Sunday, October 16, 2011

Observing Shogakko

Making art projects in 1st Grade classroom
"Did you go to school on Saturdays when you were little mama?" asked the Mule. Indeed not for open school day, but "probably for something," I replied. Observing their Japanese school day, what stood out for me was that generally things ran smoothly despite parents wandering in and out, despite the pupil to teacher ration of thirty-five plus to one, despite the special education students that are main streamed into each class. Routines with children comfortably aware of the flow of the day and engaged in activities with everyone humming comfortably along, seemed more about an everyday activity than a special, "Oh, the parents are coming day." During the break there were exuberant children running the halls and even a small fight between two boys who spent a few minutes hitting and kicking each other before the teacher came over to speak firmly of his disappointment with them. All of the other parents ignored this eruption while I could not stop myself from saying to the boys, "No, no," and gently patting them on the back while pushing them apart. No one sent them to the office, no one tried to pull them apart. From my yochien years, I learned that this kind of behavior is tolerated and seen as "just being boys" kind of stuff. A few of the other children also gently patted their friends on the back and encouraged them to move along, let go. I was impressed by this. There was no chanting of, "Fight, fight, fight!" or oogling of bad behavior run amuck as from my grade school memories.

All of that spinning about wore the Moose out
The Moose's class made an art project and spent time trying to spin the devices. The Moose colored a cross on one side and swords battling on the other. They performed their play again, though with the larger crowd, it lacked some of the zeal of the day before. At the morning's end, the teacher played a song on the organ while the children sang facing the parents who had been standing in the back of the classroom for two hours. Two students lead the class- this job rotates to other students during the year. Every quarter the Moose is assigned a new job- currently I think he is in charge of securing light switches and other sundries. I think the team approach insures that the children help each other to remember the finer points of the job as well as to create an overlap for absences.

1st Graders singing a song to the parent's at morning's end
The Mule ignored me most of the morning while I observed her class. The best smiled captured was while she was working on an assignment with her classmate. I grew weary of this when all of the children disappeared and the other parents began milling about in the hallways. Thinking it was a bathroom break, I was a bit confused by it's length. Turned out it was "break time" so some did head for the bathroom, while the Mule went to the library. Later I said, "You know I don't speak Japanese. Why won't you talk to me at school? I was confused about what was going on." Her reply, "I'm busy Mama." Her concentration and focus are on school, on her routine, as it should be. My husband responded to this tale with, "It's not about you Mama." And I thought she was just seven going on seventeen. Her class made clay animals and wrote a story with a partner. They also did a group reading exercise.

The Mule discussing the story with her partner- 2nd grade
That evening, I had to chuckle (and grab my camera), a Roman and a Cowgirl were eating the pizzas I had been busy making. My husband had kindly made the dough in the birthday bread maker that I'm too busy to learn how to use. They went to bed easily while I reflected on the calm and order that they are learning and that is such a part of life in Japan.

These costumes might be worn out by the time Halloween gets here