木曜日, 9月 16, 2004

Sports Festival; An Unexpected Assignment

    A student at my school ran away from home and was missing for two weeks. I was worried about him. His parents think he ran away because his grades were in a downward spiral and they had asked him to quit the soccer club. I wondered why the story wasn't in any newspapers or on the news. No one knew where he was, and I thought he might be dead - but then this is Japan, and I was forgetting how safe it is here generally. Today I was relieved to hear that he returned home. He didn't go very far; he just stole a bicycle somewhere and rode around living on some money he'd been saving, and the farthest he went was Kyoto. I don't know yet if he'll come back to class at this school.
    Today is the Sports Festival, an annual event where each homeroom class competes in athletic events such as relay races, tug-of-war, synchronized jumprope, and the 41-legged race, where the 40 students in each class have to tie their legs together so that between 40 people there are only 41 "legs." My favorite to watch is kibasen. This is a battle simulation exercise whereby one student (the "rider") is supported by three other students (the "horse"). The rider has a colored cap on his or her head (red or white), and the object of the game is to steal caps from the opposing team. In the morning it's the all-girl kibasen, and in the afternoon the boys do it. It's so funny to see how aggressive they are about trying to slap each other's caps off. I like it because, while it looks violent, no one really gets hurt. On the other hand, after the 41-legged race, there are always a lot of injured students with bloody scratches on their legs going to the first-aid tent.
    Another funny thing to watch during the Sports Day is all of the special colorful T-shirts the students are wearing. The students in each homeroom class make their own designs especially for Sports Day. They often have funny things on them - caricatures of their teachers are common, and so are puns. The first one I noticed this time was a white shirt with a picture of an eggplant on it. On the front it said "We love Nasubi!" in English. Nasubi is eggplant. On the back it had this in Japanese, and the letters in the top row were all encased in eggplants:

なすび     =Eggplant
んてな     Vertical words read: "My, what super handsome young men and
ときん     beautiful young women!" (I think binanbijo
 なび      is a word used in anime and manga
  じ       for beautiful people)

    The teacher in charge of the first-years sat next to me and we got to talking about this shirt. "Do you know why it's an eggplant?" he asked. I had to admit I did not.
    "Their homeroom teacher's nickname is 'Eggplant.' Do you know A-sensei?" I did. "His head is shaped like an eggplant, isn't it?"
    "Does he mind that kind of teasing?"
    "I don't think so. He started a class newsletter called Nasubi Tsushin." (Eggplant Times.)

    Another punning shirt was 必笑, "will certainly laugh," a pun on 必勝, "will certainly win," having the same pronunciation. I asked why one of the classes have a definition of mitochondria from a dictionary on the back of their shirts, and was told this is because their homeroom teacher teaches biology.
    If you had the misfortune to miss the TV show Trivia no Izumi last night, they asked a team of humor experts to come up with the most unfunny possible gag and perform it in front of an audience of 100 men and women who didn't know what they would be watching. The humor experts debated their differing views of what makes something funny for 11 hours before reaching an agreement. The gag they concluded was the most unfunny possible was a series of 3 puns (板は痛い、とか)followed by a statement that was not a pun. (セメントは、セメント)(Cement is cement).
    I had the same sense of baffled disappointment when confronted with student T-shirts that were not based on puns.

    It's nice and cloudy today, so my eyes don't hurt from watching the festival like they did last year. The talkative teacher started talking to me again.
    "What is kibasen in English?"
    "You asked me that last year!"
    "I forgot."
    "We don't have that word in English."
    "But if you want to be a professional translator, you should try to translate it into English."
    "I would just put kibasen in italics and explain it. No one in other countries will understand what it is unless you explain it."
    I remember being just as annoyed last year by the persistent requests to translate the untranslatable into English - as if my translation would have any meaning to English speakers without a lengthy explanation. I sighed and wrote "Battle of the Knights" across the bottom of my Sports Festival program.
    "Ohhhh!" cried the teacher, satisfied at last.

    Later the teacher said, in the hesitant tone of voice that I knew meant ominous news for me, "Um...it is not decided yet and I know it is still early to think about it, but some of the teachers were talking and we want you to make a speech to all the students about human rights."
Uh-oh. This doesn't sound good. "When?"
    "Um, next February."
    "I'm not an expert on human rights. They should really ask someone else."
    "Well, your predecessor said no at first too. But in the end, she did it. I told her she didn't have to take it too seriously, and in the end she did it."
    "How long should it be?"
    "30 minutes."
    "30 minutes!" (Oh my god...)
    Seeing my shocked expression, he said, "...or less. You can use PowerPoint!"
    Oh, that makes it okay then. Never mind I don't even know how to use PowerPoint yet.
    We talked some more about it. I hated the idea at first, because I thought someone decided that the foreign teacher would have lots of knowledge about human rights, being from another country and all, and that would make me mysteriously qualified to talk about it. And I'm not qualified to talk about it just because I'm from another country. I've never even volunteered for Amnesty International. 30 minutes is a hell of a long time to talk about something you have no expertise or qualifications to speak on, without making a fool of yourself. Furthermore, I'm supposed to give the speech in English, which makes the speech easier to compose, perhaps, but no easier to deliver - I know my students' listening comprehension level, and it's not high.
    "Twice a year, the students have a special curriculum on human rights. During the summer, as you know, they all saw a film on apartheid. Many of the teachers take turns in preparing something for them, and this time the teachers want you to do it."
    This makes it a little better. At least it's not just me. Other teachers are expected to contribute something to the human rights curriculum sometimes too. In the end I said I'd do it. I suggested talking about women's rights and gender equality, and he was pleased because he said the students are probably bored of hearing about the same old human rights issues, and this would be something new for them. I have some ideas about this after spending enough time with the students to realize most of them really do have a rather rigid view of gender roles. Shown a picture of a man cooking and holding a baby, they assume that the wife is sick so the man is doing her job for the day - it doesn't occur to them that the woman is at work while the man stays home, which is what the picture was actually intended to represent. Again, during a guessing game about jobs we did recently, they seemed to think "Am I a man or a woman?" would give them some clues about which job was the answer - e.g., doctor or nurse. (Haven't they ever seen Ben Affleck in Meet the Parents?)
    So I have some ideas about this, but it's going to be a ton of work...I know I shouldn't be complaining about work but I'm just not used to it anymore...finding some interesting pictures to use with PowerPoint will be the first step...then make some easy to understand lists and charts with statistics...I can put those on PowerPoint too so the students will have something to look at and it will be easier for them to follow my English. Then I have to actually write and practice the speech. How to start...let's see, 板は痛い...


  • At 12:10 午後, Blogger butterflyblue said…

    I found out why the English teacher always asks me questions like "How do you say kibasen in English?" It's so he can ask his class that very question and then, when they predictably don't know, he can whip out my off-the-cuff translation and say "It's 'Battle of the Knights!'"
    The fact that there really is no "Battle of the Knights" at schools in English-speaking countries doesn't seem to bother him.

  • At 2:08 午後, Blogger Matt said…

    Man, I hate it when kids can't (or won't) answer my questions. Why would anyone get into that situation on purpose? Does he LIKE that extended silence where no-one meets anyone's eyes and all momentum is lost?

  • At 10:34 午前, Anonymous 匿名 said…

    Power Point really does make public speaking a lot easier. I learned to do it in nurse practitioner school and now it makes public speaking, or teaching,possible for me. You'll love it. It gives you a lot of room for creativity too.

  • At 8:40 午前, Blogger butterflyblue said…

    Matt - I think they do like it. Their model for how an English class should be seems to be something like this:

    Teacher: (Poses some impossible question) "What's (fill in ridiculously diffficult word here) in English?"

    Students: ? ..... ?

    Teacher: (proudly) "It's .... !" (supplies answer; everyone goes home happy; the status quo is justified; the students are made aware again that they know nothing and the teacher is all-knowing.)

    What? English classes aren't like that in your country?

    The English "writing" assignments at my school seem to follow the same general pattern: give an impossible assignment, make the students try their best, then criticize their efforts.

    Re: Power Point, I agree it will probably make the presentation a lot easier, especially since it will give the students something to look at and lessen the pressure on them to understand all of my English. We'll see.



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