy and are surprisingly good at responding to my questions. Sometimes I question the high school students and their lack of enthusiasm/inability to respond to something as simple as "how are you?" I am definitely going to start challenging them more to use language without staring at the Japanese teacher for the answer. One of my JTEs (Japanese Teacher of English) always puts her hands up when they look at her to block their faces and says "don`t look at me!"

The teachers will be finding out by the middle of this month if they are staying or if they are leaving. Normally, a teacher is required to teach on the Goto Islands for five years so most of the teachers have an idea of what instructions they will get from the prefecture. The prefecture is the ultimate decision-maker in the placement of teachers and teachers have little influence over where they are placed - so there seems like there is a continuous uncertainty. I will be sad to see teachers leave. They have been a lot of fun and you can tell that they really care about the students. The new teachers will arrive at the end of this month, right before the new school year starts.

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