japanese elementary schools are much the same as those in america. they play games, sing songs, make artwork and learn basic skills in a generally fun way. for the most part they’re too young to find school tiresome or question how they’d prefer to spend their time. this is a nice juxtaposition to japanese junior high schools where puberty is starting to kick in, they aren’t quite sex crazed yet, but they’re defiant and awkwardly trying to figure out how they fit in. i’ll write more about those turds at a later date.
japanese law now requires 5th and 6th graders in elementary schools to learn english. while most of my time in elementary schools is spent with those 5th and 6th graders, the other grades rotate in and out. in larger schools that rotation takes a while and today i found myself teaching one of my first grade classes for only the second time in almost eight months. while that may seem unfair, keep in mind there is only so much Scott-sensei to go around and let’s face it, without serious constant exposure to english, 7 year olds don’t retain much anyway. they’re still throwing tantrums, learning how to tie their shoes and shitting their pants on the playground. that being said, they’re giggly, cute as hell and a lot of fun to play games with when you’re a giant.
japanese students of all elementary grades love playing in class and i’m continually amazed at how much they enjoy the simplest of games. something about competing against their fellow classmates really makes them rise to the challenge regardless of age or intelligence. they love to win…sometimes at great personal risk. i’ve watched kids run themselves into walls, trip each other, push, shove and even fight just to score a point in a game. they’ll stop at nothing to win the point even if it means sacrificing themselves.
one wildly popular game that any teacher or student in japan is sure to be familiar with is karuta, which simply means card game. the cards are a set of vocabulary words (numbers, foods, animals, etc.) which the teacher calls out one-at-a-time and students, either in groups or teams race to slap their hand down on the matching card. sometimes the students form groups that each get a set of cards and others times i split the entire class into two teams and have a student from each team race to slap the flashcard on the board. sounds simple, right?
a few months ago i was teaching “like” and “don’t like” to a 5th grade class and i decided to reward their efforts with some sports karuta. my rules dictated that students would repeat sentences starting with “I like…,” and when they heard one that started with “I don’t like…” they would race to slap the corresponding sports card on the board.
many elementary school blackboards in japan have a handle on the bottom that allows them to be raised and lowered. being far above average height, i am forced to raise it as high as possible. otherwise i leave myself susceptible to an unwelcome kancho. on this particular day a little girl ran to the board, jumped to reach a highly placed card, slammed herself into the blackboard and dropped like a sac of potatoes. the height of the board was such that the sill which holds the chalk and erasers was rib level. she got up slowly cradling her ribcage and hobbled away slowly. one of the teachers had to take her to the school nurse because she was in so much pain. as a hockey player it made me proud to see her sacrifice the body like that. i was half tempted to reward her with a slap on the ass and a “good game!” but i’m doing my best to stay out of japanese prison. the upside is, she won the point and was a hero to her teammates.
now anyone who’s ever met me before knows i’m nothing short of a lying cheating swine. so it should come as no surprise to hear that, when it comes to the games played in my classes, even if i’m not playing, the fix is in. more often than not i make sure to keep the score close or at least interesting. i’ll call out the keyword when i know only one of them is paying attention. i’ll pick a card that’s closer to one student so they can get to it first. i accept gifts and bribes. hell, i’ve even gone as far as to step on a kid’s foot or trip them to get the outcome i want. listen, it’s all about what they can prove and let’s face it…no one listens to little kids anyway.
i know what you’re thinking…”this guy is one hell of a teacher!” what can i say, i’m good with kids. although they look cute and innocent, you can’t let these little animals out of your sight for even a second or it’s pure chaos. they can drain your energy quickly. i honestly don’t know how their regular teacher spends an entire day with them. so i find it’s always best to control anything that can be controlled.
today i was teaching colors to 1st graders. it’s only our second class together so they’re like 7 year old powder kegs of snot and energy. every little things sends them tailspinning out of control and they are a lot to handle. i’ve got them racing to the board to slap color flashcards and of course i’m doctoring the game a bit. with every announcement of a color, the classroom breaks into a full out prison riot. kids are screaming and pushing toward the two that run for the board, their teeth are showing and i’m pretty sure they’re yelling “rip his head off!” in japanese. i’m completely out of patience and i’m half hoping one of them shanks the other so we can end the class and go into lockdown.
nothing i tried would allow me to keep the score close. one team was dominating and i’d given up. i couldn’t take the insanity anymore. it occurred to me that i hate kids and everything about them. i just wanted the class to end so i could enjoy some peace and quiet with the 5th and 6th graders. and just as i had resolved to make an appointment for a vasectomy, something happened which i’ve never seen before in a japanese classroom.
a boy and a very small girl were at the front of their lines. i knew it was probably a lost cause, but i looked for an easy to remember color that was closer to the little girl’s side. i called out “RED” and sure enough both of them raced to the board with the boy being much quicker than the little girl. they both had their hands up and ready but they weren’t slapping any color cards. the rest of the students were losing their minds (not to mention their voices) screaming violently. i was about to quiet them down so i could repeat the color but they were screaming it repeatedly. then i saw it.
the boy who was first to the blackboard has positioned his hand behind that of the little girl and he was hesitating. not only was he waiting, but he was gently using his forearm against the little girl’s to ever so slightly coax her hand over the red card. he raised his other palm up to feign uncertainty. the other students were beginning to tear at their own flesh while screaming the answer, unable to comprehend how neither of them could understand. then when it seemed that rest of the class was about to set fire to the teacher’s desk, the little boy at the board whispered a suggestion to the little girl without letting the rest of the class notice and she nervously placed her hand down on the card. he followed by resting his hand firmly on top of hers.
i was speechless. dumbfounded! they both looked up at me…the little girl unsure if she was correct and the little boy waiting on me to make it official. it took me a moment before i remembered to award the little girl’s team the point. when i did the class erupted again. the boy’s team grumbling while the little girl’s team applauded her victory. my mouth was agape and my eyes were still on the boy as he pouted and pounded his paw into the palm of his hand in an oscar worthy performance. his teammates were none the wiser. i couldn’t help but be impressed as he shuffled his feet to the end of the line.
faith in humanity: restored