The Occasional Surprise of First Impressions

I’m not sure if he’s a little off or just spoiled, but he surprised me and after seventeen years at the school where I work (and 27 years of teaching) that’s hard to do.

At the school where I work junior high school first year students are, for the first term, divided by number. For the second term they are divided by ability. Sort of. Long story. The first term is thus spent figuring out who will stay in higher level classes and who will drop. Whatever happens, the first term is usually when the students are at their best.

Not today.

Today, in my second period class, most of my students were late. This is normal as it’s probably their first class in the high school building and it takes them a while to find the room. Two students arrived especially late and as I explained that the first row was empty to accommodate bad students, several students recommended that one student, let’s call him Mr. Dramatica, should go ahead and move to the front row.

I stopped everyone from teasing him and then assigned everyone a short speech after explaining, in sloppy Japanese, that it was my way to test the ability of the class.

When the speeches were ready, I was pleased to see several students volunteer, but as the volunteerism faded, so did the English ability. Mr. Dramatica, when he was called on, refused to do his speech. Several students encouraged him but that merely put him in full panic mode.

Later, when there was no one else left to give a speech except him, he went into full Seriously Obnoxious Brat mode, which might work with his parents but didn’t work with me. He whined and shouted and wondered why they had to do this on the first day when they hadn’t studied English yet. Then he started crying. At this point, the rest of the class turned on him and he put his head down. When I continued to insist he do the speech, he went into full drama queen mode: he went up front, dropped to his knees and did dogeza.

I let him stay there and, since I was at the back of the room, had all the students look at me and away from him as I explained some class rules. Eventually he went back to his chair and put his head down.

At the end of class he kept his head down and I chased all the other students out. I got him to look up and told him to do his speech just for me. He repeated, in Japanese of course, that he couldn’t, and when I assured him he could he started beating the desk and saying “I can’t, I can’t” and put his head back down. I turned off the room lights and left him there pondering how in seventeen years of teaching junior high school first year, no one had ever before refused to do the first assignment.

Later, I approached Mr. Dramatica’s homeroom teacher who seemed to know who I was going to talk about as soon as I walked in the room. He even asked if Mr. Dramatica had cried.

I suspect this student will eventually end up as a phantom who only shows up to take exams. If he doesn’t, it could be an interesting term for me, and an interesting rest of the year for my counter part who will be teaching the lower level students starting next term.

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