The Return: Elementary School Part Two

October 6, 2010

I’m not one to believe in “fate” or similar pre-ordained mindsets, but even a skeptic like myself notes the timing of my newest teaching venture and sorta wonders how the timing came together so well. As you could probably guess from a few whiny posts down the page there…look ma, LiveJournal!…I’ve been quite frustrated as of late and those bumps in the road persist. The most unsettling development is I’m starting to become more stressed at my job, which wasn’t happening until recently. So I was thrilled to learn that, starting this past Tuesday, I’d also start visiting an elementary school every other week. Considering how much I enjoyed elementary schools this past winter, this felt like a great addition to my life.

I’ve been once thus far and, since I’ve already talked about them before, here are a few observations from my latest visit.

– Elementary school classes can be tiny. My biggest class at my new school peaks out in the high 20s…my smallest rests at nine. Nine fourth-students for the entire school…insane, but makes class pretty manageable.

– The younger the kid, the more enthusiastic they are to learn English/interact with the weird-o foreign man who magically appeared in their school. Whereas my oldest students at junior high school, now confronted with the menace of high school entrance exams, have zoned out of English class save for the times when they can win a bookmark by answering a question correctly, third-to-sixth graders love trying to say stuff in English. I’ll admit they probably aren’t retaining tons…not to mention, when you are that little ANYTHING out of the ordinary seems really exciting…but they at least show some energy.

– Not to mention, the elementary school has an entire room devoted to English dubbed “The Happy Room.” It’s got giant picture books like The Very Hungry Caterpillar and sock puppets. I don’t know why junior high schools can’t do the same. Or at least provide puppets.

– Weirdest question asked by a student – “what’s your favorite ‘buzz’ in America?” Turns out “buzz” refers to trends, at least in this kid’s mind. I told them the most popular things in America at the moment are vampires and Lady Gaga. I think I’m right?

– I also appreciate younger students because they constantly bring up Spongebob Squarepants around me, specifically that I have the same name as the mentally-challenged starfish on that show. Always gets a laugh, at least.

– The Japanese love the song “The Entertainer” a lot because they played it on loop during the lunch period. Nothing like ragtime piano to fire you up for the afternoon. Looking forward to the “Maple Leaf Rag” next time.

– Only mishap of the day came during the hour I was waiting for the bus to come. I decided to study some Japanese…mistake one…and focused on the lesson where you learn how to say “I want [object].” Two of the teachers noticed my effort and commented on how “great” it was. Then one tested me by asking what I wanted in Japanese. Caught off guard, I replied “water” as it seemed kinda funny in a stupid way and way better than anything else I could think of. Everyone laughed and we went on our ways.

Fifteen minutes later the teacher comes to my desk carrying a giant bottle of sports drink, having taken my (admittedly shitty) joke seriously. I tried to explain that I was OK, I didn’t really want anything to drink and felt absolutely mortified at what I had done. I felt quite bad (not to mention stupid, but that’s a given), though later on I pretty much laughed it off. That’s what I get for studying.

(Personal Problems Aside Because It’s This Or Therapy #1: I’m realizing one of the things that’s starting to make me more and more frustrated is the super-niceness of the people here. That sounds like an amazingly prick-like thing to say – how dare you be nice to me! – but it just seems so forced. A year ago, I loved being assaulted with kindness, people oooohing and ahhhhing when I cracked up a Japanese textbook or admitted “yes, I can eat sushi.” Now, whether because I’m used to Japan or…more likely…I’ve become a little meaner, I find myself questioning the actual authenticity of this niceness more frequently. Are they actually trying to be nice…or just trying to make me feel like they care? Honestly, the biggest reason I hate this is because it makes trying to read romantic interests damn near impossible, and that will drive a dude insane.)

(Japanese Fun Fact #82: I learned from a friend this weekend that when a pet needs to be put down, the Japanese don’t take them to the vet. They take them to “the dream chamber.” Putting pet dogs to rest…still kinda whimsical in Japan!)

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