Monday, July 12, 1999
Today was a wretched day. Ugh! I had five classes, two of which were total disasters. One class I got mad at two kids in particular. We were playing a game where kids passed around a clip of money and a Mos Burger (a burger joint here in Japan) hat to music and stopped passing when the music stopped. The kids holding the items when the music stopped were to read a dialogue to eachother. Most of them had a bad attitude about it, but two kids just flat out refused to do it. This is at a good school, mind you, and last year it was my favorite school. Now the 12 year old first graders are giving me lip and showing disrespect for the teachers! I had been having a bad day already and by then I was nearly furious and told them that we were all going to have a meeting with the principal, to which the JTE laughed. What? The principal get involved in a disciplinary problem?? She couldn't believe that I'd suggest such a thing. Then I told them to come down to the teachers' room at lunch, I wanted to talk with them. This whole incident did a fair job of wrecking the lesson.
When we got back to the teachers' room I pretty much grilled/lectured the teacher about contradicting me or laughing at a suggestion of mine in class in front of the students. And it just so happens that at this school the principal used to be an English teacher and he believes that English is very, very important for the kids. I asked her if she knew this and she quickly acceded that I was right and that he would hold the meeting if I'd asked for it. I hated to do that, especially because I liked her, but I thought it was necessary.
But thankfully the meeting wasn't necessary. When the kids came into the teachers' room near the end of lunch, it was me, the head JTE, and the English teacher I'd been teaching with who lectured them for a good ten minutes. One of them (the worse of the two) actually started crying! I didn't think we were being particularly harsh, but the pressure of the situation got to him. After each sentence I said, the head JTE would talk for like a minute, emphasizing everything I'd said and expressing it in different ways. The kids said that they didn't understand what I'd wanted them to do in class, but we know that they understood, and one of them had slept through the practice part of class, no mercy for him. Then I gave them a little project. I told them to write, "I will try harder in English class" 50 times! I love that. It's great! The kids looked as if they'd been given a death sentence, because of course they were not good students and still not fully used to Roma-ji (letters) and the assignment would be really hard for them. I said that if the finished sentences weren't on my desk when I got there the next morning we'd all have a little talk with the principal. Haha! You should have seen their faces after Mr. Kawakami translated that little tidbit!
Akiko said that no one in schools ever gives a punishment like that and she thought it was a great idea. Hmm. That's not what they said at Isao, but maybe the teacher there misunderstood what I was saying. Anyway, I think the experience was memorable; it definitely made an impression on them.
Tuesday, July 13, 1999
Today I had one of the kids' writing assignments on my desk when I got there, but not the other. He handed it in a few classes later, apparently he had forgotten it at home and gone back to get it! I didn't think they'd let him do that, but apparently they did! It seems I actually have some influence here. Scary, that. And while one of them wrote, "I will study harder in English class" as opposed to "I will try harder in English class" I didn't make a fuss out of it. I just told them that I hoped they had learned a lesson.
Wednesday, July 14, 1999: The Pit of Despair
Classes are really starting to get me down. Maybe it's just "End of the Year Blues". I hope so. Maybe I'm just having a string of really bad classes. Sigh. I'm just really looking forward to the end of school, which is only in a couple days. It's really starting to wind down now. Starting yesterday, and going through till Friday there are half days because (the theory goes) that it's too hot to have kids in the classes and expect them to concentrate. No air conditioning and no insulation in the walls, coupled with no fans in the classroom and the humidity levels being what they are make for a nasty learning environment. Maybe it's just the yukky heat which has gotten to me.
Thursday, July 15, 1999
The teacher I talk with most often here at Seiwa, Akiko, is leaving soon. She's a substitute teacher and the regular teacher will come back next term so she's having some of her classes for the last time. In her classes she's encouraged the students to write her and me (because I might not return to Seiwa next year either) letters. Her eyes were misting and she was sniffing several times today. She's very depressed about leaving. What a transformation from the beginning, when she thought that maybe being an English teacher wasn't for her after all, despite her lifelong desire to become one. It's good to see, especially now. These notes came at just the right time too. Some of the notes the kids wrote for me are really sweet. Elaborate drawings and cute sentiments. These things couldn't have come at a better time.
Friday, July 16, 1999: Return to Gion
Today was really eventful! Right after school (about 12:30) I bailed and streaked home to get ready. I was meeting a friend in Kyoto to walk around and look at a few of the sites which can be seen at this time of year, the Gion Matsuri. I really should have brought my video camera because there were so many people wearing yukata (a light cotton dress, much like a kimono). I love seeing that. It really adds to the environment. They had many interesting foods sold by street vendors and carnival type games. Today's main attractions were the shrines which are carried through the streets on Saturday. Today, the shrines were stationary and they were allowing people to climb up into them and take a look around. Inside each one there were musicians... it was great. My friend, Makiko, took a picture of me inside one of the shrines. It was really interesting, but many of the shrines looked very alike. They all went along the same theme. After we had our fill of the sites, we ducked into a Starbucks and talked for a while. I got home about 11:30 dead tired.
Saturday, July 17, 1999: Day of Rest
With summer vacation approaching very rapidly (only one more day of school on Monday, and it's closing ceremony, no classes) I'm starting to wind down. That is, before I wind back up again. I always think of vacations, not as a time to rest, per se, but as more time to get the things I need done! I'm just not a person who can truly rest easily. I have a couple big goals for this summer, the biggest being that I want to study Japanese every day and really chisel away at the mountain that is kanji, and I hope I don't fall away from those goals. But today I simply rested. I needed that. I read, did some cleaning, and wrote some letters.