Madadayo (1993) is the story of a high school German teacher in Japan in retirement and his devoted former students, who visit him, celebrate his birthday every year and who come to his aid when he’s in need is a slice of life film.

Unfortunately, the film dragged and got to sentimental for my taste. Lasting over 2 hours the film seemed much longer. I enjoyed seeing how devoted the former students were to their teacher and to each other, but that was the only good thing. The birthday parties and drinking parties got repetitive.

I suppose the climax of the film, which was written by Akira Kurosawa, was when the teacher and his wife lose their beloved stray cat, Nora. The students, now business men, do everything they can to find the cat as its loss has traumatized the teacher so much that he doesn’t bathe or eat. For a man who was supposed to be so philosophical and wise, I’d expect him to take a bath during the months the cat was gone.

There are better Japanese films. Watch something else.


Not You Again

Yesterday, six weeks into the semester, a student who failed last semester returned. He popped up in my English 2 class, though he failed English 3. His study skills were awful and he missed more than 33% of the classes.

No one explained that he was coming back and his English is so bad that I’m not sure whether he’s now in my class or if he’s just coming this week because he has a test on Sunday.

They give our final exams again to students who failed and then even though my final is only worth 10% of the grade, they pass if they get 60% or better on the test.

I emailed the administrative office and they’re not sure why this boy’s returned. Hmm. If he’s turned over a new leaf, I’ll be happy to take him, but if he’s basically the same, which missing 5 weeks of class suggests, I’ll grudgingly take him.

I hope this gets cleared up tomorrow.

Last Class: IMIS 14-2

Before the semester started I emailed our Foreign Affairs liaison to say I thought the IMIS 14-2 sophomores would be best served if another, more authoritative teacher taught the class. I said while I liked the students as people, I felt they weren’t learning as much as they should. Moreover, I’d taught them for two semesters already.

They were a handful and their grades in English 2 were lower than English 1, when I’d hoped the grades would have gone up. Several students had been caught cheating so a clean slate seemed like a good idea to me.

However, I would up getting them. That was okay, and while many goofed off and chatted in Chinese about whatever, I did enjoy teaching those who tried.

We only offer three English courses in this program. The last class for me is usually a movie or something fun. This class should have been held on a Thursday morning, but due to some ball-dropping by an office worker a colleague and I had to go get our medical exams for our work visas on Thursday morning. We had to make up the class on Thursday night, which was inconvenient for several students.

So no one really wanted to be at this class. Well, we watched an episode of Doctor Who after reviewing our finals. When the program was done, I told the students I had enjoyed teaching them and wished them well. I said, I’d see them around campus and would love to hear from them from time to time. Then I dismissed them. What surprised me was that many didn’t leave.

Then Irina, a woman who rarely speaks in English or seems to like school at all, came up and hugged me. More followed suit as they thanked me and a couple said they loved me. It was so touching, especially since China is not a hugging culture. Some started to cry and I did too. It just goes to show, you never really know how you affect people and it’s a big reason why I do what I do.

Letter to a Malingerer

A student, who put forth little effort, wrote me begging for a higher grade:

I am N.Y., Classmate told me that I didn’t through this semester grades, I don’t know if this is true, but I am very worry and sad, before my English is not good, but I already very study hard this semester, I finished Praxised, every time I will come to class, never absent, Not too bad the final examination, I still can be hand in my homework on time, although I do homework is not good, but I’m trying to do. I’m very sorry for the last video copy events, I later won’t do that. It is really a big blow for me, half a year’s efforts to change back the results, my grades didn’t pass. I contact with English is short,I live in a poor town, high schools do not attach importance to English, My English has a gap with other students.Now I doubt myself is foolish,I am going to mad, I don’t know myself how to do later, I don’t know that I can’t learn English, It caused a lot of psychological pressure for me, I hope that through smoking to solve, but that is very bad, I don’t know what to do, I hope you can reconsider my grades,thanks professor.

Hmm. He got less than a 70% on the final so that’s not so good, I’d consider it a poor grade if I got his grade, but then that’s a subjective response. His homework was always done in a rush with minimal quality. There’s no way I was going to change a grade that was properly calculated. Here’s how I replied:

Dear N.Y.,

I can appreciate your desire to make the problem of a low grade disappear, yet it is in crisis that we grow and learn to meet challenge. I can’t make the problem go away. The best thing for you to do is to change your viewpoint and take another course of action.

Yes, you’re in a tough situation, but through this experience you can learn a lot.

  1. I suggest you tell your parents everything as soon as possible and as honestly as possible so they see you as a responsible young adult. As you speak with them this is a good time to bring up your struggles with English and your acknowledgement that you need extra help, beyond the simple “I’ll try harder.”Make them understand that in order for you to really learn English well, you must take extra lessons a few times a week. Berlitz in Beijing would be the best choice, but there must be some good choices near your home time. You also should buy Rosetta Stone and continue with
  2. You’ve already identified the problem’s source – cheating. So you just need to stop cheating in all areas of your life and learn that cheating only offers the illusion of an easy path and obviously offers more pain than it’s worth. Remember that.
  3. You’ve also identified the other issue – the gap between your English and your classmates’. Even the top students will have to improve a lot to be able to understand a college course in their major in English. Everyone with less that a 90% grade should take extra English courses during the vacation. In addition they should study a few hours a day so that their diploma has real meaning.
  4. You mention pressure and I can understand how you’re feeling that now. However, pressure is what makes us grow. Without it we stagnate. One of the most important thing for you to do is to learn to deal with pressure, since it’s a part of life. Thus this problem is a gift, which can lead you to gaining life skills.

All the failing grade means is that you have to take an extra test next term. I think that’s an amazingly easy way to get credit for this course. If you were in Korea or the U.S. you’d have to take the course again, which, of course, makes a lot of sense.

My brother flunked not only a class, but was kicked out of school, not once but twice. After that he joined the army reserves. The army training transformed him so that he had the maturity to return to university, graduate, get a job and go to law school. Now he’s a successful lawyer. Perhaps that story could be an inspiration to you. Perhaps an option like the military makes sense for you.


Prof. Kelly

No Wonder I’m Doubting My Efforts

I had to share this email my colleague received. I’ve changed the names to protect the writer.

Dear Mr.X:
How are you everything going? I’m C. It’s my pleasure that I can learn English Culture 2 in this semester with you. I want to improve my spoken English and listening during this semester. Of course, I will make no efforts to learn to achieve these goal.
I am looking forward to recieve your e-mail. Good luck to you.

Major X

Fall 2015
I do hope she will put in some effort, but you never know. Sometimes I’ve been too optimistic.

New Students, New English Names

While I do have the usual number of Ambers and Toms (i.e. one per class), I’ve got a few more interesting English names this semester: Flame, Demon, July, Hero, Win, Gank*, Froggen, Lavender (rather nice actually), Maybe, Vision, Vant*,  Maple, Ichabod, Bard, Collision, Orange, Win and Milk.

I have one more class to meet so there may be more such names. Seems I’ve got more unusual names this time around.

*I told him that made no sense as it isn’t a word or a name. Now Gank has taken Froggen. I’m not sure where they’re getting these., maybe from a computer game.

Poem of the Week

The Students

by Mark Halliday

The students eat something and then watch the news,
a little, then go to sleep. When morning breaks in
they find they have not forgotten all: they recall
the speckle of words on certain pages of
the chapter assigned, a phrase of strange weight
from a chapter that was not assigned, and something
said almost flippantly by a classmate on the Green
which put much of the 18th century into perspective.
Noticing themselves at the sink they are aware
the hands they wash are the “same” hands
as in high school—though the face is different.
Arriving in the breakfast hall having hardly felt
the transit, they set down their trays on one table;
presently, glance at another corner of the space:
that was where we mostly sat two years ago,
that was where Gerry said what he said
about circles, the concept of, and Leonardo da Vinci.