Friday, July 2, 2010


I called this one: How To Paper Train Students

First, let me state for the record (also available on CD and DVD), that I really like my students. There. I said it. Whew. My shrink was correct. Thanks Kiwi! He's the New Zealand bartender at my local classy hang-out the 4-Carat owned by our (Matthew and myself) friend Miura-san. (Click HERE to see its location on an Ohtawara map - my apartment is in section 5, lower left corner abutting up to section 4.) (Unfortunately, by 2010, the 4-Carat bar is no longer there - probably went bankrupt after Matthew and I left as along with our bankroll, there were no longer any cool gaijin to draw in the crowds.)  

Anyhow, I'm always watching my students trying to pick up some of their little quirks so I can exploit them years later in tales of half truths, but entirely consisting of half lies. Actually, everything written in these blogs happened... I just may have embellished it a smidge. Like so:

Just the other day, I noticed the antics of a multitude of junior high school students as they valiantly tried to complete an English test that was worth absolutely nothing.

In Japan, students are always passed on to the next grade regardless of whether or not they got 100% or 0%. They have an entrance exam to enter high school. The grade they get on this exam will determine if they get into a good high school and thus have a shot at going to university and thus becoming a salary man in the hopes of attracting a pretty wife and having three children and a dog that never comes in the house - there, that's the evolution of the modern Japanese man. Anyhow, if you don't get into a good high school, there are technical schools, farming schools and even barber schools. 

So... I'm watching my students do an English test. There's the usual amount of cheating (aka answering by committee) and pencil cases clanking as it smacks onto the floor - but this time, there was something else. It was graceful and coordinated and required little actual conscious thought. 

There, one after the other, the entire class twirled their pencils about their fingers.

The pencils emitted a soft whooshing sound as they revolved. I stood there with my mouth slightly agape (not from surprise, it's how this troglodyte breathes) and watched in mute fascination at the dexterity being shown. At least it looked dexterous. Occasionally, a student would suddenly fall from his/her chair and thump down onto the floor - but still would they manage to keep that pencil a-twirling. 

If I closed my eyes, I could hear sweet music fill the air: Whoosh-clank-thump, whoosh-clank-thump, whoosh-thump-thump, whoosh-thump-whoosh, clank-clank-CLANK!

What a concert! It was wonderful how the thumping-of-students-as-they-hit-the-ground perfectly accentuated the pencil case-clanking, but did not overpower the gentle pencil-spinning tone. Ahh, rapture.

At class the next day, we handed back the tests - complete with the grades written in the top right-hand corner. the students, when called, came up to receive their test paper from the Japanese teacher of English and upon sitting down at their desk would immediately fold it into an interesting piece of sculpture. This must have been the origin of origami (and now, you can learn how, TOO). The students wouldn't even look at their papers to see their grade. Their privacy was guarded like a dog would its dinner - fangs bared and hackles raised - even the kids with the good grades!

It was particularly annoying  to see such grace and humility from the kid who got the highest mark. I couldn't believe there wasn't any bragging or chest beating or laughing at their less fortunate compadres (IE the overweight kid who always sits at the back of the class who never seems to do well in school and whose nickname is usually 'Sumo'). 

Back in the western world, kids would be hanging from the rafters and shouting out their dominance over their sub-peers. They'd jump and dance about like a wide-receiver who'd just shot the winning goal in the World Series with a three-point shot on the last lap. Anyhow, I decided they shouldn't be ashamed of their good marks.

Wasn't that nice of me? I approached a girl with just such a great mark and attempted to expose her grade. I pulled her crumpled up test (I think it was an origami meatball) and attempted to unfold it. She grabbed it back and folded it into a crane. I unfolded it again. She refolded it into a flower. I unfolded it. She made it into a Mighty Morphin Power Ranger 

Giving up on her, I walked over to a desk where the smartest boy sat. His paper was folded in half (I think it was an origami book). Using reverse psychology, I picked up his paper and made it into a crane. He folded it back. I made a flower. He unfolded it. I made a Mighty Morphin Power Ranger, but he liked it so much he decided to keep it and start a battle with the girl. 

Somewhere in the back of the class,
Andrew Joseph
Music by Pink Floyd. Not only does THIS song talk about the 'importance' of having a good job, the musical intro has a sound similar to what my students performed for me.
PS - So what the heck is that photo? It's an origami earring of a crane given to me by one of my female students at Nozaki Chu Gakko (Nozaki Junior High School)... not only were the students really nice, but so were the teachers... including a young lady who accepted an eng... y'know... we still have a long way to go before she enters this blog. 
PPS - Yes, I used to wear it in Japan. I wore it once in Canada, but I think by that time dangling earrings were on the way out.

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