Monday, August 23, 2010

On being a teacher

As someone who has always been the taught (referring of course to my status of learning rather than general muscle tone) rather than the teacher, it is interesting to be, after some 17 years happily beached on one side, marooned on the other. Being a teacher, particularly of a subject of which students have very little knowledge, MORE particularly of a subject that they have trouble recognising the daily necessity for, is a whole new life experience. I can recommend it to those in need of a new self view. All modesty goes out the door when you`re turned to a blackboard, sprinkled with pink chalk, attempting to draw a legible diagram explaining the intricacies of indentation, whilst listening to 20 incomprehensible adolescent male voices who might be declaiming anything from a haiku on the finer points of your bottom to words of ridicule. My best experience so far? Being asked by the teacher whom I am currently assisting to explain to the class the precise pronounciation of the word `sausage`. Have you ever said `sausage` thirteen times in a row to a grinning male Japanese audience? A humbling experience. And THEN, the teacher in question not being satisfied with the quality of this learning, going along the aisles, to each student in turn, and saying `sausage` and being replied to, in like kind: `sausage`. An interesting langauge barrier to traverse. And then at the conclusion of the lesson, I went to clean off the board and discovered that the words upon it were `slurp`, `sip` and `sausage`. Nothing like a bit of broken-English soft porn to really spur on adolescent learning.

These forays into the wonders of the English langauge aside, I really do have a new respect for teachers. I`m terrified, daily, and my students ADORE me. They think I`m the most exciting thing since sliced bread (NOT just a terrible cliche, sliced bread really is some kind of novelty here). They stroke my head and take my photo and ask me about my boyfriend and my favourite music. They sprint the full length of corridors just to yell `SCARRETT` and run away. At least three of the girls in my first grade class are now imitating my hairstyle (or perhaps I they, I am very impressionable). Imagine the calamities that must befall the teacher who is not worshipped! Even knowing as I do that in the eyes of these students I can do no wrong, my voice shakes when I speak to them, I review each lesson countless times before I give it, and I question myself (ME! LORD of ALL English!) at the blackboard (how many fucking `l`s DOES travelling have??). It is a heady kind of power, to have this skill that no one else in the class room, not even the teacher whom I am purportedly assisting, has (is interesting when the English teacher bounces into the class - they are not lacking in enthusiasm - at 10.30 and announces, loudly `Good Evening!`). Anyhoo, am settling in, figuring out the kinks of certain teachers and just generally trying to maintain the general demeanour of a young labrador (this, by the way, comes about as easily to me as defecating whilst squatting) (which I now have done) (if you wanted to know).

Another humbling thing in Japan currently is the fact that, try as I might, I continue to not only behave like, but look like, a dog. At 7am it is already 26 degrees. My carefully applied make up melts straight off my face and puddles interestingly at my collarbones. My hair is by turns limp and frizzy and, with the use of harsh Japanese shampoo, is becoming increasingly orange in hue. Careless and lazy eating means that I have probably put on weight, but even if it has not actually happened, it SEEMS as if it has, as I am now XL in the average clothing store and capable of picking up two of my students in each hand. I am a head taller than all of the teachers and the size of my feet is a source of constant shock and awe.

So as my first month in Japan comes to an end, I can say that my ego has, definitively, shrunk. Despite being a goddess among teachers (let us remember that my ego was vastly swollen beforehand) I now question myself with some frequency and avoid the mirrors that thoughtfully adorn the subway doors. This post is fraught with cliches so I`ll not shrink from concluding with another - even though I might be employed as a teacher, it is now that I am truly learning some life lessons.

Say it with me: sausage.

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