One Shot School Visit

In my vinyl brief-bag I have my hip-to-the-end multicolored, metallic-thread slippers; toothbrush and toothpaste; chopsticks; an umbrella; a Godzilla vs. Ultraman hand towel; text books; pictures of an American family cut from Patagonia Sportswear's 1988 catalogue (I forgot to bring pictures of my own family ); a few games; and a lesson plan from A. Baba. A. Baba is the junior high school teacher I will meet and teach with for the first time today.

With brief-bag bungied on bicycle, I pedal off from my apartment at 7:15 to make the 7:30 bus. After a twenty kilometer bus ride and a short walk to Takasaki Junior High, I arrive at 8:15. I change into my metallic-wonder slippers at the entrance of the old, cold, concrete school. No one is there to greet me ( usually the English teacher is at the door when I arrive), so I begin to search for the secretary.

I find her coming out of the bathroom, changing from the toilet slippers back into her school slippers. It is too bad that her slippers are pure black velour wedgies and not the hottest-thing-around-metallic-groovers. She ushers me into the principal's office, brings me a 2 ounce cup of bitter green tea, and asks me in Japanese to wait until the principal and "Baba-san" finish with the daily teachers' meeting. I think that is what she asked anyway. The secretary also asks me something about the appeal of green tea, my ability to use chopsticks, if I can eat raw fish, and how tall my father is. I answer "yes" to everything, "hai, hai, hai...hai, hai," and she leaves to prepare more tea for A. Baba and the principal.

So I wait. I sit on the principal's vinyl couch, being careful not to wrinkle his white-sheet vinyl couch protector. I look at the lesson plan for the fifth time. I time how long I can keep my feet within two centimeters of the principal's kerosene heater before my metallic threads combust. I wonder why no principal tries to give his office a lift by ordering pink sheets to protect his vinyl couch.

Just as my speculation on vinyl couches approaches overwhelming, the principal and A. Baba enter. We all bow, shake hands, and apologize profusely for not speaking each other's language. A. Baba turns out to be a forty-five year old man with pepper colored hair, a crew cut and a maroon and tan checked Harris Tweed jacket. He seems to speak English pretty well, but the way he says, "OK, OK, OK, OK, ...OK, OK." definitely is...interesting. A lot like my, hai, hai, hai, hai", I tell myself.

Mr. Baba and I have thirty minutes to discuss the lesson plan before the class begins at 9:10. More green tea comes and we talk of raw fish, whether red seaweed or green seaweed will be served with the school lunch, and finally, with five minutes left before class, the lesson plan. Mr. Baba asks if I like the plan and suggests that we stick to the textbook lesson, allowing ten minutes at the beginning of the class for me to tell the students about my family in America.

When we enter the seventh-grade classroom, I see that the fifteen girls and the thirteen boys are segregated. The students rush to their seats, sit at attention, and bow their heads in unison. Mr. Baba asks them, "What day of the week is it today?" "What day of the month is it today?" and then he introduces me as, " Miss Jane, a very nice guest form Idaho in America". I show the students the picture of my family (my, aren't they athletic looking and so well dressed?) and tell them about the many potatoes in Idaho. All the while, Mr. Baba is writing down these important Idaho facts and quizzes the students on these after I have finished. He uses English and then translates his questions into Japanese. The students answer in Japanese. Mr. Baba and I ask the students if they have any questions. Of course, no questions.

Hence we turn to the lesson plan and take turns reciting the textbook dialogue. We read the new vocabulary words and ask the students to pronounce them. The students read the text in unison, then the students read the text dialogue individually.

Ten minutes are left in the class and Mr. Baba asks me to , "...please present a good idea for the game". Game? I look at my vinyl brief-bag...and..., "OK, OK, OK, word scramble!" I say. Mr. Baba mixes the boys and the girls, separating them into two lines. I scramble the vocabulary word "new" and write "ewn" on the board. A student from each line runs to the board and writes.... "new"... and... "wen". The left side wins the first round! A new person takes a turn for the left side and the "wen" boy on the right side goes again. After ten minutes, the left side is half-way through their line and the right side is still waiting for the "wen" boy to get a word right. The "wen" boy's strategy is ...interesting.
On the board is:

new wen
yard dog
tree dog
close dog
open dog

When the class is over, the students gather around me and ask the questions that they were too shy to ask at question time: How tall is your father? How many birds do you have? What is your favorite flower? Do you eat rice or bread? What time do you get up?

Mr. Baba and I go to the principal's office to siege our slippers on the heater, drink green tea, eat bean paste biscuits, and decide to keep the same lesson plan for the other two classes, but allow five minutes more for the game.

The other two classes go much the same. Lunch is tofu and green seaweed with rice. I am back on the bus to the office by 2:00. I arrive in time for 3:00 green tea and rice-gluten-rolled-in-sweet-soybean-powder snack. I write my report on the day's teaching and leave at 4:15, dog,, OK, OK,

Submitted by Wendy Reinalda

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