Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Lunch with Sixth Graders

Yesterday, I was at Small Elementary. I laughed an evil laugh to see that I was eating lunch with the 6th graders again.

The last time I ate lunch with that class, the room was totally silent, and it terrified me. The girls in that class never participated, and to make it worse, that was back in the swine-flu scare of late 09, so they weren’t even sitting in desk clusters. I tried to make conversation after about fifteen terrible minutes by pointing to the nearest girl’s pencil case, which was sitting on her desk.

“Very cute,” I said. In general, people know the word “very” and they know the word “cute,” and I know these kids have had ALT training in their lives for a while now, and being a class of only like ten people, they totally get the attention they should want. So she understood the words I used, I am almost certain.

How did this kid respond to my attempts to bond over personal taste in school effects? She did not look at me, nor speak to me, but removed the pencil case and shoved it inside her desk, and continued eating.

Terror. Oh my GOD, get me out of here! She probably felt the same way. Eventually the boys (who do participate in class) asked if they could ask me questions and proceeded to do the whole stand-up-and-push-in-your-chair-to-address-a-teacher thing to ask me questions like “What countries have you been to?” .. which were a bright step up from my usual slew of “What’s your favorite color/animal/sport/food?” and “Can you eat ___?”

Aaaanyway, that was last time, so yesterday was round two, and this time I was ready and unafraid. I try to joke around with the students when possible. When I first got to the classroom, no one was there at all. Then, the girls arrived. They began to giggle and exchange glances, which I actually kind of hate. It makes you feel like you’re under glass or something. They won’t try to reach you, they’ll just talk about you and something that is hilarious to them from which you are excluded. I looked at them mournfully and said “Don’t be like that. You’re killin’ me!”

Then one of them asked me how old I was. Oh thank goodness, we are talking. I told her, and then she asked if I had a boyfriend. I was back on my joking bandwagon so I said “Oh yeah, I got three!” .. they did not seem impressed, so I went back to the standard answer which is, “No, no, no.”

I had used some Kansai-ben in class that day, when a kid asked me a question in Japanese I TOTALLY knew he could form in English if he tried, so I drawled out “Nihongo ga zenzen wakarahennnn..!” (I don't understand any Japanese!)

Anynway, next the girls were a little confusing, and they said something about Kansai-ben and then laughed a bit, then said Kansai-ben “Why?” and I wasn’t sure if they were just saying it to be Kansai or if they were still asking about the boyfriend thing, but right then the boys returned to class and were meccha excited to see that I was their lunch guest.

Once we got our food, this crowd of tiny kindergarteners came in to say thank you to their “big brothers and sisters” and present them with cookies of gratitude and congratulations for their coming graduation. It was possibly the cutest thing that has ever happened. I also somehow got cookies out of the deal, just for being in the room to witness this.

Once all that was done, they started doing the formal questions again. They were generally upper-elementary level of though provoking. “How big was your elementary school?” I did some math in my head and estimated it at 500. I don’t really know, though. I just figured, about five classes a grade, twenty kids a class, six grades. That came out to 600 and I figured that was way too high, but it’s probably about right. It’s still staggering to work in schools where the population does not swell, but actually tends to drop, with every incoming class. They were astonished to hear 500, though (their school having 60), and I tried to explain that it’s partly because kids can go to school by bus instead of walking. If we had to walk like the do in Japan, there would be smaller schools because there would be more of them.

Then one kid asked, “When you graduated, were you sad? Did you cry?” That one sort of startled me out of my fried-tofu-scarfing fest.

I’ve had several graduations.. the ones from elementary and middle school kind of not counting as much as the high school and college ones. I don’t even remember graduating from the lower schools because for the most part it was just moving myself and everyone I knew already into another building.

I wanted to give him an answer that was close to the question I thought he was asking; I wanted to go for the lower graduation so I settled for high school. And then I basically lied to a kid. I told him I didn’t cry. He said, “Not sad?” No, not not sad. I didn’t cry at graduation, but I was sad inside.

And I guess I was. I did cry, but not on graduation day. I was a lot of things, at that time. I was happy and excited (and I knew where I was going.. something I only half had at college graduation), and I was scared, and I was angry, too, about the actual graduation ceremony. I was frustrated with others, and with myself too I’m sure. I had a great graduation party at which I was happy, but also felt sick. Graduation is just hard. There’s just so much pride, loss, excitement, love, regret, happiness, promise, and uncertainty in it. College was worse. I brave-faced my way through the ceremony, hugged my friends, genuinely enjoyed those strawberries, and went to my dorm to bawl about it in the first free moment I could find.

And I know that I’m just in my own head on this one, but I do want to think that these 6th graders are interested.. maybe even the girls, who have (maybe??) just been intimidated by the outgoing presence of the boys.


  1. It's inspiring to hear that you have a semi-normal reaction to graduation and that you've gone through it all. Thanks for sharing :)

  2. Haha.. yeah, it didn't seem normal at the time, with everyone congratulating me all over the place, but yeah. I think you're right. :) Thanks for your comments thus far, btw. I enjoy them.