Sometimes, I leave work so utterly drained from dealing with either A) kids who seem to be on crack or B) kids who seem to be zombies or C) kids who seem to have made it their life's mission to make the lesson, and therefore my life for that one to two-point-five hours a living hell, that I wonder what the point of it is. Why should I put any effort into my job if neither I nor the kids get any return? (I always DO put effort in, though... damn me and my strong work ethic, ha ha. I rarely show up less than two hours early, and always overplan.)
But then there are also little moments that... well, I won't say, "make it all worthwhile," because that's both trite and untrue... but perhaps make it seem that I am doing something that isn't totally worthless. Let's not kid ourselves... I don't consider myself a proper teacher. I don't have a teaching degree, nor do I work in a "real" school. Often what I do is just babysitting in English. Very few of my students can actually use English to any useful degree. We are all about preparing them for passing the English exams in school, so they can place into good high schools. I'm not speaking ill of my company... this is just how it is in Japan, if you work at the kind of place I do. It's what my last job was like. It's what any job I have here will be like, unless I get an actual teacher's degree and can work in a real, English-immersion school. I understand that, and accept it. But still, it is nice to feel useful at work, once in a while.
Last night, I had a group of 9-11 year olds for a one-hour lesson. They are the kind of kids I guess you could call "impish." Good-hearted kids, smart, not what I would consider "problem kids," but still a bit cheeky, and with a tendancy to get "all over themselves," as my mom would say, when they get excited. One kid, let's call him S-kun (kun being a friendly term to add to little boy's name's here,) always starts the lesson trying his best to be good, helping me clean up, etc, but nine times out of ten he can't restrain his natural cheekiness for the whole hour, LOL. So at the start of the lesson, he's talking to the other kids (in Japanese, of course,) telling them that he saw Tara-sensei on her mama-chari ("granny bike," like a bike with a basket for carrying stuff,) eating a banana last week. While I don't recall this, he's probably right... that sounds like me, ha ha.
A few minutes later, we've settled in and are doing some review on prepositions. I'm doing a memory game where I lay out some stuff, count to ten, cover it, then ask questions like, "Where's the pen?" "Where's the book?" and the kids have to say, "Under the CD," or whatever. So we've done a few questions, and I asked, "Where's the banana?" as a joke, because there is no banana. Usually, the kids would just yell, "NO BANANA!" and maybe giggle a little.
So I ask, "Where's the banana?" Another kid, let's call him K-kun, has an "Ah-ha!" moment... his face lights up, he grins this huge grin, and says, "In the Tara!!!" S-kun cracks up, and K-kun just looks SO PROUD of himself to have made a joke in English. His face was just totally lit up... so effing cute. I started laughing... and then all the kids started laughing... and man, K-kun just looked SO CUTE, he was soooo proud of himself... then I totally got the giggles, and couldn't stop laughing. I hid my face behind a book for a minute, then tried to end the game and be serious again, only to start cracking up all over again... which of course made the kids totally lose it. My Japanese co-teacher, who normally isn't there during my lessons, happened to be in the back doing some paperwork, and I'm sure she thought we had lost our minds. HOLY CRAP. SO FUNNY. SO CUTE. I guess you have to know these kids to appreciate how funny it was, but man... SO FUNNY. I felt like I bonded with them that night, ha ha.
Then tonight, I had a class of older junior high and high school kids, who are normally pretty Zombie-ish. It's supposed to be an adult-style conversation class, where they work in groups to discuss things in English... but NO ONE WILL TALK. No matter how I arrange the groups, no matter how much prompting, no matter what I do, they just WILL NOT TALK to each other, not even in Japanese... AWWWWKWAAAAARD... Plus, three of the kids have pretty excellent English, while the other five are totally not on the same level, and find the lesson to be very hard. Ugh. So awkward.
So, after our hour of awkward silence, I'm seeing the kids off. One girl, K-chan (one of the older ones with good English,) stops and asks me why I came to Japan. I told her the usual, "Because I like to travel, because I wanted to try out a different culture," answer. Then she asks me what kind of visa I have, which is not a question a Japanese high school student would usually think to ask. Then she told me, "I will go to Canada next year, with a working holiday visa." WOW! Holy crap! That is awesome! Totally did not see that one coming! If you aren't familiar with Japanese students, you may not realize what a big deal that is. Usually kids here have zero interest in travelling, especially right after high school. The fact that her parents are letting her go to Canada for a year, instead of going straight to university, is really, really cool. Very unusual for Japanese parents! Now I feel really bad... because the class is soooo quiet, and she probably doesn't have many chances to speak English outside of her weekly lesson. I wish I could just take her out for some coffee and have a chat. That would do her so much more good than sitting through an hour of me trying to get 7 other silent kids to talk...
So yeah... this was a pretty exhausting week for me... new classes started, which is always stressful, plus it added an extra work day to my week... but those two little moments put a little light back into my working life. I still don't feel like a proper teacher, but maybe, just maybe, my efforts at work aren't 100 percent in vain. Stay awesome, kids. Tara-sensei LOVES when you make her laugh! :D