Tuesday, August 24, 2010

bfg on empathy and my students

I think the best thing I can do for my students is continue learning Japanese.

Not just cause I have to (thesis!). Not just as a personal goal. I really think remembering the things that bore me, that frustrated me, that have humbled me and actually incorporating them into my lessons will help me be a better teacher.

Today was spent working hard at communicating English. Underline "hard". Scream it out loud in your mind and have it echo in your skull. Yup, that was my day.

I had two of my three speech contest attendees come to my office today. Night and Day, I tell you.

The first girl was unresponsive. In fact, the JTE told her she thought the speech was not very good and that the student should maybe try another year, but the student persisted. Normally, I am really into this kind of idea of strong, even sure-to-disappoint drive... But usually this is paired with an eagerness to learn and this student made it seem like I was shoving her head under water for over three minutes at a time.

"Your speech is about friendship, right?"

"Friendship? nandesu ka?"

I point to the first sentence in her speech which has the word "Friendship" in it. I repeat very, very slowly, syl-la-ble by syl-la-ble, "Fru-ren-du-ship-u." God, I even gave in and gave it a Japanese accent.

Nothing. Not a nod, not a yes. Nada.

The JTE in the background chimes in.

"Blalhblahblha Friendshipudesu."

Student turns to me. "Hai! Fri-en-d."

How can I train someone who doesn't even bother to learn the very topic of their speech which they supposedly wrote? I found out that she did write it in Japanese and had it translated by the JTE - something that if I were boss would be an intense no-no (see below). But I am not the Teacher just a humble ALT so I beefed up the speech as requested despite strong feelings of wrongness and recorded my voice so she could practice at home. I offered to meet her during the week but she asked if she could just do it after September 1st. "Fine." But I was disappointed.

My other student walked in during my lunch break but she greeted me with a shy smile and a heavy accented, "Hel-Lo. I am K--!"

People, I fell in love.

Four hours I spent with K--. I did the same thing; made her sentences flow nicely together, changed a few words here and there but her content is strong and really original. I am so impressed with her idea of writing about how the Japanese Soccer Team inspires her because they lost but stayed positive. "Same with my studying English." God, I almost fainted in happiness.

By "changing a few words" let me give you an example. She wrote how the team "effected" her to improve her English even if she fails. I taught her the word "inspires".

"Soudesu! In-spu-ir-ers!! I feel in-spu-ired by the soccer team."

K was still shy but she allowed herself to make mistakes if it meant expressing even a part of her sentence in English. In the end, we had a solid meet and I am so proud of her.

As a side note, the title of her work is Samurai Blue - yet another thesis moment.

In between my speech students, a group of third year high school girls who are not my students came in.

"Banessa! Do you remember my name?"

I always say the same thing. "No. What is your name?"


"And what is your friend's name."

I don't care if it is repetitive - I am the English Goddess and if the only thing these girls will learn is saying someone's name perfectly well so be it.

We laughed and I gave them candy from my not-so-secret stash in my drawer. I am not beyond bribery ;0

They asked me if I would help even though I was not their teacher. "Of course!"

I was actually starving at that point and was talking to the bf but when it comes to students nothing else matters.

"Can you give us the answers to this test." They handed me five pages to an exam.

"What test is this?"

"University Test." In Japan, you take uni entrance exams. In reality, you take an exam for even an Internet Cafe card in this country!!

"Ah! No."

"EEeeeee! No?!"

"No. We will do the test together."

And for two hours I sat with them and made them do the test. I was surprised at what they knew having only based my judgement of their capabilities on their listening and speaking skills. We did it together and I was so proud of them - encouraging them to return with as many tests as they like. "I will help you find the answer. I will explain it as best I can but I won't just give it to you." Off they went with their candy in pocket promising to return and thanking me for taking the time.

It was remembering this, how I as a teacher feed off the student who is open to learn if not eager, that I walked into my own Japanese language class this evening.

I went to the culture centre to find out about Japanese language classes in the community and discovered a place which provided free lessons Tuesday evenings.

Group Shot of Japanese Class
It is an informal gathering - a setting I usually do badly in. I like structure - the military kind. I work best when given a list and told, "Go!" But I forced myself to ask the questions burning inside me, mostly unexplainable grammar points I had come across in the manga I am currently reading for the Infamous Thesis.

I knew at first some other students were a little frustrated at the more academic, more formal questions I was asking. Most of the students are either bran-smacking new learners or pretty fluent but foreign and want to work on their accent and conversation skills. But again, my students in mind, I went on.

And ended up having such an awesome time.

Me and Old Man. He rocks I tell you!
We had a blast -that is what happens when
you put two people who love food together.
My teacher, an older gentleman who looks 60 so must be 100, was incapable of explaining to me in a way I understood. I remember my first student the one I was frustrated with at saying she understood but really didn't. With that in mind, I kept asking him again... and again... and again to explain. And finally we got it! It was awesome and it was like opening a door in my mind.

At break time he even bought the entire group coffee and from there we sat back and discussed my great love for sushi and the high cost of vegetables. I realized it was the first time in three weeks I had a conversation in Japanese where I wasn't talking about the weather or ordering something. A conversation on veggies may not be so awesome but right now, it has re-energized my batteries.

bfg goes to continue on her manga while listening to Ella F.

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