Thursday, April 15, 2010

School Days!

Today was my second day at the Toyota Yogo school, and it went much better than the first day in many ways. First, I got there on time (no schedule confusion). Second, they had a lot more for me to do. My first class period, I worked with two adorable second graders, Etsushi and Shion. They were both a little shy to start out with, but the Obama mask and a lot of positive feedback and humor soon had them out of their shells, answering questions and having fun with English. Because they were both physically disabled (in wheelchairs), they weren't able to whack at pictures on the board with fly swatters, but luckily I had multiple sets of Karuta cards which I spread on the desk for each of them. So there was much fly swatter goodness for all! Etsushi really loved to take pot shots at the “cats” and “pasta,” and he got a kick out of it when I said “I am not a cat!” A great lesson all around!

The next class I taught was an energetic set of Junior High Schoolers. That was probably one of my most fun Self Introduction Lessons yet, because after I went through my general lesson, they then asked me questions. So I got to explain about my family (drawing pictures), and my cats (including a lesson on spots and stripes). They got a real kick out of my drawing my five cats with three fat ones and two skinny ones. I drew the pictures, then said, “I have two skinny cats” (pointing at the two 'skinny' cats) and “three fat cats”, pointing at my exaggerated “fat cat” drawings. (these were horrible drawings by the way). I feel like I was able to teach a good amount in that class, and that the students had a good time.

Next was a new student entrance assembly. That was pretty interesting and at the same time rather weird, in large part because the “new student entrance ceremony” lasted about fifteen minutes and was then followed up by a game that confused the heck out of me because I didn't understand the Japanese instructions. So we were randomly moving around this circle (I was designated wheelchair pusher for one of my high schoolers, but he basically ended up doing most of his wheelchair wheeling because I had no idea what the frack I was doing).

It took about seven to ten minutes I'm guessing for me to even figure out we were playing a game and not participating in some weird assembly ritual that I didn't understand. Once I figured out we were playing a game though, things got much clearer. Basically, everyone was standing (or sitting, depending on physical factors) around a circle with taped markers on the floor to indicate where each person was supposed to be. One student in the middle of the circle announced some trait and then those that had this trait had to quick move around to another place in the circle. Basically, it was Fruits Baskets (a very popular game in Japan), but I didn't know that, so someone was saying something in Japanese, and then we were either running or wheeling or not, for no reason I could understand. But it was fun anyway, and I was happy to participate.

After assembly, I had another dreaded free period. I stayed extra in the auditorium to help with cleanup, but eventually there was no use in me being there so it was back to the staff room. Sigh. But lunch came about a half an hour later, so I got to help with preparations and eating. I asked one of the other teachers if the school lunch drink was always milk, and she said “always milk, but once and a while we get chocolate milk.” I am living in breathless anticipation of that day. Seriously. At the same time, just to make the food mix more exciting, about one day a month is Natto day. Natto is fermented soybeans that become a viscous, stringy semi-solid mixture that is supposed to smell awful to everyone, and tastes awful to most foreigners. I haven't had it yet, and I will do my best to try it with an open mind, but I do feel like this is the bullet in my spinning revolver chamber of otherwise pleasant meals.

After lunch was another free period. I had asked earlier my English teacher if it was alright if I sat in on song time in the music room again (we're, that is me and the middle schoolers, are learning a great song about walking) and she said she'd talk to the Vice Principal at 12:30 and get back to me. I didn't hear back from her through lunch (which ended at 1:20), and since the music room was on my way back from the staff room, I just popped in and asked the teachers if they minded if I sat in. They were happy to have me, and it was quite fun! I don't get the wild impression this decision was a great one with my other sensei, and I'm not thrilled about that, but I've done my best to do most things right and I figure I hadn't heard from her and it was my stated “free time” so why not be useful instead of useless?

Last class was my high school English class, where I really screwed up in regards to my self introduction. Usually, in all of my self introductions, when the issue of my age comes up, I always draw it out, writing down the 3 first and then the 1 before saying “I'm 31 years old” and follow it up with, I'm so oooooooold.... (all of these kids are under 16, and at that age, anyone over 25 is like unto Methuselah, so might as well go with it and milk it for the humor.) But this time, in regards to my gestures, I started out with the “my back hurts” and then made a walker gesture. My teacher looked at me with absolute horror and I immediately stopped, as soon as my brain clicked back in. I suppose it is a positive that I forgot while teaching that I was dealing with a group of severely handicapped kids, but I still feel like a total asshole for it.

After that, the class still went smoothly, and I'm hoping my screwup wasn't as bad as I thought. The kids had a great time chatting with me about anime and Japanese music, as well as my cats. My English teacher really helped with me getting the spots/stripes thing easily demonstrated because she had me use the pictures I'd taken and show those to the kids instead of my crappy drawings. Great idea! After the class was over though, she basically was like “okay, leave” and then I didn't talk to her again for the rest of the day. I wanted to apologize to her about the gesture thing, but our ships did not pass for the rest of the day, but hopefully next week.

I have made a new friend at this school though, Beniya Rumi-san, the school nurse who is my desk neighbor. Her grandmother, thank God, did not die (language differences are fun!) and she was quite happy today to talk with me in both English and Japanese. Hopefully we can hang out sometime in the future. I am also very friendly with another teacher, an older gentleman who insists his first job is fishing and his second job teaching. He reminds me of my Uncle Lenny in his sense of humor, and I am happy to chat with him when I come to school. He also taught me how to say Good Morning in Japanese Sign Language (手話shuwa), so I made sure to use it today with the kids also. Good times!

This school is great, and I am happy to be here. I hope that I'm not screwing up as badly as I think (in retrospect, I probably should have sat in the staff room for music time, but God am I sick of the staff room). At least the kids are having fun!
The rest of my day was pretty dull. Did some basic shopping, cooked some food (made a delicious chocolate sauce and dipped strawberries in it as dessert, yum!) and watched Japanese dramas on the internet. I am very glad to be doing something more exciting this weekend, though I have to get up for work on Saturday. I don't want to become a total recluse, but while my nights are quiet, I'm enjoying them. I also need to get back to running. I like my home cooking just a little too much I think.
Tomorrow: Ohata Elementary. Another first day!