William Matheson (nova_one) wrote,
William Matheson
nova_one

61. Learning and Writing

This morning we had Japanese class with the eldest of our teachers. She’s exceptionally kind and patient, and she understood that we’re busy with work – I studied, but only the night before and the morning of the class! (I meant to study early in the day yesterday, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do so.)

She could sympathize at least in part because she was busy too – busy in the rice fields. Hmm? She, one of our language teachers, with her educated background and electronic English dictionary, able to ask me “You rode here today?” – is she really one of the ubiquitous grannies in the rice fields? We can sometimes be quick to associate farm labour with simplicity (especially when there’s a language barrier), and I’ll try to broaden my mind the next time I see someone tending a crop by wondering what their lives have been like.

After class, I met up with someone for lunch, and after that I went into SOGO so I could get my oatmeal at Jupiter, when who should I run into but one of my students and his mother. She was happy to run into me, because she had been meaning to write me a reply to a note I wrote to her about the homework (she had asked my Japanese teaching partner about the schedule for such).

Uh-oh, the jig is up!

See, I originally wrote that note in a defensive mindset – I was mortally afraid that people were thinking I wasn’t giving enough homework, and/or that I wasn’t slavishly sticking to the schedule that D. had promulgated before the term began. So I took a long time and carved out a pleasant reply that explained where I was coming from, where the homework usually came from, and made note of spelling tests and journal entries – that sort of thing. I even kind of let it be long (hopefully it was more authoritative than rambling) so as to postpone her reply and the inevitable day of reckoning when everyone at S.G. would say, “You’re a month into the term and you haven’t given one spelling test!? You’re fired!!” (I’ve since come to the realization that work is like a relationship – neither can survive full disclosure. Appearances and assumptions are needed to cover for the incidental gaps in our competencies. But I didn’t know this a month ago when I wrote that note.)

So I’m standing in SOGO talking pleasantly with this mother and waiting for the other shoe to drop. But, no! This note was a hit! She’d never received anything like it from an S.G. teacher before, and she even showed it to the other English-speaking mother of the class, and she remarked that I should become a writer – and she’s (it turns out) a published author!

And apart from the praise, she said she had just been wondering about the homework because her son had been demure about telling her what was being assigned. Golly, I understood that – when I was his age, I did the same thing and worse. In fact, I hated Grade Three – it was one of my worst years, and it’s hard for a lot of kids because it’s that awful year when you have to change from being babied along in Grade Two to becoming responsible for Grades Four and beyond. It’s unnecessary to point out the irony of the situation, but I can’t resist.

I’m going to jump around a bit – one relatively new important person we know is giving up in the sudden efforts to make S.G. into a “real” immersion school. On that topic, I had been thinking, well, this is the niche that this school is in – they want to charge such-and-such, they want to turn a profit, they want to remain staunchly Japanese (can’t say I blame them, because if there’s a place where it’s best to be Japanese…) – the way things are, they’re going to get green-as-grass (non)teachers comparable to the likes of me, and they’re going to be pushing through kids (some who have special learning needs) who don’t really “get it” and are kind of just spinning their wheels in English. As M. remarked, “If they hired Jesus Christ, I don’t think anything would change.”

But the mother had a completely different attitude, and I quickly saw her point: if the English program was in fact as strenuous and as important as the Japanese program, the workload would be ridiculous. The children get an insane amount of Japanese homework as it is, just to keep up with the minimum Japanese curriculum that’s taught in the public schools. Save boarding the children at the school and extending the school hours even further (my “idea”), there’s no way to run a full-blown English (even just a learning-of-English) curriculum when the Japanese curriculum is also being taught. So perhaps – just perhaps, the status quo is all that is needed.

I took away a lot from this conversation. It really helped me put things in perspective, and made me reflect on the downright perversity of the rule that we’re not allowed to have any contact with the teachers outside of school. Strictly speaking, I “should” have nodded pleasantly and continued on my way. But being human (and more importantly, a human with enough petty cash to pay his way home should the need arise), I didn’t. And I don’t regret this one bit.

I wish I had greater expanses of time with which to write, but I suppose I can have that by the frigateload when I get back to Canada. In the meantime, I have this blog. I try to craft it as carefully as I can, but as I said to my lunch partner today (who is a budding writer with some cred), “it’s like a kei car with power seats and air conditioning, [no matter how I dress it up] it’s still a blog.”
Tags: japan, learning, school, teaching, work, writing
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