Things That Happened Today

1. It was 5 minutes after class was supposed to start and the students still hadn’t arrived to escort me to class.

Usually, at the beginning of every period, I hear a knock on the door of the teacher’s room. the door slides open and two or three shy faces peer inside expectantly. “Engu Sensei?” Sometimes they duck back out again. Usually another teacher or principal in the room will usher them towards my desk, the students giggling nervously and refusing to look at me directly, while the teacher makes them repeat “Good morning. I am from class 3. How are you? Please come to our class.” But they seemed to be running late this morning.

The principal walked over to my desk. He is an older man with salt and pepper hair, dark glasses and a kindly face. “Kaboom!” he said. He held his hands together and pulled them apart quickly.

I cocked my head like a golden retriever. He explained in Japanese. I smiled and repeated my life mantra, “gomen nasai, nihongo wakari masen.”

“etto…. Terr… Terror.” He mimed a bomb and made a noise again.

My eyes widened. Japan is a very safe country, but has experienced terror attacks before. Maybe the subway? Maybe it was in the US and he was coming over to tell me?

He mimed the bomb exploding again.

Another teacher came over on her phone, looking up a translation. “Mail threat. Mischief. A mischief.” She threw her hands in the air and rolled her eyes. “annoying.”

Someone called in a bomb threat to the school as a prank. I breathed a sigh of relief. The other teachers looked irritated at the interruption. the principal looked concerned that he had just given me a small heat attack. I felt badly  I wondered if that was a mark of being American, being constantly ready for The Worst Imaginable.

2. “Bad teacher!”

I turn around. A student in the front row is trying to get my attention. “Bad teacher!”

When I first started teaching, if I made a mistake and the kids looked confused, I would slap my wrist and say “bad teacher!” then roll my eyes to the heavens to illustrate that they were to ignore whatever I had just said. It seemed to clear things up for them, and also entertain them. I did this if I said the wrong symbol won in Janken (rock paper scissors) if I said the wrong word on a flashcard, if I held the flashcard upside down- whenever necessary to throw the heat off. I say it in the same tone you would use to scold a dog and then smack my wrist loud enough to make a noise.

But apparently I had said it once or twice too many times, because that was now my nickname according to this one student. He sees that he got my attention, which is probably the worst outcome that could have happened if I had wanted this to end quietly. He smiles happily. “Bad teacher!” Later, walking down the hallway to a 3rd grade classroom, I hear a small chorus from behind me. “Engu sensei! bad teacher!” I turn around and there is a small gaggle of different children waving and smiling at me. Nicknames travel fast.

3. My coworker made me tea and left it on my desk for me.

I think this is the school where I am being observed this week.


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