Oh Thursdays. Thursday is the day I go to my middle school so it’s vastly different from an elementary. Junior high was the one school I didn’t want to teach because it is that awkward stage in life where you just hate school and you’re going through puberty. When I applied to JET, I figured I would be teaching high school or maybe elementary. It’s funny how completely wrong I was.
Luckily, my junior high school is a pretty good one. It’s not too far from my Wednesday school so a lot of the elementary kids from there end up going here when they get older. Like my Wednesday school, it is extremely tiny—only one class per grade, meaning there are only around 100 kids! Unlike in elementary, I’m accompanied by JTEs (Japanese Teachers of English), who are specifically hired to teach English. My JTEs speak very good English so finding out what’s going on in school as well as lesson planning goes a lot smoother. I guess one thing we could improve is the variety of activities that we do. My JTEs really like playing karuta a lot. For those who don’t know what karuta is, it’s a simple game where you play in groups. You have a bunch of flash cards in the middle of the table, and you have your hands on your head. Whenever the teacher says a specific word, you have to snatch that card as fast as you can to gain a point. The one with the most cards win. Simple, yet very repetitive. I suppose that’s where I come in though and I’ve been trying to give them more ideas for activities. ANYWAYS. We usually split our lesson plans up; I am in charge of materials and they’re in charge of the lesson/grammar used. Sometimes though, I barely have to prepare anything while on other days, I prepare just about everything. It can be a lot of work but I like actually staying busy the entire day as opposed to being bored in the staff room (seen below):
Since the school is very small, I teach all grades (7-9th) in one day. Over here though, they call them 1st-3rd years; the grades reset every time you go to a different school. As one might expect, the student’s attitude can vary greatly depending on the day. Some days they’re quiet, other days they’re really interested in talking to you, the other day they hate everything. Either way, they’re usually polite about it in my school and don’t try to disrupt class. Since the junior high is tiny as my Wednesday school, I am able to teach the entire school in a day. It’s nice because I remember faces more and they become accustomed to me faster.
I usually start the day off by teaching the 3rd years. The 3rd years can be a quiet group but they follow instructions rather well and there are some students that stand out. For example:
Yankee: I like Yankee a lot. Yankee basically means delinquent in Japan. However, she really isn’t a yankee, but she kinda talks like one. She’s very forward, not afraid to initiate random conversation with you and generally has an aggressive attitude. When I first came to the school, she and a friend were teaching me slang while I was returning the favor with English slang. Once in awhile I will hear salute me with a “Waddup”. I think Yankee tries to compensate her height with her attitude; she’s quite short. She is also an excellent student and probably one of the best in the class. She gets most questions rights, raises her hand often and can usually deduce translation questions. She is also in this intense sismance with a fellow classmate: they will hold hands and sit on each other’s laps often. While some may think that she’s a lesbian, this is actually really normal over here. A lot of friends are very intimate with each other, even the guys. It was weird at first, but now it’s just cute.
USJ: USJ is also a smart girl, but she’s quite the wiseass. I call her USJ because around the time I met her, the 3rd years were working on a project about Osaka landmarks that were to be presented in English. USJ’s group happened to be working on USJ—Universal Studios of Japan, a theme park. When I walked up to USJ, she quickly started talking to me.
“AH, Mr. Diego.”
“Do you know USJ?”
“No, what is it?”
“It is my home. It is very beautiful.”
“Your home, huh? It’s very big.”
“Yes, and it can be dirty. But, I make my friends clean it. Please come! Please come visit my home!”
USJ usually tries to start some funny conversation with me whenever I walk by her. Once in a blue moon, I will run into her and a couple of her friends outside of work. She will then try to jokingly hook me up with her friends saying “Please come to my friend’s house! It’s very big and she is very beautiful!” Like Yankee, she’s pretty smart and gets good grades in class.
May: May is probably one of the popular girls in the class, because I always see her talking with a lot of girls. She’s got this high pitched laugh that always gets me cracking up. I think her laughter is a nervous tic because whenever she talks to me, she will always be laughing like crazy. This results me in laughing a lot too so we pretty much just laugh at each other. She likes asking me teasing questions like “Do you have a girlfriend?” “Who do you think is prettier, X or Y?” and other shit like that. She will try to embarrass me in class sometimes but I like to turn the tables and put her in a tough spot during a lesson. USJ teases her by trying to pair her up with me but I’m pretty sure ALL 3rd year girls are like this because it happens a lot with me.
Sleepy: Sleepy is a rather mellow girl. Like her name implies, she’s always tired. She doesn’t talk much but lets her gestures do the talking instead. Our conversations always somehow end up about sleeping.
“So, what did you do this weekend?”
“Oh yeah? What do you like to do usually on the weekend?”
“Oh. What’s your favorite thing to do?”
“Oh….well, how are you?”
And so on. I like teasing her about sleep but I can’t blame the girl, I love sleep too.
Momo: Momo is probably my favorite student in the school. She was the first one to approach me during class and ask me questions. She likes talking to me a lot during class as well as outside of class. I can’t understand her too well because she speaks very fast but like Question Man in my Wednesday school, she will try her best to explain things to me. She loves to read and can usually be seen with a book.
I’ve come to learn that Momo is quite the introvert, as she doesn’t really talk much to other students nor does she have a lot of friends. That doesn’t mean she’s quiet though, because I do see her talking to other students just fine and she gets along with them. She just doesn’t choose to talk to them. I learned this while talking to the school’s librarian. She told me Momo likes to hang out at the library a lot and keeps reading even after it closes. She guesses she doesn’t want to leave because no one is home when she comes back, which is understandable.
Recently, I stopped in the library just to check it out and I happened to see her sitting down, reading some book. The second I came in, she lit up and began talking to me while showing me some easy-to-read manga that I might like. I ended up talking to her and the librarian for a good 45 minutes until we all had to leave the school. It’s her favorite spot to hang out. Being introverted and just reading all day kinda reminds me of me back then. Her hanging around me also reminds me how I used to hang around my Japanese teacher after class and just try to chat with her about random things to practice some more and I had a little teacher crush. Maybe that’s why I like talking to her; she reminds me of my old self. That and she’s really friendly. I’m pretty sure she has a crush on me. She’s so similar to me, it’s rather creepy sometimes. Like me, she is pretty witty.
I’m sure you have noticed, but I have befriended a lot of the 3rd year girls. No, that is not intentional! The thing is, when it comes to the 3rd years, the girls are the ones that approach me and talk to me. The boys are dead quiet to me. I barely know any of them because they go off and do their own thing, stare at me and don’t say a single word. Well, except one:
Sho: I like Sho. He seems to be a witty guy but I honestly don’t know what he looks like. I only know Sho through the diaries that I correct: every time I’m in school, the 3rd years are supposed to write a an entry when I’m present. I don’t know if it’s mandatory or not because not everyone writes one. Sho, however, never fails to write. At first they were very plain like “Today I played baseball. Then I ate ramen. I went to bed late. I am sleepy.” I usually write a comment afterward to each entry and I think he’s been noticing that. Lately, he’s been talking to me personally as if he is writing a letter to me as opposed to a diary. It’ll be like “I went to the danjiri festival this weekend. Where did you go?” There are some other funny ones but I’ll mention that later. He’s super quiet in class because none of the guys speak up but he just might be shy. And that’s okay.
A lot of students are quiet and tired because they’re exhausted from studying. Most of them go to juku, or cram school in preparation for the high school entrance exams. That’s right, every high school has an exam you must take in order to get in. Most students will go to school, go to juku, come back super late and relax, go to bed late and then start the day all over again. Due to this, some kids will be sleeping during class. You really can’t do anything about it because discipline does not exist in Japan. You could try to wake them up but half the time they’ll go back to sleep. It’s pointless. I usually just let them sleep because I know dumb junior high life was. Plus, you let sleeping dogs lie, I don’t want to awaken a beast!
I didn’t expect to write this much and only have talked about the 3rd years. I guess you could say my Thursday school is the most eventful day of the week. Because a lot of the kids can communicate with me more in English or will try a bit harder to talk in simple Japanese, I have more stories about this school than any other ones. Sadly, the 3rd years will be graduating in about a month and a half (the school year ends in March here), and they’ll all be going to high school. I just started to get to know them better which sucks. I’ll definitely miss them. I’ll just have to make the most of this month!
This looks like it will be a two parter! I’ll stop here. I’ll talk about the rest of my wacky students and staff next time.