Today I visited an elementary school for the first time. Over the course of the next year, I will visit about six elementary schools for two days each. The two visits will often be months apart.
Last week I met three of the teachers to prepare for my visit. As they told me, I mostly played games with the kids so I didn't have to prepare much.
Of course, I expected the kids to be loud. But they were extremely loud. At the beginning of class, they all have to stand up and say good morning. Except they liked to yell.
Today I worked with the second, fourth, and fifth grades. I sang "Head, shoulders, knees, and toes" about thirty times. I helped them learn names for animals, foods, and sports.
I was quite a celebrity. I signed my autograph about seventy times for the fifth graders. I signed all sorts of things, including folders, bookmarks, pencil cases, and lunch boxes. When it was time to go, the second fifth grade class physically blocked the door and forced the objects they wanted signed upon me. It was a little strange.
By contrast, when I walked down the hall by the first grade classrooms, many of them screamed, ran, and hid. I get this reaction sometimes when I'm riding around the city, as well. But then, I also get the reverse-- little kids run up and say hello, goodbye, and then run off.
But the most surprising event for me was the school lunch. This is the first time I had seen a school lunch in Japan. The students eat in their classroom with their teacher. So, all the food has to be carted up the stairs, which is especially hard for the small students since even the lightest cafeteria trays full of food for about thirty kids weigh several pounds.
But, the good news is, (I believe) the lunch is completely free, and kids are allowed to eat as much as they want. Today, we had peppers and cabbage with chicken over rice, boiled vegetables, vegetable soup, and an orange slice with milk. It tasted pretty good, and the bowl of boiled vegetables reminded me of Grandma Carroll's vegetable soup that I like so much. It's also served without any Styrofoam or plastic, and even the chopsticks are (the durable kind of) wood. And, being mostly vegetables (there was very little chicken) with nothing fried, it compares very favorably with what I was fed in junior high.
So I ate lunch with the fifth graders and then I stayed in their room for the post-lunch recess. During recess, they wanted to play card games with me, but I didn't know any of the Japanese games (or I did but I didn't recognize the games) so I taught them slapjack (Egyptian ratscrew) and war. Those are probably not the best two games to teach little kids (slapjack being the game where you flip cards until you see two of the same and then the first one to slam their hand down on top picks up the cards) but they are very simple and I was able to explain them in about thirty seconds and get the kids playing. I made the mistake, however, of telling them the latter game was called war and immediately one little boy started attacking the other players.
After that their teacher had left so at their request I held my hand in the air and they would run and jump and try to head butt it. I guess I found dumb shit like that entertaining when I was little too.
Anyway, despite feeling a little weird from time to time it was a very fun day. And although I generally prefer older children over younger ones on account of their greater knowledge, I can see at least one reason now for teaching elementary over junior high school: the elementary kids actually like most of their teachers, and you don't have to do much to be cool to them, while with junior high at best it takes a lot of effort.
The worst part was it poured for five hours straight, and I got completely soaked on the way home.