Saturday, April 07, 2007


It was my first day back at work yesterday.

You may have noticed (or do I mean not noticed?) how I have not been writing about the looming first semester in my usual way. I think this might be because this time I did not panic. I would like to say that this is because I have become a mature and grownup person and was perfectly prepared for the sudden onslaught of work, but I'm afraid it's more because I have become such an efficient procrastinator that I have learned to procrastinate panic itself.

I'll panic tomorrow, I kept telling myself.

Fortunately a colleague (one I have never met, or perhaps I have at a meeting but meetings are once a year so I don't remember meeting him) emailed me a couple of weeks ago, wanting advice about his classes. He was in the throes of panic himself, and asked another colleague for ideas, and she'd given him a few but then told him all her good ideas came from me and gave him my email address. (She passed the buck, in other words.) But his request for help was so flattering, and his enthusiasm so inspiring, it galvanized me into actually thinking about teaching, and I got all interested and went over my usual plans and started amending them. We spent hours on the phone and in email discussing various issues. Whether this will help or not is another question. After yesterday, I'm not quite sure about some of my classes.

The first class yesterday was a particular problem. For some insane reason known only to Those in Charge, a repeaters' class has been scheduled for the first period of the day. Considering that the main reason most students failed a course in the first place is because they could not get up in time for class, this was a brilliant stroke more or less guaranteed to ensure that they will fail again. I was not very optimistic about this class, and I was right not to be.

I arrived to find one lonely and frightened student waiting for me.

This student, it took me ninety minutes to find out, failed all his classes last year because he had 'hesitated' to come to university at all. I asked him what made him change his mind this year, and he told me his parents said he had to come.

The poor lad. He really didn't want to be there. I could tell. Not only was he having to leave the house and interact with people, the first person he had to interact with was me, a horrible scary gaijin. He sat hunched and sweating in the cold room, rarely raising his head, while against all the evidence I treated him like a normal person. I was kind. I did not push him. I tried every trick in my repertoire to get him to at least say a few words. It took him fifteen minutes to put together an ungrammatical three-word sentence, but I was patient. Every time he said a word he blushed and sweated and looked down and froze. I was encouraging. When he used Japanese I pulled out my dictionary and looked up the Japanese words, spelling them wrongly so he would correct me. (Any kind of interaction is better than none, right?) I was as unintimidating as I know how to be. I spent a lot of time rifling through my copious papers and pretending to look for things so he would have time to recover from the last word he'd uttered. The boy was so tense he would have fainted if I'd said BOO! I carefully refrained from saying BOO!

If there are fewer than five students enrolled in a class, the class is cancelled and I am not paid. I am not too worried about this, though. Repeater classes are notorious for students enrolling and never turning up. We do not get the official register until next month sometime, and anyway it's entirely possible that next week there will be thirty students waiting for me (or more likely trickling in throughout the ninety minutes) who didn't realize that classes had started the week before. But even if the class is cancelled, I don't mind very much. I took on extra classes this year at another place (by mistake, really) and have too many for an entirely comfortable life.

I will not tell my boss that I don't mind losing the class, though. If it is cancelled, I will be massively distraught and upset at the loss of income. Eventually I will accept the inevitable and take on a long-suffering martyred air, and he will feel guilty every time he sees me, which will be twice a week. I will bravely bear the hardship of having to sleep a little longer on Friday mornings.

And he will OWE me.


Radioactive Jam said...

I can't imagine anything more intimidating to a student than going one-on-one with a new teacher. You must be good; he probably wanted to excuse himself, head out the door and never return.

Also, is a reservoir of "long-suffering martyred air" available over the counter, or does one need a prescription?

kenju said...

YTou are a genius; both with the students and the bosses!!

Cheryl said...

Fingers crossed!

Kay said...

Alternative to "procrastinating til tomorrow": 'I only worry on Wednesdays'-- someone told me it works!

Kay said...

Badaunt, how do I get the photo thingies in my comment?

Badaunt said...

RaJ: I don't think he stayed because of me. I think he was too frightened to leave without permission, and didn't know how to ask for permission. He was that kind of kid. I'll be very surprised if he turns up next week.

Kenju: I did my best with the student, but I don't think it will help. I've had this sort of student before. They don't speak even with other students - real social problems. I suspect he spent all of last year locked in his room, probably hardly even speaking to his parents. This is not an entirely unusual phenomenon here. (See the Wikipedia entry for hikikomori.)

Handling the boss, though - that is something I'm EXPERT at!

Cheryl: I'm crossing my fingers for more than five students registering for the class but none actually attending. That way I get a free PAID period and time to prepare my other classes. (I can dream, can't I?)

Kay: Maybe that was something like what I was doing, except that my worrying day is 'tomorrow.'

Regarding the little picture: that is the Blogger profile picture. If you're logged onto Blogger, it will turn up automatically (because I have allowed avatars in my comments settings). It will also link to your blog, if you have one. ;-)

Badaunt said...

Oh, and RaJ, regarding the "long-suffering martyred air" - all you need to do is to read this very carefully, use your imagination, and the next thing you know you have MASTERED the "long-suffering martyred air."

fallensnow said...

You disappeared on my bloglines a couple of months ago. I discovered it few days ago and have been catching up on your posts.
Just wanted to say I love your wonderful stories!

melanie said...

Well done with the student. I've had a couple of hikikomori students return to my high school class and they just look terrified. One arrived back the day he had to do a presentation. I told him he could do his the next week and of course never saw him again.

Kay said...

OK, testing, testing, avatar for Kay, front and center.....