Praise Me Like You Should

Praise defines us. It’s not the only thing that defines us certainly, but it is a rather large variable in the process that shapes our personalities. If people you respect, praise you about the same thing again and again, and if you didn’t believe it in the first place, then it’s likely you’ll begin to believe it after you hear it a couple of times. Praise makes people more confident, and that in turn makes people better at what they do because they approach it without apprehension (either that or they become arrogant/deluded!). Whatever the outcome, other peoples’ opinions of ourselves invariably have an effect on who we are, and how we view ourselves.

Many businesses and managers in the UK learnt this a long time ago, and any good manager who maintains respect from his/her underlings will dish out praise as and when it’s due. Good companies will reward their employees based on their performance, and will further inspire them to do a good job.

Praise in Japan, at least if you are an Assistant Language Teacher anyway (I can’t vouch for the millions of office workers up and down the country), is difficult to come by. Now this may well just be because I’m doing a crap job, but I hear similar reports from the majority of JETs I meet, and we can’t all be doing a crap job! Not once in the last 7 months have I walked out of a class to have one of my JTEs say to me “well that was ok,” or “not bad”, though in a land where subtlety is king, I could just have missed some feedback glaringly obvious to the trained Japanese eye, but which passes me by like a slippered ant tiptoeing through a cotton wool factory.

Without definite, brash praise, one thing is for sure; I am slowly but surely turning into a complete and utter softie. A couple of weeks ago a student walked out of the class, but stopped just long enough to say “nice lesson” before he disappeared through the door. If he knew how much my heart melted in that moment he probably wouldn’t have said it for fear I might run up and hug him in front of all his friends. The ultimate prize for any teacher is to have their students enjoy (and learn something from) the lesson, but for them to actually express this in words, English words no less, was too much for my brain to handle. It’d had a taste of the praise it had crazed for so long, and now, it wanted more.

I woke up in the same way yesterday morning as I do every morning; shivering, cursing Japan for its lack of natural gas and insulation, and cursing myself for not ironing a shirt or doing the washing up the night before. Beneath the cold and the cursing though was something I hadn’t felt for a while. NERVES. I was nervous about the 2 lessons I had scheduled. I think this was a combination of the fact that it was my last lesson of the school year with both classes, and that I had only prepared the plan the night before and hence, still had to do all the photocopies and discuss it with the JTE before the lesson started at 08:35. Nevertheless, I managed it, and made my way Homeroom 12. The next part is written from the point-of-view of one of my front-row students:

They walked into the lesson as they always do; Bobby took the podium and Ms. Kobayashi stood near the door, and we all stood up and went through the motions. Good morning, how are you, blah blah blah. We say “sleepy” and he laughs, then we get on with the lesson; business as usual; except this time he proceeded to tell us that it was his last lesson with us today. I mean, duh, we know; what do you expect us to do? Break down and cry? Emit a few sarcastic “ahhhhh”s? Grab your coat-tails and beg you to do an extra lesson? Fat chance Bobby-boy. What did we do? Nothing. Most of us just sat there in silence and a few of them cheered. He laughed it off so he can’t have been that bothered; we just got on with the lesson which, by the way, was excellent [don’t push it – Ed].

It was all going fine until the end. We’d finished reviewing all the lessons from this term and there were five minutes to spare, so Bobby wrote “pleasure” on the board and asked us what it meant. No-one knew so one of the class looked it up in the dictionary and announced it to everyone else. After that, he came forward and leant on the podium. All I could think was “no, please don’t, think of your dignity” but he began anyway:

“It has been a pleasure teaching all of you. I won’t get to teach you next year so I wanted to say thank you for all your hard work, and good luck in the test.”

Now this would have been fine if it was in Japanese, but it was in English so he had to say it really slowly and repeat certain bits to make sure everyone understood, all the while smiling like a love-sick puppy. It just made him look really earnest and pathetic, and I couldn’t help but start sniggering. I think he saw me, because he started to turn a dark shade of red. He proceeded to fake cry for a second, and then went completely deadpan as if to say “over it”, which won back a few of the students, but for me, that was it. I turned around, bent over, and pretended to be sick in my friend’s lap.

To that boy, I will forever be a laughing stock, but at least by catching him giggling and fake-puking I was able to realise how nauseatingly soft I was being, and have resolved not to repeat the episode in my next review lesson. Take note: Fishing for compliments from students is not becoming of a teacher.

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