Sunday, November 18, 2007

Happily ever after

Yesterday I went into Osaka to find a new keyboard. I did not expect it to be difficult, so I also decided to look for new boots (my old ones are glued together) and get some bread from our favourite bakery.

The short version of this story is that I came home with bread.

By the end of the day I was frustrated, hot (why are shops so overheated?), and very, very tired. I had walked all over Osaka and not found a keyboard that would work on my old computer and satisfy my demanding requirements. Also, I'd forgotten to have lunch, and breakfast was a long time ago. I was walking along in a sort of daze, jostled by crowds and starting to feel a little disoriented, probably from the lack of food. This was why I did not respond very sensibly when a large face loomed out of the crowd and warbled,

"I'm so sorry about Wednesday! Thank you so much for helping me out!"

"Er. Um," I said.

"You must be very tired!" said the loopy professor.

"I am!" I agreed fervently, while my brain went spinning off in all directions. What was she doing here? Was she following me? "I should have remembered that Saturdays are a bad day for shopping," I said.

She looked puzzled, and I realized what she'd meant. She was using a direct translation from the Japanese, and wanted to say that my hard work on Wednesday must have made me tired. "Oh, Wednesday was fine," I added, hastily. "We played language games."

My brain switched into work mode and I hoped I hadn't derailed the conversation too badly.

"Oh, good, good!" said the professor. "Please tell me if there's anything you want to order for the students."

"Oh, er, yes," I said. I was lost again.

"I need to know by Friday," she said. "I can use the department budget."

"Oh, I see," I said. "I'll think about it and let you know."

"Good! Good!" she said, and vanished as suddenly as she had appeared.

I stood there feeling totally lost. I didn't know where I was or which direction I was supposed to be walking. People kept bumping into me. It had been a very confusing encounter. Surely if you happen to bump into a colleague while you are shopping you should be all surprised and greet each other and then move on, not act as if it was a totally normal thing to happen and suddenly launch into a work-related conversation?

I decided to have a coffee, to recompose myself.

While I was having coffee I thought about last Wednesday. The loopy professor had been absent, and had asked (i.e. told) me to teach both her class and mine. (We usually switch students every week.) She had told me to use this opportunity to give back the students' summer vacation homework, with comments, along with feedback.

So I'd handed back their summer vacation homework. I had obediently followed her orders and written one comment on every paper. I had written, at the end,

Good. B.

One one or two, where the students had actually done the homework the way I'd asked them to, I had written,

Excellent! A.

This was because back when the professor told me to give them summer vacation homework, and told me which units of the book to take it from, I had asked the students to write sentence answers to questions in the book. They then went ahead and complained to the professor that my homework was too difficult, so she told them they could write short answers. This meant that most of the students had written one or two word answers lifted straight from the example short answers given in the textbook, which was exactly what I had been trying to avoid. The whole point of sentence answers was that they would have to actually understand the questions and attempt to write something, and I would be able to find out where they had difficulties and use this in future classes, or for feedback. As it was, the homework was useless, both for the students and for me, since they didn't even need to understand (or even read) the questions to answer them.

So when she told me to use the combined classes lesson to give feedback on the homework, I was stuck. She had sabotaged it so thoroughly it wasn't even worth marking. But I know what side my bread is buttered on. I agreed, marked it up with the single word comment for each one (and gave them B rather than the C they deserved because they would have complained again otherwise), and in the combined class played language games using vocabulary straight from those units in the textbook. In other words, I followed the letter of her instructions but not the spirit, which is how things are generally done here.

Only one student recognized the vocabulary. She was one of the very few who had done the homework properly, and naturally, her group won all the games.

As I sat in the coffee shop sipping coffee and eating cake (lunch!), I thought about a joke one of the teachers made on Thursday evening while we were having dinner.

"Our job is like a fairy tale," he said, and we all stared at him as if he had lost his mind.

Seeing that he had our undivided attention, he added the punchline.

"Grim," he said.

Which is pretty much how I felt.

At least that's how I felt until the sugar from the cake got into my bloodstream, at which point I cheered up and went home. At home The Man got onto the Internet and ordered a new keyboard for me, easy as pie.

It will arrive sometime this week.