Oct 20, 2007

Kiddie Drama

The little boy pointed at Okayama on the map and said "You here?"

"Yes," I said.

And then he pointed at Kanto and said, "You go here?"

"Yes," I said.

His classmate stood there and just said "No," and I had to hurry them along so I could start my next children's class, which was due to begin soon.

I'm moving, in two weeks, to the Tokyo area. I'm very, very excited about this. I've enjoyed my time in Okayama, but I feel like I'm done with adventuring in this city. I'm settled, and because I'm settled, it's time to move on. From the outset, though, I considered living in more than one city here. I didn't want my Japan experience to by synonymous with Okayama, I wanted to experience more of the breadth of the country. The fact that I'll actually be in the same region as Kori is also awesome. De-longdistancing our relationship will be a wonderful, wonderful thing.

However, this means that I need to tell my students that I'm going. This is not a pleasant process. With the adults, it's pretty manageable. Many of them have said things like "good luck," or "I'll miss you." A few have seem irked (one went so far as to complain to my manager) but on the whole they all seem to understand that a foreign teacher is a person who's going to move around a lot.

Kids, though, are not so diplomatic or understanding.

Before I had this job, I never really had that much experience with kids outside of having three siblings. And, before this week, I never really had the experience of disappointing a child. I didn't really know what it would be like, but it seems that that instinctual part of the human brain that tells us to take care of the little 'uns and whatnot has been firing up. Stupid parental instincts.

It was bad on Tuesday, in the incident I described above. The kids speak only a very basic level of English, and didn't have the language skills to talk about whatever they were feeling. It was wrenching, in a way. I've been able to effectively communicate with these kids through a mix of simple English, gestures, and facial expressions. In the classroom, I built this sort of mini-language where me and the kids could communicate. Here, though, that mini-language was suddenly deficient. I very much wanted to explain things myself in Japanese, but I limit myself to English at work, and handed them an explanatory letter for their parents.

On Kori's advice, I decided to merely give the letter to the parents later in the week. This worked out much better, though there were two incidents later that were still a bit difficult. The first was on Wednesday, which was my birthday. One of my students, a little girl, came into the school with a bakery bag in her hand, and told me "happy birthday." I was touched, really. After class we opened the bag, and inside was a pumpkin custard concoction in a little Halloween coffee cup. Me and my student ate the custard together in the lobby while her mother read the letter that I gave her after class. In a few minutes, she would find out that I was leaving.

And then there was Friday.

On Friday I have a rather special class- three siblings who all used to live in the U.S. Two twin girls, eleven years old, and their brother, eight, who speak perfect English. In fact, they speak better than perfect English. These kids are smart, smart cookies. There's no international school in Okayama, but their parents very much wanted them to continue with their English education. They shopped around, and settled on me. So, instead of teaching these kids the basic stuff that I teach other kids, or the communicative stuff I teach adults, we've been doing stuff like reading From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and The Phantom Tollbooth, books I read and loved when I was their age.

The class has been mostly successful, I think. I've had to do more work for it than any other class I have, and I'll miss them quite a bit. And, on Friday, I told them that I was moving. With these kids, I didn't think it would be right to just give them a letter for their parents.

The young one, the eight year old, then asked me a very hard question. He asked "When are you coming back?" I told him that I was moving to Kanto permanently. "So you're going forever?" he said. Having an eight year old say this to you is not fun. In fact, it's the opposite of fun. I tried my best to talk up my successor, whom I admittedly know little about.

"He's from England," I said, "he went to Oxford."

"We don't care if he went to Oxford," said one of the girls, "you're our teacher."

"And," said the other, "I don't like English people. They talk funny. And they're strict. I'm a xenophobe." ("Xenophobe" had been a vocabulary word in class.)

I tried to convince them that not all English people were strict, just like not all Americans were loud, and not all Japanese are shy. They seemed buy this but replied that English people "still talk funny." I reminded them that they still had me for two more weeks, and invited them to the school's Halloween party.

Admittedly, hearing "you're our teacher" does do wonders for one's teacher ego. If I'd told them I was leaving and they said "Okay. Whatever." I'd be a bit disappointed. But, I've never had the sensation of dealing with disappointed children before. It's a new feeling, and I don't like it. Maybe I'll be more practiced at it the next time I have to move on, but for now watching little kids point at maps or say "forever" has stressed the hell out of me.

But I'm bound for Kanto. Despite this speedbump, the future is looking nifty.


Joseph said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joseph said...

Maybe you can give your replacement a mask of your face. S/he can wear it to the kids' classes for a few weeks, and then pull it off and say "Surprise! I haven't really been SonicLlama for three weeks!" That way the kids will see the folly of their irrational attachment to you and you should see the end of these foolish emotional entanglements. Right?

* Edited for anonymity.

Eric said...

Shane! Shane!

Awww... Don't go breaking hearts. It's not your style.

Kori the tomorrow lady said...

aw, the kiddies don't get what they want--it's like you are a real grown-up.

I get what I want though... oh the selfishness feels so good.

Anonymous said...

Joe, the paper this morning had a front-page story about Nova language schools going bankrupt. I am assuming this doesn't touch you, since your posts would be full of angst. We hope that is true. Wishing you happy days ahead in your new position.

Janis & Clark

Colin said...

Huzzah for being teachers! I am just finishing my first trimester full-time at the Bay School and loving it...although it is really, really hard. I'm glad you are experiencing more of Japan.