September 22, 2000


Right now I'm feeling: content

Right now I'm listening to: Nanase Aikawa

Nanase Aikawa --Sekai wa kono te no naka ni

Yes, I have an obsession...

Four girls being scolded by the vice-principal. I heard loud sniffles from a couple; the second girl on the left is wiping away a tear or two.

Kiyoko and Hitomi

Group shot

Link of the Day: The Japan FAQ. This link tells you why prices are so damn high in Japan. The answers might startle you.


I was right last week when I was wondering if I was pushing the kids too hard to have their pronunciation correct.

Little Hitomi is the worst off. She doesn't take criticism too well at all. Kiyoko takes it very well. She'll listen closely to a word I say a few times, say it herself, then say, "Ah!" Then I see it click. One of Hitomi's problems, even though she has better natural pronunciation, is that she doesn't have as good an ear as Kiyoko so when I say a word in contrast to hers, she can't hear how it's different. She gets sullen and her head goes slowly downward. If a human being could be "unplugged" from it's power source, that's exactly what Hitomi looks like. Her eyes are open, but she's not hearing me anymore. She doesn't respond to my requests to repeat the word and I give up. Move on to something else.

Every session I try to give both of them confidence and and encouragement. And while they are still struggling to get some of the basics down, their mastery of the specifics is improving all the time. They're miles from where they were before summer. But sometimes I feel terrible that I always have things for Hitomi to work on. I can tell she's trying, but she thinks that, eventually, her pronunciation should be perfect and I shouldn't have anything else to say about it, but that day hasn't come yet, nor will it come for quite a while. Her pronunciation is good, but not perfect.

My last class today I was hoping to be really good because it's my last day here. The last class of the last day determines what thoughts you leave that school with so I was hoping for a dynamite class to avoid leaving Isao JHS with a bitter taste in my mouth. We were playing the 'hot potato' game. In this particular lesson, I'm teaching the kids how to order simple things at fast food restaurants in the West. So, I hand out a simple dialog, we practice the new words, the dialog itself, then get rolling. I put on some tunes and they pass around two plastic hamburgers. The poor souls who have the burgers when the music stops have to say the dialog.

Well, everything was cool until the low man on the totem pole of the class got stuck with the burger. I felt an overwhelming sense of dread coming over him, but it wasn't just from speaking out in public; it was from something else. I found out what that feeling of dread was when most of the class laughed when they discovered that he would have to say the dialog.

A couple of students poked fun at a few of his words (even though they were pronounced pretty well) and I had to shush them a number of times, each time encouraging the boy to continue. When he finally finished and sat down he put his head in his hands and the ringleader said, "Look! He's going to cry!" and sure enough, he did.

Furious, I grabbed the ringleader by the front of his shirt and dragged (well, more like tugged, really, but 'dragged' sounds so much more dramatic, doesn't it?) his sorry, bullying ass outside of the room, along with the teacher who barely speaks English, and we proceeded to lecture him. Then we went back into the room and I wanted the incident to be over with, but the boy was still crying and the mood for the game was shattered. The teacher lectured the class for 10 minutes and after that I ended the class early and left. After the class, she called three boys into the teachers' room and she and one other teacher lectured them for over a half an hour. It turns out that that particular boy cries fairly regularly, but it's no wonder if his classmates are tormenting him constantly.

Today, being my last day at this school before moving on to Seiwa JHS, was our last practice together. Instead of giving them the standard pronunciation practice, I gave them some tips about the contest, what to expect, and some basics in speaking. One run through with each dialog and that was about it. We were done.

Lately they have been taking to thanking me with a prepared line of thanks at the end of our practices that goes like this, "Thank you so much for helping us with our English". They say this together, of course. At the end of this practice, Mrs. Washi, (who has been helping me translate to the students this practice, but with whom I've been ticked off with this month because she has hardly helped me at all coach the students. But then again all the teachers at this school are really indifferent to the English Recitation Contest... kind of pisses me off actually) told me that they wanted to speak to me alone after the practice so I figured they wanted to say their line of thanks again, but were a bit embarrased to say it in front of Mrs. Washi. Hey, that's cool.

Their 'thank you' this time was much longer and they said something about patience and it being such a long time and stuff like that. It was nice. I just said it was no problem and it was my pleasure and Kiyoko had brough a camera (against regulation, but what the hell do I care, right?) so we took a few pictures, a few "cheezu"s here and there, and then I went over to pick up the microphone equipment.

When I looked back, Kiyoko had her small towel (that every Japanese person carries to mop themselves during the really hot months) up to her face. I thought she was just wiping off her forehead so I wound up the cord to the microphone speaker and picked it up. But as I turned to head out the door Kiyoko took the towel away from her face and her eyes were red and moist.

She was crying.

I mean, students have cried before when I've left their schools to move on with the rotation, and during graduations of course when I've said goodbye for the last time, but this time I was going to see her again real soon, next week. I couldn't believe that these little practices meant so much to her. I was a real fixture in her life, even if it was just a few months it was pretty regular. It made me feel great and terrible at the same time.

I sat her down, put my hand on her shoulder and told her that she would do fine. That I enjoyed our practices and I told her how proud I was of her. She nodded her head in understanding even though I knew she didn't understand my words exactly . Tears trickled down her cheeks on the way to the teachers' room to put away the microphone equipment. Both the principal and vice-principal were there when we came into the teachers' room. They saw her crying and didn't understand. Of course, by now Hitomi's eyes were also glazed over and tearing up. I put the stuff away and told them that they would both do very well in the contest and how I'm so proud of them for the progress they'd made. And even if they didn't win that trip to North America it wouldn't matter in my eyes because I know how hard they've worked and how much they've improved. They stepped out of the teachers' room, Kiyoko still sniffling and crying, said goodbye and left.

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