Monday, May 10, 2010


The day the letters dropped was almost more awesome than receiving them!

Today’s chaotic success was the culmination and combination of a lot of factors, and the efforts of a lot of people. I first flirted with the idea of a pen-pal type exchange as I spoke with my friend who is a 9th grade English teacher in Commerce, GA. I wanted to capitalize on my connections, and provide both his students and mine with opportunities they might not have if he and I weren’t teachers in America and Japan, and if we weren’t friends.

The problem was only that his Japan club has like 12 or 15 members. And I have 168 middle schoolers.

Back when Kermit-sensei was still around, he converted a textbook activity into a real letter writing exercise with me. Almost every student produced some kind of letter, which were then packed up and sent to Georgia.

Almost every letter got a response (once he pushed the opportunity on some of his non Japanclub kids who desperately needed extra credit).. but some got none and some got as many as three. I didn’t know how to hand out letters where one kid would get three and the kid next to him would get nothing, so I waited a bit.

But that issue wasn’t going to resolve itself, and this pack of letters was just sitting in my desk being a Great Opportunity and yet never getting to shine. There were four letters without students’ names on the top, so that helped. A few of the repeats were in pencil, and I confess that although tampering with mail is a FEDERAL OFFENSE, in the interest of pedagogical purposes, I may or may not have used an eraser and my best handwriting imitation skillz. It didn’t work, for me.. I could always tell which ones had been converted.

But I copied and wheedled my way into a letter for every kid. I was really excited about this, actually, but I had to wait because of scheduling and Golden Week and changes at work.

The old system of splitting English and math classes is “destroyed” for the 1st and 2nd year students. Instead of four periods of about 14 students, I get two of 28. (Because we are down a few staff members.. after the first few weeks, some dude just quit, and so everyone else has to cover that space in the staff scheduling routine) But it’s not just me; I am team-teaching these, AND both Miss Piggy-sensei and Newbie-sensei are joining each class. This is pretty awesome because they balance each other well. Miss Piggy’s English level is incredible, and Newbie is a fast thinker and always positive.

I was a bit nervous about throwing so many different letters at such a big class, but it went off awesomely. The kids suddenly had something in their hands that was meant (probably) just for them. The letters were often similar, but none (very few) the same. This creates a sudden and personal desire to know what has been written. Suddenly we’re translating not because it’s in the book and we have to, but because someone has sent us a message and we want to know what it says. The difference is paramount. They were all over the place, out of their seats, getting dictionaries and visiting desks, raising their hands to ask questions. I could have cried with joy.

I too really enjoyed seeing kids get responses. Some of them got affirmations (“I like baseball too!”) and others got questions which will make finding content for their reply easy (“What is judo?”). Some of them asked questions which were answered (even if negatively.. haha “I have never heard of ARASHI.”) .. but to feel heard, understood? Um, especially as a middle schooler struggling with an unfamiliar language? Effin’ priceless.

I expect them to write back, too, partly because it’s polite and we’ve waited too long to return responses to the kids in Commerce. And partly because I just want to see that they’ve processed what was given to them and made an effort at fielding a reply. My life is hectic, and so are theirs; the draft is due Friday.

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