My next driver, a Japanese high school English teacher, insisted on introducing me to his class. Excellent!
I walked slowly through the school with him, noticing the similarities to my own high school -- long hallways, blackboards, science projects. He led me to his classroom. It was my first time in a Japanese high school and I was curious to see how the students would react to me.
“Their English is … very bad,” he warned as we approached the classroom.
I walked in with a big, friendly, Canadian smile. I noticed that they all had the same blue shoes on, indicative of their grade. I introduced myself slowly. “Hi! My name is Dave. I am from Canada.”
Most students shyly looked away or continued with their tasks. I heard a couple quiet ‘hello’s from the back.
“Ask him some question,” prodded their teacher.
Finally, a girl asked, “What is … hobby?”
I told them I liked sports and shifted into English teacher mode. I had them guess which ones, acting out the sports they didn’t get.
A second question came: “I like apples?”
I chuckled. Finally understanding the state of high school English in Japan, I felt proud of my students back in Kawasaki for their achievements.
A third question, from a boy at the front: “Do you have a big ….” The room erupted in giggles. He was told off by the teacher, but I noted that his grammar was perfect.
For lunch, the teacher and I went to a restaurant for esukarope, a local specialty of fried pork cutlet over rice pilaf in a demi-glace sauce. The food was delicious, but Takahashi-san was looking a little stressed:
He explained that the spread of cell phones is damaging interpersonal relationships among high school students. “Really, face-to-face conversation is losing!” he exclaimed, gesturing between our faces with his fork.
He also told me about the "monster parents" he has to deal with. They have no respect for authority and think they know more than the teachers. They anger easily and demand detailed explanations for imperfect grades.
“Cheer up Takahashi-san! Don’t let those awful parents get to you! Cell phones will have positive effects too, and kids will learn social skills. The future is brighter than you think!”
But part of me sympathized. Every line of worry on his face was borne of a disruptive text message or parental criticism. His classes had more than twice as many students as mine had. It’s not an easy job, so here’s to all the teachers out there – of English, or anything else. And if you’re reading this, monster parents, go easy on them. You know who you are.