Mistreated Muppets

One of the things you have to deal with in a cram school is the seemingly permanent comatose state of high school students. Being a workaholic in Japan seems to be about standard and the kids aren’t immune from it either. If anything they suffer from this affliction in greater numbers. Before the last set of university entrance exams it was a common occurrence to find a sleeping student in my classroom (before, not during my lessons thank you very much), sprawled across four seats with an eye mask on. Inevitably I’d have to wake them from this slumber before I could teach my next lesson. Despite feeling guilty at doing so, it was becoming such a frequent event I was beginning to contemplate the purchase of an air horn or at least a very large shoehorn with which to pry slumbering students from their makeshift nests built from konbini (convenience store) bought bento boxes, cheap noodles and empty bottles of coffee and green tea.

Randomly sleeping Japanese folk is a surprisingly common sight in Japan, particularly on public transport. I could try to describe how impressive it is, but I couldn’t do the sheer skill involved justice, so instead I’ll just offer up this link http://www.kirainet.com/english/japanese-sleeping/

Beyond my high school kids it’s not uncommon for my adult students to roll into a class straight from finishing their workday. Add to these late finishes the tendency to work weekends and you get some very sleepy people. As such I try to do my best to keep things as entertaining as possible. When that’s not possible, as odd and peculiar as possible will simply have to do.

The other week I was teaching yet another ‘thrilling’ aspect of English Grammar, anticipating a class of high school students who would yawn at any vaguely normal use of English I thought it best to combine oddness with one of their favourite sources of kawaii (the Japanese for ‘cute’ – a lengthy explanation of the Japanese adoration of all things cute will have to wait for another time), Sesame Street. It doesn’t matter who I’m teaching, from Kindergarten to my OAPs, Sesame Street somehow infiltrates my lesson via pencil cases and binders, declaring ‘Elmo loves them’ or an allegiance to Cookie Monster. So I dropped into the list of questions, the following:

“You have found Kermit the Frog tied up in your basement. What will you do?’

Unlike the standard, dreary, but infinitely more helpful questions possible, this one has the advantage of making my students descend across the table trying to get a better look at the slip of paper it’s written on. So yes, it did the trick, they were laughing and a bit confused, but most importantly conscious for the rest of the lesson. What was most peculiar was that the answers they offered were all tame, ‘I would free him’, ‘I would take a picture with him’, ‘I would untie him’.

Fortunately I can rely on my adults to be truly odd. One engineer I teach suggested he would show Kermit to his daughter, but wouldn’t untie him first. There Kermit would hang from the hand that held him aloft, by the ropes binding his wrists, dangling like the prize kill of a hunting trip, or maybe from his ankles like the catch of the day. I can only imagine the terror this might inspire in a child. In fairness she’d probably just squeal ‘Kawaii’ and claim him for her own, waiting for the Stockholm syndrome to kick in.

Another reacted like he’d just found a Toyota in his basement and said, ‘I would close the door and think I had not seen anything – oh and whistling.’ The next said he’d throw him into the neighbouring garden, still bound and gagged, leaving the incriminating and mistreated Muppet drowning face down in a rice paddy. Now amongst a group of twenty to thirty something year old male engineers this kind of comic evil doing is just fine. In fact it’s one of the best parts of my job.

The only real awkward moment came when I taught another class of adults that week. Having explained what ‘tied up’ meant by putting my wrists together and wrapping an imaginary rope around them, one of my students burst out, ‘Ah!! Like bondage?’ At which point another student began mumbling the word as she searched her dictionary for the latest bit of English vocabulary.


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