Of lions and lambs

6 Mar

As a follow up to my last post, I want to preface this post with the fact that February into the beginning of March has historically been the worst part of the year for me in my adult life.  In college, this was often when the semester was getting into full swing and classes were becoming more and more stressful and time-consuming.  In Japan, this is the time of year when I’ve been a hermit in my freezing apartment, huddling under the kotatsu for three months, when the days are depressingly short, when I’m sick of wearing a huge coat to shield me from the Gunma winds all the time, when I’m busy with end-of-the-school-year preparations, when I’m dreading the loss of my graduating students, and when I’ve inevitably gotten the flu and been out of commission and miserable for at least a week.  All in all, February and early March is just a time when I feel the most worn out, anxious for spring and drained of positive energy (or really, the energy to do anything at all).  Still, despite experiences like my last post and bouts of frustration and depression, what I’ve learned over the years is that the best thing to do is try to keep it together, because undoubtedly, April will bring sunlight, warmth, and good things.  As they say in elementary school in America, March comes in like a lion, and out like a lamb, right?

So far, after the rampant big-cat attack that was February, so far, my first week of March has definitely been a mix of lions and lambs, but a spark of hope that spring might be coming came with my ALT Day, a type of event unique to Kiryu, in which several ALTs go to another ALT’s school and all run a fun English class with games or challenges for the kids.  I love ALT Days, and think that they’re a really great idea, because the kids get exposed to a variety of different teachers who have different backgrounds than the ALT they see every week, and because I (and all the other ALTs in my city) get to visit and interact with lots of different kids around the city.  Usually, we play English games, or do a sort of scavenger hunt type challenge where students put together clues in English to uncover the answer to the puzzle.  Generally, ALT Days are a lot of fun for both the teachers and the students, and I had been looking forward to mine, despite a bit of anxiety that something would go wrong.

Needless to say, nothing went wrong, and it seemed like the kids and the ALTs all had a great time, and I was pleased.  Once I had bid all the other ALTs goodbye, though, I figured that was the end of it, until my JTE asked me for photos of all the ALTs who’d come to the ALT Day.  She said she wanted to have the kids practice writing cards by writing thank you cards to the ALTs who’d come, and I thought it was a great idea, so I printed off a quick document with each of the ALT’s photos and names.  I didn’t think much about it after that until class the next day.

I should preface what comes next with a note about this particular JTE.  After spending three years trying her hardest to make English fun for the incredibly unruly and difficult class who graduated last year, she seems to have become jaded about English and about teaching in general.  We have a good working relationship, but she constantly remarks that English isn’t fun, or is too difficult, or that all the students hate it.  It makes me sad to hear, because I’ve seen the worksheets and games she used four years ago with her last class of incoming first years, and she used to have so many fun and interesting activities.  But since that class of kids basically trampled on her efforts to make class enjoyable, she seems to have (understandably) lost her will to try, and her belief that she can make a difference to the students.  Because of this, she seems to teach the class on autopilot a lot, and often forgets that I’m there and has the kids repeat after the CD, or forgets to tell me that the class schedule has been changed, leaving me scrambling to figure out what’s going on. I’ve come to realize that it’s not intentional or out of dislike, but I also don’t take for granted that she’ll always appreciate my presence.  She’s also commented to me before that I care too much, or that I’m too invested in trying to make sure the kids are having fun, like she saw me as young and naive, but soon I would become jaded like her.

So when I arrived in class the next day to discover that that she had added my name and the other ALT who works at my school’s name to the list I’d made earlier, I was surprised.  She told the class that they could of course write to us, too, but they ought to know what we look like by now (I’d hope!) so there was no picture included. I was touched and happy about that as it was, but then, I turned the paper to the other side to find that she’d made an example card for the students to look at:


Yes, that’s right.  She had written the example card to me, complete with an illustration of me in the outfit I’d worn on the ALT Day.  I was so touched that I made a noise of surprise and kept telling her how happy I was, and I really just didn’t know what else to say.  This teacher, who had always seemed so withdrawn and unhappy, actually seemed to have enjoyed and appreciated my ALT day.  Maybe it was just a one-time thing, I have no way of knowing.  But after trying really hard to make a difference, to show her that English could be fun and not a class that the kids hated, to support her as best I could and help her help student succeed… I was really happy to see even just this little sign of being appreciated.

So yeah, maybe March comes in like a lion. But maybe sometimes there are a few lambs thrown in the bag, too.


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