Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Small Victories, Small Defeats

This is the day I escaped the staff room of the Toyota Yogo school, a small victory in the typing, but a large victory in the enjoyment of my day. The first period hit the last straw with me, when I was in the staff room and EVERYONE left, leaving the lights a flickering dim and me all by myself. I figured, I didn't care what anyone said about where I was supposed to spend my “free” time, I was going to get out of this room and do something, ANYTHING. So I wandered down the hall and down the steps to where the students were just wrapping up their entering of the building. There I waved and said “Good Morning” to the entering students, who cheerfully responded in whatever manner they could.

Eventually that ran out, and realizing that nobody else was there to greet, I decided to wander around and see if just by being around, if something to do might present itself. I wandered left and ended up with the Elementary School kids. In addition to running into Etsushi and Shion from my first grade Jikoshoukai lesson of last week (both of whom instantly recognized me), I also talked and played with a bunch of other kids. The teachers didn't appear to mind. Apparently, this is the point of the day where the kids use the bathroom (a big deal for about 60 total kids with major physical disabilities, many requiring wheelchairs) and fool around before their first class.

After it began to look like the classes were getting in gear, I waved goodbye to all of the kids and continued back down the hall towards the Entrance Area. There I saw a pair of women moving wheelchairs around and sweeping. I instantly asked if I could help, and helped move wheelchairs and sweep for a little bit, as the two women engaged me in conversation about where I was from, my life in Japan, what I thought of teaching etc. In that interchange, I really began to feel like I was having natural, conversational Japanese. My grammar still needs work, and I'm lacking crazy in the vocabulary department, but I was able to hold up my end of the conversation, and even crack jokes about how the school lunches are continually delicious yet surprising. I shared my french fries with eyes story with much laughter around. They were also impressed that I had eaten my entire plate of Natto (I had my camera, so I showed them that along with pictures of my kids from Ohata), and that I knew how to cook with Soy Sauce. In short, it was a regular conversation. Not too much on the awkward pauses and I FELT comfortable having it. This was another victory for me, and I was happy for it.

When the bell rang, I had to hurry to my first class “Asobi” (which means Playtime). This was super great! There was an indoor seasaw and something called a “branko” which is like a seasaw but shaped like a boat. I got to demonstrate with the Branko first, and then helped some of the other kids while they rode. Like many things in Japanese schools, the riding was accompanied by song, which is fun and educational for all involved (especially me!) I learned some new vocabulary (tree branch) and had a great time singing as we all took our imaginary journeys on the school rides.

After Asobi was another Songs class. During that, I got to demonstrate some English by doing “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” while the kids either moved or were manipulated into the appropriate positions. The morning Songs class has some quite disabled children, so many have to be moved around (and there's lots of physical contact) but they seem to have fun.
Next was another free period. I tried to recreate my morning, wandering around to see if I could put myself in the path of work, but the day was in motion so this was not successful. After lunch, my next two classes were filled though, so I counted this one as a loss and went back to the Staff Room and studied Japanese. I don't (at all) mind having some free time, just not hours with nothing to do.

Next class was Afternoon Songs. This is my favorite Songs class because the kids are actually learning a full song, very slowly, with meaning interpretations, which means I get to learn a full song too with the meanings interpreted. I think the teacher knows I'm really using this as a study aid, because she'll often ask how things are said in English, or give me an English translation of certain less obvious words. The song we're learning “Arukou” (let's walk) is a really fun and whimsical song about moving through life as a day of walking. Or at least that's how I see it. At every class, we've all gone “walking” (though most of the students are in wheelchairs which seems strange on the surface), holding hands or pushing kids in chairs (whatever their preference). It's fun, and I am able to slowly get a better idea of these student's abilities.

The first week, I was a little overwhelmed with the sheer variety of problems and needs, and really had no idea of what these kids (especially the non-vocal ones) were capable of doing. But they continually surprise me. Especially the high schoolers, many of whom are actually quite bright. One of my students, especially, has excellent English skills. Last class, we were involved in a pretty complex discussion of anime conventions, manga artists etc. The conversation was mostly in English, though I did try to translate/reinforce some stuff with Japanese if it seemed obscure. As I was leaving, I heard him explaining what I'd said to another girl in the class in rapidfire Japanese. I'm thinking of printing out some webcomics for him; any advice on which would be good are greatly appreciated.

Insert pithy wrap up statement here.