Goodbye, Kaoru!

16/07/2013

So far, I, a number of young children and almost young teachers of Koriyama City, Fukushima Prefecture have endured rather a lot of goodbye ceremonies for yours truly. And we’re only half way there! Three more schools in three more days, and then that’s it: I become a was-teacher. Two years ago, I thought that my teaching at six schools – some of which are very large – would disable me from knowing many of my students well. Two years later, I wave off to each of them with an equally heavy, elated heart: elated that I was able to see inside the walls, even if only briefly, and to learn what makes young children willingly open up to their own learning; heavy because now, when I have finally gotten to know them all so well – to what they respond, their idiosyncrasies, their learning styles – I’m buggering off. And today, at Kaoru Elementary School, I received the warmest send off anyone could ask for.

It was at Kaoru where I experienced giving my first lessons, not only in Japan, but ever. The rather flummoxing deep end in which my job initially tried to kill me (ho ho ho) was softened by Kaoru. The common attitude which most of the kids showed as I would passed them in the Kaoru corridors was polite and happy, and over our time together they grew less and less reserved. Children at eight years old would comment every few months on how much my Japanese had improved; would thank me for helping them clean their classroom; would ask me if I was married yet; would ask (repetitively) whether I traveled back to the UK everyday after work. The kids who struggled still tried hard in my classroom. They were open to asking me for help after a couple of months, and nowadays double-check anything with me without a second thought. They taught me how to behave during earthquake drills, and how to eat foods I had never seen before. During lunch break they would test my Japanese on random classroom objects, teach me which Shinkansen is the fastest (that was mostly the boys), and draw me in high heels and dresses (that was mostly the girls.) Kaoru was the only school which invited me to enkai (drinking parties with the staff), and included me as a participator at school sports events. The most generous of people, from students to staff.

Today being my last, every class was punctuated with random teachers flying in to take photos, and ambushes in the hallway by entire classes to give me letters of thanks they had composed or to hold out objects upon which they wished to receive my signature. After giving a thank you speech to the school over lunch time whilst sat next to Kocho Sensei (Head Teacher – a very intimidatingly brilliant teacher himself), I headed to the staff room, where suddenly every member of staff was present and lining the four walls of the room. Kocho Sensei asked me for a final aisatsu – a final goodbye – which I managed very poorly due to an obstructive snot flow. They not only handed me a stunning bouquet of flowers, but a bloody yukata, geta and obi. Yes. That’s right. The school bought me a yukata, geta, and obi. Traditional summer festival wear which is not cheap. Not only that, they dressed me in it, right there in the staffroom! And gave me a DVD of instructions with how to dress myself 😉 Shaking hands with the teachers who had taught me how to teach, had struggled to understand my shit Japanese in order for my lessons to actually work, and had encouraged the children to get excited about my lessons, I cried my balls off. Whilst I was leaving the building, all of gonensei and rokunensei (5th and 6th years) suddenly appeared in their PE outfits, and broke into the school song, full of well wishes. I hugged my dearest teachers, and left the school sobbing to the lilting Japanese sayounara.

Had I not been given Kaoru – had I not been assigned as an elementary school teacher at all – could I ever have come to feel such elation over my job? Would I have been given the time and freedom to create lessons which I knew would suit different children’s abilities? Would I have been able to find out what sort of teacher I wanted to be? No, I don’t think so. All of these opportunities and experiences came from been given the schools I love, and from what was at first the most challenging thing I have ever done and what became the best thing I have ever done. Thank you (Zephyrus lot and Chloe!) to everyone who helped me plan and prepare for classes when I was panicking in the evenings; thank you to Ben for giving me his lovely school; thank you to the 100 or so teachers I have team-taught with over these past two years, for your patience and guidance; and thank you to the kids who gave me a chance, and let me find my feet.

(After saying goodbye to people, I entered my flat and saw the Basho hat I had brought yesterday for The Mammoth Pilgrimage: I started crying AGAIN! Next to see off is the land of Japan, and the poetry which brought me to it. Epic Last Month!!)

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One Response to “Goodbye, Kaoru!”

  1. Dad Says:

    Stephanie, what cherished memories you are creating! Love Dad xx


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