Ghosts and Phantoms and Fuzzy Apparitions

Three different times in my career I’ve had students I never met.

I do not understand how this happens but at the school where I work (and throughout Japan for that matter) there are students who, for whatever reason, no longer come to class but have not dropped out of school. We’ve dubbed them “phantoms” or “ghosts” (Well, actually I did which gives you great insight into my ability for sympathy.)

There is a subtle difference between the two: Phantoms were seen once in class and then disappeared making you wonder if you actually ever saw them; ghosts have been photographed in the class picture but have never been seen in class. I would recognize a phantom if I saw him again; I wouldn’t recognize a ghost.

Most of the students who do this have mental issues (for the record: most of them had the issues BEFORE they took my class) and every student in their class seems to understand this (with varying degrees of sensitivity). In fact, the only person who doesn’t understand is usually me or my fellow foreign staff colleagues.

However, in an odd twist, most of these students actually sit for the exams, albeit in other rooms. Last term, we had to rush around carrying spare listening test CDs to different rooms because we had three ghosts but none wanted to be in the same room as the others. This year, the powers-what-are piped the listening into a spare room and then had someone run the CD to a different room.

Sometimes I am asked to provide study material for the phantoms and ghosts. Sometimes I am not. In several cases, the phantoms and ghosts did better than the students who actually came to class. I used to take this as an indictment on my teaching–the secret to passing Lively’s class: take a pass on Lively’s class–until I realized that the phantoms and ghosts who did well were always part of low level classes which, even those that are reasonably well behaved, are always noisy and hard to teach. By escaping the classroom, the ghosts and phantoms may have found a quiet way to study.

In junior high, missing class is problematic because education is both a basic right and a compulsory duty–students are supposed to go to class where the teachers have to take them, no matter how bad they are–but no one in junior high actually fails. The worse that happens at the school where I work is students are not invited to attend the high school.

In high school, though, students can fail for poor attendance. However, if they fail they are given a shot at a make up exam. If they pass the exam, they pass the course. They may not get invited to the university, but they will get at least a high school diploma from a big name school.

Secretly, part of me wishes I’d figured out how to do this when I was in junior high.

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