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.

 

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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 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!”

 

 

Posted in Teaching Things

To the Students Who Will Be Teachers:

You’re thinking right now about becoming a teacher. You were probably inspired by an amazing educator. Maybe it was a homeroom teacher who got you through a bad time in your life. Maybe it was the math teacher who stayed for hours after school to tutor you. Or maybe seeing an ALT in your classroom made you think about teaching Japanese abroad.

Whoever or whatever your inspiration, I wish you all the best in this endeavor. You’ll get through university and training, and someday enter a classroom. And let me tell you, all the training and education beforehand won’t be enough to prepare you for the reality. The real life classroom experiences will be tough, but there is no better way to becoming a teacher than jumping into it headfirst.

I will say though, although teaching is rewarding, it’s won’t be easy. Even after doing it for over six years, there will be days or classes or something that will present a challenge. You’ll have to overcome those challenges as they arrive. Nosebleeds, fights, bullying, meeting paper prep, Saturday work on top of overtime work (none of it paid), it’ll happen to you at some point. You’ll do what you can with the knowledge you’ve got, and that may or may not be enough.

I’ll tell you something no other teacher might: It’s okay to fail. It will hurt and it will be a tearful experience, but it’s okay if you can’t overcome every single one of those challenges. Just remember that you’re not alone. Lean on your co-workers, your fellow educators. They can help you when you need that help the most. And it’s not failing that will be the worst thing that can happen, but failing to learn from those past mistakes will be the ultimate failure. Learn from these errors so you can be a better teacher in the future.

When it comes to students, you’ll have to just love them as they are. You can try and try, but not all students will love you back. There will be times teaching will feel like the most thankless job (especially when you’re marking tests), but if you’re really meant to be a teacher you won’t do it to make students like you, you’ll do it because you want the best for the students.

And what’s best for them will always be a case-by-case basis. Each student is going to need a different approach to get through your class, and each kid will need different forms of encouragement or discipline. Don’t try to make all of them fit the same mold, it won’t work. Your students will have their own personalities, and it would be a mistake to try and change what makes them all unique.

There will be times you’ll wonder if you’re supposed to be a teacher at all. Maybe somebody else could do a better job than you are, maybe the students could benefit from someone with more experience/patience/knowledge/etc. All teachers at some point feel that way, or at least good teachers do, because good teachers are always thinking about how they could be doing better in and out of the classroom for their students.

Teaching is one of those jobs that requires a person give more of themselves, and it can get draining at times. You’ll spend your sick days coming into work no matter the temperature, slogging through the fever and the class hours until you can go home to pass out. After school hours will be spent with kids who couldn’t figure out the lesson or need to get a lecture, because you’ll care. All good teachers care, and because we care, we give too much of ourselves.

For those of you who would teach abroad, you’re giving up the security of your own home and native tongue to pursue a life in another language and culture. It will be scary at times, but usually it ends up being culturally exhausting. You’ll find yourself worn down over time, until you can take a break to return home for a couple of weeks. However, you’ll form bonds with your students and co-workers that are unique in circumstance that you wouldn’t have in your home country. These bonds, these moments, will keep you going.

If you’re going into teaching because you think it’ll be easy, something you can do to pass the time, you’ll never be happy in it. It’s a career that demands too much for you to just clock-in and clock-out. Students require more attention than spreadsheets and meetings, they require care, and you can’t cut off your heart and mind to students. You’re dealing with people, smaller and immature people, but people nonetheless. They will need your guidance, whether they realize it or not. If you come into a classroom ready for a simple job, teaching won’t meet that expectation.

Students who will be teachers, I hope you’ll see that I’m not trying to scare you away from the job. At the same time, I think it’s better to know now rather than later about what it all entails. You’ll be making worksheets, curriculum, checking tests, scoring, in between everything else I just talked about, but then there will be more that I won’t even know to cover. Every school is different and will expect different things from their teachers. All this work will be worth it to see your students improve, even if it is just a little bit.

And that’s all you can do, try your best to improve your students. You don’t need to inspire them to do something groundbreaking, you don’t need them to win medals or prizes, you just want them to be better today than they were yesterday. You’ll worry you didn’t do enough, or that you should’ve done more, but so long as your students do better by the end of your term with them, you’ve succeeded. It might not be your greatest success, but teaching is full of small and big successes. Celebrate all of them, hold them close, and never let go.

 

Posted in Teaching Things

To the “Ha-Fu” Students:

It will always bother me that you are called “half,” because to me it almost sounds like you’re being called half a person. It bothers me that you’re not “Japanese enough” to be called Japanese, even though you were born and raised here. I see the teachers and other students treat you differently, because you’re different.

The United States has its form of racism, and nowadays often violent and in your face types of racism. In Japan, racism is generally subversive. It’s brushed off, excused, and even defended by the people who love the country so much they don’t wish to hear a bad word ever said about Nippon. But the way you get treated is a form of racism, and I’d be blind not to see it.

I lost one of you this year to hateful and racist bullying. It wasn’t violent in physicality, but it was awful nonetheless. A group of boys yelled at you, made fun of your last name, over and over in the cafeteria until you cried. Apparently, it wasn’t the first time they’d done it, but it was the last time you were going to take it. You transferred out, moving onto a school that might do better by you. I hope you’re happier there.

I’ll never forget you, the girl who showed me her speech about coming over from China. I read in horror as you told the story of coming into the school (before my time) and you were bullied so bad that you got your arm broken. You were so proud that you eventually became friends with the classmate who broke your arm.

Meanwhile, I was furious for you. I wanted to find the principal and punch him for letting it happen to you, for allowing your abuser to continue coming to this school, for the adults who didn’t make an appearance in your story. Odds are, it’s because they didn’t do enough for you, and thus were relegated to footnotes in your story.

I have an unpopular opinion here in Japan, one I don’t share much because some people would get so offended they’d go into a blind rage. Here it is:

There is no pure human anything. I don’t know how people delude themselves into the idea that genetics works by land mass alone. Neither country of birth nor skin tone dictates anyone’s superiority or inferiority.

None of the people who bullied you were pure Japanese, but they were taught they were by parents and grandparents. And until they take a scientific DNA test to discover the Russian/Korean/Chinese/Taiwanese, hiding within them, they’ll never believe they are anything but Japanese. And it’s so sad you have to suffer through that lie.

I see how even Native English teachers will call the students “ha-fu,” and I know I’ve been guilty of it more than once. I try my best not to feed into this idea, because I’ve seen the hurt it causes. There’s even “positive racism” that comes from this societal misconstruction that bother me.

I see how it’s assumed you’ll know English better, like it’s in your genetics to know English. Never mind that some of you are “half” Russian and Japanese, or “half” Spanish and Japanese, or “half” Mexican and Japanese, etc. Still, you are lighter skinned, and thus the burden of English and foreign cultural knowledge falls on your shoulders. It’s not fair you get that added pressure.

And I’ve seen how “half” Korean, “half” Chinese, and “half” Filipino kids don’t get hold to this same standard. They will “pass” as Japanese, and so aren’t expected to be great at English or foreign languages. They also don’t get picked on as much, don’t get treated differently by teachers, as well as get the added benefits of it being “assumed” they are Japanese.

When these kids get older, they won’t be accosted by cops demanding for a citizenship check. They won’t have to prove to their employer time and again that they “really do” know Japanese. They won’t have to validate their existence in Japan.

Because here’s the most racist thing about it all: If you can “look Japanese,” then you’re not “ha-fu” to most Japanese people. The homogeneity is only skin deep, you might say. If I were to put pictures of a Chinese exchange student, and then of a “half” American and Japanese student, and ask the question, “Who is Japanese?” It’s obvious who they would pick. It’s all boiled down to who looks the most like us, and not “genetics” at all.

It drives me crazy to see it happen to you. I try my best to treat you like the typical high school students you are, like you’re just another kid in class. I don’t put extra pressure on you to answer questions, I don’t force you to do the example sentences, I endeavor each time to just treat you as another Japanese student. Emphasis on the Japanese, there.

I wish I could make Japan see you as Japanese. It would be great to see society accept you better as the years go on, as the “trend” of more and more foreigners entering Japan means more and more intermingled genetics. The definition of “Japanese” is going to have to change, the identity of being “Japanese” having less to do with looks.

I hope it does anyway. See, if I’m still here with a child, I don’t want them to experience this kind of treatment. I don’t want my children to be treated like outsiders my the majority of people they know and meet. I want them to be accepted and loved for all that they are, and I would love for them to be just “Japanese.”

And for what it’s worth, I do think of you all as Japanese, even if no one else in Japan might.

Posted in Teaching Things

To The Students Who “Hate” English:

Guess what? It’s fine. Really, it’s fine you don’t like English, and that you put in as little effort as possible into the subject. Honestly, I hated math class, and I made sure to choose a path that didn’t depend on it for my future career. And when it comes to language skills? It can be tricky.

Some people can soak up new words like a sponge, grammar changes don’t bother them at all, and speaking with the right intonation is second nature. I want you to know, I don’t measure your English skills by that genius scale, as it wouldn’t be fair to you at all. I want you to improve at your own pace, learn what you can as best you can, and I try to make sure your grades reflect that improvement (or let’s be honest in some cases, lack thereof).

And here’s why: I recognize that many students might end up using nearly none of the English I’ve taught them. Maybe occasionally you’ll speak English directions to a tourist or something, but for the most part I don’t honestly see most of you becoming fluent. That’s not a bad thing, though. If you live the rest of your life with only basic English, that’s probably all you’ll need to get a standard “salaryman/salarywoman” (I’m aware they’re called office ladies in Japanese, I don’t care, both sexes get salaries, deal with it).

I do try to encourage you to know as much English as possible because there will come a day when you want to go higher. If a promotion comes up, and it’s between someone who knows only a little English and someone who speaks it fluently, you’re not going to get it. Unfortunately, the fact is whether a company is international or not they’ll always choose higher fluency English speakers over even the most dedicated worker. You’re probably thinking right now, “Oh, I’ll just work at a small company in town, so I’ll never have to worry about it!”

Well, it’s not just big companies anymore, it’s a national trend for all company sizes. You will be at a disadvantage, and it’s going to be so expensive later to get caught up. I used to work at Coco Juku, and I taught several business people who couldn’t go any further without a certain TOEIC score. They paid so much money to come to our eikaiwa to re-learn everything they were taught in middle and high school. It was not easy for them to do it, between a full time job and a family, it was such a struggle for them. I don’t want you to be that adult, to be the one struggling and paying through the nose for lessons, living in regret that you didn’t pay attention in class.

Maybe you don’t want to work in a company at all, though, or maybe you don’t want to be a higher up. Just a steady income would be all you need to be happy, maybe a few hobbies or sports on the side. No English required for a part time job, right? I want to say that’s fine, that if you’re happy that’s all that matters. I don’t want you to choose that path just because you don’t like English, though, I want you to think it through and decide because that’s the best path for you.

Consider why you hate English, too. Is it because it’s too difficult? Consider finding ways to make English less difficult. Watch English movies, listen to English music, read fiction in English, get away from the government approved textbooks. I hate the textbooks, too, don’t worry. Try to learn in different ways from the input and repeat cycle you’ve got in school.

Do you hate English because you’ve no interest in America? Consider researching about other countries that speak English. America is not the center of the Western world (as much as it really wants to be). I love Ireland, personally, it’s a really pretty country. Australia is a popular spot for Japanese tourists. Fine somewhere you can get interested in and connect with instead of just America.

If you just hate English just because, then consider thinking about learning a different language instead. Chinese and Korean translators are also in high demand. China is better in terms of reading and writing thanks to kanji, but the Korean grammar structure is similar to Japanese (and doesn’t have the super strict intonation rules of Chinese). When you have another language under your belt, you’ll have more options available to you, and I want you to have those options.

At the same time, I would rather you try to struggle through the English (or other language) basics now rather than regret not knowing them later. Trust me, it’s so much harder to find the time and energy to learn languages when you’re nearing thirty.

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I speak from the pain of experience! 

So I’ll badger and pester you every class to learn, emphasis on speaking English rather than reading and writing. I want you to get used to communicating with people face-to-face in another language. I want you to go as far as you dream, and the odds are good you’ll need English to do it.

On a slightly different note, here is another way to think about it: Japan speaks Japanese, but using Japanese to get around in other countries? Few and far between. English is useful worldwide (except in Canada, they don’t care for it), so if you want to ever leave Japan be sure to at least know some English to get out there! Although Spanish and French are pretty useful too, English is already taught in your schools. After all, our world is becoming more and more of an international community as time goes on, and I want you to be a part of it.

I want so much for you, and I worry that your dislike of English will prevent you from having what you need or want. But who knows what the future really holds? I’ll keep trying to help you learn English, even if you don’t like it, because it’s too important for me not to try.

Even if you fight me every step of the way, I’m not giving up on you.

 

 

Posted in Teaching Things

To the “Good” Students:

I see a lot of myself in you. Studying hard, reading books, obedient to teachers, standards held high by yourself, and already as stressed out as any adult. You’re constantly putting the pressure on your shoulders to succeed, and academic success is what matters in school. Top priority always and forever!

And here’s me telling you it’s ok to relax. I know you’re thinking about how to compete against the best, how you’re going to try to get into Waseda or some other top tier university, but you’re going to miss out on other opportunities if you only focus on the future. It won’t hurt to take a night off, go see a movie, go sing at karaoke, find yourself something fun to do.

Because you’ll have so much time later to be serious, you’ll have to be actually, so take the chances you get now to learn other things. Get to know your friends more, start figuring out how to be a good team player, join a club that’s not academic oriented (art club is always a good one that isn’t sports), and just don’t allow yourself to go too deep into your headspace.

I worry about you, because I remember being like you. I remember staying up nights crying and miserable because I couldn’t get the math problems right, and I hated myself so much for never being the perfect student. Don’t be hard on yourself like I was, don’t wrap up your whole identity in grades and scores. Those sheets of paper aren’t going to make or break your future, you’re going to succeed regardless.

See, you’ve already got most of the best adult features down. You learn and don’t need to be told twice to do something. You push yourself to improve instead of other people making you better. At any job you go into, you’ll be fine because no one will have to hover over your shoulder or threaten to fire you if you don’t do your job. You’ve already got that “can-do” attitude they’re always looking for in any field.

Just don’t fall into that comparison trap, comparing yourself to other people you think are doing “better” than you. No one is perfect, and you don’t need to be number one to get into any university. You just have to do your best, but not at the cost of braking yourself to accomplish it. If even your best isn’t enough, then go for something else, and change your ideas for your future.

It’s ok to change course, by the way, it’s not failure to decide you’re not going to some fancy private school. You choose the best path for you, not some imaginary perfect person’s future, but your own dreams and goals. Take some time to think, experience new things, travel around if you can, discover what inspires you.

If you spend all your time at school and home, you’ll never know what you’re meant to do or to become. You’ll just get trapped in this endless cycle of overworking, over studying, and over doing it all without a clear reason for why. Maybe your parents are wanting you to be a doctor, but is that what you want? Maybe you are forcing yourself to become a salaryman, but is that what you want?

Don’t spend 18+ years working for something, only to discover as soon as you’re out on your own that’s not what you’re meant for, and that you’re now drifting directionless. Instead, start looking for what you want, and start working toward that instead. Gain focus and clarity, not just more A’s for a transcript.

Of course good grades are what parents and teachers want to see, but that doesn’t mean they should mean everything to you. Please, take care of yourself, and give yourself more than just tests as a degree of self worth.

You’re already worthy just as you are.