Betty-Sensei had informed Akiyama and I that she’d be spending most of the day today at the doctor. She’s been having problems with her left knee. I’ve mentioned before the trouble she has walking and the pain she’s in most of the day. Beyond my concern for her well being, which was considerable, it also meant that the five classes of first-year students we would generally team teach, I’d be teaching alone.
And one of these precious angels would be the the little piss-ant that told his parents Mrs. Betty wasn’t making the grade!
This would be, actually, the first time in my tenure as an ALT that I was called upon to do such a thing. And, the more I thought about it, and considering the environment I work in, the more I realized that it was a sign of trust as well as a leap of faith on the part of the principal and the English teachers, made as much out of necessity (there really wasn’t anyone else available to do it) as it was out of their belief that I could handle it.
Akiyama and Mrs. Betty were behind this, of course.
There had to have been a meeting held to discuss what to do in Mrs. Betty’s absence. The faculty meet about EVERYTHING, at least once. And, after all, this wasn’t just one period- this was an entire day of me, on my lonesome, with the precious brood, with PTA-members marching hither and thither around the building at will.
I could see the two of them, Mrs. Betty and Akiyama, tag-teaming that effete leader of ours.
“I wonder if this is a good idea,” the Principal might have said, to test the waters. “He’s only an ALT, after all.”
“Loco-sensei can handle it, sir,” Akiyama would have said. “He’s taught classes by himself before, and did very well.”
“I don’t know…” he would retort. “I mean, what if the kids are unruly? Can he handle it?”
“Can he handle it?” Mrs. Betty would have snapped. “Christ in heaven! Can you handle it? You can’t even handle a fax from a parent!”
“Now, Betty-Sama, there’s no need to get…”
“Don’t ‘Sama’ me! I ain’t no VIP! I’m a teacher. A damn good one, too! And, it takes one to know one. And, Loco-sensei is a fine teacher, with a spine! More than I can say for half these spine-less bureaucrats in this office, letting these kids run around all crazy! Have you looked around your school recently? The damn lunatics are running the asylum, and all you can do is question the classroom management skills of one of the few teachers around here who isn’t afraid to…”
“Ok ok ok!” the principal would have said. “You’re right, of course.”
So, yeah, when I walked in this morning, I kinda felt like I had to represent.
I’m not even sure if this kinda thing was in my contract. But I wasn’t inclined to get the Company involved. Last thing I needed was The Silky One himself getting all hot and bothered about the situation and possibly complicating it with some legalese.
I had arrived early this morning and prepared everything. I wasn’t nervous, though. I just didn’t want to let Mrs. Betty down.
In the morning meeting, after the main meeting, the 1st, 2nd and 3rd year teachers break up into their individual meetings, and in this meeting Akiyama stood and reminded the other first year teachers that I would be on my lonesome today.
“If you find yourself with some free time, please look in on Loco-sensei and give him a little support if he needs it.”
All eyes were on me.
I didn’t know what to say. I mean, I didn’t anticipate needing any support, but you never know, you know? So, I went with the default, “Yoroshiku onegai shimasu.” And smiled. It’s a phrase you can pretty much use in any situation where you want people to do something for you, I’ve found. And a smile can do the rest.
Midway through the first period, one of the first year teachers, Shimizu-sensei, came by and stood outside the classroom in the hallway, visible through the open doors and windows. And watched us…watched us having a ball! Not to toot my own horn, but the kids, especially the 1st year students, love themselves some Loco-sensei. Especially when there’s no other teacher around…and they had me for a full 50 minutes! A very rare treat indeed. I think I got to know the students better in that 50 minutes than I had in the 4 months since I met them. Even the ones I knew to be knuckleheads lightened up. Once I had established that while, yes, I was alone today but, no, this would not be show your ass time, and yes, I too wanted to avoid tedium with extreme prejudice but, no, I would not forego the lesson to achieve that goal, all went very well.
The same held true for the 2nd period class. However, during this class the Principal himself came up to watch unobtrusively. I spied his approach before he saw me, and proceeded to pretend I hadn’t seen him at all. And he couldn’t have come have come at a better time. We were engrossed in a game I use to teach English adjectives, where I stick the words and representative pictures on the blackboard and have the students stand and clap while I say the adjective and point to the picture. If I should say the wrong adjective (for example, I’ll say “tall” and point to the picture for “short”) they shouldn’t clap. If they do, they must sit down. I can adjust the speed according to the skill of the students. Last one standing is the winner. They were having so much fun, they didn’t even notice the Principal. A couple of minutes later I forgot he was there, too, I was so caught up in their excitement. After a few minutes I caught some motion out of the side of my eye. Apparently he’d been satisfied that all was well, and just as unobtrusively as he’d arrived, he departed.
During the third period, no teacher or administrator came by.
After three periods, it was lunch time. I ran into Akiyama in the office.
“How’s it going?” she asked, beaming.
“So far so good,” I said, modestly.
“Ne ne ne,” she said, and leaned in. This is what she’d do when she wanted to tell me something surreptitiously. “The Principal came by your class and watched you!”
“Yeah, I thought I saw him,” I said.
“He called me in the office just now. he said you were doing a great job!”
“Really? That’s nice.”
She’d said it like there was job offer as a permanent teacher or some kind of bonus attached to his praise or something. Far as I was concerned I was doing this to help out Mrs. Betty and Akiyama. And, because it was my job.
“You are great!” She was so excited for me.
I didn’t want to be a killjoy so I smiled and said, “the kids were pretty well-behaved today, lucky for me.”
By the time 5th period came around, my medicine was starting to wear off. I’d had a tooth extracted last Friday. And with the pain came a little irritation. Exacerbated by what had to be the worst class of the six 1st year classes. In this class were a couple of students reminiscent of Matsui kun and company. To them, me on my lonesome meant …Y’all want this party started, right? Y’all want this party started quickly, right? Set it off…
Every instruction I uttered was met with “WakKANnai!” Said the way they say it, the best English equivalent would be “Do I look like I have any use for English?” or “Pleaeeeese! Give me a break! You’re not even a Sub. You’re a fucking ALT?”
My mouth was aching, and from the 90 minute wrestling match my dentist had with my mushiba 虫歯 (he won by the way, with the aid of a trayful of tools what looked like something from the first Batman movie, better suited to a mechanic than a dentist), my whole head was throbbing, and my patience with these two knuckleheads was rapidly waning. The clock told me I had 20 more minutes, but my patience said, “not so much…”
Mrs. Betty could not have chosen a better time to make a dramatic entrance. She hobbled into the classroom through the back door, just as one student, the worst of the bunch, was sticking things in the lonely oscillating fan just to hear them rattle around the blade’s cage.
“Now-now, Taro-kun, I know you’re not behaving badly after our last talk,” she said calmly in Japanese, like everything was well under control. I had a strange feeling right about then that Taro-kun was the little piss-ant that caused the hub-bub the other day…and that Mrs. Betty had felt it, too.
Taro’s head whipped around, as did every head in the class. He looked back at the rattling fan, then at everyone else in the classroom just as everyone looked at him, then back at Mrs. Betty. He looked the way kids look when they’re bumfuzzled, racking their brains for an alibi, coming up with nothing for the effort.
“No need to explain. Just turn off the fan and take your seat, like a good lad.”
He did as he was instructed. Post haste.
“Mr. Loco,” she said to me, as Taro took his seat for the first time in 40 minutes. “Would you mind very much if I took over from here? I need to return some quizzes and such.”
“Of course not,” I said. Watching her paiful steps, I felt almost ashamed to think my pain was significant. “Are you ok?”
“I’m fine,” she replied. “Just old, is all.”
She slowly made her way to the front of the class, all eyes following her. She greeted the students and then turned to me.
“You don’t have to stay,” she said, smiling that beautiful crooked smile of hers. “Go on down to the office, and take it easy. I’ll be down in a bit. English class is over for today.”
“You sure?” I asked. “They’re a little wild this afternoon.”
“Who? These little angels?” She said, her voice high and icy as some mountain peak. I could feel the chill in the gaping hole in my mouth where my molar used to be. “Don’t worry about me, Mr. Loco. They know better.”