Thursday, April 21, 2011

All the school's a stage (...or the rise of Super Genki Sarah)

I mentioned on facebook today how teaching is so much like acting. This was obviously the case when I was a theater teacher, but it's also true of teaching English in Japan. I've been lucky with all the fourteen or so schools I've visited this year - in every one the kids were excited to hear me speak and seemed to be interested in interacting with me. And the actress in me loved it: I talk about all the cool things in America and that my husband is an actor (this always brings out comments of "kokui!", which means cool), they ooh and ahh over my pictures of Texas and the 72oz steak from the Big Texan. I've done my self introduction so many times, I could do it in my sleep, which makes me feel a little bit like a Broadway actor doing 8 shows a week. And then I realized, when I'm teaching these English classes, I'm a character in what feels like a one-woman show. I'm "Super-Genki Sarah"*, much like Beyonce becomes "Sasha Fierce" when she steps on stage. When I step in front of my students, it's like getting back on stage, whether I'm teaching them how to pronounce "sh" and "th" or conducting a conversation lesson. My energy has always been able to keep their attention, and sometimes I even get applause!

I'd been lucky with the ichi and ni nen-sei students at Hitsujigaoka. They laughed, they were interested, they asked lots of questions. But I'd been warned that third grade was difficult, and I was ready for it when I taught their classes for the first time this week. The first two classes went really well, and I was feeling confidant. Then came my third class. Usually when I step into a classroom, I'm greeted by "hello"'s or clapping, or a little of both. This class was dead silent. The usual things I say that always get a laugh, got nothing. They just stared at me with their big brown eyes, with nary a smile or nod of agreement among the 37 of them. But I didn't get frustrated or discouraged, if anything, it made me want to perform even more. To make it even more challenging for me, I also had to eat lunch with this class. I usually really enjoy eating with the students, but none of them would even look at me, much less talk to me. But I think I've figured out why the third grade is so afraid to speak English. I think they know what to say, but they're so afraid to get chastised by their peers, which would happen every time one of them would talk any English to me. Somehow it got in this grade's head that to speak English is embarrassing, and that only the "nerds" do it. This is something I've never experienced since I've started teaching here, and isn't the case at all with the first and second graders. Am I up for this challenge? Do I even have enough time with this school to make any kind of difference?

In the end, I don't know if this class got anything out of my presentation, but I'm proud of what I did. You can take the girl out of the theater, but never the theater out of the girl, apparently.

*FYI, "genki" means "cheerful" or "healthy". I like to think I'm both!

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