Well, First, I Plug In My PlayStation…

, , , , , , | Learning | July 12, 2020

I’m an American who lives in Tokyo teaching English. I’m just finishing up a forty-minute lesson with two intermediate-level students: a middle-aged man and a young woman. I always use the last minutes to ask if the students have any questions about anything since this is usually their only time to interact with a non-Japanese person.

Me: “Okay, guys, before we finish, do you have any questions about anything? About the lesson? About America? About me?”

Male Student: “Do you like Japanese girls?”

This is a really common question asked by male students to male teachers.

Me: “Um, no. Actually, I like Japanese guys. I’m gay.”

Male Student: “Oh.”

The conversation goes silent. I’m pretty open about that fact and students are always very nice about it, but it usually is a conversation stopper.

Me: “Okay, so, no more questions?”

Male Student: “How do you, um…”

The student pauses for a moment, obviously struggling to find the right words.

Male Student: “How do you, um… play in the nighttime?”

I’m completely taken aback by his question and try to think of something to say, but before I can, the female student speaks up.

Female Student: “Hey, hey, I don’t want to hear this. Please ask him after the lesson!”

A Battery Of Imprecise Descriptions

, , , , , , , | Learning | July 11, 2020

I’m a grad student. We’re researching injury prevention, and we’re assessing a list of patients that we may include in our study based on the manner of injury.

Study Lead: “Okay, everyone, we really need to be precise here. If you look at line 156, someone just wrote ‘bat’ as the cause of injury. Were they bitten by a flying rodent or hit by a baseball implement?”

Grad Student #1: “Well… comments say, ‘Bruising,’ so I’m guessing baseball.”

Grad Student #2: “Oh! That was me. The patient was hit by a thrown battery.”

Study Lead: “Clarity, people! Okay, next line, I see a cause of injury listed as ‘axe.’ [Grad Student #2], if someone was hit in the head with a can of body spray, I’m enrolling you in the study.”

Grad Student #2: “But I haven’t been injured by anything.”

Study Lead: “Not yet!”

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A Civilized Disagreement

, , , , , , | Learning | July 10, 2020

I was never much into sports and preferred video games, even back in the nineties when they hadn’t quite reached the mainstream. In high school, this brings me into some conflict with one of the journalism teachers, whose other job is writing in the sports pages for the local newspaper. 

Despite our minor and mostly jocular disagreements on what constitutes news, he supports my interest in a video game review column, leading to one memorable clash. 

Teacher: “The column seems fine, except for one thing. You refer to the maker as ‘legendary’ and your column needs to be written from a neutral stance.”

Me: “He’s founded two separate game companies, and when he makes a game, they put his name on the box above the title. It’s a solid mark of quality.”

Teacher: “I get that he has some presence in the industry, but I still believe that your personal opinion on his work is coloring the piece inappropriately.”

Me: “I have an idea.”

I call out across the classroom to the only other gamer in the class, who — importantly — has NOT read my article or heard us talking.

Me: “[Classmate], I’m reviewing Alpha Centauri. What’s a good adjective to describe Sid Meier?”

Classmate: *Without hesitation* “Legendary.”

That teacher and I did not see eye to eye all the time, but I give him credit for working with me despite our differences. The column was published as written, and Sid Meier was actually inducted into the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences later that same year. He was only the second person inducted, after Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of, among others, Super Mario. Twenty-one years later, Sid Meier is still making award-winning games.

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That’ll Teach Them To Hog The Sandbox

, , , , , , , , | Learning | July 9, 2020

Back when I was in elementary school, my fifth-grade teacher was a gruff older man universally loved by the students, well-known for giving his students nicknames that lightly poked fun of them and taking no nonsense from anyone. In contrast, I was a retiring, tiny nerd girl who loved nothing better than to curl up with a good book.

One day, near the end of the year, my teacher found a book about a popular sandbox game on the floor outside the classroom. He put it on the table just outside the room and made an announcement asking the owner to claim it. Weeks went by and no one did, though I did sneak glances at some of the pages when I could since I was a huge fan of the game.

The end of the year came and the book was left unclaimed. On the last day of school, my teacher made another announcement: if anyone wanted the book, they had to come inside right before the class kickball game and he would give them the book.

Needless to say, I showed up, only to find at least six other kids from my class who wanted the book — all boys with at least four inches of height on me. As soon as I walked up to take my shot at getting the book, they began to complain. My teacher said nothing as they told me to go away because girls didn’t play that game, with all the standard game-based sexism. Even though no one had ever told me video games weren’t for girls before, I stubbornly protested and told them that even if other girls didn’t play that game, I did, and I had just as much chance of getting the book as they did.

While they were still arguing and I was getting progressively more flustered, my teacher handed me the book. The boys stopped complaining, I started beaming, and I got to take the book home. I still play that game today, and the book — which I’ve read several times — has a permanent place on my shelf. Thank you, fifth-grade teacher, for not letting a couple of bullies ruin my day.

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Going From Zero To Hero With A Splash!

, , , , , | Learning | July 8, 2020

Our swimming club usually gets the kids who have behaviour issues and can’t be handled elsewhere. Since we are used to — untrue — negative stories, we usually don’t have opinions formed before seeing a child. But sometimes, even we get fooled by experiences from the past.

A mother asks if her thirteen-year-old son can join the swimming club. They just emigrated from an Asian nation. They speak little Dutch and a bit more English. It’s not much of a problem, so our contact person asks if he has any swimming diplomas. 

The boy has none. That country doesn’t do swimming diplomas, nor do they teach swimming classes. So, how did he learn? He taught himself! This usually sets alarm bells off because we have had plenty of parents who’ve said their angel children could swim like fish and all they could do was barely avoid drowning. 

Our first plan is to let him start at level zero as a beginner, which means, for him, knee-deep water. But, since there’s a global health crisis going on, that class hasn’t started again yet. 

The mother asks if we can please, please, give him a chance. She knows it doesn’t sound good, but he really can swim well and if we only gave him a chance, if he wasn’t good enough, she would never bother us again. Since something just feels… different from the other entitled parents, the contact person arranges a test swim. 

Seven teachers are present, ready to jump in if needed. The boy is shy and nervous, but he also looks happy when he sees the pool. One teacher will act as his “primary teacher” for the day and she asks him to show what he can do. 

Our jaws drop. Of course, he’s not an Olympic champion but… he’s good! Considering his technique, I mumble that he probably watched Olympic swimming videos as teaching material. 

It turns out that he did!

The teacher then asks him to dive. The boy looks confused; what is diving? The teacher shows it with poses — teachers are not allowed to swim yet — and the boy tries to dive. It is a good dive. He has never swum on his back before, and he does, including the backstroke! He picks it up immediately. 

Then, our most senior teacher arrives. He’s approaching ninety and has taught for around sixty years; keeping him away from the pool would be torture for him, so we’re very careful around him. “Hey, new kid?” he asks us. “So, which class will he be in? Level five?”

After class, I see the boy waiting outside. He walks up to me and asks, in broken Dutch and English, when the next class will be. I tell him to send an email to our contact person and please, please, please come back, because he swims wonderfully! A shy smile appears on his face and when I get home, I contact our contact person to say that the boy seems interested in returning. 

Due to experiences in the past, we expected someone at less than level zero. We got someone close to level five. We hope he will return — if he wants to! — because he can grow into a wonderful swimmer, perhaps even a champion!

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