Today was the S.G. Primary School Graduation Ceremony. Our graduating class (eight sixth-graders) are now ready to head out into the big bad world. Four will be staying here, the rest are going to top-tier public and private junior high schools elsewhere in the prefecture.
This class was smaller than all the others at the Primary School because it’s the last of what D. calls the “exodus years” – quite a while back, the parents of the enrolled children “found out” that many of the foreign teachers working at the school weren’t certified teachers, and this prompted some parents to pull their kids out of the school. (But we have some that are certified teachers: for example, D. himself is – for both Nova Scotia and Maine – and for K. over at the kindergarten this experience is part of her Australian academic program to become one, and that was also the case for V., the Australian teacher I replaced. And L. at the High School has his M.Ed.)
In a funny way, they may have done the ones who stayed, at least in what is now the graduating class, a service. I like all my classes, each for different reasons, but this particular one was a breeze to teach. They were always patient, good-humoured, quiet when necessary, and vocal when appropriate. I don’t wish that all my classes could be like they were, but they were a great change of pace on certain hectic days. I think the small class size has a lot to do with it. That being said, my homeroom has 18, and they’re pretty quiet in the same way that dust bunnies are pretty quiet. Anyway, no current classes have more than 24 students, so class size isn’t really an issue at this school at this time, and I guess that’s one thing I can count when I’m counting my blessings like everyone says everyone ought to do. (I’ve led a sheltered life so far and can usually get by on positive thinking alone; were it not for that, I’d have a lesser tendency to resort to quoting such trite sayings.)
We had a full rehearsal for this ceremony on Wednesday, but let’s begin the story at last night (Thursday) when we were together playing party games at K’s. I drank five chu-hais, a can of beer, and a shot of bourbon.
You can see where this is going. In the morning, I was almost hoping that I’d die, so as to spare myself the dishonour of either calling in sick or puking during Ms. M.’s speech. (She’s given three relatively short speeches since my arrival, and this event was no exception; it looks like the fabled days of extended homilies from the erudite orator are over.) Getting up, showered, and dressed in a suit was an ordeal for the ages. It didn’t help that I also had (and have) a little bit of a cold.
Things started inauspiciously – at twenty after six I was lying on the floor trying to quiet my stomach with the coolness of the wood. I’m still amazed that I managed to get through it all – I’m not going to get too graphic here, but let’s just say that I don’t like vomiting. I will do anything, and I mean anything to avoid it. This has gotten me into serious trouble before. But today I wasn’t flying, and I figured I could manage. And I turned out to be right – after many close calls at home, and then maybe one just after our morning meeting, I felt fine. I had dreaded working, but once I’d begun I was more than okay.
I learned many small and a few big lessons from this, and I’ll warrant you’ve either learned them yourself or it’s irrelevant to you for lifestyle reasons. Yes, I was asked, “What kind of man are you if you can’t even stick your finger down your throat?” Well, maybe I’m one who’s learned something.
So let’s talk about the graduation. To my astonishment I had managed to correct a pile of spelling assignments before it began, despite the fact that when I’d come to work reading even a few words made me queasy, and before I came to work the actions of opening my shampoo bottle in the shower and applying my aerosol deodorant afterwards almost made me puke. But during the graduation both my stomach and the space between my ears were well-behaved, so there was never any danger of explosively ending my internship on the gymnasium floor.
Unlike the graduation ceremonies I’d been accustomed to, this one had a personal touch to it. The fact that the graduating class was only eight meant that everyone knew those eight. On top of that, the graduating students got to deliver short statements in English about what they were planning to do when they grew up. When one student talked about how he wanted to be a television cameraman and why, the direct sincerity of it almost had me in tears. (That kind of earnestness is the one really good thing about working with kids in an ESL environment, in my opinion.)
Behind all this, Ms. M. was playing classical music on the gymnasium’s sound system. It was an analogue recording – I think it was a record being played! And it was a seamless loop, like the music from a video game. In fact, that’s what the graduation felt like – the ending of a video game, set to a triumphant score.
No matter where we work or whom we work for, we often like to accuse our employers of being cheap for one reason or another. But on this day at least, at this time and at this place, no expense was spared. The floral arrangements for the stage alone must have cost hundreds of dollars… apiece. Heck, the students even gave me (and the other teachers) fresh flowers. (I ended up unthinkingly leaving them at school on top of my desk, but luckily the music teacher rescued them and put them in a vase for me!) We also had a memorial photo taken by a professional photographer.
I found this graduation meaningful and touching. A few of the teachers had tears in their eyes at the end. One of the students really cried, so much that her face was red for their memorial photo. Some of my Grade Four students wrote about the graduation in their journals and how sad they were to see the Grade Sixes go – at first I was surprised at this because I thought they would be thinking, “Aw, shucks, I’ll never graduate, I’m here for another two years,” but really they were feeling, “There go the schoolmates that we’ve looked up to for the past four years.”
Good luck, kids.