I’ve been putting off writing for a while, not feeling any inspiration, feeling tired, feeling over or underwhelmed with daily life. I still have to talk about Remington’s visit, my Okinawa trip, my general life here in Saroma. I’ll get there.
Yesterday at Wakasa Elementary, I taught 3rd and 4th graders how to say “What’s this?” I brought a box full of random things from my house to show the students, and asked “What’s this?” for each. I planned to make each object progressively more difficult and weird, so my mystery box contained an old pool ball from 3719 Mason, a stuffed walrus, a sock, a green monkey glove, a Russian militia hat, and my 8-inch tall figurine of Captain Jean-Luc Picard. When I pulled the Captain out of the box, one of the five students instantly yelled “YES WE CAN!” Barack Obama is practically a celebrity here, with this phrase being the hayari kotoba or buzzword of the day. I have students nearly every day saying it at every opportunity. I even helped two junior high students write a skit in which they meet President Obama. It goes something like this:
- A: Hello
- B: Hello
- A: Are you Barack Obama?
- B: Yes, I am.
- A: Oh, cool! Can you play basketball?
- B: Yes, I can.
- A: Great! Let’s play!
- B: OK.
- A: Can you fix America?
- B: Yes, we can.
- A: Can we go eat cheeseburgers?
- B: Yes, we can.
I still can’t figure out why Picard elicited “Yes, we can” from that student. He’s white. He’s wearing a weird uniform. He’s obviously not Barack Obama. But, this is the student who insisted there was a face in one of my Okinawa photos if you turned it sideways and squinted, who is always falling over in his chair. He’s smart. I met him once in an onsen and while I was telling his father about my previous year in Niigata, he asks “Dad, what blood type am I?” (nani gata?). Niigata! (Niigata prefecture).
There was another excellent question from a student yesterday, an elementary 4th grader. Why are Palmer and Saroma sister cities (shimai-toshi) instead of brother cities? (kyoudai-toshi). Good question. I told him it might have something to do with how we personify boats and cars and motorcycles with female names.
At dinner the other night with another ALT, there were some small children playing in the booth across the aisle, and I irreverently said “Oh, kids are so stupid.” While I never really meant that (I just meant that their development is amusing), I wish I could take it back. I’m blown away by some of my young students. Sometimes I’m surprised they care so much about the lesson. I taught shapes and colors to 1st graders last week. I had a lesson plan made, but I ended up spontaneously creating a completely different activity based on the level of student involvement. The lesson evolved into a direction game in which they had to raise their hands, ask for a card of a certain shape and color (“red circle, please!”) then go to the board, and have the other students give them directions (left, right, up down, stop) to place the card in the proper position on the board according to shape and color (circle, triangle, square; red, yellow, blue, green, orange, purple). It was amazing. They topped even the previous time when, after I gave one student a pumpkin flashcard because he said “pumpkin please!”, all of the students started shouting “Me mo! Me mo!” mo [も] means ‘too’ in Japanese. They were essentially creating their own pidgin grammar, completely unaware of themselves, knowing only that they wanted a card with a fruit or vegetable on it.
Children are encouraging. They’re full of hope and promise, their lives are unwritten; even the ones who will probably turn out to be farmers or fisherman like their parents are small little balls of human clay that seem like they could become almost anything. Once society and culture exert their influence, well, things narrow a bit, but increased maturity almost makes up for it. Before middle school, I feel like I matter, like my presence means something. As if, in the words of Captain Jean-Luc Obama, “Yes, we can make it so.”
Or maybe “Yes, we can Engage!”
Or “Yes, we recalibrate the main deflector to emit a isolinear tachyon pulse.”
Kids would probably understand.
Yes, we can baldly go.