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The Nicest Kids In Town September 5, 2007

Posted by Mitch in General, Life in Japan.
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I taught for the first time today. It wasn’t the holistic experience you might have imagined, where I really bonded with the kids and by the end of the lesson felt that I’d imparted wisdom that they had obviously absorbed and would remember for a long time afterwards.

Today was my first visit to a kindergarten. Now I was under the impression that it would be a meeting with the staff so I could find out what was expected of me, what sort of things I would need to cover. When I arrived and the place was overrun with hordes of screaming infants, I knew something was awry. There was me in my business dress, trying my best to at least give the impression of being organised. Then I get dropped in it. Totally.

Wakabayashi-san: “So, when you teach a group of 40 5 year olds for an hour today, maybe you should cover fruit
Me: “Er…come again?
Wakabayashi-san: “Draw a picture of an apple and then some other fruits. You know; that kind of brainless crap.
Me: (splutters a little)
Wakabayashi-san: “Right, let’s see how well you teach because I’m going to be sat at the back of the class watching every move you make and so help me God, one wrong move and I’ll cut off both your testicles with a pair of chopsticks

So I delivered a totally impromptu lesson. We were warned that things like this might happen, but I suppose I’d always thought it would happen to someone else. But no, I was placed at the head of the class, kindergarten teachers, my supervisor and possibly the owner of the kindergarten and told to teach. So I did what any self respecting person did. I lowered my expectations and decided to go with numbers. Everyone needs to know how to count in foreign languages. I can still remember 1-5 in Swedish for chrissakes. Yep, you guessed it; the kids had already learnt their numbers. And not just 1-10, they knew on into the twenties and everything. ‘Alright’, I thought, ‘Think you’re tough? Let’s play a game that has made grown men cry. Believe me, I’ve seen it in real life’. Now anyone who has ever played warm up games before a rehearsal should know Huggy Bears. It makes and breaks relationships. The caller shouts “Huggy Bears…8” and 8 people have to huddle together, hugging each other. It gets competitive when there are a couple of people who really want to win and will climb over their friends in order to do so. Alas, there was no such enthusiasm for my game. When they had organised themselves into circles of the desired numbers, my impeccably behaved kids would sit down silently. God, it was depressing. So I tried to up the ante and tried to teach them plurals. That promptly fell back on its arse. Running out of steam and wanting to rock back and forth in a ball in the corner, I resorted to a game only adults with a background in First Aid (perhaps even with St John’s Ambulance training) should attempt. Ladders. You know, that game where you sit with a partner, feet touching and everyone is given a number/name and when the caller shouts out your number/name you have to scramble over everyone’s legs and then round the sides and back to your place. See, you do remember. You still have the bruises and scars? Yeah, we all do…

Surprisingly that was more of a success. They loved it. Running around, treading on each other. Suddenly they were more like 5 year olds are meant to be. OK, so two of them ended up crying, but they were sacrifices I was willing to make to make sure the kids loved me. I think they did. A lot of them just looked at me, gobsmacked that there was someone in their presence that didn’t look like anyone they had ever seen before. Some of them took great delight in trying to play swingball with my testicles. A sharply issued “NO” on my part soon sent them scurrying. And they were impressed with my juggling. God, I can’t juggle for shit, but they loved the fact I tried. But I think by far the funniest thing was watching the looks of bemusement spread across their faces when they realised that I understood little to nothing of what they were saying. But I got a big chorus of “Harrow!” out of them and when I left they all gathered at the door and waved me “Bai bai”

The past two days (other than the trip to the kindergarten, of course (and I know I didn’t mention it earlier, but God, they were sweet. I want one. Just for a little while…)) have been mind-numbingly boring. Yesterday was mainly devoted to me trying to learn some more Japanese. By the end of it, I was getting some of the teachers to teach me how to write some pretty complicated Kanji (Chinese symbols that have been adopted into the Japanese language). Feeling full of the joys of spring, I decided to show Wakabayashi-san how well I was doing, feeling sure I would be receiving some praise following my skillful demonstration. I was left seriously wanting, if I’m honest. He took one look at my handiwork, sort of shrugged and then told me that my ‘stroke order’ was wrong. I’ve resolved to not even try and converse with him in Japanese again. The efforts I’ve made in learning the language have been met with a lukewarm reception at best, so he can struggle on in his stilted English for all I care. I wash my hands of it all.

That one negative thing aside, things have been going alright really, other than being bored witless and falling asleep at my desk a couple of times. My English teachers are still really nice and teach me new stuff every day. They also took me down to eat school dinners with the pupils. Now, they’re infamous for being bad and so I approached the meal with trepidation, fearing the humiliation of throwing it all back up again in front of the entire school. I’ve got to say, it wasn’t all that bad. I left the pickled salad with chunks of raw squid in it, because that wasn’t really floating my boat at that time, but other than that, it was quite a nice meal. And I got to sit with the kids, which is always a bonus. But you should see the organisation. After the meal was finished, everyone had their own assigned job and the entire lunch room had been cleaned and emptied within about 5 minutes. They’re just so organised. In England, the poor, put-upon Lunchtime Supervisors (read: dinnerladies) have to struggle through mountains of detritus, whilst being hounded by some snotty-nosed little bastards. Japan is just different. They’re weird. I think they may even respect each other…

I also had to eat at the kindergarten today. The meal was nicer and so much sweeter (as in the experience). I was sat with Lion Class (there is also Elephant Class and Squirrel Class*) and three of the little kids donned plastic macs and caps and gave out plates and cutlery to everyone, followed by a bread roll. Then all the kids sang a song before eating and when everyone was finished, they all tidied up together and sang some more songs (including the classic; Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes).

My afternoon today was spent doodling and dicking about on the internet. Then, just as I was about to ask if I could leave, a girl who I’m coaching for a speech contest came and asked if I could go through some things with her, which I duly did (it being my job and all). Trying to get her to distinguish between ‘chicken’ and ‘shicken’ was a bit of an uphill struggle, but we got there in the end. By the help of Pokemon. How crazy is this? We call them Pokemon, thinking that that’s what it is here. Oh, how wrong we are. Pokemon is actually called Pocket Monsters in Japan. I know! Sounds very Japanese, no? Well anyhoo, I told her to think of Pikachu. There’s a ‘chu’ sound, see. All she’d have to do is change the u to an i and everyone’s happy. This didn’t work out quite as well as I wanted, so we sat saying Pikachicken for a while until she seemed to get the idea. Then, when she was reading through the story, every time she came across the word ‘chicken’, you could see her roll it over in her mind, remembering not to come out with some bastardisation of a weird little creature’s name.

Who knows what delights the next couple of days will bring. There’s a party this weekend in Hikari, so there should be some fun japes to report at some point. Till next time!

*Listening to a Japanese person try to say ‘squirrel’ is possibly one of the funniest things. Ever.

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Comments»

1. Wendy - September 6, 2007

Well now you know how your teachers felt! They say what goes around comes around and as you were a little git maybe teaching was the wrong job for you after all!!


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