Observations From Japanese Elementary School
January 22, 2010
I’ve spent the last week making the rounds at Nabari’s plethora of elementary schools, giving sixth grade classes a sorta intro lesson to English in an effort to get them excited to learn it come junior high. This educational detour lasts four weeks, two at the end of January and two at the end of February. Here are a few observations from one week spent doing the elementary school circuit.
– Whereas there are only five junior high schools total in this town, there are upwards of 20 elementary schools scattered all over Nabari. Some are really big, but a lot (usually tucked away in serene mountain areas straight out of The Sound Of Music) are tiny. Today, I taught a combined 5th/6th grade class of 10 students. Definitely no overcrowding issues here.
– Though not true in every case, it seems most elementary school students don’t have to wear uniforms to class. Personal expression…who’d of thunk it?
– Every Japanese principal’s office looks exactly the same. Wood-paneled walls, same carpet design, pictures of former principals hovering nearby above the cut-copy brown desk. Did Japan have some leftover model principal offices and dumped them all on Nabari?
– I’ve consumed more coffee this week than at any other point in my life.
– I played basketball with one sixth grade class this week, and for the most part the students seemed more intent on passing the ball then scoring. Great for making you go “ahhhhh, look at that teamwork,” not so dandy when your team needs points and nobody wants to hold the ball for more than two seconds. One kid did put on a good Kobe Bryant impersonation, dribbling the ball as long as he could and taking some crazy stupid shots. Also, the rim was low enough that I could practically dunk the ball. Good times all around.
– The second grade class I made a cameo in this week deserves a whole series of bullet points alone. So amazing. Highlights include:
* Whereas the older kids I teach are petrified of asking questions, second graders could go on for half a day just asking the most bizarre stuff. Sure, there is the usual “what Japanese food do you like” inquiries, but then they surprise you. “What’s your favorite flower?” “Do you like cats or dogs?” “What’s your favorite rare stone?” No, really, I answered diamond.
* They are also way more enthusiastic about learning (and using) English. They loved using English words almost as much as they loved singing songs…we did “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” three times and each time it started up the kids reacted like U2 were coming out for an encore. Also, friendly reminder I get paid to sing songs with seven year olds.
* Second graders could play rock-paper-scissors for an hour and be completely content doing it.
* The class though I was really cool for knowing who Pan-kun (of “Chimpanzee Riding on a Segway” fame) was. Most people would consult a criminal database if they heard I always try to watch the cute animal show on Saturday.
* In general, they made me feel a little better about humanity.
– Typical lunch at Japanese elementary school – rice (with some sort of protein) and pumpkin soup. Though they probably are in better health than I’ll ever be, I’m still thankful I grew up with the privilege of eating grease-laden pizza during my educational stint.
(Reasons I Should Not Be Allowed To Teach Children: One part of the sixth-grade lesson involves reviewing the letters of the alphabet. I always pronounce “U” the way Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em does (“uuuuuuuuuuuuuuu”). I get a big kick out of this, even if nobody else in the room even knows how to turn their swag on.)
(Japanese Fun Fact #37: Students in Japan all tend to own a similar looking, boxy backpack. I learned this week they can cost $600. I mean…can they withstand acid? That’s a lot for something to put your books in. Just throw them in a garbage bag, save $598. I’m going to be the best parent.)