Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Observing: Mamas, Meetings, & Munsters


I made an effort to look put together for the mama meetings at shogakko this week by wearing a necklace, real pants versus jeans, and a nice versus warm sweater. Most of the mamas generally dress well when meeting other mamas- a bit of makeup, a nice outfit, etc. The mamas with really little kids who are deciding between ten minutes to stare into the closet or to drink coffee while sitting down are there too. And so appearing some what "together" and gratefully without little ones afoot, I stood about in school hallways and at the back of the classrooms watching my children learn math in Japanese these past few days for the first term's observation period. Though, I can not understand the spoken words, I do understand the math- in this case addition. The first graders do not write out 2 + 4 = 6, instead it looks something like 6 い 2 と4. Luckily, I went through first grade last year with the Mule and learned this. In second grade, they are adding larger numbers and to carry tens and it looks more like an equation I recognize.

I have few cultural references, as I did not attend Japanese elementary school myself, so I look to people for clues as to what to do. After observing the math lessons, we had meetings. I always call them "mama meetings" though there is the occasional dad in the group; it is customary for the Japanese mamas to be in charge of these kinds of things. Often times we go around the room and say some thing along the lines of, "I am the Moose's mama. He likes playing with swords, and he always takes an hour to walk home from school because he is distracted by everything he passes by. I live in ... and I like to ...." I always want to say, "I like to be lazy and sit around in my fleece pants," but since I rarely get to do this, it portrays an inaccurate picture, and I would hate to misrepresent my fellow countrywoman in case some other poor American barbarian decides to follow in my footsteps one day to cluelessly stumble about in a culture of manners for which I am ill prepared to explain, so I watch and try very hard to learn.


I painfully watched the Mule during her math lesson. The Mule being one of the last students to complete her addition problem took it to the sensei for a check, but had to return to her desk to correct it. The Mule continues to insist that she understands everything at school and feels there is no problem with her Japanese, but I see careless mistakes on her homework and then seeing how long she was taking to do one problem after a verbal explanation by her teacher, I felt the knot of worry start. Today my friend has come by to offer to have the Mule stop over on her way home to do her home work twice a week with her and her son so she can offer some support to the Mule in Japanese. What a blessing to have such a friend!


When I watched the Moose's class I noted he was happily sitting between two girls who seemed to offer a fair amount of support to him. He was sort of stumbling along with the lesson- he did not read the equation aloud with his classmates, but he did appear to have his math blocks displayed correctly. These are the moments where one can get queasy about language immersion as it is hard to sort out language difficulties from math comprehension from a child's ability to focus. The sensei spent a bit more time checking on the Moose also raising a flag for me that he requires additional support for learning. I don't think kids are good observers of their difficulties which may be a good thing in some ways since they then do not worry about it and stay positive.

Both the Moose and the Mule's classes ended with the students saying some thing along the lines of "thank you for my school day" and then the student's were asked about their favorite thing that day. Students vied with arms raised overhead to be chosen. They said things like, "I liked lunch," "I liked recess," etc. I can't understand enough of it to pass it along. Afterward, at the first grade meeting, mothers took turns saying something about their child and school. The number one issue was kyushoku or school lunch- whether the child was able to eat it all! It impressed me how many mothers brought this up. Also discussed were adapting to the routine of school life, making new friends, and needing more sleep.

My takeaway on observation days is that there are nice routines and general order at school, my children may not comprehend as much Japanese as they like to think, and that I am very lucky to have the support of friends who translate meetings and follow up with the teacher about my children and come over to offer concrete support. I am blown away and yet grateful. I hope I am able to give as much to the world as I have been given. There is much to observe and learn everyday.
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