How I Grew 3 Years in 12 Months
Ready the harpoons, because this is a big one. (Are whaling jokes still acceptable? Japan, the Bartleby the Scrivener of whaling bans, is a little sensitive about it.)
It is indeed my third mail of the week, but these were my only free days of the month, so it may be the last you’ll see for a while. It’s too bad, because I still want to write about The Dominican Republic, the Japanese wedding I attended, some of the cheerful people I met in Japan, and so forth, but thoughts of school pounded the walls of my brain, and I had to let them out first. I’m relieved to have this all on paper!
Whether I make it as a writer or not, I’m glad I grew up dreaming to be one. For a writer, there’s no such thing as a waste of time. As a student, I opened a book every chance I could. I read every word of Shakespeare’s plays, from “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” to “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers!” Though I learned about composition that way, I had nothing to compose: I was heating up leftover ideas, even writing fanfiction! The horror, the horror! ::Lightning crashes:: Reading fiction is like dreaming, and I was the Leonardo DiCaprio of books. Well, okay, not that experienced – I was more like the Ellen Page of books. (This is my only chance to compare myself to Ellen Page, and by Jove I’m going to use it!)
Moving to Spain woke me up, and my further education in Christianity even moreso. Everyone I meet could be a character, so I’ve never met someone who was boring. Everywhere I go could be a setting, so I examine every part of it. (Hence, my photo albums are interminable, too big to upload.) Everything natural is more complex than we know, and everything man-made required someone’s time and effort, so I try to learn something from it. Everything I’ve gone through is an experience. I’ll consider my adolescent years of chatting and video game playing well-spent if I can turn them into something like “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.”
So, I was one of the happiest people at the junior high school this year. I learned a great deal. That was my consolation.
When I came to Tensui in August 2008, it was a model school. Before merging with Tamana City, the town emptied its coffers to construct the most modern building and grounds in the prefecture. When I arrived, it was one year old, so fresh and so clean. The teachers had worked together there for years, and they were respected and loved. Academically, the students were average for the prefecture, not bad for a rural backwater. The baseball and tennis teams punched far above its weight: the former won the prefectural TV station’s winter tournament, and the latter went to the national championships in spring 2009. (They came home lovesick, telling anyone who’d listen that the girls from Hokkaido are the fairest in all the land.)
The best thing about TJHS, however, was the students. Teachers far and wide talked about how good they were. Some figured it was their grandparents’ influence; many families had three or four generations under the same roof, helping to raise the children.
By the time I left, Tensui was the most difficult school in Tamana County: 200 students, 200 days, 200 problems. I told you the main reason last time. That incident might have crippled the school’s and teachers’ authority, even if no one said it. Part of it was cyclical, as well. The two classes who graduated during my term were among my three favorites, and I’ve heard the Class of ’08 was just as good. Getting the Class of 2010 through junior high was like giving birth without feeling any pain. Realizing what else was transpiring, and doing something about it while still looking out for myself, defined my year.
Teachers change every year. This is good for some schools and bad for others, since not all teachers are equal, even in a country like Japan where teachers are well-respected and their testing and training is very rigorous. One of my elementary schools was a zoo my first year, but then half the staff changed and it became one of my favorites. The kids had as much energy as before, but it was channeled better. Sure, they still poked me in the bum dozens of times a day, but they stopped doing it during class.
The junior high school wasn’t as lucky. Our math teacher and tennis coach had such an intense angry samurai face that I was afraid to talk to him my first 6 months at school. His desk faced mine, and whenever he looked in my direction, I put my head down and worked furiously. He was as tough as he was caring, though: his alumni swear by him, and he was so virtuous that he wrote columns about morality, hope, and the triumph of light over darkness for the school newspaper. My first day of school, he announced to the staff that he was engaged (at the age of 38), and tears filled his eyes as everyone applauded him. His homeroom class and the tennis team all attended his wedding. We became friends once I got over my fear of speaking with him, and I’ve missed him so much that I’ve mentioned him in this space more than any other teacher. He was the glue for our school.
The ’09 and ’10 staff changes ruptured our chemistry. We lost most of our disciplinarians, not just the tennis coach but four others like him. In short, we had too much jelly and not enough peanut butter. Most of our new men were shy or lacking confidence in some respect, and there were too many young people feeling their way out, including yours truly, who has never taken an Education or Japanese class. The atmosphere in the staff room always turned sour before lunch, and every day, at least one person said they dreaded coming to work or that they were at a loss about some problem. Sometimes I walked in the door from elementary school and was tempted to walk out twenty minutes later. When I rode in a car with teachers, they’d talk to each other about problems they had with other teachers: people they couldn’t relate to, people they couldn’t trust. Poison in the heart of the school circulates quickly.
In America, we sometimes suspend or expel a student. In Japan, those aren’t options. To them, a student has a right to go to school, even if he is disrupting it: it’s like using the First Amendment to shout someone else down. At schools with teachers to spare, the bullies or the bullied are sometimes put in a private room to study.
Corporal punishment has been illegal for at least 25 years, not counting comical head-bopping or forehead-tweaking, the typical punishment for forgetting something you needed for class, like a textbook. Not permitting a student to eat his lunch counts as corporal punishment, as well. I sometimes saw male teachers grab male students by the collar in emergencies.
Problems are resolved by meetings. First the student and teacher talk things over. If it’s a big problem, the entire class or else the entire student body is assembled for reprimanding by the teachers. Persistent problems lead to parent-teacher conferences, and failing that parent-principal conferences. At another school in Japan, some high school kids started a “Miscarriage Club” and tried to bully, prank, and stress out their teacher enough that she’d have a miscarriage. The story, which ran in the national news, stated the students would be called into conferences with their parents and principal. I think that community and family bonds used to be stronger, so if there was a problem everyone knew about it and tried to help out. With cars, TV, and Internet in our lives, we spend more time looking out at the stars and lose those ties close to home.
The Japanese disciplinary method works if you have strong-spirited teachers who love, protect, and inspire their students. Fortunately, there are a lot of great teachers in Japan, and I met more than my share at my schools, but in some staff rooms there aren’t enough. An average nice person telling kids to not do bad things won’t cut it.
So, at many schools, the kids who are being bullied stop coming because they don’t want to deal with it every day. They study at home, travel to high school entrance exams by themselves, and come on graduation day for their diplomas. Have you heard of hikikomori? We know it as agoraphobia, Boo Radley’s Disease, and an unusual number of victims are Japanese. They shut themselves in their rooms for years. A few of them were my students. Fortunately, my last couple months a 9th grade girl started coming to school more regularly thanks to her friends and the school counselor, so I could say hello, goodbye, and “Would you like another croquette?” on the last day of school.
In Japan, more than in America, schools try to foster an environment where everyone is equal. Everyone has to eat the same school lunch and wear the same uniform, shoes included, and regulations on clothing, hair styles, eyebrows, and makeup are very strict. They’re still teenagers, though, and that means bullying still happens when no one’s looking.
Our current 9th grade class, since becoming leaders of the school, has settled down significantly. I have a lot of friends there: in a way, we grew up together at the junior high. They’ve been obsessed with love and who’s dating who ever since I’ve known them. Every time we eat lunch together, they want me to repeat catchphrases from comedians and tell them who loves who: they already know the answers, but they want to hear “Nakayama Ryo loves Imai Manami!” again and again because it embarrasses the lovers. Sometimes a girl would ask me who her friend loved, and I’d turn the tables with “And how are you and MATSUMOTO CHIKARA doing?” The day we had bananas at school lunch, they were more excited and fluent in English than I’ve ever seen them. (“James, which is bigger: this banana or your banana?” “This banana is not as delicious as your banana!”)
The boy with the burning curiosity about the fruit of my loom was one of my English Recitation Contest champions soon after I arrived. He’s rich, smart, and athletic, but he wasn’t always so laid-back. Last year, tried to make a shy, portly, less intelligent boy buy his iPod for $200, and when the latter refused, the former beat him up so badly he had to go to the hospital. The offender kept coming to school and participating in student like, but the other students started to dislike him. In response, he turned against them for almost a year: he sometimes held everything up by refusing to appear in class pictures, walking in the middle of busy streets during field trips, and so on. His parents were not as concerned as they should have been: they worked so much they were rarely home, and they believed that as long as his grades were good, he was fine. During that phase, I tried to draw him in and make him laugh every time I saw him, baiting him with English questions, and eventually he grew out of it. Grow he did: he looked like a Japanese Rajon Rondo, and he tried to eat as much school lunch as possible; once he destroyed his stomach by eating 15 portions of cheese on curry day.
One girl had been bullied throughout elementary school as well because she was prone to headaches and struggled with academics and verbal gaffes. She had wanted to change elementary schools, but since she was one of only two girls in her grade, she stayed so the other girl wouldn’t be isolated among her six male classmates. Though she wasn’t our best piano player, we let her alone play a song solo on Culture Day to help her confidence. She also played tennis, but last winter, the captain of the team started to bully her very badly. She would find messages written on her folders like “YOU’RE AN IDIOT. DIE.” She found tacks in her shoes after gym class. She quit the team; the captain lost her position, and there were constant conferences between teachers and parents, students and teachers, the principal and others, for two months. That’s how long it took to make this girl stop. The ex-captain was a girl I’d always liked for her smile and politeness, but that masked a dark side I hadn’t seen.
The 7th grade class, 46 boys and 28 girls split into two homeroom classes, was noisy. I knew that when they arrived, because we’d always made a joyful noise together in elementary school. This was the class that performed “Peach Boy.” Every day, we jumped, joked, sang, and play-acted, and I had to pause class sometimes because I was laughing too hard. We had refrains like “GREAT GREAT GREAT GREAT GREAT!” and “I’m SUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUPER HAPPY!” and “PERRRRRRRRFECT!” that still ring in my ears now. We were like peas an’ carrots. They made me feel three times funnier than I really am. Pure energy is like a lightsaber, though. It can cut any which way. The boys fought and mocked each other with a manly frequency. We were putting out fires they started every day.
The current 8th grade class kept me up at night. As 7th graders, they were blank slates: not bad but not good, either, though they struggled with academics. It took me way too long to learn their names because so few had defined personalities. Over spring break, their homeroom teachers, who were young men, had to change schools, and their supervisor, Mr. Fukuda, was locked up. Their results on the previous winter’s standardized tests came in, and they were in the red on everything. Experienced teachers took over their classes, but that didn’t stop their decline.
Baseball coach Casey Stengel said, “The key to good management is keeping the nine guys who hate your guts away from the nine guys who haven’t made up their minds.” In April, each student had to pick a Chinese character (hence, a concept) he’d aspire to that year. One boy picked闇, “darkness.” His goal for the year was to “have a heart of darkness.” He loves Dragon Ball Z, but his favorite character is Freeza! The androgynous alien who kills everybody! He’s autistic, but he’s never had special education, and his parents let him do what he likes at home, so he ignores his homework and plays World of Warcraft until morning. In class he shouts things like “I have to pee!” and responds to questions like “What is Bill’s dog doing?” with “Dying!!” If he was a negative 10, we had a negative 9 and a few more negative 7’s, and eventually the positive and neutral students gave into this very vocal negative group.
Not only class but also other school activities, right down to cleaning and preparing lunch, became more laborious for that class than it was for elementary school students. The awkward turtle walked all over the room during our lunches together. There were boys who made fun of my accent every time I said something in class and jumped on all my grammar mistakes and girls who didn’t say hi to me because they thought I was creepy. One 8th grade boy stayed in his room and cried for three days after his volleyball teammates made fun of his large head. After that, he had a heart of glass: any hardship left him crying on the floor or scurrying to a tatami room to study alone and pick his scabs.
One of the English teachers was a 34-year old mother of two. We got along from the beginning. She was a solid teacher: no pyrotechnics, but she always had a plan. Her students’ English improved every lesson, and so did her teaching. The male students especially admired her. …Anyway, her younger son often got sick, and she was a PTA officer for his kindergarten, so she took time off every week with little warning to take care of him. The girls’ tennis team’s bullying incident broke out in her class, and that created so much trouble for her that soon after my two months with four extra elementary schools and the English contest concluded, I was teaching her English class with her lesson plans by myself for over two months. She tried as hard as she could to get home at 5:30 PM to take care of her sons, and I tried as hard as I could to make that possible, though that often meant staying at work until closing time myself. I gave up my study time to make someone else’s family life possible. I was kind of hoping she’d have another baby and name it “James.”
The other teacher, Mr. T, was a 25-year old who came to our school in 2007. Though he had trouble with procrastination, organization, concentration – being a young man, basically – he was very exciting and handsome and much-loved by students, whom he loved with all his heart. Ladies, I would love to introduce him to you. He was one of my best friends in Japan, and I hope we’ll always be close. He often talked to me about music, the guitar, and his family. His father was a police officer who died soon after his birth, and through sheer love, his mother raised two children who became teachers. The day he passed his test to become a teacher, his mother was praying for him, and she had a vision of the demonstration class he was giving that very moment. His older sister worked at a Christian kindergarten; a few weeks before Christmas, I went there dressed as Santa Claus (with Mr. T as the Japanese-speaking elf), HO HO HO’d as hard as I could, gave my best wishes to the parents, and distributed presents to everyone. The white kids were jubilant but half the Japanese were shocked. I might have been the loudest person they’d ever met.
Mr. T had all kinds of dreams. When he was young, he wanted to be four different things when he grew up. He’d be a doctor on Monday, a police officer on Tuesday, a teacher on Wednesday, and a musician on Thursday, and then he’d take Friday off. He wanted to work in the United States one day (he spoke English shockingly well for someone who’d never been abroad), but I have the feeling he’ll always be a teacher. He doesn’t want to be that far away from his family. In April, he was transferred to a school on the distant island chain of Amakusa. The prefecture often sends young teachers to the sticks because the schools need teachers, and the young need adventure. He had a choice – mountain (Aso) or ocean (Amakusa) – and he was an islander at heart. He came back to visit one day, clad in island wear, and he was darker, leaner, and hairier. Basically, he’d become a pirate. I hope he meets a comely wench out there, because his romantic misadventures from age 11 onward gave us a lot of material for class.
His replacement was a 23-year old who moved here from Hiroshima to be close to his girlfriend and became a teacher because that was the best job available to him. He taught at a large public school last year, and he’s just started his first three-year contract with the Board of Education. He’s very intelligent and very fit – a swimmer shaped like a beanpole – but to be honest, I don’t think teaching is the right job for him. Granted, like all young teachers he had a Herculean number of tasks, but he wasn’t getting any satisfaction from it. He didn’t realize that as a homeroom teacher, he’d become a father of 37, and that in junior high emotional education is more important than the textbook. What most alarmed me the most is that after three months, he still didn’t know the names of the 100 students he was teaching. Only the most saintly student can love such a teacher.
He loved English, and he was a smooth talker, so I figured he’d be fine. The other teacher requested me much more than he did, so I missed most of his classes the first half of the spring. That was a mistake. He struggled to put himself in the shoes of someone who didn’t understand the material already. Since English is my first language, I didn’t grasp how difficult he was to understand until the test results started to come in.
One of his classes, made up of 8th graders, got so dark, unresponsive, and resistant that they practically mutinied. During one particular class, to which I arrived late because I was commuting from the elementary school, he had a meltdown in front of them. Afterward, they requested to move to the female teacher’s class so they could learn more, and they had a point: his half of the class was the “advanced” level, but their marks on tests were –behind– the remedial group. After that chain of events, which got the attention of the entire staff, I became his mentor on matters of English, teaching, self-scheduling, students, life, and love. The night of his meltdown, I counseled him at a local café from 11 PM to 1 AM. His first demonstration class for the Department of Education was my third-to-last day of school, so I was his Obi-Wan all the way to the finish. I really hope that he’s had a good summer and that Joseph can support him this fall and for the next couple years.
I put as much time into turning the school around as I could, but time was a concern. I worked around 50 hours of unpaid overtime a month from April ’09 onward, which even my Supervisor at the Board of Education thought was inappropriate. I spent a third of my work hours at elementary schools, which especially needed me because they were renovating their English programs. I had duties for Tamana International Society, City Hall, the Board of Education, and the like. And, of course, my upcoming Japanese tests and my body’s need for sleep and exercise required attention. People kept asking me if I was dating anyone and I kept saying “Oro?”
I checked the written work of all 200 students daily. I made a couple hundred worksheets and several dozen picture cards which we used in class. I made posters for the English board every month. I coached our students for the English Speech & Recitation Contest by myself. I was technically an assistant, but like I said, I taught a lot of classes myself, and at the end I’d even run the younger teacher’s English class while he was in it. There was no time to rest, and especially no time to get sick: if I didn’t do the work, no one would. Every day I thought, “If I don’t get this work done, I can’t go home,” and “I can’t do this job forever, but while I’m here, I’m going to be the best there ever was.” I remembered all of you, and I wanted to work as hard as you are. I remembered the poor of the world and didn’t want to waste the gifts I had. I put 110% into all-school functions to cheer up the kids and inspire them to try harder, right down to running all the distance events with them at Sports Day and coaching them on singing their own school song at convocations. The only time I restrained my voice was during “Kimi ga yo,” the national anthem, so that General Douglas MacArthur wouldn’t strike me with a bolt of lightning.
I heard the news during triweekly staff meetings, since teachers rarely talked to me about things personally. I read all the handouts that made it to my desk. When someone did ask for my opinion, I made the most of it: I was one of the only staff members living in Tensui, and I was certainly the only one teaching at all the elementary schools that fed into it, so I had a unique understanding of the students, their families, and the town.
As disobedience flourished, my gait changed: I went from strolling the hallways to patrolling them. I tried to be bright and friendly but intolerant of waywardness. One Japanese educational proverb is “Atarimae no koto wa atarimae deshou,” which plays on the multiple meanings of atarimae (proper, usual, natural, obvious) and means “What’s proper should be ordinary.” Young teachers often worry that enforcing the rules means losing their friendships with students. I don’t think that’s how it works. They have plenty of friends already, but they don’t have enough protectors. If you’re respectful and reasonable, you can punish a student and be even closer to him when it’s over.
I talked to students whenever I could get away from my paperwork. I was especially close to the kids who didn’t fit in: they more than anyone thought of me as a person rather than a foreigner. Names like Reiya, Ryota, Yuuta, and Mizuki will always warm my heart. One girl had an introspective phase where she quit tennis and drew away from other people. She was asking herself, “Why do I have to go to school? Why am I here on this earth?” I saw her at her siblings’ elementary school arts and performance festival after that, and I talked to her for twenty minutes about the times I’d asked myself the same questions, and what my own answers were. There were tears in our eyes. Eventually, she brightened up and came back to tennis. She knit a wristband for me when I left, and she wrote, “We had precious experiences together.”
I considered dozens of parents my friends. Parties were very important to me and the other teachers, because the more the parents knew us, the more they supported us. For this reason, every April a Japanese homeroom teacher visits the home of each of his students and meets the whole family, and a few times a year school is held on Saturday so parents can come watch class. One of my role models invited parents to come to his classes whenever they wanted; he wrote letters to the parents every week and made personal phone calls every month. I often asked students how many people were in their families, how they were doing, and so forth. Besides food, it was my best conversation starter. Usually I was too busy talking to parents to drink the beer they poured for me, and at the end they’d say “Wow, you’re a strong drinker!” I loved recognizing a mother’s children, then praising them to her and telling her stories about them. They always remembered what I’d said. It was like lifting someone up with a lever.
I had a lever for parties and a hammer to class. I didn’t need it for the 7th or 9th graders, because we always got along so well that they acted better around me than around anyone else, but the 8th graders required a different approach at the end of my term. I had to be firm with them – not inflexible, because if they didn’t understand me or something didn’t benefit them, I had to change the plan – but I had to cut through the noise, cut out the goofy jokes, and just do my job: teaching them English. When I was the assistant teacher, I walked between desks working with individual students. It’s too bad I only fulfilled my potential my last month. I still had a lot of room for improvement as a teacher, but my time was up.
“Love never fails.” Whenever I was flummoxed, I held onto that thought. One month removed from Japan, love for my students is my strongest feeling about that corner of the world. It’s a big reason learning students’ names is essential: they’ll listen to you more if they decide you care about them. I learned early on that there is such a thing as tough love, but it was hard to keep the love in my heart when I had to be tough. I could have handled some students better.
Forgiveness is essential. My father has raised four tricky teenagers himself, but he doesn’t have any hard feelings about it. He just says, “It’s a difficult age. You’re trying to become your own person then.” I’m amazed about how long I held grudges against a few people. What did that accomplish? Nothing. If a student thinks you have it in for him, he’ll listen to you even less. It would have been better to say that tomorrow is another day and greet everyone cheerfully in the morning with no memory of yesterday.
So is humor, if it’s good-spirited. It can be hard to laugh when there’s so much left to do, but it’s an important release valve that gets students into the class. If they’ve already turned against you, they won’t sell your jokes, but just smiling will lighten things up anyway.
I dislike reward systems such as stickers unless they’re used sparingly, because their legitimacy depends on consistency, which can be time-consuming. I think smiling and high-fiving is faster. My students loved stickers, though, and sometimes went all-out when the other teachers used them as prizes.
Ex post facto laws irked the Romans, and they’re no better now. If you don’t want something to happen in your class, establish it from the beginning and stamp it out whenever you see it. Measure yourself with an even harder standard than the one you use for your students. When they have a question, concern, or complaint, take it seriously.
The keynote speaker at my second midyear orientation told us to never yell at our students, that it would never accomplish anything good. I wouldn’t say never because a raised voice has worked for me before, but the struggling teacher reminded me of those words. I asked him why he got so furious at students sometimes, and he said, “I feel like they hate me.” I said, “They don’t hate you. They don’t know enough about you to hate you. They’re just uncomfortable with you. Hating them back won’t stop that.” Castigating someone works if he knows better; if he doesn’t, something else is needed.
It’s a mistake to assume that someone is good just because he doesn’t do evil. Neutral is halfway to bad. Sometimes we said our students were wonderful when they were simply not making trouble, and they became troublemakers the next year. Students who help to make class more fun and help their peers when they’re struggling are worth their weight in gold. Tensui teachers will always revere the name Daiki Kiyota; his parents met in a motorcycle gang, and while he didn’t have the best marks, but he did have the best heart. He was cool and funny enough that his classmates wanted to be like him. It was hard for him to memorize English, but once he did, he was the Zach Galifianakis of the English Recitation Contest. We turned lunch into karaoke, belting out “Last Christmas” and “All I Want For Christmas is You” one December day. He cried like a baby at graduation and returned to school every month to talk to us.
A teacher can’t just pay attention to the problem students. Making the good kids better is equally rewarding, and ignoring them can be dangerous. If I’d received attention from the teachers in junior high, I wouldn’t have turned into a jerk to try to impress everyone. While girls rarely act up during class, a class with confident, assertive girls is three times more fun and balanced than a class of wallflowers, and the girls really help keep the boys in line. One of my favorite groups was a 6th grade class at one of my temporary schools that was two-thirds female. I’d put those girls up against any anime about fun junior high school students, and the boys who grew up with them were kind, friendly, and even (gulp) feminine, even the 6-foot-2 15-year old volleyball star. When we played basketball during recess, we lost by 20, and if I hadn’t gone Kobe Bryant it might have been 40.
Workaholic teachers can lose their students. If a teacher doesn’t spend enough time with family and friends, his batteries run out. Outside interests make him more interesting. Sleep is essential to emotions, energy, and decision-making. And I saw way too many young teachers eating cup ramen for dinner every night. There’s no better way to change from Adonis to Alf.
Don’t undermine someone by speaking negatively about him in public. It’s dangerous and likely counterproductive to do that to anyone at any time in the workplace, really. Criticism should only be given when it’s requested. (I wish I’d known this in high school!)
If your co-worker needs someone to talk to, lend him your ear. Don’t count on anyone caring about your complaints, problems, or aspirations, though. It’s not that they dislike you; they just have enough stress already. I talked about myself less with each passing week.
Parents are unquestionably the most important part of a student’s development. Children learn what human beings are like from their parents and siblings. Their environment and stimuli are chosen by their parents. If these parents let the TV do the talking, children learn proper behavior from comedians and Tom & Jerry. Maybe Teach for America has such a high turnover because young people think they can override the years of experiences a child has had at home, and if they grew up in stable homes themselves, they don’t realize yet how lucky they were.
I knew the parents of most of the good students, and I didn’t know the parents of most of the bad ones. Parents’ involvement in their children’s lives correlated with student behavior more than monetary success did, though students do usually take after their successful parents’ good habits.
At one party, I met the parents of three of my boys who struggle the most at school. The mother was quiet. The father was personable, but when the topic turned to parenting, he became monotonous. Every sentence ended with “I can’t” or “It’s too difficult.” I learned he never spent time with his children, talked to them about their problems, or helped them with school. His two excuses were that he was too busy with work, and they wouldn’t want to hang out with their old fart of a dad anyway. The other fathers and I kept encouraging him, and he kept rejecting it.
In my welcome speech two years ago, I talked about how important it is to know English and different ways of studying they might enjoy. In my goodbye speech, I talked about enjoying life and living each day like it’s totally new, about loving yourself, loving your enemies, and praying for those who persecute you. I feel like I didn’t understand people until now. Obviously that’s not true; I still don’t understand them well enough. I have so many peers in both America and Kumamoto who were better teachers than I was and always will be. Still, I’ll be a much better parent than I would have been. Fifty years from now, I still won’t regret these two years.