All this happened, more or less...

My name is G and these are the true stories of my adventures.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Spheres of Influence

Before you become a teacher, you're always hearing about what an incredible influence they have over students. People tell you "O! You're going to be such a role model! Students will hang on your every word" etc. They tell you that, but you don't believe it.

Then you have students.

When I was teaching in Japan, I was fortunate to be in a position where I had a very wide variety of students, in terms of both age and skill. I taught group children's classes with kids as young as three and adults, in groups and one-on-one, of all ages. One of my favorites was a woman named Nobuko. She was an older lady with three grown children of her own -- a son and two daughters, all older than me. Like many retired Japanese people, she took English lessons as a hobby, but unlike most of them, she was very, very good. Her son was also a student at our office, and her superior skill in English was a constant source of irritation for him.

Because she was so fluent in English, we very rarely used official lessons from the book; we just chatted about anything we could think of -- her life, my life, men (in general and in specific), current events, and especially Japanese and American cultures. One morning, we got to talking about kimono. She was trying to sell her house and move to a smaller one, and in order to do that, wanted to unload about fifty kimono, most of them antiques. She said she wanted to give one to me. After the three customary exchanges of refusal and insistence, I caved.

Socializing with students is officially forbidden in our company. "Socializing" includes not only going out to a club with them or taking them home to bed, but any contact outside of a lesson. I believe "the giving or receiving of gifts" is stated verbatim in our contract as a forbidden form of socializing. Nobuko took this incredibly seriously and actually slipped me a note in the middle of a lesson telling me when and where to meet her. When I arrived at the appointed place and time, she was standing with a bundle in her hand. A quick exchange of bows and arigatos and, just like a real ninja, she vanished into the crowd.

The kimono, shown here, was not a simple cotton yukata like I'd expected. I got the full story the next time I saw her. It went something like this:


"This kimono was my mother's. I'm sorry it is not long. When I was married, she re-made it for me, half, so I could wear it over my wedding kimono. Also, when she did this she put a new lining in. I'm very sorry this lining is only cotton, not silk."

I insisted that it was gorgeous and perfect and flawless and absolutely amazing, as it truly was. The fact that it was lined at all made it approximately 385% more awesome than the other two kimono i owned (one blue silk that I'd bought at a temple market, the other a yukata from another Japanese friend). And the personal history of it -- unbelievable! I wonder if her son knows she gave it to me. I wonder if he's pissed.

Of course, we had to repeat another ninja ritual gift exchange when I thanked her.

But making such an impact on your students is not always a good thing. My high school students, for example, actually do hang on every word out of my mouth. They think they're really hip and independent, so they will deny this 'til hell freezes over, but it's true.

Here's how I know:

To kill a little extra time one day, I started showing a couple of my juniors how to write their names in katakana. This is a neat trick because it looks really difficult but is actually quite simple to learn.

One of the kids was getting pretty excited about it. He sleeps a lot in class, doesn't do any homework, and is generally drifting through life waiting for a lightning bolt, so seeing him get fired up about something was, I thought, pretty cool.

No, not cool.

A few days later he came to class with my sketchy little katakana version of his name tattooed on his arm. TATTOOED. FOREVER. FOR E VER!

Seriously, what are these kids thinking?

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