Bow-Chan, our perfect weapon.
Every year there are a few students who stand out, be it like Genki-Chan who stands out because she is so... well... Genki-Chan. Or the Krazy-Kun's who stand out for trying to be the loudest members of the class.
Sometimes, the diamonds lay in the rough unnoticed because they are simply dulled... But dulled as they might be, they are still diamonds.
I found out about Bow-chan shortly after Summer break. I watched in one of my third year classes as she totally blew through a worksheet in a third of the time it took the rest of the class. And all the answers were correct. I looked at her and said (In English): "This is too easy for you, isn't it?" To which she smiled sadly, nodded and said "I really love English". She seemed quiet, reserved. Almost depressed. Most amazingly, she had completely managed to remain unnoticed this entire time. How could I have missed someone like this for half-a-year? Not only that, where was she for Interactive Forum, which I now refer to as "The Interactive Forum Massacre"?
So, naturally, I went to Ms Third Year about her,
"Yes, Bow-chan, she is one of our best students."
"Why wasn't she in Interactive Forum? We would have completely killed the other schools?" I bemoan.
"She wanted to, but she was in the hospital for most of the year."
"The Hospital?" I exclaim (Because, really, when one says "Hospital" one can't help but exclaim in response), "What for?"
"I can't say it in English." Comes the reply.
"Ah." (Because, really, what can you say to that?)
Later I find out Bow-Chan has a condition that effects her connective tissues, between organs, but more problematically, her skin. She was in the hospital for the first 6 months of the school year because of it.
Despite this, it turns out that Bow-Chan is famous around here. Later I would go with members of MyTown's Board of Education to judge a nearby cities' Interactive Forum and would be regailed of stories of how, as a 2nd grader, Bow-Chan swept the local tournament and went all the way to the MyPrefecture tournament.
Bow-Chan is a legend of MyCity.
Of course, I knew nothing of this at the time. So I decided to chat with her a little.
"You like English?" I ask.
"Very much" she replies, quickly, "I study English every day."
I nod sagely, the "You did well, Grasshopper" nod that I have adapted for my students...
"Sometimes I watch movies in English. I often practice by watching movies."
Okay, that was way beyond the capability of any of my other 3rd graders. Now I'm duly impressed.
We wrap up the conversation there because she has another class, but I am feeling very much that our loss at Interactive Forum would certainly have been a win if we had her there.
The year starts to wind to an end, and I don't talk a lot to Bow-Chan, but she and I do talk a little. We are slowly forming a bond.
As we approach the last part of the (Actual) year, the Eiken tests begin. These are English proficiency tests given to students which they can use to bolster their entrance packet into High Schools (It's like going for a new job here... Getting into high school). the easiest level is level 5, then there is level 4, 3, pre-2, 2, pre-1 and then 1. Level 1 is so difficult they say it would be tough for a native speaker to get it. All of the English teachers here have level 2.
Most of my 3rd year students can pass level 4, and some can do level 3.
I find out that Bow-Chan is headed for Pre-2.
But she needs help, so they come to me and ask if I would be willing to help Bow-Chan.
Of course, I love Bow-Chan, I say.
Over the next three weeks we meet in the Library during lunch break and for a little bit after school. We go through the Eiken test workups (Pictures with people doing things, which has a paragraph talking about something related to the picture). She does remarkably well with the responses, but there are places where she really gets tripped up. We work on those areas and she smoothes out a lot.
More remarkably, she starts to actually talk to me in English. She is now the only student in the school that can communicate with me without Ms. First Year or Mr. Second Year there to translate...
The time for the Eiken test comes (It's on a Sunday). The following Monday I track down Bow-Chan and ask her how it went...
Suddenly, she's bowing to me,
"I'm sorry, Guy-Sensei!" She says... My heart sinks, "I didn't wake up in time!" Wait... She didn't fail? Hey... That's a plus! She's still bowing which makes me nervous (You have no idea how weird apology-bowing is to us Americans until you have been there), So I tell her to stop bowing and then I tell her it's okay, we'll try again.
So we do, we have one more chance at Eiken before the year is out, but it's many months down the line (In February). We practice an even harder level Japanese (I won't tell any of my co-workers this; but her English is improving so fast that I think she could make level 2 if she pushed a little, Her skill is quickly becoming as good as the English staff here) during lunch break, I have to explain Luxury Cruise to her for example (She understood Cruise, but Luxury was beyond her).
The most amazing thing is; Bow-chan is a product of this system. She does go to an English Cram School at night, but she was also hospitalized for 6 months...
I am also amazed at the speed of her young mind. I remember being that quick at learning new things, but to my chagrin, I realize that I am not learning Japanese at anywhere near the speed she is learning English.
"Guy-sensei," She says one day after class, "I hear that you practice Kyudo."
"The High School I want to go to has a very famous Kyudo club. I want to join the club. Please tell me about Kyudo. Why do you like Kyudo?"
"Bow-Chan," I say, "I think Kyudo is "Graceful". Do you know Graceful?"
"No, I don't know that word."
"That's your homework." I write it down on a piece of paper for her.
She smiles (Probably because I give her very easy homework), and takes the paper.
A few days later I am saying goodbye to the students as they leave for the day (Many of us teachers stand on the path that leads from the Bike Parking to the front gate. We say goodbye to the students as they leave for the day. It's one of my favorite pastimes). Bow-chan rides up to me on her bike.
"Guy-sensei, I finished my homework; Graceful means Beautiful movement."
"Exactly." I smile at her. My Bow-chan with a Bow and arrow. Yep, Bow-Chan's High School won't know what hit them.
February comes around and we are really working hard on the final few days. Thursday I ask her how she feels, she says she is nervous (Which makes sense), I say; "Bow-chan, you are the best English student in the school, we have been working on level 2 for a Pre-2 test, you'll be just fine." She says "Thank you."
The Friday before the test I have a Demo lesson at the nearby Elementary school with some of my new 6th years (Well, they will be my 1st years here in just a few months...) which Ms. First Year and I are going to go to at 1:20. Which should be just enough time to squeeze in one more lesson with Bow-chan before I go.
But suddenly Influenza strikes! And many of our first years and second years are out with the nasty bug.
Though Bow-Chan is just fine, the 3rd years are being dismissed early (Just after lunch). Which means that they have homeroom after lunch.
Which lasts until 1:20.
I ask Mr. Second Year if he will do me a favor and work with Bow-Chan for just a little bit after homeroom, he agrees, then, with only seconds to spare, I dash up to Bow-Chans' homeroom and interrupt real quick.
"Bow-Chan" I say, "I have to go to MyTown Elementary school, so please see Mr. Second Year after school."
She nods and says "Okay." And then the class laughs a little at us... I have no idea why, except that the entire exchange was in English.
I come back from the demo lesson at 4:30 and catch Mr. Second Year walking down the hallway.
"Mr. Second Year, did you meet with Bow-Chan?"
"Yes. We made it through her last three cards before she went home."
I breathe a sigh of relief. Now if only she manages to wake up on time...
The weekend passes and I catch Bow-Chan in the hallway the following Monday.
"Bow-Chan... How did it go?"
She grins, "I made it to the test."
"How do you think you did?"
"I did fine!" She exclaims.
And she did. On a test where 65% is passing, she made 86%.
This is why we teach.