William Matheson (nova_one) wrote,
William Matheson
nova_one

65. Friday

Today was a beautiful Friday, the kind you could sing about. The nice weather brought back the contractors and their rotary drills. Today they were working right below us. It kind of sounded like this:

“D., how many vacation days do we get during Obon?”
“Well, during-” zzzzzzzzzGEEEEEEEEEEEEEEHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH zzzzzzGGGGGGEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEHHHHHHHH rrrrrrrRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR gzgzgzgzgzgzgzgzgzGHHHHHRRRRRRZZZZZZ GEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEHHHHHHHHHHH
“Pardon me?”

I don’t know if words can describe how annoying, grimace-inducing and teeth-gnashing that sound was. It’s like having to sit through extended nails-on-a-chalkboard, but this is louder, and it seems to come from all directions at once. And it comes without warning, and at the worst possible moments. It almost made me want to go back to Thursday’s rain and the four pairs of socks I went through.

I also committed an act of unmitigated assholery today. I was handing out worksheets in an otherwise fine science class, when one of the brightest and probably the keenest girl in the class was excitedly-impatiently waiting for her worksheet – she had her hand up and was squirming, and there was the “me, me!” and all of that. So of course I skipped over her. At first it was funny – it was supposed to be funny, and it usually is. But then I thought I’d try something new. After passing sheets to the remaining third of the class, I pretended to growl at her for losing her worksheet already.

Perhaps I did it too convincingly. More likely, I shouldn’t have done it at all – by the time I gave her her sheet, she was choking back tears. Whoops. I immediately told her that I was the one in the wrong – I forgot that Japanese children aren’t so used to sarcasm as their North American counterparts, for one thing. And I apologized; I was wrong, the ‘joke’ wasn’t funny, and of course I “didn’t mean to hurt her,” (But who cares about what people mean? I may not have meant to hurt her at that moment, but if I was thinking of anyone but myself I wouldn’t have done such a stupid, asinine thing.) et cetera. It came with the sincerity of realizing I’d just committed a completely avoidable and unnecessary blunder which didn’t reflect so well on my character.

She seemed to recover a bit later, but I think I may have permanently altered our dynamic. Well, that’s as it may be – of course I care about her, but I’m just a teacher, she’s free to like me or not. She may well reserve her future approbation for better teachers. What concerns me more is that I may have damaged her confidence. I hope she’ll bounce back, and she probably will. There’s no need to bring this up again – I’ll just do my best to pay more attention to the expressions on all children’s faces when I’m tempted to go off on stupid tangential jokes. Jeopardizing a child’s confidence for any joke is wrong. Jeopardizing it for a bad joke is just pathetic.

Somehow this reminds me of the time I made my uncle’s second ex-wife’s eldest son (A.) cry. It was one of the first times I met him, too. It was in Dartmouth, and they had the Nintendo 64 down in the basement hooked up to a fairly large TV. A. had hooked it up, but he’d used the RF switch in conjunction with the RF modulator (it was a sign of things to come that the N64 didn’t include one), even though this was a big TV with free Stereo A/V inputs, and the required cable was there. So I found the cable and started changing the connection. A. said that that [the RF “Channel 3” method] was the way he knew how to hook it up, and he ran away in tears while his New Evil Stepcousin tore up his handiwork.

In this second case, I think I did the ‘right’ thing, but I should have been far more adroit about it. I approached it as “you did this wrong” rather than “let me show you another way that gives you a slightly sharper picture and lets you preserve the stereo sound.” I was barely even a teenager at the time. Man, if I knew then what I knew now… but then I remember that I’d said that at age 13, too. [Memo to self: Don’t call potential new family members “Garfunkel” just because they have a brother named Simon.]

Isn’t it great that foreign employment offers opportunities for personal growth for those who couldn’t hack it in their home hemispheres? =) Ahem.

Anyway, getting back to science class, after it was over I collected a few finished worksheets. It was a cloze activity where students filled in the blanks with words from a Word Bank. One of the keeners hadn’t been paying attention to his spelling. I read a sentence aloud to my co-workers:

“Butterflies are beautiful, flying incests…”

and asked if I should explain the distinction to him or not.

D. then mentioned a response to a summer vacation activity he gave. (He had his students write about a summer vacation that they will be taking or want to take, so part of the idea is that the students are writing in future tense.)

“One of my students said he’d like to go to the beach, dig a hole, fill it with water, and shit in it.”

Grammar can be hard to impart, too, especially because 1) the obvious reason; for example, you have to pretend you’re speaking as them when you’re teaching first-person statements and 2) a lot of the Japanese children have first names like Mai, Yu, and even Miyu. One day this week one of the Year Twos came up to me with a sore tooth. One of the girls in the class had bumped her head into his. The exchange went a bit like this:

“My is Mai head…” He points at his tooth. There is a bit of dried-up blood.
“You hit your head on something?”
One of the other teachers says it was actually one of the other students.
“Who hit your head?”
“Mai head.”
“OK, but who hit your head?”
“Mai.”
(“The student Mai.”)
“Ohhhhhh…” I start to understand.
(“This is like Who’s On First…”)
“OK: Mai’s head hit my…”
“No, my,” he points to himself.

If someone comes to report an incident involving Mai, Yu, and Miyu, I hope we get the description on videotape.

Tomorrow: Study study study! I was hoping for a Game 7 – it would have been a great excuse to skip Japanese class and have two lazy mornings instead of just one, but I suppose the Wings intervention is for my own good.
Tags: growing up, japan, language, learning, teaching, work
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