This past year at my Thursday school, aka my junior high school, has been the best year for me so far. It’s also going to be the most heartbreaking one as graduation approaches, meaning that the third years, the kids that started junior high around the same time as I came to Japan, are about to head to high school. I don’t exaggerate when I say these kids have been a huge reason why I have been here for so long. They’re all interesting characters, ranging from Maido’s perkiness, Ina’s bluntness to Otsuka’s quiet (yet sharp) observations.
Since we have been together for 3 years, we are pretty close to each other. Whenever I eat lunch with them, students like Ina will yell across the room at me, asking about my opinion over a Japanese singer. Maido always greets me with all of her energy when we first see each other or part ways. Shinji-kun treats me like one of his pals because while he’ll always praise me for helping me out, he’ll playfully yell at me if I screw up on something. Manami continues to do her best in English. Mao and Nao continue to be the ideal student by asking questions and trying their best to speak in English with me. The list goes on.
One day when we were doing the usual greetings, I replied with “I’m feeling bittersweet.” After explaining the word and why I felt that way, some of them felt moved. “Bittersweet is a good word to remember!” exclaimed Mao. I told them that our last lesson will be next week but some kids already knew it. Before I could even announce it, Maido said “Next week is the last lesson right? No, I don’t want it to end, Diego! I don’t want to leave!” while Ina just started yelling “Dieeeeeeeegoooooo!” It’s so moving to hear the students feeling the same way as I do. I’m sure everyone is going to be in tears once the graduation ceremony rolls around. But it’s also going to be a time to celebrate as everyone is entering a new phase in life! For now I’m eating lunch with them every week and just enjoying the few days we have left together.
I think I’ll be okay once the third years leave. Why? Because the second years are becoming just as awesome as the third years. When these kids first came in here, they were all nervous and we didn’t talk too much as everyone was just trying to focus on getting used to school life. I don’t know what, when or why but sometime during this year it felt like a switch was flipped. Girls went out of their way to greet me happily, the boys were always praising me and my (horrible) Japanese, and we started having a lot more fun during classes. Everything just felt less tense and more relaxing. Actually, in terms of love, I think the second year guys love me more than the girls, which is pretty funny. Throughout the school year I would hear comments like “I like English class because Diego’s there!” or “I look forward to next Thursday!” The baseball club members, which mostly consists of second years, will always go out of their way to say goodbye to me when I leave the school. Even when they’re all practicing yards away in the baseball field, they will always manage to see my tiny figure leave the school and yell out “Good bye Diego!!” while waving frantically. I really love these kids.
Just the other day, Kitada-sensei didn’t really have a plan and said we’re just going to do textbook stuff while I read some words off the book. The second years were furious. “Why is Diego even here? You’re wasting his time with him just doing that!” Mina yelled. “Diego’s here, we should be doing something more interesting!” whined Yuki “Why can’t we just have Diego teach English here everyday?” complained Shoki. Ah, if only I could make that happen! The second years seem to put me on a pedestal and I always feel like I can do anything when I’m around them. I start taking more risks and am less afraid to start trying to explain stuff in Japanese because I know they won’t make fun of me if I screw up like in my other schools. They’ll probably say stuff like “Wow, Diego, you’re Japanese is good! Just as I thought!” When I was gone for two weeks due to meetings, they got angry too. It’s students like these that make me never want to leave this country.
Not everything is perfect though. Somehow, the first years have turned into the weaker class. It’s really bizarre because they’re only a mere seven students! How the mighty have fallen. These were my first 5th graders and I really bonded with them. Don’t get me wrong, we’re still good pals with each other but I guess they’re all going through their teenager phase. Classes are usually noisy because Hiro won’t shut up and is usually laughing at something. Two other boys will just be distracted. I guess the issue is the homeroom teacher who can’t control them, aka Kitada-sensei. She couldn’t control her old class too and they were pretty rowdy, but it surprises me that she can’t even control 7 kids! I guess one thing I can say is they aren’t rude to me, just their homeroom teacher. Still, it’s frustrating that I really can’t get much done in that class. Times change, I suppose.
Recently the third years have been taking high school entrance exams. The first wave of results are from the top ranked, public high schools. Shockingly, a nice chunk of my students did not get in. This includes Manami who was aiming for the top English school at my area. I was sad to say the least. They’ll have another chance though when they hear about the results of their other schools later this month. I hope they all get in somewhere!
If I don’t change schools and stay here (and I damn better), I don’t know how the atmosphere of the next school year will be like. There is a good chance I’m going to lose key staff members that have been with me since the very beginning, including my favorite JTE, Mrs. Morita. Until then, I’ll enjoy these last few days at my junior high. While people come and go, it’s always a great place to work at. I hope next year continues that tradition.