This morning I was sound asleep and the alarm had been going for 5 minutes when I finally woke up. I slept well, and made my way down to breakfast past the row of students ringing large handbells. I walked into the dining hall and thought that I must be a little early, as there was no one else there. Then I remembered the morning callisthenics – the grown-up “wake and shake”! I hurried down to the assembly area and arrived just as the music was starting. Although I was not really in the mood to do aerobics at 7.15, I must confess that I did feel better afterwards, and enjoyed my breakfast all the more for the little exercise and fresh air.
Then came my big moment of the trip!… The chaplain has his day off on Tuesday, and the Headmaster leads the morning service and normally gives a short sermon. He had asked me to give the sermon for today, and I was up last night until midnight thinking about it. Well, actually I forgot about it and luckily the deputy head reminded me at 11.30pm and I wrote down some thoughts about our stay here to read to the students. I considered doing it in Japanese, but did not really leave myself enough time to prepare that, so I wrote it in relatively simple English so that all the students would hopefully understand.
Here is what I said:
“Good morning. I am going to tell you a little story.
I would also like to give you two messages today.
One is to be positive.
The second is to have a balance in your life between work and play.
I hope that my story will help you understand why I believe these two things are very important.
Once upon a time a young man went to Japan, that young man was me. Yes once, nearly 20 years ago I was young… After university I wanted to travel, and wanted to visit Japan. I was lucky and got a place on the JET programme – as assistant English teacher in a Junior High School in Gunma-ken. It was a fantastic experience and I stayed for 2 years, learning Japanese and starting to learn a little about Japan.
When I left Japan, I travelled some more, visiting China, Tibet, Pakistan, Morocco, America, France, Italy, Spain and India. I did lots of different jobs, including tour guide, travel manager, farmer, gardener and builder. I changed job to live in different places and to travel. 4 years ago I was living in Corsica, an island in the Mediterranean, with my wife and 3 children, and we talked about moving to England. I wanted a change for my family, and a change for me – so I decided to become a teacher!
When I lived in Japan, I remember thinking that a teacher can have such a positive impact on children’s lives, and I had a lot of respect for the teachers in Japan. I learnt a lot of things, and I still think about lessons I learnt in Japan. I am still learning from that experience almost twenty years ago. Now I am a teacher. I teach languages, because I can speak different languages – I love speaking different languages – French, Spanish, Italian, Japanese. I am very happy to be able to teach a little Japanese, and that is why I am here now – with some of my students who are starting to learn Japanese.
I love teaching – I love helping students learn new things. I love helping children become adults, helping them discover what they want to do in their life. If I can have a positive effect on one student – then I am making a difference. Sometimes that difference is not exam grades or university entrance, it is not success in sports or music. Sometimes that positive effect is just being there to listen to someone, sometimes it is a little encouragement for someone who needs it. Sometimes it is a smile or a hello, or time to talk.
When I came to the Rikkyo School in England, I thought that you work too much. I saw teachers and students working until 12 oclock at night, at the weekend! I saw students working at their desks, or in the library, during their free time. I saw teachers spending 16 hours of their day at the school. I thought this is crazy!
But now I have been here for a few days, I have talked to students and to teachers, and I have seen many positive things here. There is a wonderful atmosphere of calm here, and a sense that students and teachers have time to talk, to help each other. In my school, we spend less time at school, but teachers are always busy and often stressed. They do not always have time to talk to students. Students work hard, and often spend many hours at home doing homework. Students live with their families, but often do not have time to eat together or do activities together. There is no perfect answer, it is not possible to say one system, one school is better than another.
So the two messages I would like to give you are these:
One – Remember the positive. Be positive. We are very lucky, and if you are not sure, compare your life and your school to: an orphanage in India, where the children have no family and no chance of a good job; a school under a tree in Pakistan because the Taliban have destroyed the school; a school in Nigeria where girls do not go to school because they are afraid of being kidnapped and sold as slaves; a school in Sierra Leone, closed and empty because of Ebola and the fear of infection.
Two – Remember to have a balance in your life. Work hard, play hard, and relax as well! You must have time for you, to be yourself.
All I can say is that this is a happy school, where teachers and students respect each other, where people care about each other, where they help each other. You are lucky to have a warm and calm environment here, to eat together, to share food and to share time spent together. We sang to you about finding a balance between working hard and having fun. We hope you liked our song, but I think that we have more to learn from you. We will smile more, we will talk to each other more, we will make more effort in our work, and also be happy together when we are not working.
Minna san. Honto ni arigatou gozaimashita. (Thank you very much to everyone here).”