Wednesday, April 12, 2006


I had another first day today. Only one class, and it is the same course as last year's DIARRHEA! class, all fresh-faced first-year students. I walked into the classroom and a classful of new faces looked at me expectantly. One of the students shouted,

"BADAUNT-SENSEI DESU KA?" and I said, warily,


And the entire class cheered wildly.

It was astonishing. I am FAMOUS! What a wonderful way to start a new class! That has never happened before. They were all on my side right from the start, and willing to try anything. It was brilliant.

Later, when I had them moving into groups, one of the students had to go past me, and when she came up behind me she HUGGED me and rested her cheek on my back. I patted her arms (the only bits I could reach, folded around my waist) and wondered what on earth was going on. Japanese students don't hug!

"I'm soooo happy!" she wailed from behind me.

This made me wonder what kind of reputation the OTHER teachers have. When I got back to the teachers' room I checked the syllabus to see who the other teachers of this particular course are. There are five classes, and the first year students are divided up and don't get a choice which teacher they get. I was not enlightened when I saw the other names (except one - I wouldn't want him for a teacher, either). Maybe I will ask the students later, when I know them better. It may turn out that they have heard that I teach naughty words and don't give very many tests (because I hate marking them).

One of the students is completely deaf, and I wish someone had warned me. I had a dictation exercise planned for the first lesson, which I abandoned on the spot and did something else instead because I didn't want her to feel left out on her first day. As it turns out she was sitting with a friend who knows Sign, and she can read lips, and her written English is no worse than the others', so it wasn't too bad. She is also an expert at Kendo, apparently, and my first impression of her is that she is a lovely person who will become a class favourite. Everybody was fascinated by her and some of them knew a little Sign, which was great, because she ended up teaching them. It wasn't English, but at least an atmosphere of learning has been established, and anyway I got the others telling me what the signs meant in English so at least SOME English was involved. And then her friend taught her the English words.

I learned the Japanese Sign for Konnichi wa (hello) from her (the whole class did), and will print out and learn a few English Sign words that might be useful in class, to teach her next week. After all, she is supposed to be learning 'English communication.' I don't know quite what the school expects of me, putting her in a class of twenty hearing students, but she doesn't have a choice (it's a required class) so I'll try not to let her down too badly. She and her friend were mostly communicating using Sign, writing, and lip reading. I don't know how much I'll be able to do with teaching her to speak English in the time available. I'm not trained in teaching deaf people to speak and know nothing about it, and don't know how much she can speak even in Japanese - she only used a little today. It is a ridiculous situation. She needs a teacher who knows what to do, and I am not it. I wish the university would be a little more clever about this sort of thing. It is not fair to her to be paying for an education she is not getting. And it was silly not to tell me. I was not prepared.

Professor Hatayama came to see me at lunchtime with her plans for next year's schedule. (She remembered!) She rambled on at great length about her plans for some fancy new curriculum, which include me, and I was very polite and helpful, agreed to everything, and took it all with a large dollop of salt. We shall see.

All in all it was another good day. Having only one class is good anyway (Wednesday is my favourite day at work because of this), but I have never been given a standing ovation by walking into a new class before and discovered that I like it. Of course I am now worried that I won't live up to their expectations - most classes take most of semester to decide that I'm acceptable as a teacher, which gives me the freedom to be a below-par teacher occasionally. But still, it felt good, and having them on my side from the start means that we'll be able to do more because I won't be spending the first few weeks persuading them that I'm not going to penalize them for making mistakes. They made PLENTY of mistakes today, and I was encouraging. But I hope I don't let them down.

My feelings about this have taught me something that is useless to me now but which might be useful for any students reading this. So TAKE NOTE, YOU STUDENT PEOPLE: if you applaud a teacher when she walks into your class for the first time, and act delighted to see her, and lead her to think you have heard she is marvellous, she will WANT to be marvellous and will make extra efforts for you. Plus she will adore you for making her feel good at her job when most of her experience tells her that her efforts are wasted. She will be unreasonably, disproportionately happy, and a happy teacher is a good teacher.

Also, a happy teacher gives better grades, so if you can keep it up your grades will probably be marvellous, too.


kenju said...

That is wonderful. Your reputation preceeded you and it is GOOD!

wendy said...

If your writing style is any indication of your teaching style then I'm not surprised you are appreciated...well done...that MUST feel good.

Anonymous said...

That must have felt so good. Being hugged by a stranger is weird. But in your case, so sweet!

you're the kind of teacher any student would love to have. I wish I had a teacher like you too!


Bill C said...

What's the Japanese (or English) Sign for... never mind. I'm sure you'll get to it eventually. :-O

Despite only knowing you within the bloggyverse, I have to go with my "gut instinct" on this one: you're an uncommonly good teacher, and you deserve welcome ovations.

Anonymous said...

Yay! Class is back in session. As much as I love your foray into picture stories, your class stories are what won my readership to your blog.

Keep up the great work!

Unknown said...

You're marvellous, Badaunt-sensei!

Now, I'll see if I can describe Good Morning in NZ Sign Language for you.
Good is easy, its thumb up (right hand). For "morning" you make a circle with your thumb and forefinger (the sun) and leave the other 3 fingers sticking up (sunrays) and move it in an arc from l to r. Did that make sense, sensei?

tinyhands said...

My mother is formerly a teacher of the hearing impaired (though only monolingually, I'm afraid) so if you have any specific questions I'd be happy to pass them along.

Badaunt said...

Kenju: It may just be that they were expecting a boring old fart. There are a lot of boring old farts at that place, and it must be tiring for the students to have to sit through hours of droning every day. I expect I'll find out more next week, though.

Wendy: It feels GREAT! Even if it isn't really deserved - I haven't done anything for them yet!

Fallensnow: Being hugged was definitely weird. It was endearing, though. Japanese students are not usually demonstrative. At this university they are more so, I've noticed, and I think it is because it's a women's university. The students tend to be more relaxed about speaking their minds and behaving naturally (which can sometimes mean 'oddly').

Editter: Thank you! I'll try to remember that to tell her next week.

RaJ: I'm not even looking that one up. It would be too tempting.

Kevin: I wish I had time to do both! But I suspect the river will have to get along without me for a while. Who knows what dramas I'm missing...

tinyhands: I do have one question, I find after looking up basic signs on the web. Which version would be the most useful to teach her? I've found American Sign and Signed English and various other varieties... which one would be most useful for English in any English-speaking country? She doesn't know if she will travel, but students at that school, if they do study abroad, generally go to NZ or Australia - sometimes to the US or UK. If I taught her a few words of NZ Sign, for example, would she be understood in the US or UK? How different are the different varieties of English Sign?