Thursday, April 4, 2013

Smoke Em, If You Gotta

I've talked a little bit about how generally well-behaved my students are. Compared to many of the city kids, they're little angels. Most of the time they are quiet when they need to be, they are seated when they need to be, they do their homework (mostly) and are polite. I've never been kanchoed, pranked or treated poorly. The worst thing that happens is that one or two kids might cross the street to avoid talking to me in public. But I am a teacher, and anyway that's something that some of the townsfolk do as well.

But it's not always sunshine and rainbows in Chizu JHS. Let's talk about the methods of discipline used here.

First of all, rowdiness and being too talkative is almost exclusively confined to the first years. The second and third years, by the time I came here in August, were pretty much on lockdown. They knew their place and did what they were supposed to do. But the first years hadn't quite figured it out yet. I'm not talking anything extreme, just the run of the mill din that filled the classroom every time the teacher would go back to their desk or leave the room in western schools. But the difference here is that it happens all the time. Like, the kids are just talking and carrying on and to hell with everything else. But the teacher doesn't stop the class, quiet them down, shout them down, whatever; they just keep teaching. It's the job of the homeroom teacher, who hovers always in the back of the class with me when I'm not doing anything, to walk around and address individual problems.

"Hey kid get your book out."
"Hey kid turn around and quit talking."
"Hey kid quit sharpening your pencil with a box cutter."
"Hey kid what're you doing in the back of the class dumping the contents of your satchel out and rolling around in them like a mud-drunk pig?"

This kind of thing. Well one day, during the problem class, it was just me and the JTE. No homeroom teacher. The din was at normal levels, it was near the end of the year so the kids were pumped. I was walking around and putting out a few fires which promptly sprung back to life as soon as I walked away. But what're you gonna do? When all of a sudden my JTE puts down her papers and starts talking to the kids in a low voice. I can't hear what she's saying or understand it, but I know some heavy business is going down by the kids' reactions.They all went stone silent and put on their game faces.

Now, I'm thinking that should be enough. She'll give them a light tongue lashing, put them back into line and then we can move on. It's the second to last class and the kids are excited anyway-- they know we're watching a movie next class and it'll be bordering on impossible to get them to be obedient robostudents at this stage of the game anyway.

But she doesn't stop. She puts her papers back into her basket, tucks them away neatly, looks up at the kids and says, "I can't do it anymore." and walks out of the classroom.

The hush settles for a moment. We're all waiting for her to come back, feeling kind of guilty, wondering what will happen next.

But she doesn't come back. And then, I'm especially wondering what will happen next. What's protocol in this situation? The kids turn to look at me, and I give them the "I don't know, but..." look and tell them, "You guys just got SMOKED."

The din roars slowly back to life, which is fine. A few students get up and move over to me, and begin discussing what happened. I ask them, "Dude, what did she say to you?" They tell me she just reprimanded them for being too talkative. I'm wondering if I should try to teach them something when everyone dashes back to their desk and the electricity of anticipation pulses through the room. The door slides open. But the science teacher walks in, shrouded in the lab coat he always wears, and lectures the kids on behaving properly. He made the offenders stand up and later go apologize to the teacher. She never came back, and never said a word to me about it afterward.

One other incident happened recently. It was in the morning, and all the teachers were sitting around at our desks. One of the second years comes in with the dumbest haircut I've ever seen on a human being, and is going to talk to another teacher, when one of the third year teachers stands up and says, "HEY!".

He walks quickly over the to the student, and I can't understand the exchange, but it's basically this time-honored classic:

Authority figure:         "WHAT THE #$^% DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING?"
Person in Trouble:     "I didn't do anything!"

So the kid starts grabbing and pushing on the teacher half-heartedly, who lightly pushes him away (this is for real no big deal here) when another teacher takes them both back into another room. Later the next week I went out to watch the kids run track and field, and I found the teacher who took them back into another room. We sit and watch the kids in silence after exchanging pleasantries, when I see the offending kid run by. His ridiculous haircut, which was just one side of his head shaved with the rest of the hair combed over the other side, is gone. His hair is close cut now. I think I know what happened, but I turn to the teacher, point out the offending student and ask, "So why was Sensei so angry at him the other day?"

He explains to me that the student had come in before with that haircut, and the teacher had asked him to fix it the next day. He had not done so, and I saw the resulting fallout. He explained that in other countries, many people look different and have many different styles, and so on, but that's not the case here. Everyone looks similar and has pretty similar styles. The nail that sticks up gets hammered down. I knew he had lived abroad and was speaking with some perspective, but that adage is still a little unsettling to the western mind. It's not that I think that we should all go wild doing our own things and that no one can do any wrong, I can see the drawbacks of that too. But it's unsettling to imagine the repercussions of living in a society that is so homogenized that even from an early age folks are beaten down for stepping off the normal road. But that's the way it is sometimes.

Discipline is different here, and it works. Owing partly to the fact that it's a small school in a small town, and partly to the conformity I mentioned earlier. I'm interested to see how today's first years react to becoming second years. Will there be a tipping point beyond which they'll pull together as a group? Or will they all revert to flopping about in their belongings in the back of the class like fish out of water? Or will they finally lead an armed insurrection with those box cutters...?

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