Donaldo Sensei Gomennasai

For those of you thinking about teaching in Japan, I think it’s a wonderful idea, but I often feel like I paint too rosy a picture at times. It’s an amazing job to have, but there will be days where kids will be kids. Today was one of those days. I was teaching a third grade class and for some reason there were two students who just would not shut their mouths for anything today.

Of course, as with most behavioral disruptions there is a cause. Perhaps the teacher didn’t prepare enough to keep the children engaged. Or maybe there was too much of a time delay in transitioning from one activity to the next, giving a very active class the prime opportunity “to go rambunctious on your teacher as$.” Maybe there’s one ring-leader screwing up the whole classroom mix. Whatever the case may be, a really deft teacher is able to instantly identify this problem and completely change the flow of the class.

So why was my class out of control today? Was I prepared for class? Yep. Did have more than enough activities just in case I had additional time? Yep. Was my body language okay? Yep, all smiles and positive body language. I taught three other classes prior to this one, two fourth grade classes and even another third grade class, and they all went extremely well. In this particular case, it was one student causing the majority of the disruption :( , and as he got more and more unresponsive, I felt my blood starting to boil more and more….

Have you ever heard of Pareto’s Law? Or the 80-20 rule? Well it’s the law stating that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. This law eerily applies to so many things, and sometimes that 80/20 get skewed: 85/15 or 90/10, etc. In this case, 5% of my students were causing 95% of the disruption.

The disruptive student had a friend who was also really loud, but his friend knew when to quit. I was able to communicate with the friend enough to get him to stop. The main child was being defiant, even though he knew exactly what I expected of him, he just wanted to do his own thing. Another part piece of the puzzle was that usually the Japanese homeroom teacher is present to deal with any problems that may arise. She had to step out, so it was just me and a Japanese assistant teacher.

The boy was really cutting up and the assistant teacher wasn’t addressing it all (I hate that)…so I had no choice but to say something to him. He still didn’t do what he was supposed to, and at one point even refused to do something I told him to do. I know my Japanese isn’t the best, but I made certain to let him know that I wasn’t having it. I have no problem at all with kids being loud because that’s what kids do…especially at the elementary school level. I rather enjoy the noise sometimes. But I don’t play that disrespect game…not even a little bit. Almost nothing bothers me more than seeing a kid be disrespectful, even if it’s not to me.

After a little while, I started ignoring him all together. I refused to punish the other 34.5 (the point five refers to the friend) kids who were listening just to focus on one disruption.

At the end of class the boy came over to me to wanting to play, and give me high fives with some of the other kids. I don’t know the “best practices” to ensure a kids self-esteem remains in tact, but I’m human, and there was no way in was going to smile and laugh with this child after his classroom antics he pulled. If I did so, I felt like it’d be rewarding his bad behavior. I kept my face neutral, but my thoughts weren’t neutral at all. In my head I was thinking “You’d better get away from me little boy.” It wasn’t necessarily all about me, either. There were other students in class (3rd graders mind you) that were literally yelling at him, in Japanese, to be quiet. They really wanted to learn. Instead of scowling at him to make my face match my thoughts, I decided to walk right by him, smile, and high five the kids who actually did well.

When his teacher returned, I made sure to tell her exactly how bad the young man had been. She looked at the boy, then looked at me, then looked at the boy again with one of those “I’m gonna deal with you” faces, then looked at me and said “わかりました (I understand).”

Just before stepping out of the sliding door, I exhaled deeply, hoping to purge any negativity that had accumulated as a result of a class that didn’t go so well.

I ate lunch with a different third grade class, the one that went well. I always like eating with my kids because it’s just a fun thing to do. And there’s no better remedy for a bad class than eating with a group of joyful, well-behaved kids.

Near the end of lunch, out of the corner of my eye, I saw two crying boys walk up to me. It was the two who had been misbehaving (I honestly don’t know why one of the boys was there, he was only a little loud, I didn’t even mention his name to the teacher :O ). The most disruptive student barely grumbled out a “ごめんなさい (Donarudo Sensei, Gomenasai),” while the other was openly sobbing “ドナルド先生ごめんなさい!” I felt bad for the less disruptive child. Part of me wanted more than a grumble from the most disruptive boy. Part of me wanted to push the issue and be like “I didn’t hear you.” But that would be childish. So I gave them the okay gesture and and let them go on their way.

I must say that this has been an extremely rare occurrence. Japanese students can get rowdy like any other kids can, but I generally have had zero problems getting children to listen.

The next morning in the teacher’s lounge, I was sitting and preparing, and one of the third grade girls came in to get something for her teacher, and afterwards she walked over to me and bowed, saying “ドナルド先生昨日はごめんなさい (I’m sorry about yesterday).” and then she bowed again. I was thinking “Why on earth are you apologizing to me? You did an awesome job yesterday!” I thought it was an EXTREMELY nice gesture, though.

In closing, when you have those days where it seems like every trick in your teaching book is getting botched, where every educational weapon in your arsenal is having absolutely no effect on that stubborn, behavioral armor, take comfort in the fact that tomorrow is a brand new day. You don’t have to have a bad day tomorrow just because today wasn’t so good. Some of you may be able to take that a step further: just because last period was bad, doesn’t mean the next one has to be. I have a hard time “shaking it off” after having a bad period, but if you can, you can really change the way your day goes.

To all my fellow educators out there in the trenches…

Happy Teaching


Donald Ash

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  • Jay A-Jon Springs

    One of the things you didn’t realize in your contemplations of why both boys came to you to apologize and why the little girl apologized the next day was because of the culture being more collective. It is possible that the group was more ashamed of the behavior of the individual due to the collectiveness shared by the culture. Just a thought :).

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