My first day as an Eigo no Sensei (that’s Japanese for “Human Tissue and/or Punching Bag, Jungle Gym, Disney-Princess-Come-to-Life”) started in June, at a daycare center.
I remember shortly after arriving, the teacher whom I was replacing, affectionately patted one of the toddlers on the head and said something to the effect of:
“Aw, I’m really going to miss these little bastards.”
I looked from him, to the three year old climbing up his back, to the pile of babies sitting in a puddle of drool at our feet to the zoo of children running, screaming, and wailing from every inch of the room and I felt certain he was lying…or crazy.
Today was my last day of teaching. And as I said goodbye to those same kids, I found myself in tears. And not because the children had pinned me to the carpet, wrestler-style, in a massive toddler/teacher pile up. And not because one of them was trying to brush my hair with a lego.
I cried, because holy crap, I’m really going to miss those kids.
It’s strange, but in many ways, I know my students better than I know most adults here in Japan. I know their favorite sport, animal, food and color. I know what they look like when they’re nervous or angry. I’ve comforted them when they’ve cried. And somehow in the process, I’ve grown very, very fond of them.
But it wasn’t always that way.
Ironically, for my first few months of teaching, I made every effort to remain emotionally- detached.
This is just a job. It doesn’t matter. These children don’t matter.
I attacked my teaching job like an actor attacks a role on Broadway. And I put on one Hell of a spectacular performance; dancing and singing and memorizing students names and personal data like lines of a script. But behind the enthusiastic high-fives and fake smiles, there was a definite disconnect. I was ingenuine and phony and through the cracks of the Fourth Wall I’d so carefully constructed, I think that this peeked through. On some level, the students knew.
But then, over the months, I became more aware of my audience. I stopped seeing them as these faceless blobs of clay that I needed to mold into English speakers, but rather, as individual human beings; kindred spirits. I then dropped the Teacher Role, quit acting, and used that energy to get to know their unique personalities.
One of my favorite students is a two year old named “Go”. He’s got this giant head and spindly little arms and legs and he’s constantly on the ‘go’, full of energy and excitement. I’m always yelling after him “Stop, Go! Stop!” as his enthusiasm for dancing overtakes his little body and he skips excitedly out of the room.
As I was leaving this morning, Go ran up the gate yelling, (like he does every week) “See you next week!” and I had to correct him, “No, it’s ‘See you next time‘. Next time.” But even that was a lie and it broke my heart.
One of the five-year- olds, Aya, stopped me before I left. I crouched down so that I could hear what she had to say and she put her tiny hands on my shoulders and looked me right in the eyes and solemnly whispered, in English: “Everything is okay.”
Tomorrow I will be officially jobless and homeless and alone. I’ll no longer have the comforting safety net of an income or the reassuring familiarity of the smiling, earnest faces of my ‘little buddies’.
Closing a chapter of my life and saying goodbye has always been tough. But facing the endless sea of blank pages of my uncertain future is even harder.
I sure hope Aya is right.
If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!