Skip to content

“How Are You?”

17 July 2010

In elementary school classrooms here, there is a routine. When the chime sounds, the homeroom teacher prompts the nichoku, the student assigned to bring the class to order that day, to perform the perfunctory greeting. The nichoku says “気をつけ” — “Be careful”, “Be ready”.  The class takes a moment to arrange their things, cease their conversations, and focus.  When the nichoku is satisfied that the class is presentable, he or she faces the front and makes a solemn pronouncement: “Starting now, second period will begin”.  The rest of the class bows in their seats, echoing “we will begin”.

In my elementary school classrooms, I also have a routine. After this ritual, and an enthusiastic exchange of “Good Mornings”, I always ask each class “How are you today?”–not to the group, but to individuals.  Sometimes they volunteer. Sometimes I have to nudge them along by calling first on English nerds who sit in the front row.  Sometimes I’m a little sadistic, and call on the kid in back focusing so hard on his textbook that he appears to be severely constipated. By now, I’ve taught them so many, many ways of answering this question. From “I’m hungry” and “I’m sleep” to “I’m thirsty” and “I’m bored”. I always prepare my own new answer each week, too.  Tomorrow’s response, in case you were curious, is “I’m excited for Summer Vacation!”

I insist upon doing this with each and every class for two reasons. First, it puts the students–even the awkward ones who never volunteer–at ease.  It allows them a tiny forum for interaction that they can latch on to, and feel that morsel of success upon its completion. But more importantly, it is language at its most essential–as a means of narrating our thoughts, emotions, desires, and questions. It begins every class with the simplest possible reminder that language is not arithmetic. There is no right or wrong answer–no solution of any kind, come to that. Just how the feeling, and the English they place in its service. Perhaps I’ve only succeeded at mechanizing spontaneity. I can live with that.

Despite their initial reluctance, the students have come to love this. There are still awkward students aplenty, but by now the ones who are excited to be called upon outnumber the stoic ones. And the kids who have actually looked up a new answer in the library’s Japanese-English dictionary, or try to be clever by conjoining emotions with the fascinating new word “and”, increases by the week. The homeroom teachers have overcome their concerns about the disorder this injects into their classroom, too. Two weeks ago, one 4th grade teacher responded by shouting “I’m feeling SEXY! WHOOOO!”–followed by his best Michael Jackson impersonation–replete with a cringe-inducing pelvic thrust and attempt at a moon-walk. Some people, clearly, are just too sexy for elementary school.

This past April the 6th graders graduated, and entered the junior high school where I also happen to teach. I knew I was in for trouble when I asked the first class how they were doing, received an ecstatic jumble of responses, only to have the homeroom teacher jump in and correct them. “Actually”, she opines, “you should say ‘I’m fine, thank you, and you?’ whenever Haru-sensei asks you that question”.

I didn’t fight it, and I didn’t question.  It’s not my classroom, and I don’t get a say in how class time is appropriated–not with the next test always around the corner.  Instead, I resorted to guerrilla tactics to sustain the tradition I’d built with these students. I always gave a slight nod to the students who still insist on shouting their own answer.  I made a point of stopping students in the hallway and chatting them up–not that I haven’t always done that.

Today, I asked Homeroom 4 how they were doing and, with irreproachable synchronization, twenty-seven boys and girls shouted back “I’m fine, thank you, and you?”. Miyazaki-sensei nodded approvingly. So I picked up the flash cards, thinking of my favorite poets the whole time.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. Moira permalink
    21 July 2010 1:13 am

    I want you to know that my French teachers used to do the “Hello class, how are you?” thing and expect us to say “Fine thanks, and you?” in response and it drove me nuts. I mean, sure you’re using the language but why ask if you don’t actually want to hear the response? I guess it’s good to know the formal polite response, but in general people asking how you are and not wanting to know is one of my pet peeves. So, even though it makes no difference at all, I want you to know that I’ve got your back on this one. And I like your strategy of asking individual students and getting individual responses.

  2. 16 June 2013 1:19 pm

    It’s a shame you don’t have a donate button! I’d without a doubt donate to this excellent blog! I suppose for now i’ll settle for
    bookmarking and adding your RSS feed to my Google account.
    I look forward to brand new updates and will share this blog with my Facebook group.
    Talk soon!

  3. 16 June 2013 4:48 pm

    It’s an awesome paragraph for all the web visitors; they will obtain benefit from it I am sure.

  4. 16 June 2013 6:25 pm

    Wow, wonderful blog layout! How lengthy have you been running a blog for?
    you made running a blog look easy. The entire look of your site is
    excellent, let alone the content material!

  5. 20 June 2013 9:52 am

    I don’t even know how I stopped up here, but I assumed this publish was great. I do not know who you are however definitely you are going to a well-known blogger when you aren’t already.

  6. 29 August 2013 2:45 pm

    Wow, this piece of writing is nice, my sister is analyzing such things, so I am going to
    convey her.

  7. 16 July 2014 5:09 am

    This design is spectacular! You definitely know how
    to keep a reader amused. Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to start my own blog (well,
    almost…HaHa!) Fantastic job. I really loved what you had to say, and
    more than that, how you presented it. Too cool!

  8. 17 July 2014 6:45 am

    I enjoy what you guys are up too. Such clever work and reporting!
    Keep up the terrific works guys I’ve added you guys
    to blogroll.

  9. 26 July 2014 5:02 pm

    For hottest news you have to go to see internet and on internet I found this site as a most excellent site for newest updates.

  10. 29 July 2014 8:38 pm

    Definitely believe that which you stated. Your favorite reason seemed to be on the internet the easiest thing to be aware of.
    I say to you, I certainly get irked while people consider
    worries that they just do not know about. You managed
    to hit the nail upon the top as well as defined out
    the whole thing without having side effect , people could take a signal.
    Will likely be back to get more. Thanks

  11. 30 July 2014 3:48 am

    Hello to every one, the contents present at this site are truly remarkable for people knowledge, well, keep up the good work fellows.

  12. 13 September 2014 2:40 am

    Security is always a major concern because you’re essentially entrusting your money to a system that does all the trading for you.

    In financial conditions, a binary option is that kind of
    option in which the payoff is sometimes some fixed amount of any asset or free in any way.
    Remember that quality should be just as good as quantity when it comes to the additional features of a binary options broker.

  13. 14 September 2014 11:27 am

    Hi there to every single one, it’s genuinely a good
    for me to pay a visit this web site, it consists of important Information.

  14. 1 October 2014 9:14 pm

    A live chat free for sites, as you may know already, presents
    websites with incredible utility, permitting site
    end users to engage in real-time. One can only question if Microsoft will be
    aware of consideration and put into action any of this in outlook games.

    Most of us who use computers make use of the products branded by Microsoft.

  15. 8 October 2014 3:30 am

    There are now millions of rooms available (which means you’ll find something of value) and the facilities, economy and service is
    completely catered to the visitor. other limited-service establishments, but these kind
    of table stakes are not what. These five star hotels provide
    guests with luxury stay that include spacious rooms and best dining etc.

  16. 19 January 2015 6:04 am

    Once you do this your Permalinks glimpse such as this ” On the major of your respective blog page publish you could switch it but clicking “edit”. Doing so may actually harm SEO because search engines may consider sites that do this to be less relevant given the dilution of the content across irrelevant directories. For this article, let’s assume that ‘Widgets Fargo SD’ has a count of 1,000 monthly searches and that ‘Widgets Fargo South Dakota’ has a count of 10,000 monthly searches.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: