I have a lot of updating to do and I think that would be best done in medium size installments as opposed to one GIANT entry that you would probably stop reading half way through due to its sheer length.
To start off my series of entries I will share my very busy Saturday. In summary, I participated in my elementary school’s sports festival (運動会・undou kai) and my Jr. high school’s sports festival （体育祭・taiiku sai）. Unfortunately, both of these events were on the same day. So, instead of going to just one of them, I opted to spend a half day at each so that my new students could see that I am more than just the funny/amusing foreigner that stands in front of their class once a week.
Now, this ended up causing a ridiculous amount of stress/confusion for my. Personally, we (being the ALTs) are all under the impression that he/the institute we work for does not want us to participate actively in our schools and would rather us just go to school, to whatever it is we do in the classroom, and then go home. I think this is utterly ridiculous. How the hell are we supposed to encourage cultural exchange if we just read word cards and from the textbook at Jr. high school? In elementary school, there is more opportunity for culture exchange as we are more of the main teacher…but just being the funny foreigner in the front of the classroom is not enough. I explained all this to my boss over the phone when he told me : It would be easier if Kyasarin-san did not attend the sports days.
To be fair, he was very concerned with how it would affect my work schedule. See, our ALT schedule is set that we go to certain schools are certain days during the week. Since the teachers and students had to go to school on a Saturday (something that is usually reserved for just club activities), the entire school gets to take a different day off. The day for the Jr. high school is next Monday (the 28th) and the elementary school is tomorrow (a Friday). Since I do not go to elementary school on Fridays, I would have to take off a different day of work when I did go to the elementary school – something my boss was very not happy about. Since I intended on taking only a half day at each school, that full day off would then become a half day of vacation – I think you can imagine how confusing my boss was trying to make this. I thought the entire conversation was silly as I was already planning on taking a Thursday (an elementary school day) and a Friday off (a Jr. high school day), therefore making the notion of me taking anymore days off and “taking away from the students valuable English experiences” utterly ridiculous as I could just use those two already intended vacation days for the two half days I needed to take (I hope that makes some sense to you guys). Anyway, when I brought this idea up with my boss, he was “unsure” if that would be OK (aka, he did not like it) but my schools’ principals thought the idea was brilliant. Cue my boss then also thinking the idea was brilliant.
OK, with that out of the way, onto the topic at hand. Unfortunately for my new readers, I will not be going into a lot of detail as to how each day was laid out. However, I have already done that previously here, so I will link you to that. My other elementary school (月越学校) had their sports festival back in June, so I have the full summary and break down of the day complete with pictures for you to check out. It should be noted that each school has its own traditions as to what is done at each sports festival, so the one I went to last Saturday was not 100% the same as the one I linked you to.
At my new elementary school (川越第一小学校) they took a much different approach to having me at the event. My other schools usually just ask me to sit back, take pictures, and cheer on the kids (although, at my previous Jr. high school I did dance soran bushi with the girls and ran the anchor in the all school relay), but this school really wanted to put me to work – in a good way. To start things off, I was asked if I would help greet the parents and hand out important documents to the special guests (mostly principals from other schools). This made me miss the students marching in, but at least I did not have to sit through the initial speeches. The highlight of this part of the day was the one overly excited mother came up to me and practically hugged me. She explained that she had never seen a foreign mother at these events and was so happy that I decided to come – this was all in PERFECT English by the way. I felt bad that I had to then explain to her that I was not a mother, but instead the ALT. She then turned bright red and apologized over and over again saying that she was so silly for thinking someone as young as me would be a parent.
Next, I was asked to help judge the various races that would take up a majority of the morning. There were a total of six teachers doing this and we were each paired with a student (there was a rotation for the students). What we had to do was watch each race and see who came in first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth. I was given with the task of seeing who came in sixth each race and it ended up being a lot more difficult than I expected. Still, I managed not to make any mistakes as far as the students were concerned. A lot of parents and those special guests took interest in me and apparently asked a lot of questions about me to the principal and vice principal – apparently, no previous ALT had shown up to these events, so they were unsure as to who I was.
After the races were over, there was nothing else they needed me to do and told me to just cheer on the kids and spend time with them. I then spent the rest of the morning walking around and taking pictures of the kids in their cheering sections and of the various dances. The kids were all really excited to see me and were more than happy to pose for picture after picture. Even the kids who hadn’t had class with me yet were calling out my name and asking me to take pictures of them. One first grade girl even ran up to me, took my hand, and said “Kyasarin-sensei!” before taking me over to where she was sitting with her classmates.
After the morning activities were done, I ate lunch with the teachers in the teachers’ room. I had to eat kind of quickly because I was expected over at the Jr. high school around 1 pm and everything had ended at the elementary school at noon and I was facing a 30 minute bike ride.
When I arrived at the Jr. high, I kind of wished that I had decided to stay at the elementary school for the full day instead of doing half and half. The students were not really excited to see me. In fact, a lot of kids could not even remember my name. The principal, vice principal, and one of the teachers I work with were really excited to see me and told me to just enjoy the events. The only events left of the day was the jump roping contest between classes and the relay races done by each class and then the entire school. To finish things off, all the boy showed their manliness by doing various acrobatic techniques while being shirtless – first time for me seeing about 200 Jr. high school boys half naked.
I felt pretty tired at the end of the day between being overly active at the elementary school and the two 30 minute bike rides, but it was all in all a fun day. I then spent the evening going out with the elementary school teachers to a nice Japanese style restaurant where we all ate a ridiculous amount of sashimi, tempura, and crab while drinking and having good conversation all around. I was asked to give a speech about my impression of the day and I ended up talking for a decent amount of time – I would call it more rambling than anything really. I talked about how this was not the first time I had been to an undou kai, but it was the first time that I had been asked to actively participate in. I also talked about how the Jr. high school kids did not seem to really care that I had come all the way to cheer them on, whereas even the 1st graders at the elementary school were excited to see me and actually greeted me with warm smiles (I think I literally did say the warm smile thing). I also talked about how I am not really sure what it means to be an ALT – especially since our job has been changing a lot due to the introduction of 英語ノート – but that I did not think an ALT was someone who just came to a school and was the “funny foreigner in the front of the classroom,” but should be more than that. I do not really remember the details of everything I said, but apparently it was enough to make a few teachers cry and for me to get a semi-standing ovation. After food and drinks, we then went out for some karaoke. Around midnight, we decided to call it a night.
And that’s that.
Coming soon will be day one (maybe more) of my trip to Kanazawa with Jun and his family.