Saturday, October 17, 2009

I finally get my act together and update

I realize I haven't written yet about the school for the blind where I teach once a week, so I thought I'd take you through my day there, which is a strange combination of busy, boring, and super interesting...

I take the bus for about 15 minutes to get there and then walk a ways off the main road--the Fukuoka Blind School is actually two schools, a high school and a combination elementary and junior high school. The schools are surrounded by small farms and mountains. Sometimes during breaks from classes I just stare out the windows, because it's really gorgeous there.

My first class is just one student, a first year JHS. My supervisor, who is also blind, and the student seem to spend most of the class arm wrestling! The student is stubborn and will just refuse to say things in English until the supervisor like, physically bests him. It's the kind of thing that wouldn't go down in American schools, of course, and probably also in regular Japanese schools, but I think because of the students' blindness, a lot of physicality is OK. I often find myself doing a lot of tactile things with them, too, to help them understand new words or phrases. And actually, the role of teachers in Japan is a lot more like that of parents. Students spend more time at school than they do at home, and the personal and educational spheres are not separated. If students are seen acting out in their communities, there are repercussions at school. My role ends up being a bit more like a friend, since I'm an assistant teacher and not responsible for any discipline, and students know that when I'm in class they'll be doing less studying and more fun, interactive activities. Hence, the warm reception whenever I'm there.

My second class is two students who are not only blind, but also have mental retardation. It blows my mind that despite this, they are learning English. They're also the most enthusiastic students and are pretty much beside themselves with excitement whenever I talk to them. Nothing delights one of the students more than telling me, when class is over, "SEE YOU AT LUNCH TIME!!" Haha. He loves that he can communicate a bit in English.

The next class has two first-year JHS's. The girl, I swear to God, pops out her glass eye during class to freak me out. Seriously. I look over and hey, there is an empty eye socket! Awesome! I try not to react since that's clearly what she wants, and it probably also wouldn't be helpful to make her feel like a freak, but damn. The boredom comes in because these students, since they're new to English, have a VERY limited vocabulary and need my supervisor to explain a lot in Japanese, so I just end up kind of zoning out when that happens. Unless of course I'm confronted by a removed glass eye.

After that is a class for two students who supposedly have "social problems." They don't exhibit this, really, except they both are extremely quiet and shy, but also very sweet. I should mention that the students who are completely blind use Braille typewriters, on which they type both Japanese and English Braille, which is super impressive to me. Some students have limited vision--I suppose they are "legally blind"--and use large print textbooks. I help them with their writing since my supervisor is totally blind. He also has an absolutely gorgeous seeing eye dog, a black Lab named, of all things, Taft (after the U.S. president) who makes me miss Smokey!

At lunch time I eat with the other teachers and students. My supervisor is the only one who speaks good English so he ends up translating for me and the other teachers so we can talk a bit.

Fifth period is two second year JHS boys with limited vision, who both seem to have massive crushes on me, haha. One is an incredibly talented pianist and plays "air piano" all class.

My last period is the most fun. I teach two elementary students with a young woman who is not blind. They are ridiculously adorable. A recent lesson was teaching them the names of body parts, playing Simon Says, and singing Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes. The boy student is so serious. If I ask him, "How are you today?" he stops and thinks really hard about it so he can answer honestly. So cute. The girl student apparently went blind as a result of brain cancer not long ago, but amazingly is a sweetheart and is always in really good spirits. It sounds cheesy and maybe condescending to talk about these kids as inspiring, but I am so fascinated by how well they navigate the challenging aspects of their lives that most people take for granted (e.g., something as simple as getting up and opening a window can, of course, be treacherous for them). They even play blind table tennis!

After classes, I have about forty-five minutes before it's time to go. I go to the staff room, where an English conversation class has somehow developed between me and some other teachers. They bring snacks and English-Japanese dictionaries, and I try to teach them new phrases. This week we were talking about Halloween and then different monsters, and I was explaining werewolves and how they only change during the full moon. One of the teachers says, "Some of the people here--always werewolf!!" Hahaha.

So, overall, being at the blind school is pretty damn awesome. It's something I never imagined doing and wouldn't ever have if not for JET.

And now, I leave you with a picture of me and some ninjas, taken last weekend when Jonathan and I took a day trip to Kumamoto Castle, one prefecture south of us.


  1. Sounds awesome. I am so proud of you for doing great things over there. :)

  2. now teach them about true blood!!!

    also, you are awesome :)

  3. I love reading these postings, Alanna . . . almost as much as I loved your paragraph on the blog. THAT was awesome. The most wonderful thing, I think, about teaching overseas is knowing that you will be remembered. Not the grammar, or the piece of literature, and maybe not even the vocabulary, but you will be remembered as "that English teacher . . . remember her?" Not much else matters, does it? Proud of you, Alanna! Love to Jon, too.

  4. Thank you! I absolutely agree... the best part is definitely the moments of connection with students, and becoming more than just a random foreigner to them.

  5. I love the werewolf joke. I wonder if she was refering to massive amounts of body hair, or a general werewolf-like nature. I kind of doubt it's the body hair...

  6. I'm thinking werewolf-like nature, haha. Though everyone seems nice to me!

  7. Do a post about how your japanese is progressing!

  8. Wow...I am so jealous of your adventure....What a great experience this is for you. do you realize how this is changing your life?


  9. Alanna,
    That was a great posting. You are really having some incredible experiences. How awesome to be part of those kids lives!