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Posts Tagged ‘my kids are awesome’

Leaving school was like ripping off a bandaid.  I’ve known about my last day for weeks (technically years) and especially since my last round of classes started, it had been hovering over me, and every time I walked through the halls, I thought about how I’d have to walk through them for the last time sometime soon.  I dreaded leaving – I’m terribly sentimental about goodbyes, and ironically I’m also pretty terrible at doing them.  How can I say goodbye to all these people, people I’ve worked with for two years, people I’ve seen nearly every day since I came to Japan?  How can I just waltz out of the staff room like I do every other afternoon, knowing I might not ever be back there, and if I am, nothing will be the same?   I am emotionally exhausted.  When I woke up this morning I knew it was my last day, but I dragged myself out of bed at the usual time…got ready in the usual haphazard way…I knew it’s the last time I’d been pedaling up that hill at 7:45 in the morning, but nothing was different or special.  The morning at school wasn’t different either – I wiped down my desk, organized things for my predecessor, threw out my lime green chucks that were my indoor shoes for two years, and gave out a few last presents.  Suddenly it was 11:30 and the principal was announcing that today was Heke’s last day over the loudspeaker – that I wouldn’t be coming to school anymore, and that anyone who wanted to say goodbye to please line up at the the school entrance.  I rushed to fill my bag and say goodbye to a few teachers and dashed out to the genkan – my last walk through the hallway happened so fast I hardly noticed – and thereeveryone was lined up and waiting for me – teachers and students both.  They clapped, yelled at me to do my best, come back to Japan, not forget them, we shook hands and waved and gave high fives, different from the other day because now it was really goodbye.  I cried and said thank you a thousand times, stumbled to my bike and cried all the way home.  A few teachers took me out for lunch later – the head of my grade, the science teacher whose kid I teach in elementary, one of my JTEs and the gym teacher who cried when we said goodbye at school.  We had a big lunch and talked about grad school and economy class syndrome and how long summer vacations are in the States.  They didn’t have to do that at all.

Just like they didn’t have to throw me a 送別会 – the kind of goodbye party my principal said even people who work at the same school for 6 years (something like that is the cap on how long you can teach at one school, at least in Shiso) rarely get.

I got yakiniku and presents, everyone shared a memory they had with me, and I felt amazing.  We went out to karaoke after and everyone sang a goodbye-themed song for me, I sang the only enka song I know.  I’m pretty skeptical most of the time about my effect on peoples lives – ALT is a replaceable position, we come and go and look the same, speak a strange foreign tongue and sometimes whimper out some intelligible Japanese.  Other than the JTEs and the vice principal, no one really has to talk to you.  In a lot of schools, no one else does.  To have a going away party for an ALT when I’m the only one leaving, in the middle of the Japanese school year, is an incredible honor and a gift.  I think part of it is a testament to the amazing people I’ve gotten to work with, who are caring and interested and open.  Who don’t mind the language barrier and the culture barrier, who don’t mind that I sound like an impaired 5 year old when I talk, who take an interest in me even though we don’t like the same foods and I can’t do sports.  But at that party was the first time I thought, maybe part of this is me too – maybe, just a real little bit I’m the kind of person worth getting to know.  Generally my self esteem rests upon my exaggerated sense of self-importance and intractable belief that the whole solar system actually does revolve around me, so I just assume that at least I know how freakin’ rad I am and no one else does but that’s not my problem.  But to feel like..these people like me (they really like me!) even though I barely speak their language and I’m cripplingly shy and awkward…that was also an incredible gift.  It’s hard to put into words and I can’t really thank them for it, but I’ll always be thankful for that.

Saying goodbye to two years of work, to my coworkers, to my kids this afternoon – it hit me.  When I walked down out the entrance for the last time, when I turned the corner and their little waving hands and smiley/teary faces disappeared, it was just like BAM.  This is over.  And it’s hard because I don’t have regrets.  I wouldn’t stay even if I could.  I want to be home.  I don’t feel like I need more time.  I’m not even mad that someone will replace me in just a few days.  I can’t be upset about something….I’m just upset, I’m sad in the realest, purest way.  I’m just sad, because it’s sad to leave a place where love is.

What else can you say, I guess.  Just…pass the tissues, wouldja?

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Leaving is incredibly difficult.  Not like I’ve never left things before – high school, college, my childhood home – but leaving here is unlike anything I’ve really experienced before.  Every day here has been an adventure, and this foreign land somehow became my home.  But it’s a home that takes upwards of 20 hours to travel to from where I am in the states, it’s a home in the middle of nowhere in central Japan, a home that I don’t know if I’ll ever come back to.  And like that stepping in the river saying, even if I do come back things will never be the same.  Teachers get moved around, my kids will grow up and graduate, ALTs will switch out, all before I can even imagine affording a ticket back here again.  I loved my job and hated it, I adored my kids sometimes, wanted to smack them at others, I’ve been both ignored and praised by my fellow teachers, I’ve proudly understood everything that was going on, and I’ve stood around in slack-jawed stupor completely clueless.  I’ve spent two years loving Japan, and two years aching to leave.  This makes it not only incredibly difficult to write about, but also to sort out even within myself.  I couldn’t write about it because I couldn’t get it straight – every time I thought about how I couldn’t wait to leave I would immediately think of why I wanted more than anything to stay.  Every time I thought about how nice it would be stay, I couldn’t bear not leaving immediately because I want so badly to be back home.  Anyway, I have finally come to accept that that’s just how it is.  Japan was an awesome experience.  Teaching here was unlike anything I’ve done before.  I’ve learned a lot, I grew a lot.  I tried my best and I did a good job.  And, I have lots to look forward to about going home.  Finally being with my darling, a new house, a new state.  I have a new life to start, a sorta-kinda grownuppy one.  I’m starting to think about my future, my career, my education, I’m taking on responsibilities I never had before, I’m living with my partner and all that entails.  I’m going back to the land of mac & cheese and driving and American TV.  I can’t wait to be back there, even when I feel like I don’t want to leave.
Today we had our お別れ会 or goodbye assembly for me.  One of my fav 3rd years said a short speech for me in English (it was so great!) and they gave me a present.  The principal said all kind of nice things about me, that I was an amazing ALT, that they want me to stay, that I was great at elementary and JHS, that I cried at all my last days and that I’d probably cry again, which I did when I gave my speech.  I was so worried about crying and not being able to speak, that I started shaking so bad I could hardly stand and it looked like I had some awful medical condition while squawking out some really offensively bad Japanese.  I’m sure it was quite a sight.  But here’s my speech, in case you’re curious – I ended up just reading the Japanese because of time restrains, but the first thank you and the I love you at the end I said in English.  I’m sure there are mistakes but please ignore them :)

Thank you for everything.

今まで、ありがとうございました。

These two years have gone by so quickly.  I feel like it’s just yesterday that I had my first class with you, and now on the 27th I am going back to America.

この二年間がとても早く感じました。もう27日にアメリカに帰るけど、日本に来て最初の授業をしたのは昨日だったように感じています。

Did you enjoy your classes with me?  I hope so.  Everyday, I had fun teaching and speaking English with you.  When I was tired or sad, if someone said “Good morning!” to me in English it made my day so much better.  I’m so happy I got to meet everyone here. You, my students, are my favorite thing about Japan.  You made me happy to be here.  I  only wish I could stay longer and talk about more things with you.

ヒッキーとの授業は楽しかったでしょうか?私は毎日教室で皆さんと英語を話すのはすごく楽しかったです。つかれている時や悲しいことがあった時に英語で「Good morning!」と言われたら、すぐに元気が出て、うれしくなりました。 東中の生徒に出会えたのは日本に来てから一番よかったことだと本当に思っています。授業中皆さんと話すとき、「日本に来てよかったな」と何回も考えていました。もっと一緒にいたいほしいです。

I was also able to teach with many talented teachers: Ms. Miki, Ms. Doi, Mr. Hiroishi, Ms. Kuroda, and Mr. Sugiyama.  I really enjoyed working with you.  Even teachers I didn’t teach with talked to me a lot, and I’m glad we met each other.  The principal, vice principal, everyone has helped me out so many times, I can’t say thank you enough.

それに、たくさんのすばらしい先生と授業をできました。三木先生、土井先生、ひろいし先生、黒田先生、杉山先生と協力してもらい一緒に英語を教えました。 毎日楽しかったです。英語以外の先生方も、何回も話かけてくれてありがとうございました。そんな会話をできてすごくうれしかったです。校長先生、教頭先生、すべての先生方に何回も助けていただきました。ありがとうございました。「ありがとう」を何百回を言っても足りません。

Now that I’m leaving, there’s one thing I want you to remember.  If you don’t remember a single word I taught you in English, that’s okay.  But I hope that during our classes, you felt like English is fun, that you can enjoy it, and that it is a way to communicate with people all over the world.  If you felt that even once, I think I have done my work as an ALT at Higashi.

そろそろ帰らないといけないけど、覚えていてほしい事が一つあります。もし英語の言葉を一個も覚えなくても、一回でも「英語が楽しいなぁ」とか、「外国人とコミュニケーションできた!」とかを感じてたら、それを覚えておいてください。その思い、その感じを大事にしてください。そこから英語の勉強が始められるんです。皆さんが英語の楽しさを一回でも感じられたら、私がちゃんとALTとして、仕事できたと思います。

I know English is very hard, and you will probably always make mistakes.  I make mistakes in Japanese all the time and my pronunciation isn’t very good.  But don’t worry about that.  I just want you to think that English is fun, and to never give up. I know you can speak English.  Keep trying, and enjoy speaking.  I believe in you.

英語は難しいとよく分かります。間違うのは当たり前のことですよ。私も日本語でいっぱい間違って、発音もそんなによくないんです。でもその間違いを心配しないでください。あきらめずに英語を楽しんで習ってほしいです。英語を話せるよ。自分を信じて、頑張ってください。皆さんの事を私が信じているから。

When I go back to America I will try to go to graduate school to become a professor.  But even then I will never forget you, because you were my first students and you taught me so much about Japan and about teaching.  I will never forget that. So even when the next ALT comes, or the ALT after that, please don’t forget me.  I’ll see you in America some day.  Please take the enjoyment of English with you and make your futures beautiful.

アメリカに帰ったら、大学院に入って、大学で言語の先生になりたいと思っています。でもその何年後の時も、皆さんの事を忘れません。君たちは私の最初の生徒で、日本について、教室について、たくさんたくさんのことを教えてくれました。それを一生忘れません。だから、次のALTが来ても、次の次のALTが来ても、私の事を忘れないでください。アメリカで会いましょうね。英語を楽しんで、すばらしい未来 に向かって、頑張ってください。

I love you very much.  Thank you and goodbye.

Then we all took a picture together, and then they formed a 花道 – a human tunnel thingie and I got to shake hands or high five all my kids, and some boys even insisted on fist bumps.  It was really sweet – of course after that I completely lost it.  A bunch of teachers complemented me afterwards on my Japanese and said they thought it was really special what I wrote, and said I did a really good job.  That made me feel really good.  I’m still a little shell-shocked by the whole thing, but it was great and made me feel loved.  This is a great school.

But now, it’s really over.  I’m not really a teacher anymore.  I’ll be finishing out the week, cleaning up my desk and probably checking out after lunch everyday, but all my responsibilities are finished.  Tonight we’re having a 送別会 – goodbye party (just for me!!) and after that I’ll have officially said goodbye to everyone here.  It’s done.

I don’t have much to do now but attend almost daily goodbye dinners and say goodbye to the boys of Taj this weekend.  A few more boxes to pack, two suitcases to load up, plenty of cleaning and organizing for my successor, and that’s that.  I leave next Tuesday – a week from today.

And you know what?  I’m ready.

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I had brand new students today – something that hasn’t happened in a long time.   Of course I’ve spent 2 Aprils here, which means two new classes of first graders in elementary after the initial newness of arriving – but they’re pretty predictable, the first graders.  Start from scratch.  But at my one school I only teach 5th and 6th graders, because there are two classes each and that’s what they want me to do – so today I had a brand new batch of 5th graders and I felt a similar panic to the one I used to feel every day when I first got here.  What is more opposite to teaching than not knowing what the fuck is going on?  Okay, maybe those two are actually more closely related than you would think – but really not knowing your students, not understanding their level of experience, understanding or skill, not knowing where to start – that’s terrifying.  My 6th grade classes went just peachy – they’re a great group of outgoing and enthusiastic kids and I love teaching them because they can get into anything and make it fun for everyone, I remember that from last year.  But 5th grade was such a surprise.

My first class was darling – kids who had only gotten to talk to me on the playground were finally having class with me, and they were excited.  In particular, one kid was amazing – he could translate almost everything I said.  Not because he’d spent his childhood in cram school, not because he knew the grammar, or I think even because he was particularly smart.  He was just open.  It was beautiful and refreshing to see that.  I think language acquisition theory has a lot of problems with what the magic ingredient is that makes language learning effective – motivation? disposition? potential?  Way more credible people than me are arguing about this all the time and I don’t have much worthwhile to say about it, but this kid was just the image of a perfect language learner.  He was energetic, he was willing to talk – in Japanese more than English granted, but still – he had a sense of humor.  He was attentive, not just to my words, but to my actions, my gestures, my facial expressions, but also to the sound of what I was saying, he spoke loudly and confidently,  he was like the model of intake-output, it was amazing.  I have some very smart, good students – ones who have been studying forever.  Ones who have one foreign parent.  Ones who can break out an l & r difference in pronunciation that would make you cry.  And those kids work hard and I adore them for that and the seriousness and commitment to language that they bring to my classes.  But man, if I could put this one kid in a glass case and tote him to every class I have ever taught, I would in a second.  Cos when someone gets it, inexplicably, when I explain a game and someone can say it back in Japanese just by watching me jump around and babble in another language – that’s an inspiration.  Even for the kids, like “I could do that too.”  And it makes class easier for me, it breaks the barrier between me as a foreigner of a foreign tongue and them as young kids in rural Japan.  Damn, all I can say is props to that kid.

My next 5th grade class? NOTHING. I said hello.  A few “harroo”s came spattering back, completely void of confidence or self-assurance.  I say, “My name is Heke,” and hold my hand over my heart, point at myself, repeat, and then ask them, in Japanese, to tell me what I’m saying in Japanese.  I figure, start slow and I can pick it up once I know about where they are.  After another 5 very exaggerated MY NAME IS HEKE POINT POINT POINT I finally got one to tell me what it means – and they all know my name is Heke beforehand, so already this is not looking good.  I drag them through an elongated torture session about “Hello” “My name is ___” “Nice to meet you.” (Let’s not even get into “Nice to meet you, too,” alright?) where I make them talk to me and then give them presents.  This went so well last time, but no one is volunteering and they look terrified.  I finally give it a rest and move onto “How are you?” I pantomimed the shit out of that question. How are you? (GIGANTIC SHOULDER RAISE PLUS INQUISITIVE FACE) – hop to phantom person spot – (EXTREMELY JOYFUL AND OVERWHELMED WITH GLEE FACE) “I’m happy!” again – How are you? (jump) (just found out your arch enemy has killed a flock of kittens and hidden them in your bedsheets face) “I’m sad!”  Again.  How are you? (jump) (clutching stomach, staring out into the world, cursing god, wishing for a hamburger, nay, cheeseburger, NAY, double quarter pounder with cheese SUPERSIZED, pleeease) “I’m hungry!”  No dice.  It takes about 6 of these for one kid to finally squeak it out in Japanese at which point I was exhausted. The rest of the class continued in mediocrity as I was now exhausted from being the Johnny Weir of English language instruction (is that joke old? Don’t judge me.) These kids aren’t stupid – I’m sure most of them knew what I was teaching before I taught it.  But they were scared, embarrassed, they didn’t want to be wrong or make mistakes.  There are always kids like that, but usually there are enough that aren’t to pull the class along…not in this one though.  It’s amazing how different the atmosphere was.

Now that I’ve gotten used to the levels of most of my schools and the personalities in most of the grades, I kind of forgot how distinct they were.  Of course things that work in one elementary won’t always work in another, because some have English classes without me and some don’t, some classes are chock full of kids with attention problems who are way too enthusiastic, others with kids who are scared to speak up – but it all makes sense, it’s locked up in some part of my brain somewhere when I plan lessons.  But to rediscover that (and how much compensating I do for the differences between classes/schools without even realizing it) was a shock.  But now I know for next time, which class to nurture and which to push forward, and I’m sure things will go just swimmingly now that I’ve got it figured out.  It’s a lot of work, but when you think about it, it’s pretty cool.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

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love connection!!

My little kids are getting all grown up!  We played a game today where kids are randomly picked to ask each other questions, and so as a joke I put on a few silly ones like “Do you have a boyfriend?” “Where is the toilet?” and “Do you like me?” and they can ask whatever they like — and for the very last question it was a boy and a girl (these kids would be about 7th graders in the States) and after some squealing/giggling/prompting from friends she asked him “…Do you like me?” and he answered: “Yes, I do.”  (To the sighing and applause of the rest of the class.)

GRAMMATICALLY CORRECT LOVE CONNECTION FTW.

My classes are officially a hotbed of happy feelings.  Mission accomplished. ♥

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OMG!!  I had such a wonderful moment today.  I was helping some kids after school who had flunked their final English tests, and since their attention span for English is about 7 and a half minutes long, I’d take little breaks in between and make a joke or do something stupid so that they could keep concentrating.  So we were talking about Pokemon, and I said had a DS (which I sadly almost never use) and they were like do you like Pokemon, and I was saying how my little brother liked it a lot (hi Sean!!) and then he asked about some other game – and I said I dunno, I basically only play Hamtaro. He was like Hamtaro!!?? so I prepared myself for the mockery – then he was like me too!!! so I was like ラブラブのやつ??and he’s like yeah!! I’m like OMGGGGGG!! Hamtaro’s Ham-ham Heartbreak is the only videogame I’ve ever completed.  It’s my favorite ever and I’ve never met anyone else who has played it, or who hasn’t made fun of me for it.  I’m so happy!  This kid is now my Hamtaro friend for all time.

Other fun times include some kid accidentally saying in English, “She is a toilet.” But other kids noticed the mistake and *knew what it meant* so we all had a lol and they proceeded to put it into other sentences like “You are a toilet” “This is a toilet” “I have a toilet” “Do you have a toilet in your bag?” — it’s completely juvenile (see previous entry for confirmation that of course I found this hilarious) but also sooo linguistically fabulous and amazing.  These kids are at the bottom of their class, and I know a lot of them feel like English is impossible for them.  But for them to take an idea, and actually plug it into other grammatical structures, that the sentences are correct *AND* they know what they mean — that is an incredible accomplishment and I was soo proud of them.  That is language learning happening.  I’m so happy.

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poop boy

Way back at the beginning of the year I made my kids do name poems, you know like this:

H – as very little nice to say, so doesn’t say much, but

E – njoys looking at small cuddly animals so much that she

K – eeps trash in her house cos she’s too lazy to take it out and

E – ats when sad, thus weight gain since Japan.

though theirs looked more like this:

H – appy

E – nglish

K – ettle

E – verlasting

aka for the large part they make absolutely no sense cos the kids just picked random words out of the dictionary — anyway basically they’re hilarious. They decorate the walls in “my” classroom.  So this one kid’s is “Y-oung U-ncommon boy I- like icecream!!!” and so the girls I was cleaning with today were looking at it and snickering, and I guess they were trying to figure out what “Uncommon” meant – but they sounded it out (I’m so proud of them!!) and came out with unko. Then, unko-boy.  Yep, that means poop-boy.  So then they giggled and were like that’s what it has to mean hahaha why would he write poop boy and then I rained on their parade and told them what uncommon meant and then they were like ahahaha uncommon unko boy and I was like…I wish I were as happy as children are.  They think everything is funny.

Actually who am I kidding I make those kinds of jokes all the time.

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graduation

Time to write about graduation.  Elementary, middle, and I assume high schools are on the trimester system and the school year starts in April – which means graduation is in March.  This is my second graduation at Higashi, and also my last.

Last year, I was surprised how little the kids practiced before the day of graduation.  How can they remember when to stand and sit, where to go, how to sing that song unless they practice?  This year, less green and more impatient, I now wonder why we have to spend the better part of four days practicing for an event that clocked in at under two hours and is basically the exact same thing that they do for any other ceremony except this time they’re in metal fold up chairs.  I guess after 9 years of remembering where to stand in line, when and how to sit, essentially where to breathe as dictated by their homeroom teachers, it pretty much is second nature. So why are we spending hours of every day freezing in the gym??? This is my attitude in the second year of the JET program.  No longer wide eyed and gushing with respect and curiosity, I now spend my time at the back of the gym with my arms crossed, rolling my eyes and thinking about Lost. (Dr.Linus omfgggg!!!!!)

When the big day finally came I showed up in my freshly pressed (that’s an exaggeration) skirt suit that really doesn’t exactly match, with black stockings that also don’t really match but I feel like skin colored tights make it too sexy and I don’t want to be inappro.  I still feel slightly under-dressed, as one of the teachers is in all-out kimono and others have plastic corsages the size of small animals pinned to their blouses, and I forgot about that from last year.  But we went to take a teacher picture (since we got ourselves a new staff member whose job I think is to work almost exclusively with all the kids who won’t come to school because they get bullied/are losers – they wanted her in the teacher picture so we had to retake it.) which I noticed was much more of a clusterfuck than student class pictures ever were.  Those little angels line up and smile and it takes a whole 30 seconds to get them up and then off the risers.  But take about 20 middle school teachers and its like awkward shufflefest.  Also the photographer dragged mud onto the red carpet that the kids walked down, and everyone cursed him silently.

The ceremony itself was nice – there were only 80 kids in the graduating class, which is 30 less than last year, so it was great that the “diploma” grabbing and bowing didn’t take as long as it could have.  Just as last year, I got the bizarre sensation of being at a graduation that wasn’t mine.  Before last year I’d never really been to a graduation that wasn’t my own — and the sensation of being there for kids, not as a fellow graduate or even as a family member or supportive friend, but as a teacher, as a permanent part of the landscape from which *they* are stepping out…it’s weird.

I watched some of the most stone-faced “I don’t care bout nothin” kids break down first and start crying – the thing I learned last year is that every graduation is essentially a yearly competition to see how many students/teachers can be reduced to tears during or after the ceremony.  The super-cool, taught-kids-how-to-dance-thriller, always-has a joke class heart-throb was one of the first to start sniffling, followed by the rest of the student council, including one kid who has the most elaborate hairstyle I’ve ever seen on a middle school boy, who forgot to bring a tissue and sat with his head down, dripping tears and snot onto his lap for the better part of an hour.  The girls all smooshed their little cloth hankies into their faces, and even the transfer student – a troublemaker from Osaka – was poking at his eyes with his hands trying not to cry.  Even though I knew these kids for a year and a half, I didn’t cry quite as much as I did last year – I think I was ready for it this time.  But I couldn’t help but smoosh my own hankie into my face when the 3rd years turned around to sing their “As We Set Out on Our Journey” song, and they sang it beautifully the day before, but you could barely hear anything when they sang at graduation, because almost everyone was sobbing.  It was very sweet.

I also cried because for me, this was also my graduation.  It was the last I’ll see here – I can’t imagine when I would ever be able to attend something so intimate and important in Japan again once I move back home.  The kids are stepping out into their new lives, scared but full of hope – and how can I not feel that with them, when in just a few short months I’ll be leaving everything I’ve built here behind?  I said the first of my goodbyes that day – shaking hands with kids that I will in all likelihood never see again.  And I’m only going to have to do another round in April, when teachers are rotated through the schools, and I’ll have to say goodbye to some of my beloved coworkers, who have almost all become like a big extended family to me.  Anyway, more on that when it actually starts happening.

After graduation was my favorite part: DRINKING PARTAAAYYY.  Teachers all go out to celebrate after these kinds of big events – and by ‘go out and celebrate’ I more mean ‘are basically required to attend this function.’ But I love these enkai (work parties) – they give me a chance to talk to people I never would have in the staffroom, and as everyone gets ridiculously drunk, walls go down and everyone gets more comfortable, especially around me because I think a lot of people are kind of scared of me.  I also get the pleasure of really unleashing my Japanese – at school I always feel on the spot when I speak – like I have to prove I can speak Japanese as well as English.  But at these parties other teachers are more concerned about just communicating – which means they break out their adorably awful English, or they give up completely and we conduct everything in Japanese.  But as I think I’ve said before, there’s nothing like sipping a tiny cup of sake or downing some beer, and spitting out some quick reply, or asking a question, or making a joke…..without having to think about the language at all.  It’s really something.

So that’s it, graduation in a nutshell.  I intend to do a big flickr dump soon and then I’ll link to my graduation photos.  Congratulations 3rd years.  Your classes tortured me, your disinterest frustrated me, and your snarkiness infuriated me, but you are a great group of kids and I’m so proud of you. がんばってね and don’t give up on what you want.

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