I spend 5 days a week with Japanese students, ages 5 to 15. Needless to say, I learn a lot of new words I’ll probably never get to use and hear a lot of words that I’d really rather not. But what’s more interesting are the interactions I have on a daily basis. I spend most of my time at a junior high where a lot of the kids are…well, kids. They, in most cases, are just like any other hormonal teenager. Some of them are really naughty, some of them super smart and studious, and others sleep most of the time, so I really don’t know anything about them. They are all weird, in their own special little ways. At first, most of them were super shy and wouldn’t really say anything to me beyond “Hello!” but because I’ve been at their school for a month now, I think they are starting to get more comfortable with me. This has led to a few seemingly trivial but really special moments.
At the junior high, I’ve spent the most time with the 2nd graders, the equivalent of the U.S. 8th grade. I’ve had experience with this age group in America, so I thought I’d be fine. But for all their similarities to American students, Japanese students also have their differences. One of the most notable things is that they tend to be surprisingly more forward and open. I hear “めっちゃかわいい (meccha kawaii, very cute) from boys and girls, and I am constantly being asked if I have a boyfriend. Sure, American kids do this too, but not all of them. I’m starting to get a bit conceited actually, because I am genuinely surprised when a student doesn’t say hi to me. There are students more excited than others to see me, but for the most part, these kids love me. Although, this is probably entirely attributed to the fact that I am not Japanese and all of them are. I’m different, so I’m cool.
I also think that in America, it’s less cool to like your teachers too much. I had students in America who made me cards and told me I was cool and stuff, but they were a select few. Also, Japan doesn’t seem to have the same issues with teacher/student “relations” that America does, so the kids aren’t punished for saying off-color things. The teachers here just kinda brush the small things off. It’s a little creepy still, but I’m learning how to deal.
Other than that, I’ve had some really great moments with my students. There is a second year who, in between classes, tested my kanji-reading skills for fun. She actually has pretty good English (which at the junior high level means she tries), so this little test was pretty interesting. She’d ask me what a word meant in Japanese and then tell me the English and have me repeat the Japanese. I am learning so much Japanese from my English classes! I’m also really surprised at some of their pronunciation. The second year English teacher’s homeroom is pretty awesome, and I can tell the majority of the them are concerned with sounding good in English. Plus, they’re all super cute, so of course I love them.
Today I met a third year–coincidentally with the same name as my new favorite 2nd year–who hates Japan and wants to move to America. She also really likes English and made me sit with her at lunch so she could practice. It was the first time I had an extended conversation over 給食 (kyuushoku, school lunch), and it was wonderful. We talked about Miley Cyrus and her alleged drug use, Japanese TV shows, and of course, my mysterious relationship status. (By the way, being seen together in Japan means you are dating, so naturally I’m dating every male foreigner in this town.) Her friend later stopped me to ask what Americans say when they are embarrassed. It made me feel really good for some reason.
I’m really starting to enjoy teaching here, even though all I do is repeat words with a proper American accent. These kids are really great. Sure some of them could use a stern talking to, but there is never a dull moment at this school. And though I am just an assistant teacher with no power, I’m looking forward to the possibility of making a difference for these kids. If only a few of them finish this term only slightly more interested in English, I will be happy.
P.S.-I have pictures of the students at school and what not, but I can’t really post them… I’ll post pictures of things that aren’t people soon!