6:30 I wake up with a particularly violent cough that projects a brilliant neon ball of mucus into my mouth. I have been sick for a week now, but the symptoms keep changing. My theory is that it is not so much one single cold as a series of colds. This one is the coughing kind. 15 hours of sleep don't seem to have done the trick, either. Oh well. I hop out of bed to spit into the toilet. After a shower, I sit down to watch the news and eat my yogurt. I feel much better.
7:20 I leave the house and go to the station, where I meet Brigg, another ALT who works at the school my students will be going to when they become middle school students. This morning, as we get off the train in Yagihara, the pack of high school girls that we surprised yesterday when we said "good morning" have laid an ambush. As Brigg and I step off the train 8 high school girls shout "GOOD MORNING" and jump onto the train, safe from follow up conversation.
7:40 I arrive at school before basically everyone else. So early, in fact, that when the really young female teacher goes to make tea, I try to help her. This is the third time I have tried to help. The first time I screwed up and filled the cups one at a time, meaning the first cups were little more than hot water, and the last cups were nothing but leaves. The second time I tried passing out the tea, but since I can't read everyone's names and I only know about half of the teachers anyway, one of the other teachers had to come do it for me. This time my mistake is that I let the tea get too diluted. Almost none of the tea has any leaves in the bottom. Since no one else is in the office, the young female teacher tells me it is OK, and then shows me a way to cheat (apparently she doesn't have much experience making tea either). She sprinkles in some leaves by hand, the whole time saying "this isn't how you are supposed to make tea". Don't worry, I won't tell.
8:10 After making 2 trips to the bathroom to purge my lungs and sinuses, each followed by a trip to the "Hand Wash Place", I sit down to plan my lesson. I am quickly distracted by my new Japanese grammar book.
9:00 For real this time, I plan my lesson.
9:25 I head up to the 4th floor music room to make preparations.
9:40 My second grade class arrives.
Allow me to briefly explain my lesson. All lessons these days begin in chaos. Kids run in, grab onto any part of me they can (usually the arm or the tie) and say "Hello, hello, hello." Then the homeroom teacher comes and tells everyone to sit on the floor in rows. The head students in class for the day announce the beginning of the lesson, then order everyone to bow. I stand there at attention, intentionally trying to force the smile off of my face (because sitting there looking like you are barely containing yourself usually gets everybody's attention). My lesson begins with "Good Morning!". For the next few minutes I introduce the target vocabulary for the day by walking between the students and introducing myself. Today we are learning about greetings. I am sure to make several dramatic spins in order to catch students who thought they were safe because my back was turned. Then I go on to explain about hand shakes, high fives, and the "OK" sign.
Second grade is my favorite grade to teach in a classroom setting. They are old enough where they can be orderly if necessary, but a still at an age where embarrassment is not a major problem. After teaching some gestures, I introduce where I am from. I begin with the Shaka, and teach them "Aloha". Then produce a lei, and run over to the teacher saying "Aloha!!", give them a big hug, and pretend to kiss them on both cheeks. The kids go nuts. Then I produce my loudest, red aloha shirt, and put that on the teacher too. And then my blue fish pajamas. I whisper to the student farthest from the teacher that those are, in fact my pajamas, and word spreads quickly. The students and I give the teacher a round of applause and say Aloha. I then produce a Hawaiian flag and an American flag and sing "E' Hawai'i". I Really over act this one. Especially the low "oli oli oil e"s. Having finished my song, I quickly remove my flags and produce a Manta Ray.
A stuffed one named Manta. This is my incentive to get the kids to ask questions. All the kids want to hold Manta (who has become my second most valuable teaching tool, after my frog hat). If they ask a question, they get to hold Manta while I answer. The girls hands go up right away (Manta is very cute). The boys hands don't go up right away, but as soon as I make it clear that I don't hand you Manta, but fling him to you by swinging him by the tail, all of the rowdiest boys in class suddenly have a question. Questions go on for about 5 minutes and it is absolute chaos.
After questions are over, Manta waves goodbye as I stuff him into my bag and pull out a pumpkin. I give a short lecture about Halloween. The names of famous Halloween monsters, an example of a costume (my precious frog hat which earned me the nickname kaeru-kun, which translates as "Mr. Frog" indicating that I am lower in status than the pre-schoolers that call me that), and a baseball sized jawbreaker. Candy is not allowed in Japanese schools, so to see a piece of candy so big it hardly fits in my hand just about causes a riot. The kids swarm the candy as they try to touch it, which gives me time to get my fake eyeballs out of my bag. When they have finally settled down I ask if there are any questions. If not, I turn around, drop the fake eyeballs on the ground and clutch my face screaming "Oh, my eyes!". Another riot.
Fake eyeballs don't show up at school everyday. And the kids aren't the only ones who go nuts over them. The other day I was talking to Y-sensei (the music teaher who, due to her control of the money that pays for school lunch, is the de-facto third most powerful person in the school) when one of the eyeballs rolled out of my bag. She was really excited by it, and spent a great deal of time trying to make it look like she had actually lost an eye. She then revealed that she was a huge monster movie fan. Not Godzilla, mind you, but the cheap Godzilla knock offs. I learned all this the day before she took the school's brass band to the National Championships and won third place.
Anyway, back to the lesson. After the eyeball riot has calmed down, I put on my frog hat and explain the next game. Leap-frog. But every time you are about to jump over someone you have to introduce yourself in English. We play that game until the end of class. I then, thank the students, tell them goodbye, and they don't leave. The bell rings and they don't leave. Finally the teacher tells them that they have to leave and go back to class, at which point half of the students make a dash for my bag to try to see what other goodies I have inside. I spend the next three minutes collecting my stolen belongings from students, shaking hands and waving "goodbye". Class ends, and a second one begins.
11:40 I go back to the staff room and drop my stuff off. Then hurry to the bathroom, cough and blow my nose for several minutes. I return to my desk and stare off into space. I am totally out of energy. Luckily, my desk is right next to both the fridge and the desk where people put the cookies they bought on vacation. I polish off the last of the cookies.
12:20 I head down and pick up the food for the people who eat lunch in the staff room. Yesterday I ate with the second graders, but today I feel terrible, so I'm going to take it easy. I return to find Y-Sensei and the Special Needs teacher looking at pictures of other teachers. They are in the middle of inventing an imaginary Pokemon like card game with the teachers pictures. Each teacher has special powers and weaknesses. For example, the principal is the strongest, but is weak against the young, attractive school nurse, who is otherwise not very strong. My special powers are my English ability, which can confuse other teachers and reduce their attack score. I am not told what my weakness is.
1:00 After lunch (bread, stew, salad and milk), I feel a little better. I go to the library and read "Happy Birthday Moon" to whoever will listen. Then me and a 3rd grader draw pictures of bears in her binder.
1:40 Cleaning time! All the students go to their assigned cleaning duties. I decide that today I am going to help out in the meeting room. It just so happens that the kids who clean the meeting room are awesome. We quickly clean the entire room (with only the occasional broom duel), and then sit down and pretend to be a court hearing a case. One student decides to be the defendant. The rest of us are judges. His crime: not cleaning with all of his might. He confesses that he is guilty, and is sentenced to being the last one to leave the room. Everyone runs out. As they run down the hall I remind them "Don't run" and the running turns into very purposeful walking.
2:00 I return to my desk, and continue to plan next week's lesson.
3:00 One of the teachers comes in with a student who seems to have no expression at all, at first glance. I say hello to her, and the teacher responds "she isn't well". I listen in on their conversation, and it seems like it is a little more serious than that. She's not just not well, her field of vision seems to be getting smaller. In other words, she seems to be going blind. The teacher leaves her in the staff room, calls her mother, and returns to class. I pull my books out of my desk and ask if she wants to hear any. She seems supprised at first, then shakily points to "Happy Birthday Moon". I realize that her expression is not one of exhaustion like I first thought, but one of supressed terror. I give "Happy Birthday Moon" my best shot, and while she doesn't understand the story at all, I see one side of her mouth raise a little several times. Almost a smile. I finish, and her mother comes in to take her to the hospital. I really hope she is OK.
4:00 I should end work at 4, but that never happens. There is always more work to be done. Besides, the train doesn't leave until 4:41. Besides, today something else amazing happened. Look closely.
Let me give you another hint.
Just in case you weren't sure, yes, those are grasshoppers. Today, one of the other teachers brought edible grasshoppers to school (because her grandfather caught them but she doesn't like them). Of course I tried them!!! Grasshopper is sweet, crunchy and delicious. As I suspected it might, it tastes an awful lot like shrimp. However, I expressed too much interest, because the teacher who brought them (eager to get rid of them) gave me half of the plate. Now they are sitting in the fridge. I don't want to eat them yet. They are so rare that I have to give everyone I know a chance to try them before I chow down. Come to think of it, I'll wait till I'm better to eat them. No sense in eating something that scratches the throat that just healed.
4:37 I reach Yagihara station. But some of the students I taught today have seen me. They give chase. 14 tiny hands try to make their way into my bag to touch Manta one last time. I say that I have to get on the train and enter the station. I am 4 minutes early, and only a chest high fence separates the parking lot from the platform. All 7 kids run over to the fence and we continue to chat. After talking to them for about 1 minute, a very stern looking woman comes over to the fence and looks as though she is going to chastise the kids for some reason. She is just about to let loose with some sort of lecture, when she hears me speaking Japanese to the kids. She then attempts to shoo the kids away with body language. The kids stand there and give the woman the "What's your problem and who are you?" look. The kids and I continue to chat for another minute, and the woman leaves. The kids stick around until the train comes. As I get on they all shout "bye, bye" and wave to me until the train leaves the station. I wave back, and make sure that the last thing they see is Manta waving to them with his fin. One of the high school girls behind me says "How cute". "Yeah," I tell her "I love being a teacher."