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Yes We Can (Again)

Attending the opening ceremony for H-sho this morning was optional, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Not only was it a chance to introduce myself to the whole school at the same time and make a good first impression on everybody all at once, but it was my first chance to see a formal school ceremony in an elementary school.

I arrived at the school twenty minutes early and was given a nice welcome by the vice principal, the headmaster, and the principal (who hadn’t been there on Tuesday). I was shown to my desk and exchanged a few words in both English and Japanese with the vice principal, and after a few minutes we all headed down to the gym where orientation was wrapping up and the formal opening ceremony was ready to begin.

It was interesting to see what was the same as my old school and what was different. The gym was smaller, the students were in plain clothes, and there were only about 150-200 of them (making this actually the biggest school I’m now teaching at) but other than that it was exactly like the ceremonies from Togane Chu. Speeches from the top administrators, speeches from students to the top administrators, the singing of the school song, and so on. The students had cushions to sit on, but they stood most of the time in perfect obedient silence, bowing whenever prompted to do so.

My speech was scheduled for the very end of the ceremony. Right before then, there was a brief period in which each teacher’s name and position was called and they lined up in front of the students. My name was called surprisingly early on (I thought the gaijin always goes last) so for a good minute or so before my speech I got a good look at the student’s faces. How unbelievably cute they are. Many were already smiling at me.

When that was over, it was announced that the new English teacher was to give an introduction, and I was led up to the podium to get down to it. Like my other speeches, O-sensei had helped me prepare it in terms of Japanese-translation, but I had a few new ideas of my own I wanted to try out.

“Good morning!” I say in English. Many students echo the greeting—more than I expected. I continue in English: “My name is Kyle. I’m from America.” I hold up my American-flag flashcard upside down, then pretend I made a mistake and turn in right-side up, thus eliciting a chuckle early on. “I’m twenty-nine years old.”

I look out at the audience. “Did you understand?” I point to a few random students and say, “yes? yes? no?” Some students actually say “no”. I then say, “Okay, I will read it in Japanese.”

I proceed to read those first few introductory sentences in excruciatingly slow, poorly-pronounced Japanese, then look up at the students and say “eh?” as though for approval. A few laughs as I’d hoped, but there’s actually a small smattering of applause as well.

I continue in English. “I taught English in Germany for three years. Understand?” Nobody understands that, so I point to my paper and say, “Okay, Japanese” then repeat it in my poor Japanese. Afterwards I hold up a picture of the German flag. Now there’s more applause and some murmurs of interest that they’ve got a teacher who lived in Germany.

In English: “I came to Japan in August of 2011. Wakarimasuka? [poorly pronounced: ‘understand?’ which draws some more laughter]”. I repeat it in bad Japanese.

“Until now I taught at Togane Junior High School.” I don’t even need to ask this time, I just read the bad Japanese.

Now I say, “I really enjoyed teaching there. I think I will enjoy teaching here to.” Now for the big moment.

I look down at my page and pause for a second, then proceed to read those lines in fast, perfectly-pronounced Japanese. As these lines are much more complicated than anything before it, it comes as a shock to everyone. Unfortunately, I botch the second line a little bit, but it doesn’t seem to matter. I say “Nihngo da ne?” (‘Japanese, huh?’) and now there’s lot of laughter and more murmurs as students realize I’d been faking it before.

I do the rest of the speech in fast, flawless Japanese, and soon enough everyone is smiling with the realization that their ALT’s Japanese isn’t nearly as bad as they’d thought.

“I want to teach you English. Do any of you think that English is too difficult? Well, President Obama says, ‘Yes we can!’” I hold up my trusty Obama-flashcard to much laughter and applause. I explain what “Yes we can” means to those who might not know, then say, “Everyone, please repeat after me: Yes we can!”

The best response I ever got at Togane Chu was 70%, and at the opening ceremony it had only been 20%. Granted the set-up was much better this time, but I’m sure the response this time had almost everything to do with the ages of the kids: 100%. Students and faculty.

I repeat the chant, everyone repeats it again with more enthusiasm. I break it down to individual words: “Yes!” “We!” “Can!” and everyone’s loving it. One more big “Yes we can!” and a shout of “Wooohooo!” and everyone is cheering and clapping.

One last line in Japanese: “I’m looking forward to teaching you. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu.”

Not to brag or anything, but I got the biggest applause of the morning. When I stepped down from the podium the vice principal thanked me and told me the speech was excellent. I got compliments from a bunch of other teachers as well.

The students started filing out with their homeroom teachers, and I was led back to the teacher’s room. K-sensei (mother of my favorite Togane Chu student) complimented me on my Japanese before she had to run and go do something. The vice principal said I could leave and he’d see me next Friday. On my way out the door of the teacher’s room, the principal stopped me and enthusiastically thanked me for my speech.

I passed by a few kids in the hallway on my way out. They called me, “Yes-we-can-sensei.”

Seriously, there aren’t too many great things about Obama getting re-elected, but the best thing for me personally by far is being able to keep using that famous catch-phrase. I doubt any of Mitt Romney’s most famous lines would generate quite as much enthusiasm: “Everybody repeat after me: Corporations are people, my friend!” or “Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income taxes!” or “Binders full of women! Hooray!”

So that was my first day at H-sho, and though it wasn’t a paid work day it felt like my first day of the new school-year. If today was a good indication, I think I’m going to enjoy it immensely.

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