Thursday, April 21, 2011

Observing again

Observing Shogakko

At last I met the Mule's sensei. We had an observation period, followed by a class meeting, followed by an all second grade parent's meeting. I went a few minutes early and found the kids wildly engaged in cleaning the school at fairly high decibels- running up and down the halls with zukin cleaning cloths, sweeping haphazardly, and a notable cloud of dust floating in the air. It made me chuckle. Not much of the discourse was translated from the class or meetings afterward so I heard a lot of, "waha, waha, waha," as Charlie Brown's teacher said in those Peanut TV Specials, but here is what I discerned.

The lesson the parent's observed was a discussion of what the class goals would be. They each had to write a goal, read aloud what they wrote, then nominate the goals they liked from their classmates, and, finally, vote on the selection of goals. From what I could gather they banted about: being friendly, listening to their teacher (she loved this one), eating all of their lunch, and helping each other.

The Mule's teacher is noticeably older than the four other second grade teachers, all of whom look like they just graduated from college. She was dressed conservatively in a navy suit with a skirt, but wearing a pair of sneakers. She has the legs of a woman who has been on her feet for many years; she looks strong. She doesn't waste her breath yelling at the kids; she talks calmly and seems to know when to intervene and when to let chaos reign. She doesn't waste her energy with props and rearranging the furniture; she keeps a traditional classroom with all eyes ahead. With one distracted child caught talking out of turn, she asked him to please tell the class what so and so said which resulted in a blank stare as the child had no idea. She reminded everyone to listen to the student with the floor. When it is their turn to speak, the children get up from their desks, push their chair in, and stand to speak. It clearly delineates who has the floor to speak. Later in the class meeting, she talked about some of the experiences the class had together in the first weeks of school garnering laughs from the mamas. I have no idea what she said, but she struck me as a storyteller who goes for a laugh. I will attach my ever wobbly clip from the lesson.

At dinner time, I asked the Mule, "How do you like your teacher?" She replied, "Why? Did she ask you to ask me?" I was surprised by that response, but said, "I was just wondering what you think about your teacher? Is she hard? Is she friendly?" The Mule responded to this line of questioning more readily, "Oh! She's easy. That man sensei, he is tough! He yells at his class all of time." I laughed thinking that perhaps the Mule's sensei is more at ease with the give and take of chaos and energy, maybe that's an advantage of being the older teacher.

Attention Deficit Disorder

In Japan there is little acknowledgment or comfort with neurological conditions like ADD (attention deficit disorder) not that we are all on the same page even in the U.S., but here it is not even acknowledged. I feel for the kids who are missing out on opportunities to learn and grow socially. Perhaps if given treatment and help, they might focus, listen more attentively, resist impulsive actions that often socially isolate them, and they might be able to learn. Every class has at least one kid with untreated ADD and in the class sizes of Japan maybe even two or three.

Medical literature reports that seven to eight percent of kids have ADD. Within the reported group only half are identified. Of the half that are identified, only half receive treatment. Even in the U.S. a lot of  children are left to struggle with this on their own. Here, no one seems to believe it exists and yet at any school event, I see at least a kid or two who could benefit from an evaluation- except there are no trained child psychiatrist here.

When I have tried to help Japanese mothers understand there are options for kids with ADD type of behavioral issues to include treatment with medications, you can hear crickets chirp. Perhaps because it is a stigma, perhaps because general medical doctors lack training in this area, or perhaps because the Japanese generally avoid pills. Instead these children are left to tough it out as in "boys will be boys." Yet they get labeled as trouble makers and harangued about their behavior. It is unfortunate no one wants to talk about brain scans and prefrontal cortex development since this demonstrates that brains with ADD are indeed different. It is unfortunate that these children do not get a trial on medication to see IF it could help them.

There was a boy in my second grade class named Randy. He was always in trouble. He made me laugh; he made the whole class laugh. He was always going to see the principal. He infuriated the teacher. He seemed to never listen to any instructions and he always did things he should not have done. Sometimes the other kids cautioned him, and sometimes they encouraged him, but he could never stop himself either way. I have often wondered whatever happened to Randy. I am pretty sure he would have benefitted from an evaluation for ADD if it had been an option back then. He wasn't a bad boy, but he couldn't follow directions, stop an impulse, or sit still to save his life. Most of the Moose' and Mule's stories from school involve little boys who get in trouble repeatedly for these same reasons.

The Mule seems happy yet again in school. There are no complaints about looking different. Her class portrait was identifiable by its blue eyes and blonde hair- makes it easy for me as I have to scan every name carefully as I can't read Hiragan or Katakana so well. She told me about her various best friends. She happily skips off to school daily. The other day she complained about having to study English at home. Two languages are tough and time consuming when there are fairies to catch, ballets to dance, stories to tell, and friends to visit, but she does it.

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