Although the term “yankees” (yankiis) as used in Japan, is certainly derived from the US, it doesn’t directly refer to Americans at all. Yankees, a relatively recent phenomena in Japan, are disaffected and rebellious teenagers who express their dissatisfaction with society in various ways. The attitude seems far more early Elvis and James Dean than 1967 hippie. It’s characterized by a kind of affected insouciance and sneering contempt. In junior high school (where I teach), that can’t be easy. When students are dressed in clothing clearly patterned on military uniforms, it must be difficult to express a sense of individuality.
In fairness to Japanese students, the bar is set pretty high and it is not surprising that some students might adversely react to the high expectations placed upon them. On any given day the work-load of a Japanese student is at least double that of a North American student: In any given Japanese class, there will probably be a couple of students sleeping at their desks. Not surprising given that they may have spent as many as ten hours in school and then may have attended a night school course on the previous day.
Let me be clear: Overwhelmingly, the students are great. For me though, Friday classes can be a bit tough; Fifty minutes is a very long time to be standing in front of a class when a “yankee” student is constantly giving you “the finger”. That’s especially true when the sensei is disinclined to ask you to contribute to the class because she is also intimidated by the “yankee” and, in any case has a pre-existing working relationship with an ALT with more than three years experience (compared with my three “one day a week”, months at that school). It kinda leaves me standing in front of a class with a grin (grimace) on my face and nothing to do. The first responsibility of the sensei however, is to her class, so I’d like to make it clear that I am not in any way being critical and, of late I have noticed that she is making attempts to include me in her lesson plans. Under difficult circumstances she’s doing a great job, and she also happens to be a very good teacher. The ALT, Nathan (Naizan-san) is from one of my favorite cities, Portland Oregon, and has a great rapport with the students.
The question remains though; what do you do with a kid who constantly shoots his mouth off very loudly, bullies other students, gets up and disruptively strolls around the classroom mid-lesson, and completely refuses to participate in any classroom activities?
I’m perfectly OK with boisterous or high-spirited (genki in Japanese) students; I was pretty “genki” myself as a kid and I should also make it clear that North American teachers face exactly the same, and probably more disciplinary problems than Japanese educators. This behavior however, goes beyond mere youthful exuberance. It compromises the education of the other students in the classroom. One “alpha male” can incite other students, who otherwise might not be inclined to be problematic in class, to “act up” and abet in really disruptive behavior. You then find yourself dealing with two or three kids “acting up” instead of one. It’s not a coincidence that problematic students are found in the same class. I’ve also noticed that these classes tend to lag behind those classes without the hard-core “yankee” students.
I was hoping to write at greater length about a few subjects but have been called upon to speak a bit about Sidney and the S.S.C.A. at tomorrow’s Niimi International Exchange Association annual Christmas party. I must brush up a bit but will post again soon.
Ta for now