Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Thursday, March 18, 2010

This Song Is Over

And so it ends...

The 2009-2010 school year at Ye Olde Academy wasn't the toughest for me by any stretch. It probably wasn't even the second toughest. However, it was probably by far the most eventful, for better or for worse.

It started out ominously enough; two of the three grades I was to be teaching were notorious ones with far more than their share of problems. Both had an unusually high percentage of kids that were proud underachievers, mouthy, spoiled thugs for whom class time was play time and naught else, and unfortunately they had enough popularity to have a negative effect on their classmates as a whole. It didn't help my spirits any to find that the new 7th graders were sometimes openly disrespectful; on the very first day several students were more apt to make fun of what their new teachers (especially me, the gaijin) said than listen to it. My own homeroom seemed particularly bad in this regard. The rehearsal for the entrance ceremony was a disaster, and I feared it was just a portent of things to come.

Even so, the death of one of my new students in a freak accident on campus less than three weeks later was something I never could have foreseen. It was hard enough even without all the self-righteous finger pointing and "you should have" speeches coming from people who just didn't have a clue. Then there were all the problems with the boy's sadly dysfunctional family, problems which led to our having to take precautions that seemed horribly out of place in a school like ours in a city like ours. It was like a nightmare that just kept getting worse.

But things got better as the year progressed. The notorious problem grades turned out to be not so bad, at least for me. My classes generally went well. My homeroom in particular seemed to be pulling itself together well after its unfortunate start. There were signs of promise all around.

It was supposed to be an off year for the music club, too, and yet they seemed to make it work. The 11th grade student leaders had their share of problems, to be sure, but they still were able to deliver when they needed to. The rough-edged string and woodwind sections struggled, but the orchestra performances were reasonable. The Flying Eggheads jazz big band came in with a rhythm section that was inexperienced and of questionable competence, and yet the band turned in among our best showings both on and off campus. To top it all off, the concert band, usually our weakest and least utilized element, managed to take #1 in the prefecture in the All-Japan Band Contest (and an upper-middle rank in the Kanto Region Championship).

The July visit by just under two dozen students from our sister-school in Australia was without a doubt the smoothest to date, and my 9th grade students responded to them very favorably. All in all, things were looking very positive.

Then, with the coming of the second semester, things started falling apart. It seemed that, in all the grades I taught, the good students were doing fantastically well while the weaker ones were simply giving up. I didn't have any of the totally out-of-control classes I've had to deal with on occasion in the past, thank God, but I did have classes that were pretty much post mortem. My upper-level 11th grade class did phenomenally well on a very tough course and brutal final exam, but my middle-level one finished the year unable to figure out that the sentence, "I like both," means that the speaker likes both. In my 9th grade classes, the upper-level students put so much effort into their English speech presentations that it was almost too good, and it took a long time for all of them to finish (not that I minded). The lower-level students, on the other hand, were probably the worst I'd ever seen, to the point that a significant percentage couldn't even read their own speeches, let alone manage the obligatory visuals, gestures, or eye contact. And as for my 7th grade students, a record high number scored over 90% on my final exam, and yet the combined class average wasn't very high on account of the sad number of students that aren't even trying to comprehend the basics. Overall, it seemed that a lot of students were doing extremely well, but their promising spark was being overshadowed by the ones that seem to take pride in being hopeless. There were also increased problems of bullying and truancy all around, not to mention faculty in-fighting. Things weren't looking good at all after winter vacation.

And yet there were still unexpected bright spots. As my homeroom was preparing for the junior high class choral contest in November, I angrily washed my hands of the whole thing in response to the kids' openly disrespectful attitude toward me only to have almost the entire class come to my office en masse, apologize, and ask for my help. I worked with them as best I could in the little time we had left, and even though the music teacher had said my class was one of the most hopeless, we still managed to come away with an award (second place overall out of ten classes). The kids certainly did a lot of growing up.

Nevertheless, we still ended the year on a less than bright note. Although I can't discuss the details, I'll say that something happened that brought up the issue of the dead student again. After all these months, it wound up causing an unexpected, complicated situation that led to conflict, an apology, and an unexpected confession. Hopefully the matter can now finally be laid to rest. The kids certainly learned a lot of very harsh lessons. I only hope for all our sakes that they remember.

I'm told that next year's 11th and 9th grade classes are very easy to work with and thus should be a cake walk. With the new 7th graders, however, we're having to deal with an entirely new situation, and it's anyone's guess how it's going to end up. Couple that with some new complications thrown at us by the government, and we find ourselves on totally uncertain ground. There's never a dull moment at Ye Olde Academy, even if I do seem to be repeating the same work routine year after year.

Now I just hope the music club's Big Regular Concert in two weeks goes well.


  • Nationwide average of American students successfully graduating, 70%.

    Blame for poor behavior must ultimately rest with the parents. There must be inner discipline. In the US, it is always fair to blame the teachers. Congress passed a massive program called "no child left behind." It didn't work. All the teachers hate it. If it were up to me, I would defund and disband the Department of Education at the federal level and let the states manage their own programs.

    As far as the kid who died from busting his noggin, how long before all students are required to wear helmets?

    By Anonymous Dave, at 11:23 PM  

  • One adventure ends and soon another begins. I hope that death is not part of the story again for as long as you teach.

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 11:28 PM  

  • When I look back on my university days, I am shocked by the number of tragedies - some close to me - that occurred in that short period of time. It seemed that by comparison, you had it "made in the shade" even with the gaijin teacher cloud over your head. But no, you get hit with some big waves.

    Somehow, I know you'll persevere - if moodily. ;^)

    WV: tonesst - the wind player with the best tone.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 9:11 PM  

  • Moody-Strange year with even stranger happenings..for you as well as us. So sad about the student and I certainly extend heartfelt condolences to everyone affected. We've gotten through the Ides of March, so hoping this next year will hold no such surprises. My wish for you and yours: Be Happy and Be Well!

    By Blogger ladybug, at 2:00 AM  

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