Maru 3 ~ What does it mean to have a teacher? ~

August24, 2011 (Japanese) / November 1, 2012 (English)

“Frankly, it was difficult for me back then,” I told Maru. She nodded silently.

I told her everything: how I looked up to her mentor, Koseki-sensei as my new “big-brother” and often imitated his teaching style without fully trusting or understanding his eccentric educational values; how, at the same time, I wanted to be recognized as a competent teacher from other colleagues who seemed more traditional and proper and said all the right things; how, as a result, I lost the coherence of my words and actions as well as my students’ confidence in me….

I will never forget the unbearable lightness of my own words that I experienced back then. It is perhaps an axis of beliefs, if I were to describe in a word what I lacked back then.

Junior high school, caught in-between childhood and adulthood, is an unstable and difficult developmental period. That’s why I think adolescents, especially during this period, require adults whom they can trust and whose values they can always refer to navigate tumultuous adolescent days. As I have written in “Should be taught is character and principle,” it’s not the clear rules or guidelines that children really need from their parents and adults around them; rather, it’s the never-changing characters and principles that they can always come back to. That’s what gives children comfort; that’s what gives them the solid ground on which they could develop their own principles.

This was a perspective I did not have back then.

“How did I appear in your eyes back then?” I asked Maru.

After some silence, she said,

Now I think I should have listened to you because I’ve heard so much about you from Koseki-sensei. But, to be perfectly honest, I had no intention of listening to you back then.

Of course, I said.

Honestly, it was not easy for me to have her in my homeroom class. Now I think about it, this was a sign that she was “beyond my capacity.”

Maru began to practice kendo seriously in the 7th grade upon entering Koseki-sensei’s junior high school team. In the 8th grade, she earned a starter position in the team that was known throughout the prefecture. She went on to become the team’s irreplaceable ace and captain in the final year of her junior high school.

“She understands me more than anybody,” Koseki-sensei used to say.

That was Maru.

It was not surprising, then, that I felt uncomfortable having her in my homeroom class. I felt as though I was under a constant surveillance.

I would try my best to share “valuable life lessons” with my class, but I always felt that Maru saw all the private corners I had…my weakness, shallowness, and lies.

Looking back, the lesson the fourteen-year-old Maru was teaching me was the absurdity of trying to teach someone who already had a teacher.

(To be continued...)

にほんブログ村 哲学・思想ブログ 人間・いのちへ

Maru 2 ~ What does it mean to have a teacher? ~

August 22, 2011 (Japanese) / November 1, 2012 (English)

I wonder what I would have done had I been Ai Fukuhara’s homeroom teacher in her junior high school.

She would frequently be absent from school due to her tours and camps. What kind of classroom environment would I create to receive her? How should I treat her? Like a superstar as she is outside the school, or as a “regular” junior high school student? Should the class make a big deal to welcome her back, or should they behave as if nothing different from any school day? How would I interact with this super junior high schooler continuously fighting against the pressure of the world while attending to other thirty some 14-year-olds struggling in their own ways to make sense of their small worlds? What kind of a dialogue would I have with her, what would I tell other students, what, if anything, could I do for her as a “teacher”?

In recent years, there has been a widespread notion in Japan that a “good teacher” is someone capable of seeing the world and interacting with children from their vantage point.

That’s wrong.

The “teacher’s vantage point” changes all the time depending on who is in front of him. It is a mere stupidity to have a pre-determined vantage point.

In many cases, I think that a teacher would have to lead students from a very high vantage point with a parent’s affection.

This summer, Koseki-sensei said something interesting when we were talking about teacher’s vantage points.

Referring to what I have written about Hannah Arendt, he said there is something symbolic about the parent’s act of holding the child high up in the air. I understood the symbolism as the adult showing the child what the world may look like from the adult’s vantage point.

But that’s not the only case. There are certainly cases when the teacher needs to see things from the student’s vantage point.

More importantly, there is yet another case. Once in a while, the teacher finds in front of him a student who is “way beyond the teacher” as Koseki-sensei would put it, and whom the teacher is compelled to look up even from his vantage point as an adult.

It is this last case that is most difficult for the teacher.

Maru, the fourteen-year-old girl was, for me, the exemplar of this case.

(To be continued...)

にほんブログ村 哲学・思想ブログ 人間・いのちへ

Maru 1 ~ What does it mean to have a teacher? ~

August 14, 2011 (Japanese) / October 31, 2012 (English)

Nothing is complete when it comes down to teaching or learning. Three years have passed since I quitted my job as a public junior high school teacher in 2008. Curiously, there are many things I now feel understand for the first time.

Two years ago, I posted an essay titled “From School-refuser to the Top of Japan.” In it, I wrote a tale about Ai Fukuhara, the table tennis prodigy, to shed light on a situation when a teacher finds an extraordinarily talented student in his classroom. I now know that my understanding was incomplete.

Koseki-sensei would always test new teachers with that story.

“What would you do if Ai Fukuhara were falling asleep in the midst of your class?”

No one has ever gotten it right for the first time. When another wrong answer is thrown on the table, he would tell me to answer instead. And, like an already-initiated disciple, I would always give “the right answer.”

“Let her sleep.”

What good would it do to wake her up when sitting in the classroom means little to her and her future? Think how much impact her stories could have on others of her age. Stories about her practice, daily schedule, invisible tactics during the games, conditioning for a tournament, the pressure of the world... Scold her like an ordinary teacher, and you would miss all the amazing learning opportunities for yourself and other students.

But, all along, I had it wrong. Looking back, something didn’t feel right as I found myself rushing through my memory to find Koseki-sensei’s words. I knew the answer, but those words did not belong to me.

The “wide-awake” moment this summer was when I realized that “Ai Fukuhara” was in my own homeroom class 8 years ago.

It was a girl named “Maru.”

8 long years…that was the time it took me to want to meet Maru again. Finally, I felt ready to confront my own guilt and apologize to her for my own incapability as her homeroom teacher. Finally, I felt I could learn from her without an ego of a “teacher” and an “adult.”

This summer, I met Maru for a drink. It was me who reached out to her.

Late into that night after I parted with Maru, I received an email from Koseki-sensei, our mutual mentor.

     “Got your soul purified?”

The message came with a smiley face.

Many thoughts rushed through my mind, and I knew that I could write 100 pages to explain without success.

In the end, I returned a one-liner:

“Today, I had a dialogue with Maru for the first time.”

(To be continued...)

にほんブログ村 哲学・思想ブログ 人間・いのちへ