Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Come on, baby!

Last year there was a short little fat chubby guy who worked at the administration desk behind my desk at the junior high school. (It's strange as I type now, sometimes I hesitate because I am about to type the Japanese word for certain words and have to remind myself to write it in English, certain words are embedded in my memory now, it seems, as deeply as many of my English words). Anyway, he always reminded me of my father, and not just because he was short and chubby. But because of his personality too. In a social world of politeness and quiet nods, business formal Japanese mainly being spoken except between teachers you are close with and of course among the students, this was the man who would enter the teacher's office and bellow "Ooooooohaaaayooooo gozaimasu!" as if he were a Japanese comedian, probably one of the Belushis. Sometimes I'd come around the corner of the front hallway and find him sitting cross-legged in front of the fish tanks, staring at them as if they were going to reveal a great mystery. Once he patted the floor beside me and told me sit down, and when I did he held forth upon the various names of the fish in tanks in Japanese and talked about how relaxing they were to look at, and some other things that I couldn't understand at the time, as I'd only been here a few months then. In any case, he left the junior high last April (the turn of the Japanese school year) and moved to become an administrator at one of the elementary schools I teach at. And so I see him rarely now, but whenever I teach at the school where he works now, I'm always glad to see him and be greeted by his exuberant, loud, funny way of speaking.

At the elementary school he's an adminstrator too, but today he was teaching the first graders because their regular teacher has gone to Norway to do a special International program. Last year Oohama sensei went to Portugal for a similar program, where she taught Portuguese children about Japanese culture. This is how he explained why he was teaching today. "The first grade teacher's gone to Norway for a special program. Oh last year that woman teacher at the junior high school did it too. She went to Portugal though."

Me: "Oh Oohama sensei?"

"That's right, that's right. Oh you have a good memory, Chris san! Anyway, so that's why I'm teaching the first grade. But they are crazy! Do you remember how at the junior high, the students would be lively in the morning and then after classes and lunch and cleaning time, eventually they'd get tired by afternoon? Well not these kids! All day long they won't stop! If the assistant teacher comes in to help me, all of a sudden they are quiet, but if I'm by myself, they are climbing up the walls and turning over desks! I can't take it anymore! So let's do our best."

Thanks for the pep talk, I thought as we walked into the room full of six year old lions, who did indeed turn out to be much more excitable than usual. I spent most of the class telling them to be quiet to not much effect. One boy ran around the room saying, "Okay boss!" over and over, while a girl sat in her corner seat and shouted, over and over as well, "Come on, baby!"

I did not teach them this English. So don't even ask where they've learned it. I have no clue. Most likely their older brothers and sisters.

Mr. Kimura sat in the back of a room, one arm folded across his stomach, holding up his other arm, while he cried into his hand, only to occasionally look up and throw his hands in the air and shrug. "Come on, baby!" the girl would shout after he and I exchanged looks, and this was how the next fifty minutes were spent, while also getting in some good karuta card games.

Later I had class with the sixth graders, who were behaving similarly to the first graders, only it wasn't cute because they were sixth graders and I had to keep reprimanding a group of boys who seemed to all have ADHD and who happened to just pick each other to be a group for a game. Great. After class, I saw Mr. Kimura going back to the first graders, shaking his head, and I stopped him and asked, "Which is worse, the first graders or sixth graders?"

"Oh sasuga," he said (sort of a way of saying either, ""As expected from someone like you," or more colloquially, "way to go") "you understand. It's scary, isn't it!" He then sauntered into the first grade room and, as he slid the door closed, I could hear the peals of hysterical laughter and shouts. Poor Mr. Kimura. One more class period left for him at that point. But I got to pack my backpack and the sigh with relief all the way home.


Blogger Dave said...

I love these pieces. If you ever write that memoir, you've already sold at least one copy.

12:40 PM  
Blogger Christopher Barzak said...

Aw thanks, Dave. And I will write that memoir, no doubt. ;-)

6:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chris, Make that two copies sold. I enjoy your Japanese school stories. I can just picture you in that classroom. Patience with the little ones. :) Love ya, Mom

7:48 PM  
Blogger Christopher Barzak said...

Well it isn't hard to sell books to your own mother, though, now is it? Don't picture me in the classroom, though. I'm not the interesting one. Mr. Kimura and the "Come on, baby!" girl are by far the stars of that room.

7:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually it is hard to sell books to one's mother. I have to GIVE them to mine! And SIGN them!

I will by yours, though. But I'll probably wait and buy one of those second hand reviewer copies on Ebay.


11:32 PM  
Blogger Crystal said...

2-year-olds are by far the worst to teach, though adorable. Tit-slap, 'nough said. :P

11:59 PM  
Blogger Jody (White) and Juan Leon said...

I teach elementary for a living in Japan. And by far the worst groups are the thrird and fourth graders. They are to old to be acting like little kids but to young to be big kids. Regarless they are a pain in the ass and teaching them can be really difficult some days.

They don't want the little kid games, yet they don't have the patience to learn difficult topics. Ohhhh woe is me...

7:47 PM  

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