This is another post that has been a long time coming, and am finally getting around to. A while back, I was asked to be a substitute teacher at another school, as their JET had run off to Yokohama to another job and to be with his “fiancé, whom he would be marrying soon”. This was less a case of me stepping up to the plate, and more of me having transportation that would enable me to be reassigned away from home for two weeks. I was excited for the opportunity though, it was a rare chance to see how another school other than my own functions. This was going to be an especially opportunistic chance, as I would be at the largest school in the prefecture, boasting over 800 students. I believe that my school is the smallest within the prefecture, or at least my region, so to experience both the means and extremes of teaching environments really appealed to me.
The inner courtyard of this square shaped school.
I started the experience by making a small speech in front of their morning assembly. Having that many new faces in front of me was a bit intimidating, but unlike the first time I addressed the students of Shionoe, I confidently powered on through the poor grammar that came up. After that, it was off to my first of many classes. Of the several new aspects a bigger school would bring me, one would be the chance to interact with a number of new teachers. Thus far, I had only worked with one at the middle school level, so I had to cope different teaching styles, and cater my preparations to pick up where different teachers left off. It was easy for me to determine who I worked well with. My job for the duration of those two weeks was to basically just give me self-introduction in the form of a presentation. For me, its really great when the teachers help to translate some of my points to the students. Without those efforts, the students will zone out, make no response to my questions, and just make moving through the material more of a chore. This in turn causes the presentation to go faster, as the best way to remedy silence and stares is a new slide. This plan works until there is nothing more to fall back on, and the teacher stares at you, waiting for the next thing to happen. This situation only really came about with one teacher in particular who seemed unable to identify disengaged students; “they are really shy”. Mostly the teachers were pretty good, though all quite different. One in particular though would ask very specific questions about English grammar and word usage. “What’s the difference between would and could?” “Um, I think it’s blah blah blah.” “Well, the book I’m studying says hurr durr durr?” “Yes, that would be correct then….”
The students too were really different than the ones at my 60 kid school in Shionoe. Perverse, nodding off, and just a bit brash as well – exactly what one would expect from middle school students. My school maintains a family atmosphere (I couldn’t imagine people dating at my school), and this school was more of a free for all, with all of the expected cliques and subdivisions of students.
Along with a big school also came a great number of after school opportunities, ones that Shionoe could only dream of. Kokubunji had some 20 odd club offerings for the students, with everything from swimming to karate to astronomy. I had the chance to interact with a few after school which was pretty cool. The art club has some really gifted students, and they were just getting ready for a gallery display, so I saw a lot of pieces. I also played volleyball with men’s club for about an hour, which was sweaty but very enjoyable. The best though the was the astronomy club, since they had a special display showing their research I participated in. Also, while my school was a bit too small to subdivide into distinct cliques of people, it was very clear that these were definitely the nerdy bunch. But they were also the most down to earth (hehe), and were keener to just share in conversation with me. One of the girls even had the gall to say that my hair would look better shorter. Noted. After hearing their speeches, we went to the roof of the school where I was given a tour of the observatory.
The other opportunity I had with this assignment was to spend a couple days at the Nanbou Elementary School, which too was a completely different experience. Again, 9 students compared to 900 makes for a distinctly different atmosphere. My duties at this school remained giving my self-introduction, and being awesome. But beyond the call of duty, I also made an effort to participate in the 5th and 6th grade swimming event. The summer is when all schools get the pools cleaned and prepped for the students, and this was to be the conclusion of that time. I had participated with my other schools as well, but those instances were only practice for this event. All students would be tested on their ability to swim 200 meters. While the other students were waiting their turn, they were tasked with cheering for the swimming students in the pool. Naturally excitement grew stale after an hour of this, so I stepped up. I had entire classes of students chanting American cheers, and singing the Zombie Nation hook, common among the Dew Crew before the game. It was a lot of fun getting the call and answer going with these kids. I also worked to get the wave going around the pool but all the students at the edge, though I couldn’t get complete pass. My other great contribution to the day was getting into the pool as well. I was used to demonstrate swimming with good form, and then at maximum speed. Also, they had me swim with a ball to simulate water polo. At the end of all the swimming, 200m freestyle relays were done by the students. I entered as a single man team, swimming I.M. It was actually a close race, with me losing, and also being terribly out of breath. Had to maintain the breathing to look cool though. I had the kids pumped up, and was really just embracing my roll as fun lovin’ foreigner.
Welcome to [classroom] 6-5 Mr. Justin!
I should probably add that I was really popular throughout my time as a substitute, like, I had never had my ego inflated to that extent before. I would strut the halls dishing out high fives, heys and hellos to my fawning groupies between lessons. All were particularly impressed with my hair, which was a bit longer at the time and quite blonde. I was equated to a king more than once, and I was able to joke with them about being a movie star. Basically I had a really good time being me at that school. Part of this popularity was that the teacher who had deserted had been there for 5 years, so just having a new foreigner face there was enough to spark the interest of the masses. Also, quite frankly, I am Justin Bussies.
11 Seconds of my posse, at the elementary school. This was the mob I had to fend off just walking the halls.
As said before, I really treasured this chance to see outside of my own school. When finally back where I belonged, there was certainly a new found appreciation for the sense of community among my students. I also came to better understand more of the things that make my Shionoe so uniquely fantastic.