|Coverage Days: Wednesday, November 2nd - Thursday, November 10th|
Entry#: The Fifth Season, Episode 10
It's a terrible terrible shame that I can't afford enough time to blog more regularly this season, as to be honest, this assignment is probably my best so far. That's not to say that my first year in Okayama still wasn't a dream come true, or my second year there with the added schools wasn't a precious time in my life. My third year in Kawauchi was a bit of a lull, but only by comparison, and of course, with the dramatic ending that happened there, the whole world knows of the harrowing ordeal I and everyone I knew there all went through. My fourth season in the high schools was an unforgettable experience where I reached new levels of awesomeness. It seems, however, that all that has come before me was just preparation to where I am now.
Teaching at the larger elementary schools in Central Fukushima Prefecture has opened up all sorts of new doors for me. Maybe now that I'm totally pro at what I do now, the people I work with just see me in a more awe-inspiring way. The teachers never question my methods, the administrators appreciate my experience, my company trusts me, and best of all, the students all look up to me. When I started as a noober, the kids I worked with were friendly and polite, as well as a lot of fun. They knew that I was totally new to Japan, so they didn't have any high expectations of me. They just loved my American outlook on all the things that were commonplace to them. When I moved to Fukushima, the kids and teachers probably expected a little more out of me, so it was a tougher start there, trying to live up to what they imagined I was capable of. In the end, I felt like I did prove myself, but it was a long road. Plus, being so secluded there, I could always sense the hesitation a lot of them had when it came to dealing with non-natives.
In the high schools, the kids were a lot more mature... which had it's definte pros and cons. They were a lot more respectful and much easier to deal with, since a lot of their misbehavior issues had been ironed out of them. Being in high school meant certain standards had to be expected of the students, so less time was wasted on nonsense. The classes ran a hell of a lot smoother as the students all realized by then the importance and value of their education.
Of course, the con to their maturity was that the kids were a lot more forward with their feelings. I will admit I loved the extra "attention," though obviously it becomes a distraction in a lot of cases. I ate it up as much as I could, though it did make focusing on my professional goals a lot more difficult. Little would I know, however, that those situations would just be a precursor to my next assignment.
Working in the elementary schools is always a crapshoot, it seems. Or, at least with the older kids. 1st/2nd-graders typically are always easy to get along with. They love attention!!! Giving it and getting it. It doesn't even matter if you can understand them or not... just as long as you're listening (or pretending to), they're happy. 3rd-grade is where things get tricky. The classes will no doubt be energetic. Problem is... will they be energetic about learning or energetic about goofing around? I've been lucky thus far in always having fantastic 3rd-grade classes.
Things get real sticky starting around 4th-grade, which is when the hormones and social-awareness issues of growing up begin to surface. In a class where the general attitude of the girls is positive and they decide early on that you're safe to be around, you're basically in! You'll be showered with attention and admiration and dealing with the class will be an absolute dream. On the other hand, if the girls sense anything amiss about you (it doesn't even have to be about YOU...it could just be about men in general, as I found out was the problem with one of my classes in a previous assignment), they'll essentially shut you out from everything they do outside of class. And you don't want that since you're here to have fun with the kids inside and outside of class. You want to have those fun moments together to build a lasting friendship.
As for me particularly, I haven't had any issues with any 1st or 2nd-graders. As I said before, too, even my 3rd-graders were great. However, it's been flakey with the 4th-graders, generally sticky with the 5th-graders, and almost impossible with the 6th-graders. Granted a few have been friendly to me, but for the most part, they disappear off to some secret girly lair where they can hide from me. I may get a friendly "hello" in the hallways from time-to-time, but expecting excited pre/post-lesson chatting, random questions, or any invitations to join in any of their interesting extra-cirricular activites is just going to get your hopes up.
Which is why I really appreciate where I am now. I sometimes think that the girls all in this town at some point had some secret meeting to decide if I was a hunk or a chunk, haha. As I mentioned in the last blog entry, there have been a few examples of girls saying that they love me... or that their friends love me. As sweet as it is, you would think that the natural course of things would be jealousy, spite, or disgust eminating from the other girls... but that doesn't seem to have happening here. It's a lot like that "Let's all race to be the first to kiss Negi-sensei" weird episode from Mahou Sensei Negima!. Of course, I don't want to end up in jail (still on the lookout for a girl my OWN age!!), but at least I can enjoy the atmosphere that this whole thing has created. It's nice to goof around with girls and see them react and then laugh and play along, as opposed to just rolling their eyes and running across the room, like the skittish ones typically do.
Oh, and just so people don't think I'm being a perv and just focusing on the girls.... the boys are all pretty much the same from 1st-grade through 6th-grade, haha. They don't start individualizing their personalities until later in junior high school. And being a boy myself, they pretty much all treat me the same, which is good since they're always friendly and wanting to play around (fake fighting, rock/paper/scissors, bugs and snakes... the typical boy stuff).
But how about some actual stories to illustrate these points?
Autumn FireworksI was sitting at the teachers' table during snack time at the jidoukan (after-school supervision daycare) when I heard my name being mentioned in a conversation. The female teachers were talking to the one other male teacher there when they all motioned to me saying I could help with... something...? I wasn't aware of what the conversation was about at first, but then the word "hanabi" came up.
Oh... fireworks? What about them?
Apaprently one of the parents or community groups or someone with some extra explosives laying around their house decided that they were going to host a small fireworks display for the kids that day. They did ask me for help, but no further information was given... and by the time the 5:15pm (meh, dark enough) start-time came, everything was already set up. Meh, oh well. I offered, so it counts, no?
Well, my position as the lovable and protective big-brother of the school came in a lot more handy, for once the show started and the sky was exploding with bright colors and loud sounds, my usual cluster of 1st-grade girls all ran screeching over to me and grabbed onto my legs for... ummmm... protection? From... the light?... and... sound? I still don't know how that works, but it was certainly a sweet moment for me to see how well they trust me to keep them safe should the sky ever begin to fall.
Why Here???As proof that it's not just the girls who adore me, one of the 1st-grade boys at ES-1 is apparently my biggest fan. In fact, he wants to spend so much time with me that he actually comes to the teachers' room during the afternoon changing time (yes, I mean clothes) to switch from his P.E. uniform to his street clothes while sitting at my desk. Gah... imagine the look of surprise on the other teachers' faces when they walk by and see a random 6 year-old just sitting on the floor not wearing much.
And I found out that while he doesn't care what the other teachers think, he does get embarrassed by one particular thing. His very first time doing this, he was in the middle of changing his pants when two of my 5th-grade girls walked into the room. They asked something in general to everything in the room, which somehow prompted the boy to stand up quickly and give some kind of response... completely forgetting that he was pantsless. He was still talking as the two girls put their hands over their mouths to hide their giggling, which I used as a chance to whisper to the boy "the older girls can see your underwear." He stopped short, looked down, and did that classic "oh my god!!!!!" scream.
The Day the 4th-Graders Stole MeMonday, November 7th was the first day in a while it seems in which I actually had some free time, all to myself, to spend as however I damn well pleased. Not to say I wasn't free during the periods when the schools were doing their Sports Festival rehearsals in October, but that's not part of the regular routine. The 7th was just a normal day where I only had 3 classes to teach all day instead of my typical 5.
It started off normal. I had the morning free (which I hate since rarely does anything fun happen in the first period), then an English lesson with the 4th-graders in the 2nd-period. It was a "meh" class, to be honest. I've seen them happier before... they just weren't into learning that morning.
So maybe that's why it was an opportune chance for me to have the 4th-period free at the same time when they were having their P.E. lesson. I've had 2 or 3 chances so far to join the 3rd-graders' P.E. lessons, but that's about it so far. This was my first time with the 4th-graders. They were really excited about it at first... even doing their warm-up routine counting in English, haha. However, once the class actually started, they were back to being just "meh" about my pressence again. Not that jump-rope and hurdles is exciting to begin with, but you'd think they'd like the chance to show off or something.
Their weak attitude kinda got to me, as well, so I actually did find my way out the door about halfway through the period (I promised the vice principal I'd help move some boxes anyway... not my ideal use of my free time, but you can't say "no" to such things). When I came back to the gym, the kids were still not really showing any excitement about my being there. However, once the class came to an end, a whole bunch of them, boys and girls, surrounded me, begging me to eat lunch with them.
Gah... always a sticky point for me. I don't eat much of a lunch just because I've trained my body to survive without eating much throughout the day, so it's always embarrassing to eat in front of others while they have whole trays full of food. Plus, with my schedule packed so tight, I usually need my lunch breaks to do my lesson-planning. But with today giving me a bit more free time than usual, I didn't have much of a reason to skip out... though I was planning on avoiding it. It probably would have worked, too, if only they hadn't...
... hunted me down and escorted me to their classroom at the start of lunch-period, haha.
Okay, well, guess there is no escaping this. Off we go, with my "chiisai lunch"... crackers, a cookie, and bottled water. And yes, they were all in shock to see that that all I survive on. They tried to give me some of their school lunch, but I'm not a fan of vegetables. I did take up their offer for a bowl of rice, so... sure. Of course, next came the problem of where I should sit. There were groups all around the room that wanted me to sit with them... and the layout of this room is odd enough as it is. They somehow decided that the fair and logical thing to do would just have me sit at the desk of the one girl who was absent today.
Let the Wacky Xeno Show begin!!
So, I have a tray now,,, for the rice bowl. I didn't need it, because, well, it was just for the rice bowl. But hey, it's a prop and I can use it. And since I have pleeeeeeenty of other food, I might as well TRY to make my lunch look exorbitant. I took out my saltine crackers and arranged them neatly in one of the tray spaces. I used another to house my precious cookie. And what's this? A pair of chopsticks? Well... doesn't take a lot of thought to realize the comicalness of eating saltine crackers with chopsticks, haha.
Although this was my first time eating lunch with the elementtary students here, it is not my first time eating with elementary students overall. In Kawauchi, I ate with the kids in the main lunchroom. It was there that I perfected my water bottle nonsense comedy act, haha. Nothing like a little language barrier miscommunication to use as a backboard for some humor. I would choose one student sitting nearby and look to them (in this case, one of the boys sitting across the aisle facing me) for help in trying to figure out why my water bottle isn't working. Of course, I'm trying to drink out of it with the cap still on... such an obvious oversight... but I'm just a craaaazy foreigner. We don't have bottle caps where I'm from. We get flavor water of bottles from sheep!
So yeah, the routine includes things like...
- trying to pull it straight off
- trying to bite it off
- instead of turning the cap, turning the whole bottle
and once the cap is off, in trying to put it back on...
- trying to jam it on sideways
- trying to hammer it on
- trying to put it on the bottom and sides
haha, I had all of their attention throughout the entire show. They were pretty interested in seeing what other ways I could possibly mess up trying to do something as simple and straight-forward. I enjoyed being there with them, though I wonder if they're going to expect it more and more. My schedule is just going to go back to being impossibly busy starting next week again.
A Momentous OccassionOne of my favorite 1st-grade students is this girl named Haruka-chan. She's very friendly and loves to play during the break periods. Only problem with Haruka-chan is that she never ever ever talks during English class (or ANY class, as far as I can understand). This wouldn't be such an issue in a young class, except that to start each class, I have the students come up front quickly to get their namecards. We usually have a conversation-of-the-day set up... something simple like "how are you?" "I'm fine/good/hungry/happy/cold/whatever" or "here you are" "thank you." Now, I understand that some of the kids are shy about speaking English or are just quiet in general, but she talks to me when we're not standing in front of the crowd, so I know that she is capable of at least speaking. It hasn't helped that all this time, whenever her name gets called, her homeroom teacher instantly dashes over to her, stands her up (physically) and pushes her up to the front of the room. Even then, it's like 10 seconds of silence with her teacher prodding her before the teacher decides we should just move on.
Well, last week, the homeroom teacher was out of the room for the moment when Haruka's name was called. Now she's playing on xeno-sensei's court, heh heh.
It could be that this was our 9th English lesson together, or maybe the fact that all our time playing together has added up to an amount significant enough to make her comfortable around me. I wasn't getting my hopes up when I saw her name next in the pile, but I was totally happy to see her slowly stand up when I called out her name.
Oh wonderful... it's a start!! I could sense her hestitation, but I assured her calmly and supportively that there was nothing to worry about it. It was just me she needed to worry about... and we're friends now, so this was her big chance.
"Good morning," I said her to her in a friendly voice.
"Good morning," she returned loud enough to be be heard pretty much just by those around us.
"Here you are," I said as I handed her her namecard.
... "Thank you," she whispered again.
Awwwwwwwwww... I didn't have a chance to tell her homeroom teacher about it, though I know she'll be shocked next week.
As for the rest of the class, things went by smoother than ever. I don't take full credit for the change in attitude, especially since today's lesson on Numbers 1-20 was hardly exciting. This class is 12 girls and 8 boys, which usually means it should be mild-mannered, but there are 3 boys who just love to wreak havoc on the tranquility the girls attempt to deliver. Today, however, the three boys were quite under control. Partially because they were being lectured pretty hard over something that happened in the period prior, but maybe also because I've been playing with the lead trouble-maker in the after-school program a lot more recently. He seems to understand and respect better the working relationship that must exist between us in order for us to enjoy our fun times in the afternoon.
And oddly enough, he ended up being one of the sharpest kids in the class. I had them doing this loosely-judged writing race thing. I gave them each a scrap of paper and had them write down the numbers I called out, then raise their hand when they finished. Surprisingly (and I'm quite proud of this, actually), Mone-chan finished first a lot of the times... even ahead of Yura-chan, the class genius. Both of those girls are my stars at the after-school program, though I had always assumed that Yura was easily the brighter of the two, based on how eager she was to learn and use English. I was happy to see Mone giving her a run for her money, haha.
But yeah, about the trouble-maker boy, he was usually always right on their tail, finishing microseconds right behind them. Now if I could only channel this energy somehow. Actually, I'm just hoping this is the first of many peaceful classes together. The girls came up to me afterwards and told me how much they enjoyed the lesson, no doubt taking notice in the calmer atmosphere.
Xeno the Referree So after lunch recess on Wednesday, I was talking with the 1-2 students in the hall when out of nowhere, a hoard of 1-1 students comes running up to me, frantically telling me that I have to come with them because it's important. I go with them to their classroom where apparently one of the boys made one of the girls cry. I can't speak Japanese, but I did get the girl to at least tell me what happened. Couldn't understand what she said, but the logical solution was to get the boy the apologize for whatever the hell he did. I asked the hoard if an apology was made. They screamed "no!!" and proceeded to hound the boy for those magic words. Of course, now I was starting to feel bad for the boy being ganged up by his classmates. I told the hoard to sit down, which surprisingly, each and every one of them did instantly without delay.
I still have no idea what I was in the middle of there, but I was honored that the kids came to me for help and responded quite well to my input. Luckily their homeroom teacher came into the room at that precise moment, as I ran out of ideas at that point, haha.
I Love Teaching ENGLISHAs you may remember, Wednesdays are my kindergarten days in the morning, whereas the afternoons are free for me to use as I please. This month, the kindergarten is preparing for their school festival, so the English classes have been cancelled. When I went to a drinking party with the ES-1 teachers last week, they told me that Wed Nov 9th would be a special day where some soccer coaches were coming in to do some workshops. Awesome... chance!!
So my day ended up looking like this...
2nd-period: soccer with the 2nd-graders
3rd-period: soccer with the 3rd-graders
4th-period: soccer with the 4th-graders
5th-period: handball with the 6th-graders
Club period (1st half): dodgeball with the Sports Club boys
Club period (2nd half): unicycling with the Unicycle Club girls
The soccer thing is kinda self-explanatory. They just did some exercises and drills using soccerballs. The 2nd-graders were happy to have me join; the 3rd-graders were ecstatic; the 4th-graders were kinda '"meh" about it, which is disappointing because I thought I had the strongest relationship with that group. I guess they're not used to seeing me appear in their other classes.
After lunch, I joined the 6th-grade P.E. lesson. They were playing handball!!!!! I love handball!!!!!! I was lucky to be working in the high schools when one of my schools was doing handball for P.E., also. I thought since I had experience playing it with the older kids, it would be a cinch playing with the younger kids.
Well... not so much. The ball they were using was extra bouncey, seemed smaller than what the older kids used... and most of all messing up, the court size was much smaller. I couldn't take two steps without being completely surrounded. Oh well, so much for being awesome in front of the crowd. Man, am I ever going to have a chance to impress these kids with my awesome sports ability?
At least the Club Period was fun today. I joined the Sports Club first. The boys were playing dodgeball in the gymnasium. I was playing decently well. The ball they were using was hard to catch, but at least easy to throw. I got in about 4 games with them before the Unicycle Club girls actually came to the gym and asked me to come with them. Haha, the teachers were confused as to why the girls were standing in the door. What could they possibly want? But when I waved at them and told them to wait about 5 minutes, everyone was like "huuuhhhh?? wait, what's going on here? why is that guy so popular?"
When I did catch up with the Unicycle Club girls eventually, they of course just wanted me to pull them really fast along the concourse.... and rag on the girl who is apparently totally in love with me. She's not even embarrassed by it... which worries me, haha. In fact, she loves it when they bring it up because then she can play it up... which worries me even more.
The Weather and the BlahhhhI loved watching the news about a week ago and seeing all the reports of the USA Northeast being pummeled by snowstorms (though it sucks that so many people lost power for so many days). I was enjoying it because where I am now, the weather had been in the upper-50s, lower-60s the whole time. "Indian Summer" was the word one of my Japanese coworkers used to describe it, haha... and right he was. I'm not sure if this is the usual weather for this area, as it's my first time living in this part of Northern Japan, but I was surely enjoying it. It's only now starting to get chilly (though between 10am and 3pm, we can still be outside with no coats on). Once it hits 4pm, the temperature plummets. This is probably why my health has been so gross this week.
The constant temperature fluctuations, compounded by my running around sporadically throughout the day, has been messing with my body. I do have a cold, though I'm doing all I can to avoid it turning into a fever. I did get sent home on Tuesday after 3rd-period because my temp spiked momentarily. I wanted to stay at school since I knew it was a back-and-forth thing, but the teachers insisted I went home. Sucks, too, because that afternoon I had free anyway and had been looking forward to joining in on a fun class. Also sucks that I had to give up on my jidoukan time. Oh well, I put a big dent in "GTA IV" that afternoon.
That was my first day missing the jidoukan. I did go the next day, but I wasn't feeling so well, so I left around 5:30pm*. Unfortunately, I decided that I should spend my time recuperating back to 100% before returning, meaning I had to take Thursday off from after-school activities, as well (hence why I have free time right now to write this blog).
* I stayed long enough to watch the girls practice their yosakoi dance (they all asked me if I would be going to their performance in December, and happy that I said I would). While I was sitting there, one of my louder 1st-grade girls came and sat with me. She decided that she would scream along to the music (I don't think she knows the actual lyrics). She was being annoying and distracting (but definitely cute), so I put my hand over her mouth. This only prompted her to scream louder... though I could tell she was enjoying it because she loved the chance to actually be able to scream her loudest. I used this opportunity to do that thing where you block and unblock their mouth on and off, making the weird oooOOOOoooOOOOoooOOOOhhhhhHHHH sound. She was playing along, which made all the other kids watching us laugh. I think it also counts as the most I've laughed out loud myself at something a student has done, hahahaha.
Events Around FukushimaIt's Autumn right now, so the leaves are in the middle of changing colors. I went up to Mount Bandai last week with some other English teachers to see Goshikinuma, which means "the 5 Colored Lakes." They are these lakes that have water mixed with volanic minerals, making them a more turquoise color than normal water-color. Very beautiful. I have yet to check my photos to see if my camera was able to capture the beauty of them.
This coming weekend is the Sukagawa Taimatsu-akashi Matsuri, or the Sukagawa City Fire Festival. It's pretty much what it says it is... a festival with lots of fire. I am sooooo looking forward to this.
And one last thing... it's election season again, which means those annoying campaign trucks are starting to roll around this time. For me, the only benefit is another Mirei-chan poster has been released. Haha, I "stole" one last year that was hanging in my neighborhood (after the date it was advertising, so no harm, no foul) before I knew what it was. One of my coworkers at the BOE here told me who the girl is (she's a cute anime girl... the election council mascot whose name literally means "future"). This time I'm doing things legit and I asked my coworker if I could have the poster hanging in the library after the election. Nice little souvenir, don't you think?
I have a few photos I want to publish. Now that my laptop is running again, I should be able to access the anime-source server via FTP soon. Watch the front page for that.
And if you haven't already, join the Anime-Source.com Facebook page. Everytime a new GTX blog entry is released, a message is posted in the newsfeed. Keep up with the cuteness!!!
Until next time... see you!!!!
... one Xeno-sensei. Suspected to be running around Japan chasing a kitten shouting "kawaii!!".
Known to hang around manga shops, and schools.
Last reported sighting on November 10th on Anime Source, but nothing has been seen online since.
Believed to be teaching English in the Fukushima area... possibly has absorbed enough radiation to mutate into a superhero and is now fighting alien invasions using a giant mecha crewed exclusively by highschool girls?
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