Monday, June 6, 2011

Monkey Mako Chan

I seriously had a breakthrough with my private kid student yesterday. This kid has had me cradling my head and wondering how the hell I'm supposed to teach him anything if he doesn't want to be taught. After he threw the flashcards in my face and told me to go away (in Japanese, of course), I threw those flashcards in the back of my closet. I stopped trying to make him repeat things. I pretty much gave up and just decided to have fun and play with him. I just talked to him, mostly in English, a few Japanese words sprinkled in if he really didn't understand. But he almost never spoke a single English word. I felt like I was wasting his mother's money. I was a fake, a liar. I wasn't a real teacher. Sure, I can teach kids at my school. But that's different. They provide materials, lesson plans, a classroom, Japanese staff to help you enforce the rules. I had no experience in making my own lesson plans, and this kid didn't want them anyway. So, I chased him with stuffed turtles and caterpillars and let him throw plastic apples at me. I performed a play for him where I jumped on a futon pretending to be a monkey jumping on the bed. I fell on my head and I cried for my mama. Then I pretended to be mama, calling the doctor and telling them,"no more monkeys jumping on the bed!" Mako just sat there and laughed his head off while I threw away my dignity, his mother watching the whole thing.

But then something changed, Mako started to trust me. We became friends. I regained my confidence and starting getting more creative ideas. I slowly incorporated interesting ways of learning without him ever realizing it. I bought those plastic capsules filled with little sponges shaped like animals. You put them in hot water and watch them grow. We decided if they were fish, or turtles, or sharks, or starfish. I bought a big fuzzy dice at Tokyu Hands and some pieces of colored felt. I sewed a different colored square of felt on each side of the dice. I counted to three, he threw the dice at me, we looked to see what color and then we ran to find something that was the same color. This whole time he almost never repeated ANYTHING. But slowly, something was changing.

Yesterday, I came into his bedroom bracing myself for more plastic apple abuse, but something was different. Mako-chan suddenly wanted to learn something. We matched foam ABC letters to the letters on a mat, and he repeated A B C D E and F. We threw the dice around and he repeated all the colors as he touched them. We collected everything we could find that was yellow. Then we sat down on his floor and had a snack. We ate mango jelly and drank green tea his mother had brought upstairs on a tray. I felt like I was on a playdate, only I was 25 and he was 3. Recently I had been trying to get him used to hearing and answering the question "Do you like___?" So, I asked him, do you like mango jelly? Instead of answering in Japanese "Un, suki da yo," like he usually does, he said, "Yes!" and gave me a thumbs up. Wow, I thought, progress!

I rubbed my tummy and asked, "Is it yummy?" He nodded, "Yes!" Then he couldn't open his package of crackers and commanded me to open it, "akete!" I pretended not to understand. I made a motion like I was opening something and questioned "Open, Mako? Open?" He nodded and said, "Open!" I said... "Open, please?" He repeated, "OPEN PLEASE!" Well, how about that. I finally got him to say please. And then I opened it for him. Well, my work here is done, I thought.

But then, something even better happened. It was almost time to go and his mother had come up to collect our dirty dishes. I was cleaning up the plastic food toys that littered the floor. There should be seven french fries but I counted only four. I asked Mako, "Mako, where are the french fries? French fries please!" He raced to retrieve them from under the sofa and brought them to me. Trust me, he had never obeyed a request like this before. I said, "Thank you," and he repeated, "THANK YOU!" I laughed. Hmm.. maybe this was the the chance I'd been waiting for. I handed the fries to his mother and said, "Here you are." She said, "Thank you." I motioned for her to hand the fries to her son and say "Here you are." She did, and I can't believe what happened next. Mako said "Thank you," and then he passed them to me and said, "Here you are!" I was literally about to cry with happiness. For months, I couldn't even get him to say, "Thank you," and now he was saying, "here you are." This was too much progress for one lesson. I was sure he would soon be bored, I was ready to stop there and take the progress I could get. But then, Mako tells his mother he wants to do it AGAIN. Doubtful, I ask him, "One more time?" He says, "One more!" I hand the fries to his mother, we do our little conversation, she hands them to Mako, he says his lines perfectly, he passes them to me again, and we continue like this for maybe 7 rounds. Here you are. Thank you! gobble gobble gobble. Here you are. Thank you! gobble gobble gobble. Mako loved every minute of it. And so did I!

Now, I can't wait for next Monday.

A set of Very Hungry Caterpillar-themed cards
we sometimes "play" with

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