Takin’ the Train To Namioka

Thursday, September 2, 2010

View from school office in Namioka
Wednesday was my first visit to Namioka School for special needs. Noda Sensei brought me to the train at 7.30am to catch the 7.50am train to the next town over. Before I came to Nishi Koko a new adventure like this would have terrified me, the train on my own to somehwere I’d never been, meeting another group of strangers who would probably speak little English, a day of Japanese introductions to adults and children, the idea of getting lost..but I felt so calm. I was excited more than anything to meet everyone at my second school. There is also the fact that I have yet to meet a rude unwelcoming Japanese person so this might have helped my nerves. The school was huge, absolutely massive, but filled with only 53 students and 60 teachers. It was attached to a hospital so that the children who lived there could walk through an indoor corridor to get to class, this I thought was very impressive. I had 5classes that day, each very different from the last. My first class with senior high school, two students, a girl and a boy, the JET (Japanese English Teacher) and myself made up the rest of the class. The girl was very very sleepy, the JET said it was a mixture of her sickness and the medication she is on, the boy hated school that’s all she said. It was sad, not because they were sick but the classroom was so quiet so empty, they had no friends to chat to before or after, no friends to sit beside, just the two of them and their two desks. Most of the lessons had the same structure, the students introduced themselves reading from sheets, some didn’t actually need the sheets. Then I introduced myself and passed around pictures, a flag, postcards, Euro money, and a teddy bear. They loved the pictures asking questions about every little detail, ‘what her?, her nice? , you live?’. The girl was a fantastic drawer, throughout the whole class she kept showing me her drawings that’s all she wanted to do. The next class was with 7 boys and 3 teachers including me. These guys were hilarious, they loved chatting to each other and showing me around the class, we sat in a circle and talked about ourselves, their English was quite good it was fun being able to interact like that. Then I had elementary, one boy, one desk, one teacher. He was a great kid but how could you not feel like he needed some pals. He is completely on his own, isolated and from what I could see he was pretty bright and he would have managed fine at Nishi KoKo. But then again I don’t know the reasons they are all there. At lunch I ate with two 7year old boys and five other teachers. One boy was deaf and in a wheelchair but could not stop smiling, he was delighted to have new company and seemed very happy with all his mates. After lunch I had another elementary class. One boy, one huge classroom, one teacher and myself. Two teachers and one kid is tricky, you can end up talking to the teacher more than the child if you’re not careful, there is no diversity, a question is asked then answered, the kid hears no stories about his friends, he won’t know what his friends hobbies are or what they like to eat, because it’s just him on his own. It’s also very difficult to ask questions, I stupidly asked him about his family, turns out he has none and lives in the hospital. I don’t know if he lives there because he is sick or because he has no family but either way this kid has the best English I have heard from a school child since I got here, he just has nobody to practice with.

Namioka August 2010
I got off at 3pm and headed back to the train station in the blistering heat, exhausted from a day of classes, the most I have done in Nishi Koko is 2 in one day. So I can barely talk anymore after a solid day of ‘my name is Hannah.’  Namioka is a fantastic school, the teachers are so friendly and nice, the children are very happy as far as I can see but I cannot help but feel they must be lonely. I never knew what was better, to integrate children with special needs into normal schools or to keep them all together, but now I believe that those children need friends, they need interaction. Maybe they separated the classes for my first day and next time they will group them together a bit. I’ll wait and see but at least they seem happy.

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