William Matheson (nova_one) wrote,
William Matheson
nova_one

110. Open Lesson with the Kinders

(Written from notes taken August 31st and thereabouts)

Our open lesson with the kindergarten students has come and gone. I’m relieved to say that it wasn’t nearly so stressful and draining as the last set of open lessons, which weren’t tryout lessons so much as choreographed, contrived demonstrations aimed more to members of the general public. So now I only have one more open lesson and one more Sankanbi (I’m actually looking forward to this; they’re kind of fun) left for the duration of my contract.

The weather’s been swinging wildly. Sometimes it’s chilly; one night I set off on my bike for MaxValu, and almost turned around just a few blocks away from home to go back and get my coat. Other times it’s just as hot as it’s ever been. The change from summer to fall is like the changing of channels on an old analogue TV set with knob controls – the distortions and interference and crosstalk are just spread out over a longer period of time. [9/13: Lamentably, the temperature has stopped swinging – as I go back to this piece, the temperature has been holding steady at 29°-30°C, and rain has been scarce. It’s an early Indian Summer which is still hotter than the real summer back home.]

Our open lesson was on shapes. F. spearheaded most of the work; she had more free time than I did in the nascent, planning stages – later on I had much more free time, but by then she had become the brains of the enterprise. I willed myself to ask “OK, what can I do?” a few times. In most cases I ended up doing something simple and pleasant, especially cutting out or tracing shapes.

I do feel like I’ve done my share of the work, though. My contributions to the lessons when they were in progress were appreciated – F. liked my improvisations, and she was good at balancing my desire to go on little tangents with the necessities of the clock. Heck, W-sensei even approached me after the lessons were over: “You very actor! I am surprised!”

The night before Open Lesson, we took ourselves through the pouring rain to kaiten. It was my first group outing with Q., and it turns out he’s also from PEI – Summerside, I believe, but he later moved to Town and went to Three Oaks and then to Halifax for Dalhousie. Basically I’m saying that I don’t know anybody he knows, not even a MacDonald, which is kind of a rarity as far as any two given Islanders go. Amazingly, he’d heard of Albion Cross (Population: Tire). Once when I was little, and in Souris getting a haircut, another kid asked me, “Albion Cross?! Where the heck is that?” But that was when the road linking the two had potholes you could make fallout shelters in.

I was sitting across from Q. most of the time we were there, and at one point I was lost in thought about something, and Q. interrupted my reverie and asked if I was upset about something. Wuh-huh? My expression was really intense… oh, that. I’ve really got to stop looking so severe when I’m thinking, or else stop thinking and socializing. =) It takes someone new to me to point out first-impression things like this that are obvious to other people, but that they refrain from mentioning out of politeness.

I think I’m misunderstood in general, and this is complicated when I’m in a foreign country because while the locals may not be able to understand me directly, they are familiar with the clichés, and I don’t fit those, either. Heaven knows why I got along so well in Poland. Was it luck, or was it something else? In any case, going there is still one of the best things that ever happened to me. My life can be conveniently split into two parts: Before Poland and After Poland.

It’s all too easy to make the worst kinds of social mistakes here – the ones in the spectrum of presumption. Every little door opening, every tight space, every offering of food and drink, every compliment, and every meeting is a little dance that I always feel like I’m getting wrong. Some people have an innate sense of social grace. I have to learn social graces like other people learn to play the piano. And I’ve learned to play that symbolic piano! But in Japan, I have to learn to play the hammered dulcimer. It means all but starting over.

I don’t make things easy on myself, either. On the day of the open lesson I found myself standing out in a light rain shower wearing sandals with my suit and brandishing a bright yellow child’s umbrella while directing parents into the entrance for registration. Overwhelmed by awkward trepidation, I had trouble timing my greetings properly (it didn’t help that I and the parents could see each other from fifty meters away, which made the best time to acknowledge each other really hard to pin down). And I wonder why I’m misunderstood.

The lesson went well, but there were a few things about it that gave me pause for concern. You’d think “shapes” would be a fairly straightforward, uncomplicated topic. We covered squares, circles, triangles, and (other) rectangles. Simple enough, but in the course of things I remembered that squares are just a special kind of rectangle – all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares, just as all circles are ellipses, but not all ellipses are circles. Therefore, I felt that, say, indicating the square and asking, “Is this a rectangle?” and prompting the kids to say “No,” was misleading at best. Whenever I was up, I deliberately avoided that question and tried the other, safer combinations instead (like asking if the circle was a rectangle). I had wanted to bring it up as a point in the lesson, but one of my cooperating teachers vetoed this. I see why she did, but even now I don’t quite agree.

After the introductions of the shapes and before a fun shapes song, we had the children make complex shapes out of simple ones (like a house out of a triangle and a square). It was OK, but it was the sort of thing that I have a hard time getting interested in, and I found it hard not to just pace about and feign casual interest. I saw the task as an inane time-filler. Not that I don’t resort to such things myself, but acting like they’re some kind of pinnacle of pedagogy requires a mutual suspension of disbelief that I’m not sure has a place in the classroom. (Then again, I must remind myself that this demonstration lesson was half theatre.)

At the end of it all, the children received certificates – complete with their photographs, which Hy-sensei had taken when they first arrived for registration. And after the children left, we got bentos again. Nothing like a free lunch!

I went on to spend much of the remainder of the weekend resting. I had gotten way behind on my sleep.

Finally, when we were at kaiten the night before the lesson (as mentioned), H-sensei came by and left us a man. <whistle> Of course, she can afford that sort of thing (while we can only dream of it), but it’s still good to be on the receiving end of noblesse oblige for once. She literally came just to pay for us; she explained later that she’d overheard K. at the kindergarten talking about going, and decided she’d come and thank us for the hard work we were doing. Well.

Still, despite the occasional benefits, I’m excited at the prospect of being out of this neo-feudal system altogether. In just a few more months, I’ll no longer be an indentured servant, and every second gets me one step closer to that. I thank H-sensei for her kindness, but I look forward to the day when I no longer have to answer to her.

On this rainy night, my need to do my own thing led me to a grocery store (all of the home supply stores had just closed), where I searched in vain for an umbrella. Finding none, I bought some garbage bags, poked holes in one, and set off. I looked ridiculous, but I kept my stuff dry. That's just how I operate. =)
Tags: children, japan, lessons, teaching, work
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