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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

School’s Out

As a head’s up… I’m probably a bit all over the place today with my writing… because I write whatever comes out of my head… keeps things interesting… 

I hardly ever write about my interactions with my students over the three years I spent as an assistant English teacher (AET) on the JET (Japan Exchange & teaching) Programme in the rural city of Ohtawara, in the prefecture of Tochigi.

You might put it down to the fact that I was a lousy teacher, the kids hated me, and I hated them—but nothing could be farther from the truth.

The kids respected me, and I respected them.

In Japan, you can’t get much better than respect. Period.

Love… sure… but you ain’t getting love without respect.

In fact, long-time readers are quite aware of how many of my students at Nozaki Chu Gakko (Nozaki Junior High School) went out of their way to tell their pretty young English teacher, Kikuchi-sensei that An-do-ryu-sensei was a really cool and nice guy.

To be honest, I don’t know exactly what they told her, suffice to say that Noboko (Kikuchi-sensei) told me that their opinion of me helped change her opinion of me.

It changed her from  a Japanese co-worker I was hopelessly in love with at first sight to my girlfriend and fiance that I was hopelessly in love with and treasure decades later every moment I got to spend with her.

They saw the way Noboko and I looked at each other in class… me, tongue hanging out, daydreaming with a wry grin on my face… and aside from the tongue-thing, I always had a smile on my face when at a school.

Noboko was new to the whole teaching thing… and being a very pretty woman… and single… every Japanese male at the school was trying to make a play for her - only most were scared off by the fact that her father was the boss of the principals in our northern half of the province… those were the smart ones.

I wasn’t that smart, and even if I was, I wouldn’t have given a crap.

Even though I was shot down initially, the students all saw that there was something weird with how I appeared in the company of their pretty teacher.  

A bunch of first year kids - boys and girls corralled me during lunch play time and asked me - IN ENGLISH - if I liked Kikuchi-sensei.

Maybe this is what gets me in trouble… or maybe this is what gets me respect, but in Japan I vowed that any kid who asked me in question - no matter how embarrassing the question - would get a straight, honest answer.

So, I told them yes. And then did a couple of pumps of my hand over my heard… and then sighed.

They all bowed to me… grim-faced… and then began to chatter amongst themselves in Japanese.

I don’t speak Japanese… I do a little, but not enough to know what I bunch or tweens speaking in tween-speak are saying. 

And then… over the ensuing weeks… they went about  their plan.

And it wasn’t just the kids from this one class… they apparently went and told the kids in the other classes… and other grades… but not to any of the other adults, save one.

They, according to Noboko, simply chatted up my perceived virtues. 

These kids went out of their way to convince their teacher that she should go out with me because I was a good guy.

I was a good guy.

I don’t know how the kid’s knew that, but I can only hope it was because I treated them with respect…  and maybe that helped them respect me… and then… well… those kids went above and beyond.

I get asked why I don’t write about my experience as a junior high school teacher… truthfully, the stuff that happened IN class was boring… because we followed Japanese protocols…

But, i do my best work when I’m not stuck following protocols. My students, too.

I never felt like I was a teacher in Japan. Never.

That would be an insult to all the men and women who worked their butts off to become a real teacher.

I’ve been a piano and clarinet teacher. I’ve been a soccer coach… hockey, baseball… all for youth. I have a degree in political science and a college whatever in journalism.

I’ve taught… but I’m no teacher.

The fact that I couldn’t get into teacher’s college despite letters from teachers on JET,  kids I coached and kids I taught music too… I couldn’t get in because to teacher’s college, the only thing that matters is one’s marks/grades from university. Experience, and a person who earned the respect of his charges?

That’s not worth as much as some brilliant, but ultimately dull person with an A+ in everything.

It’s okay… I should have studied more… but i was too busy coaching, and giving music lessons while I was in university…

But yeah… nothing interesting ever happened IN the class room, except for a few laughs here and there… but nothing major to write about.

All the good stuff occurred outside the school confines of classroom.

I know it’s tough to see, but if you look at the top of the blog… under the title, I provide a description of what you will read: An outsider’s view of life in Japan.

Nothing about teaching. Mostly because there’s very little to tell.

For the record, the two girls in the photo are/were my students… probably old enough now to have kids as old as they were when we first met.

Look how they jumped into the line behind the Buddhist monks at this temple in Nikko… not because they were supposed to, but because they wanted to…

It’s my favorite photo of Japan, I think… just a couple of people not paying attention to the rules and having fun…

You know they did that for me, eh… they are from a different school, too.

I taught at seven city junior high schools. Five had kids that would do anything for me, without teacher’s needing to be involved. One wanted to do anything to me (though not everyone), owing to no teacher control. One didn’t get the chance to do anything with me owing to strict teacher control.

Okay… maybe I’ll present (re-present) some stories of my interactions with kids… noting that none will actually be about the classroom.

Andrew Joseph
PS: Today’s blog title is School’s Out by the awesome Alice Cooper, a sly way of mentioning that name on this day.

1 comment:

  1. It is nice to see your interest and your schooling culture, its simply outstanding. You have summarized it so well. Thanks for this creative structure of writing.

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