Today I woke up at the ungodly hour of 6:00am. Why any rational beings do this on a daily basis, I have no idea, but I was up and out the door by 6:45. As I walked to the train I felt out of place, as literally everyone around me was wearing a school uniform or a work “uniform.” I was worried that I would be stuck in a train situation where people are literally shoved in so everyone fits, but to my surprise the train wasn’t very full. That said, a few stations later I was shoulder to shoulder with a bunch of businessmen. By 7:40 I was in Ichikawa, and thank goodness because I definitely forgot how to get to my school! >.<
(Before I get to far into this post, I would like to say that I really didn’t take pictures at my field placement, so this is going to be mostly writing. Because of that, I am going to intersperse random pictures of flowers that I took on my way home from the train station to my house after the field placement.)
I got a little lost, but then I spotted a large group of uniform-wearing high school age girls, who I followed to their school. The high school is close to the elementary school, and luckily I remembered the way from there and arrived at my school a bit after 8:00. I was relieved and excited to had made it there on time, but I still think my supervisor at IES is absolutely crazy because she thinks that my hour long commute of walking 15 minutes, taking the train for 25 minutes, and walking another 20 minutes is a short commute!
As soon as I got into the teachers classroom I was greeted by my supervisor and was told to wait while the teacher I was going to be with for the day was ready to go to the classroom. However, after I was introduced to the teacher, another teacher came over and told me I was going to go to his classroom immediately. I was super confused, but I followed him to the fourth floor of the building to his classroom full of 4th graders. For the next 30 minutes we had “Ask the Foreigner Random Questions” time…and while I think the teacher had good intentions and asked the students to ask questions about American culture, the kids asked me things like “What is your favorite kind of bug?” and “Are you married?” Moreover, no one in the school speaks English, so this took place entirely in Japanese….which was challenging!
I moved onto the 6th grade classroom I was initially supposed to be with. After the necessary self introduction, the teacher decided to find a place for me to sit. In my mind, my place in the classroom was to observe from the sidelines. Because of this, I was shocked and disoriented when she asked a few students to take an empty desk from the back of the classroom and move it up to the first row between a few kids—so I was in the middle of the first row of the class. To make matters more awkward, the girl on my left was incredibly shy and the boy on my right was terrified to even look at me because all the other boys in the class were teasing him about sitting next to me. Ahh middle school.
The first period for my class was math. It was actually very interesting to observe, and was structured in a very different way from how I remember any of my math classes. Moreover, the kids acted as if this was a very typical class and nothing out of the ordinary. I spent the time jotting down notes about the class, the classroom, the actions of the kids, the teacher’s behaviors. Obviously I was taking notes in English, but for some reason all the students and even the teacher were completely fascinated by this and kept coming over and staring at me while I was writing.
For the second period I observed the same class during some sort of social studies class. I love whatever textbook the kids were using, it was modern, informative, and quite thin. The class was talking about how to keep various buildings cool in the summer without using an air conditioner, and the teacher often asked me about weather and cooling/heating methods in Minnesota. It was actually a really interesting class though it definitely put my Japanese to the test!
When that class was over I was again whisked away, this time by another 4th grade teacher who wanted me to come “answer questions” to her class. The students in the class were doing reports on various countries, though only one was researching America. However, this did not stop the rest of the class from asking me about France, Russia and other completely random things. The class was also super rowdy, and it was incredibly loud with children literally running around playing games. I think it is fairly understandable, but the addition of monolingual children speaking quickly, a loud and hectic classroom, and my shaky/non academic level of Japanese meant it was very challenging to comprehend and answer questions. >.<
My favorite part of the day was eating lunch with the kids. This is probably the most dramatically different feature of Japanese schools vs. American schools. A few students left the class and returned with a large cart. The cart had pots and pans full of food, in addition to plates and utensils and such. I helped serve the food, putting a piece of salmon on each of the plates. Each person in the class got salmon, vegetables, soup, rice, seaweed and an apple. The students ate at their desks, which they moved into groups of four. Everyone ate everything they were given, and many students went back for seconds. I was amazed, but everything was eaten—nothing was wasted. From start to finish, the students were in charge of getting the food, serving the food, keeping the classroom clean, organizing the used dishes, and bringing the cart back to the kitchen. It was incredible, and I think it really helped the kids appreciate the food and the process.
After lunch there were a few more classes, through which I continued to take notes and observe the classroom. A bit later the kids were all getting their things packed up, and I assumed it was the end of the day. However, the last period of the day on Wednesdays is reserved for club activities, and every student is part of a club. At first I was confused, but my teacher told me to go to the Magic Club. I basically observed one of the teachers showing a group of 12 students how to do various magic tricks, which they will be performing next month at a school festival.
The other highlight of my day was what one first grader said aloud as I passed by. Nearly all the students blatently stared me—many with gaping mouths—and I am fairly sure I was the only non-Japanese person in the entire school. However, this one student basically yelled “gaijin-da!” or “It’s a foreigner!” as I walked by.
The day at the school ended in unstructured confusion on my part, and I really had no way to know when I should leave or not—mostly because the teachers were all meeting in the teachers room and most of the students were leaving to go home. That said, I headed back to the station and wandered around some of the stores before I returned home. It is a dangerous station, with several clothing stores, coffee shops, a book store… 😀
The book store sucked me in, and I got a few cooking magazines.
I also got some chocolate covered almonds at the “conbini” or convenient store, which were amazing and inexpensive…a dangerous pair…
These are some origami pieces that a few of the kids made for me. The one started out as a crane, but the girl cut the tail in half to give it legs. It was really funny because the teacher went around asking the girls if they could make an origami throwing star, and none of them knew. Then after a bit she just asked the class in general and literally every single boy in the class raised their hands. I guess no matter what culture you are in kids will be kids–and boys will be boys who will make things if it involves throwing it at other people! 😛
As usual thanks for reading and stay tuned for future posts!