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Because I always rave about how incredible my kids are, I’d like to give a few examples of why leaving Japan after just one year of teaching English is such a difficult decision to live with day by day. As you know, I love my kids and everything they do and everything they say. Aside from the obvious fact that the children here are unbiasedly better behaved and mannered, they have such a kind heart and soul towards everyone and everything to an extent that is just unheard of in the United States.
At Hayashida Elementary, one of my elementary schools for the first term, I get to interact with two students who have mental disabilities; they are the only two students with disabilities that I know and get to interact with in all my junior high and elementary schools. I have visited Hayashida elementary school twice now, so the students remember me. I usually teach five classes at the elementary school, with sixth period off to relax. However, to take advantage of the opportunity to be with genki elementary school students, I spend my sixth period attending and interacting with the special-needs students. Typically, grades 1-4 have left school by sixth period, but these students stay behind for another English lesson to practice and reinforce things taught previously. The special-needs teacher and I usually play a game that uses English speaking skills with the students. On my second visit to the elementary school and second time interacting with my students, we completed the class during sixth period, and one of my students grabbed my hand to tell me something. He spoke in Japanese, but my teacher helped me to interpret what he said. Basically, my student said, “An Sensei. I’m so lucky. I’m so lucky that I get to have two English classes every day and to learn English.” My heart melted. The gratitude of this child was overwhelming. Instead of most students dreading the idea of staying after school for more lessons, this child had such gratitude and appreciation for the opportunity to learn.
From another elementary school experience, I was doing an introduction presentation in English about myself and my life. Afterwards, I proceeded to implement games that incorporated what the students were learning at the time. In no shape or form were these games elaborate, but the students had such a blast. Other teachers came to our classroom for the sole purpose of asking us to keep the noise down because of the excitement coming from the students; the volume subsided for a short instant until the excitement overpowered the need to be quiet. After I dismissed the class at the end of the lesson, I was immediately surrounded by more than three quarters of the class. Given that this is elementary school, I towered over the second graders like a giant walking through grass.
The students ran up and surrounded me to give me presents. Most presents were paper origami they made, and others were more creative. My first thought was, “When in the world did you have time to make these because I was teaching the whole damn time.” There was one particular student who did not have anything prepared to give me, so instead, she gave me a bean. Yes, I said that right. She gave me a bean, one that can be planted to make more beans. It was all she had, and she wanted to give it to me as her present. My second thought was, “why does this student have a bean,” but that was beside the point. I felt blessed. After receiving an armful of presents, I carefully walked back to the teachers’ office to drop the presents off before my next class. This happened for all the elementary schools and classes that I have been to, and further, the students also ask for my signature. They ask me to sign anything they have, ranging from folders to pencil cases to plastic protectors. For some of my favorite students, I even draw my signature image of a cactus with a sombrero. Kids love when you draw things, so after Clayton told me about this idea of making up some type of drawing signature, I thought a cactus wearing a sombrero would be appropriate.
I love being at elementary schools. I wouldn’t teach it as a career, but having elementary once a week is just so satisfying. Hearing the excitement in their intonation as they yell “An Sensei” every time they see me never gets old. The pure joy these kids have towards learning and life is something I strive to embody in myself and to see in others. I hope that their excitement continues to be undying and unapologetic throughout their lifetime, grasping at every positive moment of life like it’s their last.