Posted in Slice of Life

Weird Superstitions I Have

Weird Superstition #1: Throwing away gifts = bad luck

I am currently in the process of moving, which means inevitably stuff needs to get thrown out. Because I’m moving in Japan, that means essentially getting rid of nearly everything, as that would be cheaper than bringing all my stuff with me.

Not even kidding, it’s about 14,000 yen (about $150) to “recycle” my fridge, washer, and a broken microwave. It would cost me triple of that to move them, and that’s not even considering the hassle of finding that company that would have a moving van in the next couple of weeks.

I’m downsizing all of my material possessions into boxes and suitcases. With any luck, I’ll be able to move without a lot of hassle into the new place. However, I have a hard time letting go of gifts.

I imagine most sane people can chuck stuff without much issue. For me, it’s a tough call. I have odd and weird superstitions about my stuff (i.e. junk) that I really shouldn’t. A keychain someone gave me three years ago that I never use shouldn’t be something I take with me, right? Yes?

But it was a gift, says my inner-not-so-sane voice. You can’t get rid of it. Why? Because all that good will given to me will then be promptly thrown away with it. All the love, the thoughtfulness, will go straight in the garbage!

Which made this particular move so difficult, as the washer and desk I currently possess are also gifts. The desk is huge with a glass top and shelves on the side. My friend Alex gave it to me before he left for South Korea, which was great! But now I’m terrified of getting rid of it, even though I literally have no money to take this with me. 

The washer is about ready to die, though. Its spin cycle is more of a slosh cycle, so I rarely use it anymore. It’s actually more convenient to run to the laundromat and get all my clothes washed in one go. So for that particular machine, I can let it go without feeling like I’m also tossing out the good intentions of my friend.

And yes, I’m fully aware all of my friends probably A) don’t remember giving me most of this stuff in the first place and B) would absolutely forgive me for tossing it all out and C) would think I’m nuts for getting all worked up about it in the first place.

Tomorrow, I’m taking my stuff up to future roommate’s apartment for storage. After tomorrow, I gotta either get rid of the rest of the things in the apartment or get screwed over come mid-April with everything else going on (job training, having very little money, etc.). Fighting against this superstition is vital for my own good.

But it still sucks. I hate tossing love away.

Weird Superstition #2: If I Spend Over 100,000 yen (over $1,000) at one time = DEATH

I grew up in a “feast and famine” household.

Whenever my mother received her tax returns or got a bonus of some sort, we could eat out and buy stuff. Most of the time, paycheck to paycheck struggles were our normal. Only a few occasions did the electricity or water get turned off from a bounced check, and I do mean few, but still it happened. My mother was a single parent doing the best she could, we didn’t starve or anything.

All the same, I have a difficult time spending money on things. I am frugal about a lot of stuff. I don’t pay for hundreds of dollars in any brand of clothing ever, I don’t eat out at places that are over 5,000 yen (not even for nomikais ). I buy used electronics and household things, literally most of the stuff in my kitchen is a collection of Daiso things and appliances handed over to me by people leaving the country.

Most people probably assume that I’m doing it out of trying to save money, and that is partly true. I like to save money more than I like spending it, and in general that’s a good way to go through life. However, at the same time I’m also dealing with my brain constantly shouting at me about spending money.

Especially for expensive things, like say I dunno, moving. I need to pay move-in costs for the new apartment, I need to pay for things to get chucked, and I gotta pay for everything in quick succession. The move-in costs for the new apartment are about 300,000 yen, but I’m splitting those costs with roommate, so it’s about 150,000-170,000 yen (over $1,500-1,700) depending upon the move-in date.

My brain is not a fan of these costs. It doesn’t matter that I saved up enough for it, it doesn’t matter that I have a credit card in the event of unforeseen costs so I can get food, doesn’t matter that I’ve already planned out my whole damn budget for the next two months! I will starve and die because I’m spending this money all at once!

It’s a bad move, because I will surely not have thought of something and it will be too much for me to deal with, and without this money I will-!

Go ask my mother or my roommate for a temporary loan. It’s not a big deal, and I recognize this fact as logical, but logic has got nothing to do with random anxiety. I hate dealing with this superstition on top of the other one, but what can you do?

Weird Superstition #3: If I Don’t Do Everything Myself, Everything Will Fall Apart

I have a hard time asking for help.

It’s a trifecta of problems to sort through right now. I hate putting my burdens onto other people, and asking for help is the worst way to do just that. It means I’ve let myself and others down by not being able to do it all on my own. Even though historically speaking I’ve gotten to where I’ve been because of all the support I’ve received, I still live everyday trying to be a pillar of support for others instead of the one needing support.

So when I’m the one standing in the middle of a wrecked room, unsure about everything that will happen and if I can do it all on my own, I feel strangely defeated in the knowledge that I’ll need to ask for help. I have these thoughts that my friends and family will be so disappointed and disgusted with me for it.

Which is quite ridiculous, because my friends gave me job recommendations and assisted me in trying to find a new place without me even needing to ask. For some reason, getting unasked for help is fine, but me actually having to say the words, “I’m sorry, but I need your help,” ties me up in knots.

If I don’t do it, it won’t get done. I took this lesson instilled in me by my mother who did everything herself and from my own personal experiences. Somewhere along the line it turned into a more twisted version of, if I don’t do it, everything will go horribly wrong.

I’m working on it, or I should say I’m pushing through it, because projects like moving demand that I must. I need help to get everything done, I need to spend that money to move into an awesome new place, and I need to get rid of the things holding me down. If I continue to keep thinking in these same old patterns, I’m never going to go anywhere.

Taking these steps towards change is a terrifying concept, but I’m going to do it anyway. It’s also exhilarating, I’ll admit, to go into this new territory where I don’t let my weird superstitions own me anymore. I’m fighting through them, and no matter what things are going to change.

I’ll talk more about the exact changes later. For now, I just wonder who else has weird superstitions or anxieties, and how they changed things for themselves. Lord knows it’s not easy, but I hope we can all get through it.


Posted in Uncategorized

Call for Submissions: How Has Japan Changed You?

Alright, so I’m starting something new! “Your Story ここからそこまで” is a new site dedicated to telling other people’s stories about Japan. I’m looking for people to feature on it. If you’re interested, check out the information here!


Hello writers!

Living in a foreign country can change you in ways you may not even notice or sometimes in big ways. How has Japan changed you? Think you could share a story about this change in 500-1,000 words?

These changes can be big or small, positive or negative, but the key is they must have narrative and focus. “Your Story” is all about sharing experiences, so please remember not to write your piece like a travel or news article. Basically, personal narrative and memoir style submissions please.

Also, the submissions must be based on true events or circumstances so please no fictional entries. Authors of all the submissions will be asked to sign a contract stating their story as truthful to their knowledge. If some submissions contain information found to be untrue, the submission will be rejected and/or removed from the site.

If you have a true…

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Posted in Teaching Things

The Future Comedians of Japan are My Students

Yesterday, my kids all came to me for a cleaning check. For those of you who aren’t aware, Japan does this thing where it uses children as free labor and makes them clean up their schools. It’s all about teaching them responsibility to their environment and teamwork or something, but that’s not what I want to talk about!

The cleaning crew group are all bunch of second year students. Imagine think of about five like 15/16 year olds in Japanese uniforms, half boys and half girls. Added bonus: imagine all the boys are on their cell phones instead of cleaning like the girls do, and by “the girls” I mean the only two cleaning while everyone else just plays around.

Anyways, a girl tries to leave the room upon my entering it. I stop her to explain in Japanese, “You can’t leave! I have to check the room and sign the book.” Teachers have to put their names in this cleaning log so it’s officially approved. The girl stares at me bewildered, as if I had spoken Russian instead of her own native tongue.

The boy behind her even says, “She’s speaking Japanese! How can you not get what she’s saying?”

The girl says, “Eh? Eh?” And I’m expecting these responses: “Eigo wakanai! (I don’t understand English)” or maybe even “Wakarimasen!” as in I don’t understand at all or maybe even “Nihongo wakanai! (I don’t understand Japanese).”

Instead I get, “I don’t understand LANGUAGES!”

I busted up laughing. I couldn’t stop. I think it was the combination of not seeing it coming and how forcefully she pushed out languages, with such absolute sincerity. I loved it! I shared it with friends, family, all the people.

And then today, I gave one of my first year classes a free study day. Next week the final exams are coming up, so I wanted to give them all an opportunity to ask me questions about the exam and if they wanted to get caught on another subject besides English, sure. This class was ahead of schedule, no problem to be nice and let them benkyousuru.

One of the students, let’s call him Nagai-kun because that boy in long, tall and slim. Nagai-kun had a hard time sitting still, because he’s one of those kids who if you don’t give clear directions and goals for him to meet he kind of can’t accomplish much on his own. At some point, he comes near the front and stands in front of his friend.

I’m only half paying attention because I’m grading notebooks for the class while answering questions kids ask here and there. But then I notice he’s trying to ask for something in English.

“Please help me study!” He half-requests, half-demands.

His friend replies, “Nanio? (With what)”

So I decide to help, “Please help me study for…”

Nagai-kun repeats, “Please help me study for…” And then he looks at me.

I shrug, “Math, English, science.”

Nagai-kun thinks about it and then turns to his friend, “Please help me study for ALL SUBJECTS.”

Once again, not seeing it coming, I start to giggle. I put a book over my face to suppress the laughter, but it’s near impossible. Nagai-kun settles in front of his friend to get some help, meanwhile I’m dying. I eventually peek over the book to see a couple of girl students giggling at my giggling, and we all just start laughing together.

In these moments, I love teaching and I love my students. Even if they don’t have high English confidence all the time, I’m glad they’re at least willing to try. And it totally helps that sometimes their jokes hit my funny bone just right.


Posted in From Kentucky

On Marshall County High, Parkland, and the NRA

I remember the Heath High School Shooting of 1997, mostly because my babysitter at the time went to Heath. She lost people she knew, and when I asked her about it, she sobbed in the car on the way to her house. I felt guilty for days about it. I didn’t mean to make her cry, I was just curious, “Did you know them?”

Of course she did, it was a small school. Nicole Hadley, Jessica James, and Kayce Steger were known if not by name then by face. It was a small school in a small town, everyone kind of knew everyone. Shortly after that, our Hendron Lone Oak Elementary School principal gave speeches and had us go through lock down drills to “feel more secure.” Every year, those became an annual drill, just like a tornado or fire drill. I can do it all by rote with my students today. The sad thing is, our principal probably assumed he’d never see another school shooting like that in his lifetime.

Poor man couldn’t have know that only two years later, we would have the Columbine Shooting. Instead of three, the number went to fifteen. In response:

In 2000 federal and state legislation was introduced that would require safety locks on firearms as well as ban the importation of high-capacity ammunition magazines. Though laws were passed that made it a crime to buy guns for criminals and minors, there was considerable controversy over legislation pertaining to background checks at gun shows. There was concern in the gun lobby over restrictions on Second Amendment rights in the United States.[133][134] In 2001, K-Mart, which had sold ammunition to the shooters, announced it would no longer sell handgun ammunition. 

In other words for Heath High School, the big topics of debate were mental health and video games. For Columbine, the topic switched to gun control measures to keep guns out of the reach of teenagers. However, the gun show loop hole remained, and still remains to this day.

And then fast forward to now. Marshal County lost two of its students, Bailey Nicole Holt and Preston Ryan Cope, to a shooting. The conversation on gun control was minimal, much like before with Heath. Only recently after the Parkland shooting did a father of a gunshot victim, Jeff Dysinger, speak up and call the mass shooting crisis what it really is: an epidemic.

It is a stark contrast to the Parkland shooting. The conversation changed from “thoughts and prayers” to gun control with furious passion. Friends of the victims have stood up and demand action, legislative or otherwise!

Why? Why does Kentucky continually fall silent on gun control? Or so vehemently against it?

Comments on both the Marshall County High and Parkland shooting for both Lexington and Paducah outlets show people continually arguing for more guns. “Put more security in schools! Train teachers to use guns!” or “What about abortions?! Planned Parenthood kills more babies every year than mass shootings!”

Both arguments are seriously flawed. Putting more guns in schools won’t decrease threat levels, it will only increase the threat levels. Putting guns into the hands of any human, be it a security officer, a teacher, a principal, or a cop means there are higher odds of teenagers getting shot, not less. All of these roles are filled by people, humans who get angry, hold secret grudges, carry ill intent unknown to others. We’re demanding that we put more potential murder into schools to prevent potential murder, and that seems unsafe in the extreme.

The argument of Planned Parenthood “killing babies” is deliberately falsifying a comparison. Planned Parenthood is an organization that must abide by the laws of each state, and commits legal abortions with the authorization of doctors. We can argue morality or ethics on the termination of fetuses, but these procedures are often medically necessary. Sometimes fetuses cannot make it, sometimes the mother has cancer, we as citizens shouldn’t be judge and jury on women’s lives or their medical charts.

But we as citizens should be worried about another mass shooting.

Kentucky has twice lost children to shootings, and the odds of those being the last are slim. Although most other crimes in America continue to decline, mass shootings continue to increase every year.

The idea that children should be able to go to school without fear of getting mass murdered should be a common sense/bi-partisan issue. The Parkland Shooting victims deserve to have laws put on the books in remembrance of them, same for the babies we lost in Sandy Hook, same for the victims of the Orlando shooting, the Las Vegas shooting, Columbine, Heath…

All of these victims deserve better than our current state of legislation.

The second amendment exists for the purpose of a militia, to defend our own country against dictators (or would-be kings, actually). It wasn’t originally intended to be used for the purposes of our modern era (i.e. gun collecting, sharp shooting, etc.). Additionally, as gun tech continues to grow, as in we can kill a lot of people with a very simple automatic rifle or handgun, and our legislation should be updated in accordance with the leaps in these advances.

Yet, they haven’t, and that is in no small part thanks to the National Rifle Association (NRA).

The NRA holds a strong sway over the politicians currently elected into Congress, with its millions lobbied into politicians’ pocketbooks to keep the gun laws lax. Why? The reasons are varied.

Many average gun owning American citizens are under the impression that if legislation goes through, their guns will be “taken away,” or that it would spell the end for guns at all. In response to the Sandy Hook 2012 shooting, actually, NRA donations surged in response to the gun control debate following the tragedy. Propaganda made the rounds on the internet and paid for commercials from the NRA that the government would reverse the second amendment entirely.

According to CNNMoney:

The call for stricter gun control laws from leaders like President Obama in the wake of this tragedy fueled these fears and prompted the NRA to rally its members to fight against new regulations.

As a result, gun sales soared, and so did donations.

These donations are why even petitions get signed and protests get marched it seems like the NRA only gets stronger and stronger, not weaker. In the 2014 election cycle, over $22 million came from individual donations.

And to be clear, yes donations. According to its own website, “The NRA Foundation is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. Contributions are tax-deductible to the full extent allowed by law.” The NRA isn’t a corporation, it’s not a company, it’s a “charitable organization.”

The NRA’s charity efforts are…few and far between. Most of the information online routes the viewer to gun safety classes, but in actuality the charity really goes to, well, politicians and congress. The NRA focuses on this aspect the most, for while the individual donations are rising, the corporate sponsors are the consistent source of income.

The “Friends of the NRA” has both a corporate and industry supporter page. Industry supporters include affiliated knife companies and (a bit depressingly) YETI coolers. Smith & Wesson, Baretta, Midway USA, and Ruger are a few of the names listed as sponsors past and present. Technically, they sort of sponsor each other. “NRA APPROVED” gets a banner here and there, as if it’s the ultimate seal of approval for their firearms and firearm supplies. Interestingly, the company Baretta has stores around the world, from Paris to Moscow, selling not only firearms but also clothing for “hunting” (i.e. safaris). The NRA approved safaris include Ibamba Safaris and Numzaan Safaris.

Basically, the NRA speaks not really for the average Kentucky Joe with his one barrel rifle, it speaks for the companies that need lax gun laws to sell more guns. There are “international interests” at stake for the NRA, not just domestic. The whole argument for Second Amendment rights is really just a smokescreen to try and increase stock value.

They increase the fear mongering of “losing your guns to the government” so people will donate, they make arguments after tragedies that “more guns for security” in schools is the answer to all problems so they can sell those guns to schools, and they will encourage people to get all those “nice safety accessories” not for safety in hunting but because it’s just more money in the bank.

The NRA cause is just…money.

After the Parkland Shooting, everyone wants to know what they can do to prevent another tragedy. The answer lies in cutting off the funds from the NRA to Congress.

One answer is of course to vote out the ones who are already backed by the NRA. In other words, GO VOTE. But we also need to stop funding the NRA ourselves. Look over the lists of industry and corporate sponsors, don’t give any money to them or their affiliations. Call, email, Tweet, get the attention of these sponsors that you boycott them until they divorce from the NRA.

And lastly, we need to have a conversation about gun control. Not take away all guns, not all people who own guns are bad people discussion, a real dialogue about gun control. We need to change the legislation to reflect the times. Guns will only get progressively more deadly, easier to conceal, easier to pick up and shoot.

If we don’t make the laws now to prevent further tragedy, we will have one again and again. We’ve seen from the past two years alone that mass shootings have increased. Without gun control measures to limit guns sold at gun shows (perhaps along with caps on gun production) and more stringent background checks, we’re not going to see any change in that upward trend.


Posted in Teaching Things

“Let’s Pretend I Know What I’m Doing”

There are many teacher phrases out there in the world, such as “sit down, be quiet, listen carefully, raise your hand,  Shiori I swear to God if you don’tputyourmakeupbackinyourbagrightthissecond-,” and so on.

But my more recent favorite is this one: “Let’s pretend I know what I’m doing and…”

I through this phrase around especially during exam time. I have to design tests, mark tests, and then put all the points into an Excel file. The points get calculated into the school’s grading system, and then students take those report cards home. I have to check and double check that everything I’m doing is not only correct, but also tallied up in the system.

Last Friday, I said this phrase at least three times. “Ok, Mr. Nasu let’s pretend I know what I’m doing. My plan is for the test to have both a multiple choice format, but also a writing section. I think I might throw in some sentence scrambles, too. It’s a fifty minute exam so…what do you think?”

Mr. Nasu replied with, “Sounds good?”

And with that feedback, I powered through making my test. You would think after six years of doing test stuff I would get better at it, but not always. This year in particular, I was put in charge of the whole Standard First Year Communication Course Curriculum. As someone who never designed curriculum, I felt a little nervous, and I needed to design this curriculum around all new textbooks.

Basically, throw out everything from last year and start from scratch! Yay!

Also, this side-note is neither here nor there, but I still question the logic of putting a person with the least amount of experience in curriculum design a whole division of a school’s English course. I mean, fantastic they all had confidence in me that I could handle the pressure of it, but if I’d been an administrator I don’t think I would’ve done it this way. Once again, notice how my new favorite phrase is, “Let’s pretend I know what I’m doing.”

The fact is “knowing what I’m doing” can only come from these kinds of experiences though. Without getting in over my head and having to figure things out quick, I wouldn’t be able to bang out a final exam in a week like I just did. I suppose it helps that I refuse to give up or throw in the towel for projects I’ve never done before, but instead just ask for help from fellow teachers (or ya know, Google it if necessary). Support systems are always good in times of stress, be they in or out of an office environment, especially for new adventures into the unknown.

As the year wraps up, I’m really glad I ended up being put “in charge” of this communication course. I would like to believe I did the best job possible given my lack of experience in this aspect of teaching, or if nothing else managed to accomplish more than I ever thought I would when given this assignment. My worst nightmare was getting a worksheet out, only to realize I couldn’t finish a lesson in time for a midterm or final, or completely losing a test file! Luckily, I can put those fears aside now.

I’ll be gaining new ones with whichever new job I attain, I’m sure. The odds are high I’ll be saying, “Let’s pretend I know what I’m doing,” a lot in the coming few months. Whatever the future holds, I think it’s a useful phrase, whether teacher or not.

Posted in cultural differences

So We Gave the Men Chocolates

The U.S.A. created a few traditions in the name of capitalistic integrity. Santa Claus for Christmas, Halloween costumes for literally all of October, and giving chocolate on Valentines Day. Japan saw this innovative idea, and stepping it up a notch. “There are two days!” Proclaimed the chocolate companies of yesteryear, “Valentines Day and White Day!” Boys get treats from girls on Valentine’s Day, and the boys reciprocate three fold on White Day, March 14th.

Fast forward to the present day when my Shinro Guidance group’s leader pulls us ladies aside and whispers all secretive-like in the copier room, “We need to get the men some chocolates, but we can’t let them know about it.”

The leader (let’s call her Nashi) as well as the other Japanese lady (let’s call her Mikan) both nod their heads in agreement as this proclamation. I pause, considering how to phrase my argument that we, ya know, don’t? It’s a complete waste of effort, in my opinion, because well…

I’m well aware White Day exists, but you know what? In my experience the men never “give back three fold.” They just buy some stuff to give in return, if they even remember in time. It’s always the women who go out of their way to make Valentine’s Day special for the guys, but I rarely ever see it get returned for the women.

As I’m opening my mouth to say what’s on my mind in very Japanese politely phrased manner, Nashi-sensei turned to me and said, “Jessica! I have seen you draw really, really well. I want you to make the cards. I think you will be very good at it, ne?!”


Ok so, listen I’m a simple girl, ok? You praise me in just the right way? I will move heaven and earth to make my work reach your expectations. I was given money and told to make the cards. I went to the Daiso (the Japanese Dollar Store) for the required items. I picked out stickers, fancy ribbon tape, and a chocolate bar memo card pack.

Then, I figured since I was already involved, I ran over to the grocery store. I bought enough Valentine’s Day chocolate for my entire English Department, as in for both men and women. Despite the rules, everyone breaks them on Valentine’s Day. Girls give their friends tomo-choco on both Valentine’s and White Day. I figured I might as well do the same, make everyone happy, not just the guys.

As I stayed up late making those cards, I figured sure, American made Valentine’s Day is a commercialized hellscape of jewelry, flower, and other ads, but it’s still a good day to remind people that you care about them. The group I’d been with this year was great, with Mikan-sensei even helping me study Japanese during meetings. One of the guy teachers in particular was fluent in English, and helped me out with speaking my mind in Japanese. I really enjoyed being with them, might as well be a part of the ritual without bitching, right?

It is basically just that, a ritual or ceremonial thing, not quite traditional. Japan doesn’t see Valentine’s Day as Japanese, just kind of a neat adopted thing to do once a year. Ask a Japanese person their top three to five favorite Japanese traditional holidays, and I will guarantee you Valentine’s Day isn’t going to be on that list. Think like how a lot of people in America aren’t Christian, but they celebrate the idea of gift giving during Christmas.

But there are mixed feelings here about it. Annually, there are protests in Japan citing Valentine’s Day as “anti-single” and bad for people without partners. Some women and men also call the whole thing sexist, demanding that women pay for chocolates and for men to pay even more. And even some restaurants have a “no couples allowed” campaign to keep people from feeling bad on Valentine’s Day.

In that kind of spirit, I like to give away chocolate to everyone.

Everyone in the English department anyway, and I gave snacks to the English Club. I can’t give giri-choco to all the kids, they’re nearly numbered at 1,000. Regardless, I wanted people to feel loved, as many people as I could afford to at least. No one should feel left out because they don’t have a partner, that’s just not fair.

The Shinro Guidance men all received their cards and their chocolates. They all did the, “Aw! You shouldn’t have, what a surprise. We never saw this coming!” nonsense, but it was all good. Even if I get nothing for White Day (as expected) I will be happy that we made them happy for Valentine’s.

…Ok that’s a small lie, I will consider it a betrayal. I spent hours on those cards, jerks! You had better get me something nice!!!

Posted in Teaching Things

“We Do Not Copy in My Class!!!”

Today, it happened again. A very sneaky girl (let’s call her Ichigo) gave her friend (let’s call her Momo) a looksie at her paper. Ok so, Ichigo and Momo are both good students, and I rarely have any issues with them. Which is why I was surprised when I came around to discover the ultimate sin of my classroom.

Copying someone else’s work!!! 

As a person who grew up in the good ol’ U.S. of A school system, I am very much anti-cheating/ copying /plagiarizing. At the particular high school I work at, it’s considered “teamwork” by a decent amount of teachers, much to my absolute displeasure. I’m fully aware that everyone has done this at some point in their high school career, usually for homework, but in class?! No, I will never allow it!

Thus, I walked over to the girls, who froze in their seats with wide eyes. They knew that I knew they had been caught out. Unlike perhaps a couple of boys who tried to sleep through my classes, these two smart ladies couldn’t feign ignorance, they couldn’t protest my next move. Both of them had cultivated a reputation with me on knowing English well, being good students, knowing the rules.

“We do not copy in my class!” I proclaimed, snatching Ichigo’s paper away.

Ichigo and Momo both tried to talk me out of walking away with the half-finished paper, but it did them no good. I resolutely sauntered back to the front of the class, procured a new sheet, and returned to Ichigo. Momo suddenly realized that her paper was fine. That was the point: the person who let another person copy was the one who suffered the most. The copier was left with the guilt of their actions. In Japan, guilt is effective, shame even more so.

Ichigo grumbled to herself as she had to redo her entire paper again. Meanwhile, Momo floundered, realizing she must do this assignment on her own. Bum bum buuuuum!!!

For those of you who might think I’m a monster, allow me to explain the assignment.

The students only had to write their everyday activities. For example, “On Monday I am going shopping. On Tuesday I am playing baseball after school. On Wednesday I’m singing a song at karaoke.” All the way through the week, and that’s it. I allowed them to look into their textbooks for examples (specifically so the two boys in my class who were a bit slower than the rest could get ideas). The assignment wasn’t a Herculean effort to accomplish, Momo was just lacking the confidence to do it.

Cheating as well as copying are often symptoms of a lack of confidence, not a lack of interest, at least from my experience. I have many students who simply don’t understand English because they have this mental block from years of getting “Grammar Rules are God!” things drilled into their heads. They stumbled mentally to connect what they learn in textbooks to real life application because they get caught up on the stupid language rules.

Momo is a “good student” in that she usually follows all the rules given to her by teachers. Today, she was faced with conflicting rules: be perfect at English grammar and no copying papers. She knew she couldn’t be perfect at the English grammar, so she gambled with breaking the no copying rules. The odds weren’t in her favor this time, so now she’s faced with the reality that she might fail in both endeavors. Failure for Japanese students is often akin to shameful behavior, and that sucks for us English teachers.

I need for her to make mistakes, or as she views in her eyes as “failure.” Without these mistakes, I can’t help her to improve. It’s a Catch 22, and I have to toe that fine line between asking too much of her and not. Ichigo is going to be fine, she not only has the confidence, she can very well teach other students what she knows.

I encouraged Ichigo to do so when I said, “You,” I pointed at her, “can give Momo examples, but you can’t give her your paper. Help with spelling too! You can do it. I believe in you.” Ichigo did, brightening up a bit at the praise. She leaned over to talk with Momo, and I did something that might shock you. I walked away.

Ichigo and Momo aren’t the only students who need help in this class, of course. I dealt out my punishment, no need to hover. I move from desk to desk, helping out others with issues translating Japanese to English, some spelling questions, etc. After about ten minutes, I return to Ichigo and Momo.

Ichigo had finished a new paper while Momo was still trying. I could tell their papers were turning out differently, so I was pleased. Even if Momo didn’t finish the assignment today, I was going to be happy she wasn’t leaning on her friend’s knowledge of English. A crutch is only useful when you’re broken, not when you already know how to walk and are moving on to how to jog.

I graded Ichigo’s paper, told her to use it for the speaking test next week. Momo came up last in the class, but I noticed with pride there was only one mistake. I had her correct it, and then she was given full marks. I always give my students a chance in class to correct their mistakes for full points (see, not a monster). She was smiling, happy that she got it done just in time.

And I would like to believe that perhaps, just maybe, she gained one more stepping stone towards English confidence. I don’t want her to fall back on old bad habits, so hopefully she’ll remember how Ichigo had to do her work all over again, and won’t repeat the copying problem. With the full marks in the grade book, she’s realized that it’s better to try at something she won’t be perfect at rather than take credit for someone else’s work.

In university, copying does equal plagiarism, so she could get kicked out of her undergraduate studies. Momo can’t take credit when she gets a job if someone else does the work, she’ll get fired. There have been many a Momo and Ichigo in my classroom, boys and girls (and others who identify as neither). I believe it’s my job to prepare them for all of it, not just the writing and speaking in English responsibilities.

For those of you who think Momo might hold a grudge, at the end of class when I asked for a volunteer to return the classroom key (we use a free room), she was the first one to raise her hand. She also apologized, with a smile, not a single bit of sarcasm or hatred in her tone.

“Thank you!” I said as I left.

Her, being the cheeky one that she is, asked, “Bonus pointo onegaishimasu!” 

So as you can see, not only was she fine, but she had the nerve to ask for bonus points afterwards. Kids bounce back from discipline if it’s fair, if it’s not breaking their spirits, and if they understand that they are in the wrong from the get go. Ichigo was with her, laughing as I walked off to my next class. I’m not worried about them getting bent out of shape.

After all, everyone knows it’s a rule in my classroom. They may not understand all the intricacies of why I do what I do, but they also understand I’m not going to be meaner to them for breaking rules. No one gets favoritism, and no one gets more punishments than the others. Everyone is treated with discipline regardless of marks. Momo and Ichigo know it, and I think in time maybe they’ll come to appreciate it.

Or maybe not, at least I tried! Trying is all we teachers can really do, so until I’m blue in the face I’ll keep shouting, “No copying in my classroom!”