I went to school yesterday to see the kids, and had a blast. But today was the real bitter-sweet one for me. In some ways it was the perfect end to my time. It was graduation and my kids left school for the last time.
The first thing that struck me was how many parents knew me and wanted to thank me. I was really amazed how many came up to me and told me specifically how happy they were that I emailed their kids. This really relieved me. The whole emailing current/former students things kind of crosses an important line of the pupil-teacher relationship that has been instilled in me from US school. It is why I only gave away my email address out after I was no longer a teacher. It is not a big thing in Japan, many of my teachers email their current and former students, but it was still kind of weird for me at first. I'm really happy I did it and apparently the parents are too! The other thing parents thanked me for being a teacher and also specifically for when I gave all my sentaku (special lesson) kids a necktie and letters. Their kindness was deeply humbling.
I sat in the cheap seats this time in the back of the gym. A lot of parents told me to go sit with the teachers but there was no room. I told the parents, "I'm not a teacher now. I'm just a tourist and old friend." Apparently some of the parents went and complained that I should be recognized so when the third grade teachers got called up one of my teachers told me to go up with the others. Well then there were not enough flowers so they pulled me out of the line in front of everyone, and I went to sit back down and yet another teacher told me to come back so I did, and then all the teachers (now with flowers) sat back down, so I awkwardly did too. When I found out that parents had requested I go up front I was incredably touched, but at the time of being bounced about I was a little embarrassed and hurt. I was a teacher for the entire school and never formally recognized as an official first/second/third grade teacher in any real capacity. So it really meant a lot that I was at least thought of by the parents as a third grade teacher and recognized (at least for a few minutes) as such. I can understand why the school did not handle it well, though. The parents' requests did not have time to climb the official channels. This story ends when the now graduated students walk out of the school grounds surrounded by a tunnel of other kids and teachers. One girl ran up to me and gave me a bouquet. I smiled ear-to-ear.
Everyone walked to the what they call the "heliport". I have no idea if it is an actual heliport or just the name. Essentially it is a grassy opening where we took lots of pictures. Everyone wanted a picture of me and to shake my hand. It made me feel so good. And then after about an hour or so of picture taking the crowd grew thin and the kids started their walks home. As is my custom I was the last official presence to leave the heliport and head back to the school. Though I must admit that I paused and turned around to look at the heliport with my eyes burning. I wasn't really "official" anymore and I won't be ever again.
Yesterday, during school I was asked to say something to the kids that graduated today, and here is what I told them (in easier English),
"When you came to Tanichu* I was a first year teacher. It was your beginning and mine. Together we grew up together. I saw you become adults and you saw me become a better teacher. Now you will graduate and go out into the world. We will leave together - for I was there at the beginning and now I am here at the end. We are together even when it is time to part. I will always remember you. Please remember me. With all things do your best and never be too afraid to make mistakes or to try. Thank you for making my time wonderful, and I will see you tomorrow. Goodbye and good luck."
*[short for Tanigawa Chu Gakko which just means Tanigawa Middle School]
And so I was here, for the beginning and the end.