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.