Scrambled Day


Tuesdays I teach at the elementary schools. Somehow the four schools divide up the Tuesdays and I head to the appropriate school on their day. I think they try to arrange for each class to get the same number of visits per year.

Perhaps because I come so rarely, they often forget to send me a schedule of classes in advance. Usually, when I go to the Board of Education office on the prior Wednesday, I request a fax. One small school has the classes lined up for me the same way each time, so I don’t worry too much about them. Another school, hasn’t worried me before now because they planned out their classes for the whole term in advance; however, sometimes things don’t go as planned…

My lesson plan was all set up for 3rd, 4th, and 6th period classes; a moderately light schedule. I pulled up to a computer to check email and news during first period. Shortly into my activity three cute little third graders poked their heads into the office. Following custom, they commenced with a loud apology for their intrusion, “Shitsurei shimasu!” (失礼します) After that they could address me directly with an, “Onegaishimasu!” (お願いします)

Onegaishimasu can be difficult to translate because it is used in so many situations in Japan. It is a polite word and basically means ‘please give me…’; however, in this circumstance I will translate it (only slightly tongue-in-cheek) as, “Please come share your great knowledge of foreign and mysterious things with our class.” Everything after the ‘please’ had to be inferred by the circumstances and, hence, may be inaccurate. I asked them if they were from the 3rd grade Star class (this school divides grades into Hoshi (星) ‘star’ and Hana (花) ‘flower’, instead of the conventional – yet boring – A and B); to which they replied positively. When I asked another teacher about why the kids would expect me 1st period when my schedule says 3rd period, the teacher pulled out a memo and said, “You teach 3rd star during 3rd period and 5th star during 1st period.”

Having no 5th grade classes on my schedule at all, this launched a further discussion which drew in the Principal. The children were dispatched to bring their teacher for the discussion. She arrived and said, “The 5th grade star teacher asked to switch classes.” This almost settled it for everybody, but I brought up the fact that I had no plan to teach 5th grade; which quickly stirred things up again. Realizing that I was going to burn the kids learning opportunity with this tautology, I made a revolutionary offer: I would teach the 3rd graders during 1st period and return to the office during second period to figure out the 5th grade situation.

During 2nd period we figured out that the 5th grade star class had indeed cancelled a class a month earlier and wanted to make that up. Oddly enough when I was packing my bag at the junior high school on Thursday afternoon, knowing that I would be gone for sick leave and not return to my main desk until Wednesday, I happened to grab one extra file on a whim. This very file contained my master copy of the worksheet for the needed lesson. See someone upstairs is always looking out for me. When I explained my plan to successfully take care of all the students wanting lessons today the Principal was so happy, he grabbed my master and headed for the copy room to run off the sheets for me.

I like it when everything slides together like this. Putting that class off would have been impossible because I will only return one time in February and will probably be booked from 1st period straight through to 6th period.

Another moment of joy! I came into the second graders’ room 4th period to find a giant pastel drawing of me. Four students chose to use their free time honoring me by making this portrait.


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