Beautiful Moments

I love my job. I really do. Such amazing, hilarious, heart-warming, and beautiful things happen there.

In case you didn’t know, I used to be an ALT (assistant language teacher), but now I am a teacher at an all-English day care in Fukuoka, Japan. We take care of kids from the age of 3-9 (at the moment) and teach them about the world in English. I am currently running the Elementary class, but I help teach all levels. It is not an international school; most of our students are 100% Japanese. Some of our kids come from mixed backgrounds, but they still live their lives mostly in Japanese. The biggest difference between my workplace and the typical Japanese English school is that we also teach our students how to take care of themselves, how to function in society, what makes a good person, etc. We also run class with lots of games, praise, and encouragement.

If you have ever interacted with a small child in your life, you know that they have little to no filter and are usually naturally confident and unashamed. Combine that with an upbeat English environment, and you get some pretty funny situations. I used to write little posts about interesting moments I shared with my old students, and I thought I’d start doing that again. So here is is: Beautiful Moments this far.

1. The Kissing Epidemic

Last month’s theme was fairy tales and movies, so we taught the kids a lot of fantasy words like witch, knight, dragon, princess, blah, blah, blah. There is one particular fairy tale you may know involving a princess and a lucky little frog. There were flashcards for princess and frog and kiss, of course. The elementary school kids were not pleased with this one. One third-grade girl actually shrieked every time she saw the card. The funny thing is, when I asked her if there was anyone she wanted to kiss she said, “Ah, yes” very casually and calmly. She’s only selectively embarrassed I guess.

The preschool-aged group had an even better reaction. They all thought the kiss card was the funniest thing ever, and many of them started kissing each other randomly from the first time they saw it. Two boys, who are close friends, started kissing each other on the mouth a little too much, so we had to start making a bit of a social lesson out of it. I mean, it’s flu season people! Let’s keep our lips to ourselves! The smaller boy actually ended up getting the flu, so he really should have listened to me.

Some other 6-year-old boys also tried to kiss, but it was more like a weird comedy act than anything else. One would approach the other and pretend to kiss him, but the receiver of the kiss would always pull away and pretend to be disgusted. Everyone would laugh. I would tell them all to stop kissing each other, so they’d resort to kissing their own hands.

Just today the mother of the boy who got the flu warned him not to kiss any more people in front of all the other kids. The other kids told him in English to stop kissing. But he still says “YES! Kissing please!” so excitedly. More than a few of them have said to me, “Kissing teacher is good!!” They’re just too cute…really.

 

2. Genuine Smiles

When the parents come to pick up their kids, we do a mini presentation for them to show them what we’re teaching and help them see their kid’s progress. Yesterday I did one of these presentations for a second grader who is usually pretty rowdy but is getting so good at speaking English. I explained to his mom that we’re learning color theory this week, and the boy identified some of the flashcards. Then I asked him a few questions, and he answered them all perfectly. I, the school director, and another teacher all let out a huge “WHHHOOAAAA!” and the biggest smile cracked across his face. I almost started crying it was so beautiful. I told his mom he really is improving so much, in regards to English skill and behavior, and he just smiled even bigger. It is these exact moments when I know I’ve found my calling.

 

3. The more you mess up, the more you learn

Thursday is a small class day. In Elementary, we only have seven kids. This means we have a lot more time to get off topic and just talk to each other. Today, I read them a book about the solar system and asked them some questions about space. I had this pretty normal conversation with a 3rd-grade-girl:

“What is space??? In English please.”

“Sky. It’s black. Uh…many stars.”

“Yes! Good. Okay, so what are people who live on other planets called?”

“Um….space people!”

“Aliens. Nice try though. They definitely are space people.”

During free time, we were talking about superheros and villains, and she gave parts to everyone there. “He is villain. He is the police. He is superhero.” and so on.

“Okay, so who are you?”

“I’m so-so people.”

“So-so people?? What’s that?”

“futsu na hito. So-so people.” (NOTE: futsu means normal, so she meant an ordinary person, but futsu is also what you say to mean fine/okay/so so when someone asks how you are).

“OOOOOh, a normal person. Person!”

“Ah yes, person! I’m normal person!”

I’m telling you this story because this girl would not stop talking today. Every silent moment was an opportunity for her to tell a joke or ask a question or something, but I was so happy she did it. She keep saying she alone was “people”, but it opened up a chance for me to teach her about irregular plurals. More importantly than that though, it gave me a chance to bond more with her and for her to practice her conversation skills. She is an amazing student because she is never afraid to make mistakes.

I’ve honestly learned a lot from my students. The mess up and brush it off. Sure, the teachers always encourage them and praise them for trying alone, but they are so brave! I want to be childlike in that way. I want to not care at all about failing, because I know I’ll learn something and improve from it. That’s why this story is beautiful for me.

 

4. Caregivers

Little kids are so pure and kind. A lot of crying goes on at my school, but the little ones always look out for and comfort each other. We have one little boy who wears diapers, and the other little boy in his class always helps him get his diapers ready to go to the bathroom. If a little girl cries, there is always another little girl there patting her head and asking “Are you okay?” If I accidentally drop all the flashcards on the ground, there are at least five kids at my feet trying to pick them up. Way to go parents of these darling children.

 

5. I am a monkey.

Little kids are essentially monkeys. They climb you, run around with no direction, throw food, and other monkey-like things. However, it is I who has become the monkey of my school. I will do literally anything to make them smile and laugh, including act like a monkey. My favorite moment at work so far was during a kindergarten spelling lesson a few months ago. My work name is Teacher Koko. You need to know that. So during this particular spelling lesson, I decided to ask them how to spell monkey, because they love monkeys. One boy, without missing a single beat said, “K-O-K-O! HAHAHAHAHA!”

I died. I literally couldn’t finish the lesson. I just let them watch me double over in a fit of laughter for three minutes or so. It’s still funny.

 

 

Kids are amazing creatures. I used to hate the idea of ever birthing another human, but gradually I have come to really want a child of my own. Someday. I cry all the time at work. Mostly it’s because they are genuinely that funny and can make me laugh until my sides hurt. But sometimes it’s because my job is so beautiful and rewarding that I feel almost unworthy of it. I get paid to hang out with children and have fun all day. I am so lucky.

 

Junior High School Stories: Kids are so Weird

I haven’t written about my students in a while, and I feel like they know it because they’ve been giving me a lot of great material lately. Cute, but mostly creepy material. (NOTE: some student comments are translated from Japanese.)

 

1.

My 8th graders have been studying infinitives and what expressions to use them with. Things like “I like to play soccer” or “I want to go to the movies.” So one day at lunch, I asked some students what they want to do in the future.

The young lady sitting across from me said, “I want to marry a rich, handsome man so I can sit on the couch watching TV and eating potato chips all day.”

To which I replied, “You want to do nothing but sit and eat? that’s not very healthy.”

And she said, “Oh we’ll have a pool. And three mini poodles. It’ll be fine!”

Okay sweetie, what a wonderful dream!

The boy next to her said the opposite. Apparently his dream is to marry an ugly, poor woman. I just don’t even know where they get this.

 

2.

Soon after that conversation, one of my most adoring students came over to poke me and ask me weird questions. I ignored her and asked her the same question as above instead. Her answer? To be my boyfriend. She meant boyfriend. When she was in 7th grade she wrote “I Love KORI!” on her arm and told everyone she was my boyfriend. Hmmm….::concerned face::

 

3.

That same day, during 5th period, I asked a young man where his workbook was, because he was supposed to be working in it.

He said, “It went home.”

“It went home? What?” Because I thought he meant it was at home.

“Oh, yea, it went home. By foot!”

 

4.

Another day, I was walking back to the 7th grade teachers’ room after a lesson. I walked by a group of three girls, and as I passed, I could feel them stop and face me. I turned to see one girl sniffing my shoulder.

“What are you doing!?”

“YOU SMELL GOOOOOD!”

 

5.

Almost everyday, someone (usually a boy) will scream, “I DON’T SPEAK ENGLISH!” in English. Why?!

 

6.

One day I caught a boy copying the answers for the workbook page he was supposed to be doing from the answer book. I grabbed the answer book, playfully tapped his head with it, and then erased all of his answers. He laughed nervously, and then actually did the workbook page correctly. It was a rewarding day for us both.

 

7.

Recently the 9th grade upper level English students were writing group essays. Their teacher was absent this particular day, so I went to the lessons by myself and helped the kids with their grammar and word choice. Easy stuff, you know. I’m helping one group write something about kimono or something, when one boy starts yelling “BEE! BEE! A BIG BEE!”I freaked out, because for once the students knew the correct English word for such an animal and because our school had been having a problem with giant hornets that are apparently vicious and painful. I did not want to stick around to find out what it felt like to be stung by one, and with all the children flailing around like drunk donkeys, that bee was probably peeved enough to stick his little stinger right into my face. Before I could calm anyone down, or breathe for that matter, the tiniest girl in class had run to the teachers’ room, fetched a bug spray gun, and begun (trying) to kill the little insect. She was way too short to reach the bee, who was flying close to the ceiling like any smart bee would, so all she managed to do was douse the classroom in a very obnoxious fume cloud. We all had a good laugh at her futile attempt to murder the poor thing, and then a much taller boy yanked the canister from her hand. He gave that hornet the lethal dose every student was hoping for, and  the little bug buzzed his little way down to the floor where he perished in a puddle of poison.

I felt so weird. This little bug had the ability to scare 20 teenagers with just the flap of his wings, and yet he died so easily at a few breaths of poisonous air. I didn’t know what else to do, so I made the kids have a little funeral for him. We all said “Sorry. Goodbye Mr. Bee.” and threw him into the “general waste” bag.

 

8.

Every Tuesday I help the 7th graders clean the teachers’ room, mostly because I like to look busy, but also because I like to make them speak English. A while back, I taught them the words “dustpan” and “broom.” Now, every week without fail, a boy who could easily pass as an American 3rd grader comes to my desk and exclaims, “Kori! Clean time!” It’s so cute, I have to clean. He is also “dustpan” boy, so whenever someone yells, “DUSTPAN!” he promptly scurries over to them, not unlike a mouse, and provides his dustpan-steadying skills. Tuesday is probably my favorite day of the week because of Dustpan (his loving new name).

 

9.

My favorite thing about my job, by far, is watching students’ faces when they randomly blurt out an answer and it’s right. They’ll say it happily, and if you don’t immediately congratulate them on their answer, they doubt it and try to retract it. That’s when you say, “THAT’S RIGHT!” and their faces light up like the sky on (American) New Year’s. It’s more beautiful than the most beautiful fireworks display, really, and it’s why I do what I do. Slowly, these kids are picking up English and enjoying it. And maybe English itself isn’t so important big picture-wise, but being bilingual is correlated with higher intelligence right? And it means they can talk to me more, because Kori-sensei does not speak Japanese at school without good reason. No sir.

 

Thanks for reading! Let me know if you enjoy this kind of post. I certainly enjoyed writing it! Until next time!

Technology and Winter

People who haven’t been to Japan always ask me about how technologically advanced Japan is. “I heard Japan is covered in bullet trains and robots….that do your laundry!”

No. I don’t even have a dryer. I DON’T HAVE A DRYER. When I first got to Japan, that was definitely up there on my “shocking findings” list. Although drying your clothes outside on a pole does take more effort and more time, I’ve gotten used to it. It makes me feel like I’m saving the world, one load of laundry at a time.

Some people do have dryers though. You’ve just got to be rich enough to have a big house (in Japan…) to even think about it. There’s simply no room for extra luxuries in this country. You learn to make do, or you spend a little extra to use the coin laundry.

I also don’t have an oven or a dishwasher for the same reasons. I know people with glorious baking machines, but they also have relatively glorious houses. I really can’t recall if I’ve ever seen a dishwasher.  People in Japan wash their dishes by hand, and I admire that. I grew up with a dishwasher, and learning to do everything with two 5-digit tools god gave me took time. It’s just another way Japan has made me feel like a privileged brat.

I feel like Japan doesn’t have a massive consumerist mentality when it comes to home appliances. People just spend more money on their appearances and nights out I guess.

Anyway, this post is not an attempt to demystify the lack of home technologies in Japan. I wanted to say, that despite the fact I’ve learned to live with and even love my now simpler life, I’m having a hard time getting over the heating systems used in this part of the world.

My main source of heat in my home is a space heater pointed at my bed. Also, I work in schools, right? We know this. Where have you been? Schools in Japan, as you probably could conclude from this and previous posts, do not have central heating. Or any heating. Save for the staff rooms and the library, maybe, Japanese schools are ice boxes full of bare legs and sadness. Yes, girls wear skirts. Without tights. BARE LEGS IN SUBZERO WEATHER. The teachers’ rooms have simple, no-fuss gas stoves. I asked my boyfriend why Japan tortures its youth, and he said it’s to build character. It toughens them up. A teacher told the kids once that American kids probably think Japanese kids are amazing and strong for enduring winters sitting in cold wooden desks while learning how to buy shoes in America. American kids would probably think Japan’s insane and then decide to never come here while they’re school age.

advanced heating technology

advanced heating technology

That’s what I thought. Japan, you’re crazy. But winter goes on. The temperature does not give in to my complaints. It is not forgiving. And I see these kids go about their school day, just like they would if it wasn’t two degrees Celsius out. Some kids still run around in their athletic shorts. Maybe some of them will get sick, but they’ve been doing this since they were five. I’m sure they’re used to it. Many of them do complain, but they’re wearing far less clothing than me. What can I say? Besides the necessary “寒いーーー.”

Kids Say the Darndest Things: Japan Edition

I realized that recently my blogs have been somewhat depressing and not related to the reason I’m in Japan (which is teaching English, if you forgot). For this reason, I’ve decided to share some of the daily perks of being a teacher in Japan.

So first of all, like I’ve said a million times, Japanese kids are the cutest. My favorites are the first graders. The new school year starts in March, so there are quite a few new little kiddos I have yet to meet! I have had the pleasure of teaching the first graders at one of my elementary schools twice now though, so naturally we’re BFFs. The last time I was there, the kids asked me if I dyed my hair. When I said, “No,” one girl ask if I was the same Kori as last time. Yea. Then a boy asked me how to say teeth. I LOVE FIRST GRADERS.

I also love first graders in junior high, which are actually 7th graders. I know most of these weirdos already because I taught at their elementaries, but it’s been really fun getting to know them on a different level. Before I only saw them once or twice a month and now I see them every week! Sometimes three times! WOO! I’m probably way more excited about that than they are, though.

I have this one kid who went to a school that I did not teach 6th graders at, so he’s relatively new to me. The first time I taught his class, I read his name from the seating chart because we were learning the alphabet, and I used his name as an example for a word that starts with “R.” I don’t know what it is about kids, but they love it when you know their names. So, of course, when I said his name he instantly fell in love with me. I knew it was true when he started spelling “SEX” to me every time he saw me. (Side note: If there is one word Japanese people know how to spell in English, it’s sex. Who knows why.) Anyway, I ate lunch with his class recently, and he greeted me at the door with a big, “It’s KORI!” Then he told me to go sit by his desk, but unfortunately for him, the teacher gave me a seat near the front of the room. No matter, little R came over and sat in someone else’s seat. And of course he started talking about sex again.

I do this thing where I pretend like I can’t speak Japanese. I can understand it, but I can’t speak it. Sorry. This works for the older kids, but only because I’ve told them that from the beginning. The 7th graders, on the other hand, know me from elementary when they didn’t know English, when I had to speak to them in Japanese. They don’t like the non-Japanese speaking junior high me. So they all beg me to speak Japanese, and I sort of give in because they’re cute and actually talk to me.

Back to the story, little R was blabbering on about this and that and sex. I told him not to say that, and he asked why. “気持ち悪い!” (kimochi warui=gross or bad feeling. If I could choose one word to describe junior high kids in Japan, it would be this. Or KIMOI. It has a stronger feeling). Another kid asked me if I like milk. “Definitely not,” I said and asked if he wanted my carton. Little R did. Of course he did. So I gave it to him. The other kid freaked out and thought it was all a joke. But little R took my milk and lunch time began. The girls at my table were laughing and saying how weird little R is. Especially because he came back to my table, not once, but twice to try to return my milk. He even asked me from his table if it was okay to accept it. I insisted I didn’t need it, so I guess he drank it. Whatever. After the kids finish their lunches, they’re allowed to talk to their friends at other tables. Little R came back. He said, “It’s KORI!” again. This time I said, “Who are you!?”

He looked straight at me, with the most serious tone, and said, “コリ先生、英語わかんないって。日本語で言って。”

“Miss Kori, I said I don’t understand English. Say it in Japanese.”

Ok. I translated. “お前誰?”

I don’t know what I did, but he got (playfully?) mad and said I was annoying and that he didn’t want to talk to me anymore. He didn’t leave though. He stood and sulked behind the laughing girls who thought my response was hilarious. I said I was sorry, but he told me to never talk to him again. I said okay.

A little later, I caught him scowling, and I asked if he was mad at me. He said very. So I apologized, the whole time thinking this was hilarious. After the bell rang, I left the classroom and discovered him in the hallway. I told him we were friends, but he said we weren’t. SO SAD. We passed the naughtiest 7th grader, who I’m sure will make a reappearance, and we greeted each other. He told me little R said he loves me. I think I’ve officially broken my first Japanese heart.

Other than that, my most exciting moments probably happen when I teach the 9th graders. Most of these kids talk to me, and there are even a few who willing approach me to practice their English. What I like most about this age group is that they know the most English, and they like to practice weird things they’ve learned. One day a student I was thought was creepy but later decided was just pubescent told me, in English, that he’s married. A few days later, after I taught him the meaning of wife, he said at the end of our lesson, “My wife is a beautiful woman.”

I laughed. The grammar was perfect, and his random English outburst caught me off guard. The kids around him asked what was going on and he translated for them. Perfect. He didn’t just learn a weird phrase. He studied it and knew what it meant. He’s kind of up there on my list now. But mostly because he once talked to me for an hour after school in the teacher’s room.

Little things happen like that a lot now. I’ll be eating lunch with students and out of nowhere someone will say, “Do you know One Direction?” or “This dish is made out of fish,” and often a good English conversation follows. I’m seriously going to bawl when these 9th graders graduate to high school. I adore so many of them.*

I don’t know, maybe it just feels nice or whatever, but imagining being popular among junior high kids makes me happy. Even if it is a little weird. Could you imagine if I was this popular with junior high kids when I was actually in junior high. Man, that would have been great.

I think I’m going to start doing little weekly kid updates. Let me know if you like these! じゃね!

 

*Since starting this post, some of the kids have gotten a little weird. Recently, various body parts and bodily functions have become more exciting than boy bands and school lunch. I’ll keep ya updated.

“Hello, my name is Ikemen.”

I’m sorry if you were expecting this to be about hotties, but unless you’re a pedophile, you’re out of luck! No, I thought I’d take some time to write what is essentially all the tweets I would tweet if I didn’t care about being super annoying. Also, these would never meet Twitter’s character limit.

1. Today I ate lunch with 5th graders at probably my favorite elementary. This particular class’s teacher refers to almost all of the male students as “crazy boy” at some point, because they say the most ridiculous things. They’re really sassy too, but I kinda like that. Anyway, after the kids finished eating, I asked their names because I’m a horrible person and forget almost all of them. One of the “crazy boys” from another lunch group came over and said something dumb, so I asked what his name was in English. “僕?ええと。。。My name is Marumaru* Ikemen.”

Really? For those of you wondering, “イケメン” or ikemen, essentially means a attractive guy. Apparently, it also means someone who is cool (attractive inside as well), but every time I hear ikemen, I think of Hana Kimi (花ざかりの君たちへ), and that manga/show is definitely about hot guys.

To continue with the story, Marumaru Ikemen also gestured toward his friend across the room and said, “Naninani* Ikemen.” Then he asked me if I thought they were ikemen. They’re 11. But yea, one day, I’m sure all the girls will love you.

From here on out, they will be the Ikemen Brothers, because I’m sure I’ll have more to say about them.

2. After all this talk of ikemen, of course they asked me the ALT’s favorite question: “彼氏がいるの?/Do you have a boyfriend?” I always start with, “It’s a secret!”, but they always think of another way to ask like, “Do you have a lover?” “Is there anyone you like?” So sometimes I’ll say something like “it doesn’t concern you/it doesn’t matter” or whatever else other teachers have told me works, but I’ve found the best way to escape this is to ask them the same question. Then they all tell each other’s secrets, and I don’t have to think about how lonely I am.

Here’s a random photo to break up the text!

3. First graders like it when you read their names. I like it too, because they don’t know kanji yet so it’s easy for me plus I look cool. However, today I fumbled. One kid’s name is さとうそうた/Satou Souta. What is that? Difficult to say, that’s what.

4. I don’t like that Japan uses a different romanization system than America/the west. I was reading little notes the kids wrote in romaji (the use of Latin letters for Japanese), and I was like, “What is yorosiku? Isn’t it yoroSHIku?” Obviously I looked it up, and I suppose it makes sense for use only in Japan, but it hurts my English brain, and I feel a strong urge to hold private romaji lessons after school for them.

5. On to junior high moments. These kids are finally opening up to me, and my refusal to speak to them in Japanese has paid off. A lot of them will try to talk to me in English now, and even though they always end up speaking Japanese, I’m really proud of them for trying.

A few days ago, some of the 3rd grade boys were hanging out in a hallway during their after-lunch break. This hallway happened to be on my way to the bathroom, and when I passed, they all said “Hello!” like they do. Usually that’s it, but one kid asked me a question! This is how it went:

  • “Do you like SMAP?”
  • “No, not really. Do You?”
  • “Uh, no.”

So it was clearly a pointless conversation, which somehow makes it even better.

The strictness of Japanese junior high.

6. Some kids really like children’s books. And stickers. And games. Watching 15-year-old kids, some of which are very tall and mature-looking, run around and scream that they need a witch card so they can go trick-or-treating for a Winnie the Pooh sticker is definitely something I won’t soon forget.

7. I’m starting to really like the 3rd grade boys. The other day we had these weird, mushy sweet potato fries that we were expected to eat with a spoon. So of course, I dropped one. I guess I made a disappointed sound, because one of the boys got up, found a tissue, removed the sweet potato particle from my tray, and threw it away.

After lunch, the kids move put their chairs on their desks to prepare for cleaning time. The day after the potato incident, I tried to help the kids move their desks and chairs, but the boys I was sitting with refused to let me do that. They also always pull out my chair for me when I’m given a place to sit. I think in America, it’s normal for teachers to take care of the kids, clean up after them, and all that. Here the students seem a lot more helpful and independent at school. And nice. God, they’re nice.

WHOA, that was long. Oh, but I forgot one.

8. I never particularly wanted kids before I came to Japan, but that has changed. These kids are so awesome. And adorable. And fun. Maybe some American kids are like that, but I haven’t met many. Kids here are just different, and I really enjoy the time I spend with them.

I originally intended for this blog to be about Japan and culture and weird things that happen to me, but I always want to write about my students and school. I should write about Halloween next…

*Names changed to protect the children, not that they will ever read this. I just realized I left Satou Souta, but it wouldn’t be the same if I changed that…

Also, there are exceptions to a lot of the things I wrote, but aren’t there always?