It Doesn’t Matter the Size. It’s Meaningful!

085Before I get into my actual blog post, I wanted to share with you why I walked out of my office today like a CHAMPION or what my friends and I like to say, “Like a Boss!”. In most of my middle school English classes, the students have to read a new passage with each unit. Typically, there are follow up questions to check the students’ comprehension. Sounds awesome right? Well, the twist to this is that the follow up questions are in Japanese AND the students often respond in Japanese. This is one thing that bothers me about the activity. I just don’t understand why Japanese is used in the classroom (I do understand but I don’t agree) and why the teachers won’t challenge their students to think in English. Don’t give them the easy way out by asking comprehension questions in Japanese. I say this not to rant but to give you my thought process on this matter. Anyways, today I tried something different. Instead of standing on the side, watching, and thinking how ineffective this activity is, I decided to pull the teacher aside after the activity. I asked him why doesn’t he write the questions in English. Don’t worry, I wasn’t reprimanding the man. I made sure I sounded more curious than accusatory. When I explained to him why it might be a good idea to ask the students these questions in English instead of Japanese he was quite hesitant (as expected). He said it would be very difficult for the students, the usual response I receive from JTE ( Japanese Teachers of English) about why they use Japanese in the English classroom. I gave him a little encouragement and asked him to challenge himself and challenge his students. I encouraged him to just try it out and see what happens ( I’ve found students know a lot more English than their teacher gives them credit for). I left that conversation feeling unsure of whether he was going to heed my advice. Two periods later, the teacher approaches me. What do you know….. he changed everything on the paper to English. He even changed a section that I didn’t talk to him about in English. If you could be inside my body at the time, you would have seen a little person jumping around, doing back flips, and pakouring everywhere. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to see how the activity turned out but I really hope that it was fruitful. I felt quite victorious! Yay, me

Now to get to what I really want to talk about…..

In January or February, I remember joking with a couple of friends about how I felt God had already taught me my lesson, so He should let me go home now. As much as I wanted this to be the case, I knew there was a reason the program was until July. There was another lesson or something else that I needed to get out of my time in Japan. After more reflection, and of course more time, I noticed that I have learned something that I didn’t know in January.

One of my major complaints about the JET program was that I didn’t feel like I was being effective. I didn’t feel like there was a point to it and that I wasn’t in any position to make an impact– like I envisioned myself doing April 2012 when I accepted the position. I constantly complained and thought about how pointless my time was here. I think I came across several sermons and scriptures that talked about staying joyful despite the hardship and how whatever God gives you is good. I reflected on the things I heard and read and began to evaluate myself. I noticed that while yes I was enduring this hardship most of the time I was complaining. I don’t think there was a week that passed that I didn’t say something negative about my position or my time in the classroom. I decided that in order for me to really endure these final months (with a spirit of true gratitude), I HAVE TO THINK POSITIVE. I made it my goal for the month of April to think more positive about my position. Of course, I had some rough days but this positive thinking helped me through that day. It helped me push through April, and then May… and now June.

Another thing that positive thinking allowed me to do was realize that I am in fact making an impact. Previously, I had a narrow-minded way of thinking about what it means to make an impact. My vision of an impact was organizing a huge festival, building organizations/youth center, changing the whole English program in Japan….uprooting things like I’m super woman. It was thinking I needed to do something BIG because in my past abroad experiences I did big things and their significance was pretty obvious— not so much in Japan. Well…. until I reevaluated of how I defined “making an impact.”

Many of my students have never seen an African American or a person with dark skin. Many of my students never traveled outside of Japan. Many of my students had no idea that America was rich with diversity. Many of my students didn’t know that America has all kinds of cuisines not just KFC and McDonalds. This might be a little extreme but many of my students might never speak English with another foreigner outside of their English classes. When I think about it this way, I realize that my time in Japan has been meaningful . Yes, it has been a struggle like no other, BUT I’ve introduced my students to cultures, music, and many things that they might not have known was out there. I showed them MY family traditions and how we get down on Thanksgiving and Christmas. I educated students on the origins of hip hop in America. I taught them about black history month in February. I smiled and repeated those boring phrases and passages over and over again with my southern accent. I taught them about how Texans wild out during the rodeo ( don’t worry I didn’t included drunken behaviors). Regardless of whether my students fully understood what I said, they will forever remember that they had a southern, African- American teacher who loved dancing, traveled to different countries, spoke two languages, froze to death in the winter, wore the same red peacoat during winter, performed in front of the class, from Texas and always said she loved to eat. And when they think of these things, then maybe, just maybe, those photos of Christmas lights will pop in their heads or a guy riding a bull at the Houston the rodeo. So while my impact wasn’t as big as starting an organization, it was/is still meaningful. My students will look at some things and be able to associate it right back to Leah-sensei (what they call me in my class). I realized that this experience has been much more than teaching English. Yes, the program needs plenty of improvement but no one can ever argue that this program isn’t impactful. I’m just grateful I’m able to genuinely say this and that I realized this when I did. I have less than 2 month left and I’ve committed to walking into my classroom beaming with the thought that I AM NECESSARY and THIS IS MEANINGFUL