The time finally came for me to say my final goodbye to the students of Shionoe Middle School and I promise that this is the last update you will have to read about my goodbyes. So this place was my base school and also where I spent the bulk of my time. Over the course of three years, I came to really not like this place at all though since the quality of the English education here has rather deteriorated. The tricky thing about this school is that the small size means that there is only one teacher per subject to cover all three grades. So, if the teacher is bad, then the entire school’s interest in the subject will slump significantly.
When I first showed up, the teacher I worked with was great. She did a lot of the planning and included different games and activities in her lessons. She was also good about using me in various ways, beyond just reading the new words and passages. This new guy however has got an iron grip on the subject matter and is very entrenched in his uninteresting ways. Within a year and a half, I watched the student’s enthusiasm (and thus mine) decrease every day, as he forced them to do drills and drills and drills. At first I was excited about his structured approach, but the complete lack of anything remotely interesting assured it would bad. While middle school was something I got pretty bitter about at the end, I was able to get through it by really hitting it off with the students and staff at each of my other schools. Enough though, all that separated me from my freedom was simply saying goodbye.
Nestled right into the valley
One this day the students would be closing things down for the summer holidays and at the ceremony they would recognize my time there. I wore some smart slacks and a button up before taking the stage. With the help of my friend Ryo, I was able to put together a few words that I read to everyone. They are as follows:塩江中学校の皆へ
本当にありがとうございました。Everyone,Thank you for these three years. When I came to Shionoe, my first speech was really bad. Fortunately, from that time only Vice Principal Doi was around, so I think I get one more chance. But before I go home, I have two pieces of advice for you.
1) Travel! Try getting out of Japan, go anywhere!
-The world is vast and compared to the nearly 200 countries, Japan and even America are very small. Books are not enough, seeing with your own eyes is the best. By studying abroad, or even taking a short trip, you can know various things about the world and its people. It is also the best way to practice your English.
2) Challenge yourself to use English everyday
– You will not wake up one day suddenly able to speak English. It is alright if you don’t use perfect Japanese, communication is more important than correct grammar. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. If you speak a lot with the new English teacher, you will get better and better. Hard work is required, but in your case I’m sure that you can do it.
During these three years I’ve really gotten to know the Shionoe middle school students, your parents, and also the teachers. I’ve been blessed by this wonderful town. I can’t believe that I’m already going home, but I will never forget everyone and their kindness. Thank you very much.
I translated the speech into English for my non-Japanese readership (basically everyone I think), but only read the Japanese version on the day. After my long, deep bow was mirrored by one from the students and staff, everyone was instructed to stand up. Then all together they gave me an arigatogozaimashita followed by another big bow and some applause. I felt pretty good leaving the stage, and many of the teachers expressed their surprise at the quality of my speech. There were a number of teachers that I didn’t speak a whole lot with, so they were pretty impressed with how my Japanese had progressed. I felt good too, but I was also so very hot. I might have been a little bit nervous, but the gym was sweltering and I was gushing. I had a change of clothes waiting for me, so I was able to get a bit cooler and less soaked for the afternoon.
I spent the next week without classes, but still having to go in to work. There were a lot of things necessary to get my desk ready for the next person and also to get me to a place where I was ready to move out of the country. During this last week I also took a final stroll around the school to photograph a couple of things worth remembering and sharing. I shall start with my desk. Here I spent countless hours pouring over Japanese, reading the news, writing this blog and occasionally prepping for my classes.
The next part of my workplace tour has to be the room of scholarship. When I wasn’t sitting at the aforementioned desk, I was generally in a classroom. Throughout Japan, schools are all about the same in terms of architecture, but the look and feel of the classrooms are all about the same as well. They are always a no frills environment with basic desks and only rarely are equipped climate control. Though there is a teacher’s union in Japan, membership is low and as far as I can tell they don’t do anything. Class sizes here are usually in the 30-35 range, which would probably drive many American teachers insane.
Chalkboards are still very much the norm
My tour concludes with a shot of the staff shoe lockers. At Japanese schools and other buildings, taking off outdoor shoes and switching into something meant for the indoors is expected. Not just students and teachers, but also any guests that come to the school will be provided with slippers. I am always amused when a teacher swaps out the dress shoes they wore to school for their tennis shoes, even when they have a suit on top. I would always have a second pair of shoes to change into, but I never had any that were for exclusively for indoor use. I’m not perfect… This practice happens at many different types of places in Japan, including the home, religious places, and training locations.
Though things at this school soured a little bit by the end, I really think that this was a great one to have been assigned to. It was small enough that I was able to get to know most of the students by name and share a bit of my own personality with them. I do hope that going forward the new guy can break the monotony of the current English curriculum and also that he’ll have as fantastic a Shionoe experience as I did.