Thursday, December 20, 2012

Girl Talk and Gossip: the Best Parts of my Job

There are days when it's hard to feel stimulated and meaningful at work. Days when I'm scheduled to go to English classes which include lengthy explanations of grammar, in Japanese, and only a brief vocabulary practice in which I pull out my best English pronunciation and flashcard-flipping techniques.

Thankfully, I am often kept busy at school, with few free periods spent in the staff room, though I find myself wishing I had a few less hours in the classroom and was able to spend my time planning more lessons and activities instead. But, I do work in a fantastically friendly and warm environment, with students who are exceptionally good-natured and fun to teach.

Sports day

I often find the most fulfilling parts of my job are the interactions I have with students. Especially now, in my second year, I'm having more and more "real" conversations beyond the simple "do you like ~?" exchanges that often characterize our communication. This really began to blossom during speech contest this summer, when I spent hours each day, often late into the evening, coaching four wonderful kids on their English pronunciation, intonation, expression and gestures. We found ways to understand each other as we talked about their speeches, but were also able to have lots of conversations about their summer "holidays", club activities, and things they found funny. I felt a lot of pride in my students - I was even a bit emotional when I heard their speeches on speech contest day, and Riho's telling of the story of Freddie the leaf nearly moved me to tears. Oh Freddie. It's a rather existential story of a leaf coming to terms with life and death, and when he finally falls from the tree, he is no longer scared of what is to come. Riho conveyed it so beautifully, and apparently the judges thought so too, as she placed first in the recitation category and was able to move on to the all-Akita round. And she's only a 2nd-year student!

My favourite picture of the bunch. No one quite seems to know what's going on...

Anyway. Lately I've clicked with a bunch of my 3rd-year junior high girls, and we talk about lots of things, from the kind of books we like to the 3-nensei's exclusive "club", Zadoru - a group that is "loud" and often does "girl talk", and the girls get love advice from Naoto, one of the boys who is their appointed leader. This probably all sounds a bit strange, which is because it also sounded strange to me when they first explained the concept of the club one day at lunch. The best part was that they invited me to join, and got excited when I said yes.

Since then, I've had the chance to learn quite a bit about student relationships at my junior high school. It started in one of my 3rd-year classes, when I asked them to guess what I wanted for Christmas. Immediately, Shoh's hand shot up. "It's...a...boyfriend-o!!" he declared confidently. The other boys in the class cracked up; they thought it was so funny that they tried to use the answer again when my JTE (co-teacher) asked them the same question. Through this, I ended up discovering that Shoh has a girlfriend from the other 3rd-year class, and was encouraged to guess who it might be.

"Is it Misato?" I asked my JTE on the way to the other class later that morning.
"No. But, Misato used to be Shoh's girlfriend."
"Ah. Hmm...Is it one of Misato's friends?"
"Is it Mutsumi?"
"No. But, Mutsumi too used to be Shoh's girlfriend."
Turns out the boy has had a lot of girlfriends.

I pondered this as we entered the room, with some speculations as to who his special someone could be. Pretty soon though, class was underway and I forgot about my desire to be in on student gossip.

Eventually, some of the "Zadoru" girls, Mutsumi and Rino, had finished their work, so they called me over and started asking about my Christmas plans, and whether or not I would eat Christmas cake. In Japan, on Christmas, there is a tradition of eating christmas cake, a white sponge cake with strawberries and whipped cream, as well as fried chicken (KFC being a particular favorite). I'm not sure if these are things they think westerners do, or just their own traditions that have somehow evolved, but my students were surprised to learn that we do not eat such "Christmas cake" in Canada, nor do we typically eat KFC. I told them that Christmas cookies are popular instead.

Somewhere in our conversation, to their excitement, they found out that I have a boyfriend. Naoto was sitting behind me, listening in as well, and reacting with overly dramatic interest to every word I said. Perhaps he was just brimming with potential love advice to share. After class, Mutsumi and Rino came up to me and started telling me about their boyfriends.

"My boyfriend is shy!" said Rino.
"My boyfriend is...interesting!" said Mutsumi.

I then remembered my earlier musings. Hmm. "Who are your boyfriends?" I asked.

"My boyfriend is Fuma," said Mutsumi.
"My boyfriend is Shoh," said Rino.
Shoh!! I knew it. Mystery solved.
"Shoh's smile is...very very nice!!" Rino gushed. "But he is crazy!"
"My boyfriend is also crazy. He is silly," I said.
"Is he cool? Is he cute?"
"Yes, of course!"

I stayed and chatted with them until I realized I was going to be late for lunch - with their class. I told them I had to run off and grab my tray, but I would be back. As I was hurrying through the school, food in hand, they came to meet me in the hall - "oh, Katie! Let's go, lunch! Are you hungry?" Yes, of course!

And that made for one of the best days of the week, and possibly the whole month.

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