Teaching Reina’s classes has been an equally dismal experience. Most of her students have been so reluctant to speak up they've made me feel as if I am trying to rip the molars out of their jaws rather than merely chat them up. Some of the students refuse to even offer a nod, let alone a “yes” or a “no”, whenever I ask them even the simplest of questions.
It was infuriating at first. With so much bad blood lingering between Reina and myself, I didn’t put it beyond her to have sabotaged the classes by telling the kids to give me a hard time.
One of the “better” classes goes like this: after fifteen minutes of what can generously be called “free conversation” to loosen the buggers up, we move on to an exercise in the text that covers weekend activities. I set the text up before having them read it by drawing the kids' dissipating attention to the picture at the top of the page. I then ask them what they think is going on in the picture.
They have no idea.
I suggest that they make simple comments about what they see. Naturally, no one volunteers. I point to one of the boys in the classroom. He twists his head to the side, sucks air through his teeth, then tells me he doesn't understand. In Japanese, of course: “Sah, wakaran.”
When that doesn’t work, I have them read through the conversation after which I ask them a few simple comprehension questions. The more general questions are met with blank, somewhat frightened looks, so I give up and ask safe “yes” and “no” questions. Finally, I round up the exercise by expanding the key phrases and so on. Once we’ve gotten through all that, I turn to a bone thin, calcium white seventeen-year-old.
“So Eri, tell me everything you can about last weekend . . . What did you do? Where did you go? Who did you spend it with? Anything, tell me anything you like!” I'm hesitant to overload the poor girl with too many questions as it often causes the more timid of students to freeze up, to withdraw within themselves, like a doe awash in the glow of the headlights of an on-coming 18-wheeler.
Eri looks up slowly from the table with those deep-set, nervous eyes of hers and, not quite stating, more like probing with a cane in the dark, replies, “I . . . I . . . didn't . . . do . . . anything?”
“C'mon. You weren’t in a coma, were you? Ha-ha-ha.” The joke smacks flatly up against a cold wall of silence. “So tell me, Eri, when did you wake up? What did you eat for breakfast? What did you do after you ate it?”
The machinery in her head creaks, rusting cogs ache into worn grooves, and with a slow jerking motion the wheels begin to inch forward: “I woke . . . up . . . at . . . nine-thirty . . . and . . . took a shower?”
“Yes, yes, and then?”
“I . . . ate . . . breakfast . . . I had rice and miso soup and rice for breakfast . . . then I studied?”
“Ah, never mind that.”
“Yeah, never mind that either. I was joking. Jokku.”
“Don’ mindoh? Jokku?”
“Yes, yes, jokku. I was joking.” Things can get out of hand if you let them get caught up on one thing. Best to keep moving: “So, what did you study? What did you study?”
“I . . . studied . . . English . . . for two hours?” she continues with excruciating slowness. But, hey, she's burning up the minutes here, like a big Chevy Suburban lumbering along at 6 miles to the gallon. Atta go, girl!
With all the effort I can muster I suppress a yawn, then turn to Tsuyoshi, a rather bright high school boy who speaks relatively good English, and ask, “And, what did you do?”
“I woke up at two, ate lunch, slept again. Woke up again, had dinner, took a bath, then went to bed.”
Ladies and gentlemen, I present you the future of Japan.
© Aonghas Crowe, 2011. All rights reserved. No unauthorized duplication of any kind.
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
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