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One Beam Of Light Is Enough To See Where You’re Going November 9, 2007

Posted by Mitch in General.

I’ve had a bad day. So bad, I got close to leaving the school and chucking it in for the day. In fact, when I was confronted by some of the teachers, I got ridiculously close to tears of frustration. Consequently, today is the first day in a long time that I’ve wanted to be back home and have rejoiced the fact that I’m only going to be here for a year. I’m sure once I explain the cause of my consternation it’ll seem petty, but in a country where I have to deal with daily obstacles just to live a comfortable life, the small things amount to huge big deals that make or break my days.

I spent quite a long time planning my lesson about Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot. I taught my teachers at Junior High School all about it and had them translate a simple version of it so I could tell my kids at Elementary School. I made flash cards. I had games with a November 5th theme. Everything was going to be grand.

Then I get into my class, tell them that I’m going to tell them about a party we have in England every year on November 5th. Passing the teacher a copy of the story in Japanese, I made my way to the front of the class and started. It was then that the teacher stopped me and told me that the content of my speech was “too serious”. She basically scrapped it all. “Tell them about the party though, because that’s fine”. Right…so I’m supposed to explain why we set off fireworks and burn a life-size doll of a Catholic on a huge fire, without giving them any explanation? I mean, I know they’re kids, but even they need some sort of background to why we do what we do.

So I couldn’t tell them about this quintessential British celebration of success over terrorism. Which means I couldn’t play the games I had planned. Which means that all my planning was a waste of time. She then asked me to just do something else, effectively asking me to plan a lesson off the top of my head. Now, as weird as this may be, I don’t actually have an army of replacement lessons to hand. So I told her I couldn’t do anything with them as I didn’t have anything planned. I made them colour in my bonfire and fireworks pictures and then sort of just eeked out the rest of the lesson.

Then, afterwards, she got the teacher who’s best at English at that school to come and explain it more. However, this being Elementary, the teachers are quite inept at English and so she frustrated the situation more and told me that I shouldn’t tell kids about that as a story of such violent content is unsuitable. When I explained that children in England know that Guy Fawkes wanted to blow up the Houses of Parliament by the time they’re in kindergarten, her explanation was “Well, that’s in England”. It’s not as though I was about to go into detail about how the group of traitors was sentenced to death because, I agree, kids don’t need to hear about hanging, drawing and quartering. Not just yet, anyway.

I was also told that I was not allowed to play Sheriff as it encourages the kids to shoot each other. Besides the fact that I wasn’t handing my first years firearms and asking them to take out their grievances on each other, everyone can play Sheriff! It’s not a difficult game and the pupils enjoy it.

So I now have been given the impression that Japanese kids can’t hear about anything bad in the world. The existence of guns is prohibited until they’re old enough to wield them. People don’t do shitty things to each other. This in the country that still has the death penalty…

But it was all made better when I met a student who I’ve not seen or had interactions with before. We’ll refer to her as Erin. After lunch (actually, it was quite good today, even though I’m at the school that usually serves the worst food) Erin walked past me and said “Hello! How are you?” This in itself isn’t too surprising. Most kids know this. However, the fact that when I answered her question and reflected it back at her, she was able to answer straight away instead of looking blankly at me, muttering something in Japanese and walking away, bemused – the normal response, was something quite special.

At the end of my class with her today, she came up to me and said to me “I have a baby sister”. Seeing as this girl is 6 or 7 and compulsory English education doesn’t begin for another 4 years, I was impressed, but was then hounded and literally scaled by a rather boisterous young man (it was like something out of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, I swear!). However, she was persistent and in the end I granted her the entirety of my attention. This is what she said (pretty much verbatim):

I have a baby sister and I love her very much. When she gets older I will take care of her and be her friend. I want to teach her English and be there for her because I am her older sister

Aside from the fact that this is an incredibly sweet little speech, she said it all on her own and wasn’t acting as though she was just reciting it. There was feeling in her words and she knew exactly what she was saying. This wasn’t some rehearsed speech that she’d picked up online or from the telly. This was her, communicating with me in a language that is alien in more than one way to most of the kids I come into contact with on a daily basis. She spoke with better clarity than the oldest kids I teach and had better pronunciation than one of the English teachers at my school. I wanted to tear up and give her a hug, having finally found someone who had a natural talent and thirst for language learning. I remember when I was at secondary school, I was always asking questions that stumped my German teacher – finally, I’ve found my protege.

I found out after that she has been taking lessons outside of school, but seeing as she isn’t half English and isn’t exposed to the language very often, I’m still ridiculously impressed with her. That event in itself was enough to make me forget about the teachers ruining my lesson plan and has put a smile on my face that will be there for the rest of the day!

Till next time!



1. Steve, Carol and Katie - November 15, 2007

One Beam of Light Is Enough to See Where You’re Going – not with a gammy eye it isn’t.

2. Lia - December 3, 2007

Not being allowed to play Sheriff is ridiculous! The kids will know about guns from tv and games etc anyway. My parents tried to keep my brother away from guns when he was small, and without any prompting he picked up a stick, pointed it at people and said ‘Chush!’ It’s genetic.
I love the sound of that little girl – lucky you! Such pupils are very rare, I found 🙂 xxx

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