First, I'll tell you about the sixth graders. Although we've had middle school graduation already, they are still working their way toward a ceremony. The current 6th graders are kids I dubbed the "butterflies" back when I was in the business of giving them nicknames. They were just 4th graders then, and I have very little memory of why I chose that (probably just the progression downward from dogs to cats to mice to frogs to fish.. to butterflies. Maybe they were prettier?).
Anyway, as they move toward graduation, they undertake a lot of memory and forward-looking things, one of which is thanking teachers with written messages on plaques, and another of which is intercom interviews. They did present me with a plaque thing which to my surprise referred not to just this year, but to teaching them English for three years. The kid who was in charge of hanging it over to me had to make a little speech, and in it he said that he's grown to like English.
That is pretty standard; they weren't going to pick the girl who is always saying "I hate English!" (who, nonetheless, waves to me and calls out hello when I see her walking to school as I get off the bus in the morning) to give the little speech to me. But it sort of dawned on me that at the elementary school, especially having been there so long by now, the English program has slowly become my program. These kids had ALTs before me, but I've been the longest-standing and most current, so their English learnin' has largely been associated directly with me.
Also with that, the current sixth graders were 4th graders when I arrived; I don't see 1st - 4th grades as often, but I spend time with 5th and 6th once a week at that school. This means that this particular class is kind of my pinnacle performance because they didn't see as much of me during those first two trimesters, when I had no idea what I was doing, and came up through the years to be the first group with whom I even managed to finish the textbook.
The butterflies have always been pretty well-disciplined, I remember that from their time as 5th graders (and because they followed just after the fish, who as elementary kids made me want to tear my hair out sometimes, but which fish have later made excellent middle schoolers, what with the iron fist of authority dwelling here and all).
I suffered a spell of paranoia similar to what happened with the math teacher (and with similar results) wherein I really thought the guy hated working with me. We hardly communicated in the spring of 2010, but when he remained as my "English co-teacher" for the second year in a row come 2011, things just got a lot easier. I started joining his group for cleaning time (because it was outside and usually involved plants), and came to see that even though his English was less than fantastic, he really was trying. AND as a bonus, he is a great teacher, in the sense that the kids (even the worst of the 4th graders [umm, snakes class?]!) respect him totally. This may have something to do with the fact that he is a giant by some Japanese standards, but it's also a lot his way of dealing with the kids. I love it.
|Last year's graduation.|
What was I saying? Oh! Well, so it's normal to say something nice at the presentation of a thank you card, but no one is making the kids say anything in their barely comprehensible lunchtime intercom interviews. These are conducted by 5th graders against a background of terrible pop music (usually AKB, which I am against kind of in principle). It's difficult to hear and understand what's being said, and the first time I heard a kid respond "English class" to some question, I admit I didn't hear the question (but I still gave the air a fist-bump). Usually they are leading. "What do you want to do your best at in middle school?" "Studies and club activities!" Well... "What club do you want to join?" "What is your favorite memory from elementary school?"
So I have no idea what was being said or even if "English" was really what I heard. But it happened again on some other day, and I felt myself celebrating inside. Whatever the question was doesn't even matter.. some of these butterflies actually liked my class and look forward to pursuing English in middle school. Which, granted, they totally might have done with any other ALT and any other program. But they didn't, cause I was the one here.
Second, I'll tell you about the compliments at the party. Remember that post-graduation party my head wasn't in the game for? I spent my time at that thing alternating between so happy and overcome by emotion, and being a brick whose face felt so heavy I thought it might actually tip me over into the sashimi boat.
But here and there it would crop up within different topics. The other teachers were finding little ways to say really flattering things, which I hesitate to even print here because this blog is supposed to be partly for my successor, whosoever that may be, and I am shy to let them know how loved Ichinan was making me feel, by saying they wished I could stay, or if they had an unmarried son they'd try to make me part of their family, how they can't remember seeing me get angry.
I had been thinking a lot about my own departure and even what to say in my leaving speech during graduation, and I had come up with something that basically means, since I could have been sent anywhere, really, anywhere in Japan, I'm so glad I got sent here. Yokatta.
One of the teachers used almost exactly the words I had thought up for that to turn it around on me, Emily de yokatta. We're glad we got you. I cried a lil' in my cloth napkin. Those are high compliments, from all of them, but even more than that it felt good to know that doing what I do has had this result.. that the work I put in does show (across culture and language barriers), especially over time, and that maybe they love me here because they know I love it too. I mean, yeah I'm awesome, but I can only be as awesome as my situation allows, right?
Well. It's certainly doing nothing for my humility.