Posts Tagged ‘school’

Much to My Chagrin

2012年 9月 6日

Every March, when the school year comes to a close, it is common to receive trophies, letters, or other presentations from the students. Sometimes spontaneous movement of the children’s hearts prompts it. Other times, teachers assign it to get pupils to unwittingly practice their language arts skills. Regardless of origin they are always enjoyable to read: first, because they are moving; and second, because they are cute.

Definitely, children say the darndest things and one sadness is that I can’t afford to store all the cards, letters, and presents for posterity: partly for fire safety reasons.

Last Spring, at one of my favorite schools, each second grade class had a representative write a letter for everyone. Instructions from the teacher indicated that group opinion – rather than personal – should be expressed. I included one letter here from a boy who couldn’t resist slipping in a sentence about his regrettable memory from my class. He placed it in the middle and the teacher, busy wrapping up the school year, didn’t catch it; but we had some laughs when I showed it to her.


Dear Erik, thank you for always teaching us so much more than English, like pronunciation and many other things. Your slightly ‘unconventional’ games are also very fun. “Recently when we played the board game, much to my chagrin, I came in fourth.” When you read picture books to us we really enjoy it. Everyone feels that when we play games or you read to us, those are the most enjoyable times. From Second grade, class 1


The Whistling Season

2010年 1月 20日

Thanks to an unusually long train ride yesterday and a phenomenon mentioned on a fellow blog, I have now completed reading The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig. Overall I found it enjoyable, thought-provoking, and challenging.

The story centers around the Milliron family and is narrated by Paul, the eldest son. At the time of telling – 1957 – he is 61 years old, and the overwhelming bulk of the story takes place in 1909; our narrator is 13 years old, a 7th grader in a one room school house in rural Montana. After hiring somone to clean their home (being a household of consisting entirely of males who are too busy or uninterested to get that important chore straight) their lives start changing, later a peculiar teacher is hired and again their lives shift in ever more unimaginable ways.

Often modern storytellers, particular the Hollywood variety, leave me dissatisfied because they either write stories I find too predictable or they struggle to avoid the first condition by making wild, unbelievable left turns. Ivan Doig proves he adept at protecting me from both of these let-downs. Many twists and turns pop-up, surprising me greatly, but never violating my trust and suspension of disbelief.

Considering an authors background had really been on my mind lately after re-reading The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien’s linguistics background is key to the entire work. Likewise Doig is a history PhD and it repeatedly shines through in this volume as timing of many actual events lace into those generated for the story.

Classifying this novel would be difficult. It is definitely a coming-of-age story, but it also promotes thought on how culture shifts over time, it addresses love and mourning and conflict, it’s a drama, but also almost a mystery, and it strongly addresses issues of education from teaching method to administrative process.

When the country school gets their new teacher, he rambles, he gets excited, he takes unorthodox approaches, but he always is thinking about how to get ideas into heads and motivate curiousity. Also he carries something (or things) mysterious from his past, which consumes much of the readers concern nearly throughout the story. I found myself identifying with this character, for better or worse: often I try to tie odd concepts into my lessons, seeking to challenge how students perceive relationships of knowledge. Many a time, home room teachers are cocking their heads and squinting at me, but occasionally they also get my point and reinforce it at the end of class in much more elegant Japanese than I can generate. Fortunately, the children seem to grasp these flights more often than not.

Our character list is long, and many characters have multiple nicknames, like Tobias, aka Tobe, aka Toby, aka Peg Leg Pete the Pirate. I kept a page in a notebook where I was scratching down all the family connections and school connections. Doig has an amusing (annoying) habit of introducing people in different manner at different times, like “the two sets of Drobny twins”, “the Drobny brothers”, “Seraphina and Eva Drobny”, “the entire 6th grade”, “Sam Drobny”, … figuring out who was being referred to was sometimes like one of those logic puzzles (i.e., The blue car is next to the green car, neither Mr. Smith nor Mrs. Jones drives a blue car, the cat owner drives a green car, …) I have at least 64 characters scratched on my list, plus at least five horse or pets. While the list is long, most of them include development and add to the story, so they are worth their weight.

Although, I can be an intellectual snob, my one complaint would have to be the way Latin is addressed, almost as if the average reader should be able to understand tricky sentences. Fair portions of the Latin discussion went right over my head, and I would expect even more would be lost on the average reader. This didn’t ruin anything for me, but a lot of it seemed unnecessary. On the other hand, a few times he deftly slipped enough explanation into the dialog that it just seemed natural to have the Latin there.

Yesterday’s long train ride is due to timing. After a meeting, I ended out at the train station before the proper end of my work day and long before the express train. Apparently there are some folk almost spying on the foreign city workers looking for complaints to stir up, so sitting and having tea near the station at that hour would be unwise. I hopped a local train for an hour ride home, reading all the way, and almost missing my stop because my nose was in the print.

As someone pointed out on a book-related blog, they often read faster and faster as they get deeper into a work. Certainly, this was the case for me with this one. Perhaps getting more adjusted to an authors style allows the faster reading, yet another factor plays in here; I found myself more and more invested in the story as things progressed.

Sick Puppy

2009年 3月 10日

Not feeling well. Suddenly a brutal, pounding headache came on today, and my throat keeps swinging between phlegmy and scratchy, under constant threat of going south. At my evening class I was wearing two jackets and a scarf in a heated room and still had chills. By the end of class I was feeling better.

Got some orange juice and ate some homemade rice with takenoko from my neighbor. If I go to bed now, I should get a good night’s sleep. Can’t miss photo society meeting tomorrow night, because it is time to re-register for next year.

Oh, almost forgot. My work schedule for the next year came yesterday. I was hoping to go from six schools to three schools, instead I now have seven schools and I lost my favorite one. More on all this when I have time.

Bringing it All Together

2009年 2月 7日

Last night I learned a new word while explaining today’s ski trip to some friends. Some of the local conversation schools organized a ski trip to a cabin with lodging for 25 guests. We’ll head off in the afternoon, and gather for a potlatch dinner. Sunday, we’ll enjoy God’s natural cathedral as we schuss down the slopes.

After I explained what a potlatch was, my friend said, “Oh, ariawase no ryouri!” Even though looking up the alternate spelling ‘potluck’ yields ariawase no ryouri, there is no good definition in the dictionary for the term ariawase. If I understand it correctly, I would translate it as ‘bringing together what we have’. For some reason that just gives me a warm fuzzy feeling all over.

Well, I better rush off to the store, so that I’ll have something to bring.

And the Lame Shall Walk

2009年 1月 23日

Normally I teach at the same four schools every week, but occassionally I have special assignments. January has me teaching everyday at the same school, allowing me to get to know the children a little better; however, I only teach each class three times since there are so many classes.

While checking up on my communications online, the Principal came to tell me that one second grade student injured his leg and was supposed to stay home. Today is the last time I will teach that class and he insisted on going to school because he wouldn’t miss it for the world. Did I say that I like this school? It’s a pretty powerful feeling, knowing that I can make the lame walk. Normally that’s reserved for people like the Messiah.

Something else peculiar about this school is that I know many of the students’ family members. One friend’s little sisters go to school here. Several teachers I work with have children here. My new acquaintance who owns a pastry shop has a son here. It is almost eerie how many connections are here. Usually I have one or two connections in each school.