Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Elementary of Surprise

Today I went with several other of the English-speaking study abroad students to visit a Japanese elementary school. We first saw a class sitting in a line outside, perhaps out for recess or leaving for a field trip. They all had matching red caps on which is something that elementary school students often have when they go out as a group, I assume so that the teacher can easily identify which students are his own. After removing our shoes at the door and putting on guest slippers, we made our way to meet who I think was the principal. Although we removed our shoes, most of the children were wearing indoor shoes, just the same as normal shoes but worn only indoors so that they remain clean and keep the building clean as well. In the principal's office we got a quick rundown of the schedule and were served hot tea even though we only had less than a minute to drink it before going to meet the students.

Walking down the empty hall, we could see a room full of students at the end of the hall and when they saw us coming they cheered, getting louder as we got closer. It felt like being a celebrity going out on stage to perform. Once there, we introduced ourselves in simple English: "Hello." (enthusiastic "HERRO!") "My name is Ryan. I'm from Pennsylvania in America." ("America!" *clap clap clap*) "Nice to meet you." ("Nice to meet you!!"). For some reason I was the first to get a round of applause and they seemed to think it was amazing that I was from America, though so was everyone else with the exception of Tom (England) and Julia (Canada). From there we split into pairs and each accompanied a 6th grade class back to their room for English class.

Our teacher was enthusiastic and fun, but he didn't seem fluent in English. But for the topic at hand, telling time, he was more than sufficient and seemed like a great teacher. We helped out by asking students what time they get up in the morning and by telling them what the time was where we're from. We also read a conversation that they would normally listen to from a CD about the time differences in different countries. The classroom was pretty normal and had the usual chalkboard, desks and chairs, and educational posters up on the wall. One cool thing was that the windows were decorated with Mario characters, items, and blocks. The class was pretty big but surprisingly well behaved, compared to how difficult it is to get all six cram school kids (who are in middle school) to pay attention. I heard from the other people afterwards though that their classes were much rowdier.

After class, we went to the gym and taught the classes English games like Simon Says, Red Light Green Light, and Duck Duck Goose. Simon Says resulted in confusion and disinterest. Red Light, Green Light resulted in people running a little too long after the red light and nobody having the heart to tell them to go back to the start (or in one case, the kid just refusing to go back). Duck Duck Goose seemed to work fairly well but I don't think anyone ever was able to tag the "it" person and my class didn't get to play it for very long. At the end of that, we did a big game of Simon Says with all the kids while we did it on the stage. It wasn't a total failure but when we started adding in things like doing two actions at once and then stopping one but not the other, there was a unanimous "wut". Basically, Simon Says went over like an analogy comparing cinderblocks and pretzel rods, that is, not well and with confusion.

After the games, we returned to our classrooms for lunch which was delivered on a cart and was distributed by the students (mostly just the female ones, but that might have been a coincidence). Those who were helping with the food tied a bandana over their head like "Cooking Mama" and passed out the milk, rice, fish, seaweed stuff, and soup to everyone as they walked past. Everyone had their own cloth placemats on their desks as well and each group of students (the desks were put together in groups) competed with rock paper scissors to see who would get to sit with Maggie and I. We talked a little and asked simple questions while we ate. When I said I like video games, the girl next to me started asking "Do you like Mario? Zelda? Do you have Nintendo 64? Do you know Zelda: Ocarina of Time? Pokemon?" and they seemed to be impressed that I knew all of these games. I also got them all laughing by making a funny face where I stretched my lips out. At one point, one of the kids tapped my back and asked if she could touch my hair. They also thought that Maggie's hair was cool since it had some purple in the front.

After lunch, the kids all worked together to put the chairs on top of the desks and push the desks to the side of the room while other kids swept the floor and cleaned the erasers (they have eraser cleaning machines outside the rooms!). Then it was time for us to leave so we said goodbye to everyone and went back to the college.

Full album here!

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