Thursday, July 12, 2012

Elementary School my dear Watson

On Thursday, July 5th, a group of us went to the Yokohama Adventist Elementary School to help with their English class.  Many of us expressed interest in teaching English in Japan on our applications for the ACA summer program, so sensei thought it would be a good idea if we could actually get a taste of the real thing.  So, we left the apartment around 6:40 in the morning for Ogikubo Station, the station closest to us, to start our journey.  Three trains, a van and a little over an hour later, we arrived at Yokohama San-iku Elementary School out in the boonies of Japan.  We were greeted by students who were also arriving at school at that time, some even coming up to a few of us with a handshake and a well enunciated "Nice to meet you!"  They seemed so excited to see us.  I knew it would be an interesting day even though I didn't know what we would be doing exactly.

Once in the school we were given a tour of the building.  It consists of two and a half floors.  I say half because the main entrance is between the upper and lower level but isn’t really an actual floor.  The lower level has classrooms for first, second, and third grade while the upper level has the administrative office and fourth, fifth, and sixth grades.  There are also rooms for Home Economics and Music, a gymnasium and a library.  Everything was so clean and organized and, yes, all the students wore a uniform.

Our job was not so much to teach the students as it was to aid in the teaching.  We weren’t set as teachers, in charge of a whole class of students.  Instead, we were guests in the English class for several grades.  About ten students would come into the English classroom at a time and would sit in a half-circle in front of the chalkboard where the five of us were standing.  The teacher announced why we were here, and then said a prayer in English, which the students would repeat line by line.  Afterwards, each of them introduced themselves in very simple but accurate English.  They told us their name and either their favorite color, snack, food or sport depending on the group.  Then, we introduced ourselves telling our names, where we were from, which school we went to, what we were studying, and our favorite color, snack, food or sport depending on the group.  After the introductions, we played a few rounds of Rock, Paper, Scissors, each of us visiting students taking turn being the “king”.  Then we moved on to the more interesting part.

Before we came, the English teacher had surveyed the students and asked them what questions they would like to ask us.  The questions ranged from simple ones like “What kind of animals do they have in America?” and “What’s your favorite Bible verse?” to more complex questions like “How is America?” (a very loaded question indeed) and “How do you feel when you see a Japanese person?”  Fortunately, in our meeting before hand, she went over the questions the students had prepared for us so we would have time to think up answers and so we wouldn’t be surprised.  After each question the kids asked us, we got a chance to ask the kids questions.  We didn’t ask them anything too serious or difficult.  Mostly questions like, “What’s your favorite anime?” or “What’s your favorite subject in school?” or “Where’s a good place to visit around here?”

After we had gone through all the English classes for the morning, it was lunch time.  The school provided each of us a tasty looking bento and we each were sent off to eat lunch with a different grade.  I chose to eat with the first graders because after lunch was origami time for them.  When I got to the first grade class, they were in the middle of singing their lunch song.  All the tiny little desks were set up in a circle with one bigger desk empty for me.  I was like king of the first graders.  They even gave me a welcoming gift of a dried flower, laminated for posterity.

When both the song and prayer were done everyone opened up their bentos and started eating and having a funny little debate with one boy being the head of it all.  He would shout out things like, “Who likes korokke?!” or “Who likes so-and-so-san?!” (all in Japanese of course) and kids would enthusiastically raise their hands.  This went on for the entire lunch period with him asking if they liked different things, sometimes getting into arguments over who knows what.  It was so interesting to see that even though they were so young they already had personalities.  They were so lively and interesting to watch even though I didn’t say much.

The girl sitting next to me was especially expressive.  She would get into arguments with/threaten the question asking boy and would get up to walk around the room to talk to other kids.  I tried to speak with her a little but when she found out I couldn’t say or understand much in Japanese she took it upon herself to be my ambassador to the others.  Whenever one of the kids would come up to me and say something, she would promptly take them aside and explain to them in hushed tones that I didn’t understand Japanese.  That didn’t stop a boy from coming up to me and asking me what one plus one was (in Japanese) it took me a few seconds to realize what he was asking before I could answer him correctly.

When I was done eating, my little ambassador informed me that it was okay for me to get one of the books and some paper to make origami.  So, I grabbed some supplies and went back to my desk.  I wanted to make a crane, but I couldn’t remember how to and it wasn’t in the book I chose, so I made a frog instead.  A few of the kids crowded around my desk to watch for a little while before scurrying off back to their desks and chattering among themselves, sometimes looking back at me.  Before long, it was time for me to go, but not before they all rushed towards me with their own origami creations: a flower, a couple of origami hearts, a failed attempt at a heart that ended up being a wrinkly circle with a heart drawn on it, and a crown. 

They were all so cute, I wish I had made more of an attempt to speak to them in my broken and imperfect Japanese but I wasn’t confident enough in my language skills.  However, it is an experience and a memory that I wouldn’t go back and change.  Maybe one of these days I’ll be confident enough to hold a conversation with a first grader as I continue on my adventure in the land of the rising sun.

1 comment:

  1. Aww, it sounds like you had a wonderful experience. I hope after you graduate you can be a teacher for one of the Adventist schools there. It seems like a perfect fit.