Noilly Prattle: Call Me Mr. B. – Four

Friday, April 26, 2013

Call Me Mr. B. – Four


"My Logo": sample for a 6th Grade project
      Greetings (挨拶 – aisatsu) are important in any language, but in Japan they are de rigeur and highly formalized if not ritualized. Our students would come to the Art Room and line up formally (if not always quietly) and we would exchange greetings in a kind of admittedly not entirely natural and more than a little singsong English, but English nonetheless. Until the new students got used to the correct English pronunciation of my French surname [which they never did] I encouraged them to “call me Mr. B.” and the name stuck. In English I was Mr. B, in Japanese I was ブーシェ先生 (Boucher Teacher) The greeting, pretty much unvarying, would go:

       Me: Good Morning boys and girls.
       Ss: Good Morning Mr. B.
       Me: How are you today?
       Ss: I'm fine, thank you, and you?
       Me: I'm fine; OK; good; so-so.--depending on my mood.
       Ss: Can we come in?
       Me: Yes. OK. Etc.

        I eventually could get some of them to vary the “I'm fine.” with something more real like: “I'm tired.” or “I'm hungry.”, etc.


       No learning can take place unless you can keep a class of thirty or more kids under control. Any teacher who survives knows this and has developed techniques to manage a classroom full of diverse personalities. Discipline is difficult enough for a teacher who knows the language and customs of the country. But here I was, a foreign teacher with limited Japanese language ability and accustomed to a structured hierarchy of disciplinary procedures from the classroom teacher to the principal of the school. I was stunned to discover that there were no similar disciplinary procedures like detention, suspension and even expulsion of misbehaving students as I had been accustomed to as a teacher in an American public school. Furthermore, as I was teaching in a for-profit private school, we were discouraged from letting the parents of problem kids know about it. In a nutshell, I had to deal with it pretty much on my own. Enter Behavior Modification.

partial view of semi-circular table arrangement
        B.M. is a system of classroom control techniques that I had learned when I was studying for a Masters in Special Needs for Emotionally Disturbed Children. I wouldn't say that my students were emotionally disturbed (although I've had my doubts about a few over the years), but a system of rewards and consequences (positive and negative reinforcement) will work with average children just as well. Building on techniques I had used in my special needs class in Kingston I rearranged the furniture in the Art Room to improve visual and physical contact. The typical Japanese classroom is rigidly laid out with desks neatly arranged in straight rows reinforcing the beloved Japanese preference for conformity and military-like precision. I wanted an environment that would discourage conformity and promote a freer feeling to spur creativity but, at the same time, not inspiring a riotous, anything goes atmosphere. To this end I rearranged the tables in a roughly semi-circular pattern around two tables that could be arranged in an L-shape that I could use for demonstration and instructions. It was, at the same time, harder for the kids to hide from my roving eye, see better what I was doing and sense that I wasn't some remote figure lecturing from the blackboard but actively involved in exploring and working together to create something that wasn't there before.

To be continued...

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