Monday, November 01, 2004

I had an interesting experience last week in the classroom.

I went in to team teach a 9th grade class with a Japanese teacher. She's a bit of a comedian and always opens the class up with a bit of a monologue unrelated to English. Much of what she says is lost on me, but it must be quite funny because I've never seen kids laugh so hard.

Anyway, we go into class and she goes into her usual routine. I couldn't catch all of it, something about a Japanese friend of hers that was staying in America, and gave out rice biscuits to trick or treaters on Halloween, and had to deal with a bunch of angry children. The students were just pissing themselves laughing.

Then, once the story is over she turns to the blackboard and starts writing down the grammer point for the day. "Talk to the students while I'm doing this" she says.

"Uh, okay," I say. I turn to a student in the front row. " are you today?"

"No,no," she says. "Talk to them in Japanese. They want to hear your Japanese." So I repeated the same question in Japanese, and while the grammer point was being written on the board I just proceeded to talk about various aspects of my life in Japanese. When the teacher had finished writing everything down, she turned to the students and said, "It's interesting listening to him, isn't it? We don't have to study today. You can just listen to him talk."

Right, so there I was. Up in front of the classroom. No remarks prepared. Speaking in a language I was not proficient in. And I had to take the fill up the next forty minutes. What did I talk about?

Whatever came into my head. Talked about my daily routine a little bit. I mentioned I had seen the Japanese movie "Devilman" last weekend. (By the way, worst movie ever). That got me talking about comic books and their film adaptations for a while. (The kids really eat that stuff up). Eventually someone asked me about the upcoming election, and that got me talking about American politics for the rest of the time.

What was amazing was how fascinated the students seemed to be with what I had to say. I did have a few high points and interesting things to say (if I do say so myself), but as I had not prepared for this, I had easily just as much time where I was just rambling about nothing and struggling to think of what to say next.

Add to that the fact that my Japanese is so terrible. At JET meetings in the past I've had to listen to speeches in English by Japanese people. I've discovered no matter how good the English is, invariable the rythem and tone are somewhat off and it is grating to listen to for long periods of time.

So I'm a bit confused as to why my speech was so well recieved, other than the fact that these students still do not know me very well yet, and the foreigner is always an object of fascination in Japan.

Actually I've had a few similar experiences back in my days in Oita. I once was asked to explain American politics to a social studies classroom in Fukami Junior high school, and the students listened very well despite my stumbling Japanese.

Also the ESS club at Ajimu High school. Albiet that was in English, but the same principle applies about me blathering on about something inconsequential, and the students seeming fascinated by my every word. That was one of the reasons I enjoyed coming to that club so much. The high school was Ryan's territory, but on days when he was absent from school I would teach the club myself. The Japanese teacher would say something to me like, "The students don't want to study today, just talk to them for a while." I'd go into the classroom, and just talk, and the students would hang on my every word as if I was the most interesting person alive. It was a great feeling.

Now why won't students listen like that when I'm actually trying to teach a class?

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