The Largest Elementary School in Takashima

September 2008

What a trip. Yesterday (9/17) I went to the largest Elementary School in Takashima. I experienced the full spectrum of elementary students.I started with a class of about 16 special needs children. There were some kids who could focus, but this one student was doing his own thing the entire class, and one of the three teachers would constantly attempt to make him participate/focus. Since he was in the front row, it was quite a distraction… at least I thought, but everyone else seemed well accustomed to it. When I was walking around the class showing my pictures he Kancho-ed me. This would be only my first of three for the day. [Kancho = put hands together, lock fingers together leaving only pointer fingers extended, as if making your hands into the shape of a gun. Keep extended pointer fingers pointing upwards, sneak up behind unsuspecting victim, aim for butt-crack, thrust upwards]

Then, off to 4th grade. I went to the class which was on my schedule, but I guess my schedule had changed without my notice, so I was redirected to a classroom next door. No big deal, it was still a 4th grade class (There are 3 classes per grade. Each class has somewhere around 35 students). There, the teacher was very helpful and the kids were attentive. It’s hard to tell whether the students are more interested in why this big foreigner is in front of their class or if they are just being good, attentive students. Most likely, it is a mixture of the two. I did my self-introduction. Proceeded with the lesson plan, made plans with the students to play soccer during recess, and headed to my next 4th grade class.

[Each class period is 45 minutes. The teachers all had a decided upon lesson plan for the day which I had a copy of as well]

In the halls of the school the children are so lively and curious. I had a swarm of children of varying ages following me every step. Constantly looking up with eyes wide open, asking questions like, “How tall are you?, Where are you from? Are you fromBrazil? Are you a good soccer player? Are you our new English teacher? How many centimeters are your shoes? Do you perm your hair? Can you bend over so I can touch your afro? Will you eat lunch with us please!? Are you coming tomorrow?” They are so easily amused by comparing body parts to mine. I’d hold out my hands and as soon as one child put her hand to mine to compare sizes, there would be a line – no, rather a cluster – of children around her waiting to do the same. I smile and let the kids enjoy this new experience. I sometimes hold my hands up above them and tell them to try and touch it. I thought jumping would tire them out, but who am I kidding? These are elementary kids-their energy has no limit.

I was led to the second 4th grade class by a group of its students. They were all boys with endless questions and requests. Like always, I smile and amuse their curiosity. We get to their classroom and after ducking to make my way into the classroom like I always have to, I was greeted by ooh’s and ah’s. I was quite pleased to see a big world map hung on the board which I knew would be useful in my self-introduction. As soon as the Homeroom Teacher (hereafter referred to as HRT) finished starting the class, the other HRT who had been standing in the hallway just outside of the classroom doorway stepped in and whispered to me, “By the way, this is a difficult class,” then walked back to the hallway. I smiled and said, “Jaa, ganbarimasu” (Well, I’ll do my best). I soon realized why he said that. Throughout the duration of the class, I don’t think there was a single moment when I had every students attention. At best, there was a time when I had half the class focused on the lesson. Students would nonchalantly stand up and walk to someone else’s desk and draw/talk/fight. This one guy would come up to the picture cards I had set up on the board, and point at the picture card of a peach, and say “chiki chiki!” laugh and run back to his seat. It was quite easy for me to figure out what chiki means, since the picture of the peace looks like a butt, and that kid looked up at me, pointed at his butt, and repeated, “chiki,” numerous times. Sometimes the students would leave the classroom and talk with the other HRT who was in the hallway. (That HRT remained in the hallway for the entire period, and would periodically stand in the doorway and watch me. However, I think perhaps he was out there because kids regularly leave the classroom at any given time. Guess he was some sort of loose student herder.) I stopped trying to speak over the noisy students, because I figured the small percentage of focused students would hear me anyways. I felt bad for all those students in the back of the class who weren’t necessarily disruptive, but were obviously disengaged because of all the commotion in the room. Needless to say, I quickly understood the Hallway Herder HRT’s previous comment.

Then on to recess. I didn’t realize I’d be playing with the kids so I just used my dress shoes. “Whatever, I’ll clean them later,” I thought to myself. At all my schools, there’s usually a group of kids who like to show me around. At いまず東小学校 it was no different. My tour-guide group ran with me across the field to their soccer goal. As soon as we got there we took about three shots until I noticed some commotion nearby where a group of children were yelling as they surrounded something. My tour-guide group ran to the scene and I pursued. “Kenji-sensei! Kenji-sensei!! Hebi! Hebi!” (Snake! Snake!). Sure enough, these kids were in hot pursuit of a snake in the irrigation ditch surrounding the filed. The plates covering the ditch were made of some kind of durable plastic which made it easy for the little children to flip over. One by one, the kids flipped over these plates as the snake slithered for cover. I must say the group had an effective system of exposing the snake. They would flip over the plates at opposite ends of where the snake was, leaving only the plate the snake was hiding under in place. Then, armed with balls, sticks and stones, one kid would ready the group, and flip the plate. As soon as the snake was insight, it was repeatedly bombarded by the group. The first attack was from this kid who held a soccer ball above his head, extended his arms, then threw downwards into the ditch on the poor snake. Rocks and sticks followed until the beaten snake managed to make it to the next unflipped plate. Being in an irrigation ditch, there was no where to run and no where to hide. After somewhere around 45 seconds, this brutal event came to its’ fatal end. The body of the snake was lifted out of the ditch by this one boy, and thrown over the fence. It was a good sized snake. Just under a meter long I’d say, with a diameter of about an inch and a half. (When that boy picked up the snake and held his arm straight out, the snakes body nearly dangled down to his ankles!)

Without skipping a beat, the snake-bashers went back to the soccer game. It took me a moment to soak in what had just happened. This was only my third time seeing a wild snake and this one was the biggest one yet…it has also become the biggest dead snake I’ve ever seen.

On to the third 4th grade class. A bit sweaty and still in shock of the biggest snake beat-down of my life, I started my self-introduction. To my relief, this class was attentive and focused. Also, the HRT was participating and providing good explanations to the students. No trouble-makers like the last class. However, when I was fielding questions from the students about me, where I’m from and so forth, one of the boys in the back stood up and asked, “What kind of woman do you like?” This was after another kid asked me if I was married. (I’m used to questions like, “What is your favorite color/animal/food?” “Where do you live?” ect.) I told him that’s a hard question for me to answer in Japanese, so after class I’ll tell him. Sure enough, after class he came up to me and reminded me of my promise. So, in my kindergarten-level Japanese, I did my best to explain what I like in a woman. After my explanation, he reaches up and puts his right hand to the top of my chest, then moves his hand away from my chest in a big circular/round motion coming back to the bottom of my chest. He looks up at me through his glasses with great earnest. It takes me a second…”Ahh! Breast!” I conclude. I didn’t think it was proper to go into physical details I fancy, so I just smiled, patted the top of his head and said, “you’re too young for that don’t you think?” He grinned back at me and returned to his seat.

I ate lunch with the first 4th grade glass. The kids were very happy to see me again. I sat down and once again fielded questions about me and my hair. After lunch, I spoke with the HRT for a while about, well…stuff. She said she was very surprised to hear me (and Fionna, the other Takashima Elementary English Assistant) speak such good Japanese. She said our Japanese sounds beautiful, even more so than hers! I said, “No way! You’ re Japanese!” I think she was just being nice and encouraging. Then, two of her students came up to us and one of them asked me if I had a girlfriend. I said no, I don’t have one. Then, the two girls giggled. One of the girls was kind of hiding behind the other girl, pushing her towards me. The HRT was laughing too, and put her arms around the girl being pushed and said, “How about Miyuki?” with a smile and giggle. I took it as a joke, smiled and said thanks, but I don’t need a girlfriend.

[At first, I didn’t know how to react because I’ve had teachers, principles, vice principles, neighbors and friends try to play cupid for me. However, it was a joke. No R.Kenji scandals!]

Lunch time recess was more soccer and less snake murder. Elementary schools here have these stilts that the children love to play on. The kids on stilts would stand up next to me, and say, “We’re the same height!” I had a good time playing soccer because I haven’t played since I got here (6 weeks ago!), so it was nice to kick a ball around. Whenever the ball went behind the goal, someone would punt it towards the field where all the players gathered and waited to receive the ball. I took this opportunity to amaze them. I asked them to let me punt it once, and when I did, I made sure to kick it really high and far. They were all surprised at my kick and asked me to continue punting for the remainder of recess.

You know, so much happened so fast that day. I was constantly being surprised – some kids could speak a good amount of English, some kids were busting out all kinds of soccer tricks, and some kids really don’t like snakes creeping around on campus. I was surprised to find out that one of the special needs kids shares the same name with my bro Taisei (the kanji is different though). I was followed, interviewed, touched, pointed at, and oh yeah… Kancho-ed (well, just three times but that’s three times too many). I stood up the majority of the day in front of classes and played soccer for two recesses, so I was exhausted by the end of the day. And I thought about how I’d be coming to this school every wednesday…

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