Wednesday, February 01, 2006

My 3-5s

School grades in Japan are designated by years, as they are in North America. However, instead of Grade One, Grade Two...Grade Twelve (or First Grade, Second Grade, Twelfth Grade if you're American) It's First Year, Second Sixth Year and then when you reach Junior High School they start again -First Year, Second Year, Third Year. AND again when you reach High School -First Year, Second Year, Third Year.

In addition, there are usually multiple classes of each grade, so they are given a number. At my school there are 5 classes of each grade, so they are given numbers like 1-2 (first year, class 2), 2-4 (second year, class 4), and 3-5 (third year, class 5).

This is quite a useful system especially for schools who have multiple streams of study, such as Science, Math, English, and as is the case at my school, Agriculture. So, for example if you are in the Math stream you're in X-2 class and if you are in the Agricultural Studies stream you are always in X-5.

Nyuzen High School is the only Agricultural school in this district. We are not known for our academics, we are known for our rice and fresh produce! The Agricultural stream is a special curriculum designed to give students hands on experience at farming. All throughout the year the staff are offered bags of fresh produce like tomatoes, eggplant, onions, cauliflower and lettuce (usually a dollar a bag!).
Our school has it's own rice fields and green houses and there is a trained group of teachers who spend more time in the dirt and on combines than they do in the classroom.

Thirty students (as opposed to forty which is the norm in the other streams) are chosen every year from over 80 applicants. Because of the smaller class size and the type of studying they do (getting muddy together) they tend to form stronger bonds with each other as compared to the other classes. They really are a unique group of students.

When I came to Nyuzen High School I didn't know much about this 'special' class. Quickly I learned that these students really didn't HAVE to learn English -there was no big test for them at the end of the year like the other streams had. As a result, most of the English teachers who taught them didn't hold high expectations. I was told to just 'dumb it down' a bit when I taught this class. Yet when I walked into my first class with the 1-5s (two and a half years ago) they were the keenest, liveliest, most eager group of kids who wanted to communicate in English more than any other class I had. Every week I looked forward to teaching them. Every week they didn't disappoint. Sure, their English wasn't great, but they COMMUNICATED better than the academic students did.

Now they are my 3-5s. -sigh- And they are in their last month at Nyuzen High School, with graduation in exactly 4 weeks. I haven't taught them since last spring, but they have managed to keep me involved in their goings on. I've gone out to the rice fields to harvest rice, I've been invited to watch all of their special presentations and they are always happy to chat if I drop in to their classroom at lunchtime or after school.

I know that a lot of who they have turned out to be has been a result of an amazing homeroom teacher who has really nurtured them over the past 3 years. He is a very caring and involved teacher who taught them to be polite, generous and most importantly, accepting of others. Let's face it, they're teenagers and it's difficult to be inclusive at times. The other classes are full of cliques -the cool kids, the nerds, the quiet kids...they're different, they know it and they stick to their own. But the 3-5s are not like this. They don't discriminate, they don't talk down to others and they never exclude anyone. How could I not love them?

I'm writing this today because last week I was given an invitation by the 3-5s to a buffet lunch held in honor of all the Third Year teachers. I'm not a Third Year teacher, but it just goes to show that they still consider me one of their teachers. I felt very honored and special. Today was the luncheon! It was amazing to say the least. The students prepared all the food, which ranged from sushi roles to macaroni casserole to bibimba (Korean food) to roast beef. We had fruit salad and chocolate cake for dessert. The students were their usual bubbly selves as they went around making sure all the teachers got enough to eat. I was so proud of them for putting on such a huge event.

These 30 kids were the ultimate reason I stayed for a 3rd contract term. I want so much to see them graduate and go on to prove and improve themselves in whatever path they've chosen. Don't worry, they're not all going to be farmers! Some of them are off to university to study Art, Science, and yes, even English. I've already had an invitation to visit one of my students in Kyoto once she's settle into her studies.

March 2 will be a bitter sweet day. These students have defined my NyuKo (Nyuzen High School) life.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006


here are the other choices my student had:

Laugh, Cry and Think -Jim Valvano

Time is very precious to me. I don't know how much I have left, and I have some things that I would like to say. Hopefully, at the end, I'll have something that will be important to other people too.

But, I can't help it. Now, I'm fighting cancer, everybody knows that. People ask me all the time about how you go through your life and how's your day, and nothing is changed for me. As Dick said, I'm a very emotional, passionate man. I can't help it. That's being the son of Rocco and Angelina Valvano. It comes with the territory. We hug, we kiss, we love. And when people say to me how do you get through life or each day, it's the same thing. To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. And number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that's a full day. That's a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you're going to have something special.

I know, I gotta go, I gotta go, and I got one last thing and I said it before, and I'm gonna say it again: Cancer can take away all my physical ability. It cannot touch my mind; it cannot touch my heart; and it cannot touch my soul. And those three things are going to carry on forever.

I thank you and God bless you all.

She Walks in Beauty - Lord Byron

SHE walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that 's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellow'd to that tender light 5
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impair'd the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o'er her face; 10
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o'er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow, 15
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald

Most of the big shore places were closed now and there were hardly any lights except the shadowy, moving glow of a ferryboat across the Sound. And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors' eyes - a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby's house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.

And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby's wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy's dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter - tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms further... And one fine morning -

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.


"Hôïchi!" the deep voice called. But the blind man held his breath, and sat motionless.

"Hôïchi!" grimly called the voice a second time. Then a third time--savagely:--


Hôïchi remained as still as a stone,--and the voice grumbled:--

"No answer!--that won't do!...Must see where the fellow is." ...

There was a noise of heavy feet mounting upon the verandah. The feet approached deliberately,--halted beside him. Then, for long minutes,--during which Hôïchi felt his whole body shake to the beating of his heart, there was dead silence.

At last the gruff voice muttered close to him:--

"Here is the biwa; but of the biwa-player I see--only two ears!... So that explains why he did not answer: he had no mouth to answer with--there is nothing left of him but his ears.... Now to my lord those ears I will take--in proof that the august commands have been obeyed, so far as was possible"...

At that instant Hôïchi felt his ears gripped by fingers of iron, and torn off! Great as the pain was, he gave no cry. The heavy footfalls receded along the verandah,--descended into the garden,--passed out to the roadway,--ceased. From either side of his head, the blind man felt a thick warm trickling; but he dared not lift his hands....

Before sunrise the priest came back. He hastened at once to the verandah in the rear, stepped and slipped upon something clammy, and uttered a cry of horror;--for he saw, by the light of his lantern, that the clamminess was blood. But he perceived Hôïchi sitting there, in the attitude of meditation--with the blood still oozing from his wounds.