The Japanese Ladies’ Lesson

When I look out of my kitchen window I can see the back of Miho’s house. For a long time after she was gone, when evening’s darkness would settle over the neighborhood and the timed lights would turn on in the empty home, I would imagine she was still inside clearing the supper dishes. I did the same thing for weeks when the school bus would come in the morning to pick up the children who live nearby. As was my daily habit, I would gaze out the same window absentmindedly searching for Tetsu and Haru’s faces among the little ones. Then with sadness, I would remember that they had returned to their native country.

The then 10-year-old twins had grown rapidly through the years as our neighbors. But their father’s U.S. work assignment was finished, and it was time for the family to go back to the country where the boys had been born, where their extended family would surely be anxiously awaiting their arrival, and where their years in America would become a memory of a season past.

Their home in Japan, a nation over 6,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean, greatly contrasted the lifestyle they had experienced in Ohio. I would learn much from Miho during the time we were able to spend together, despite our busy schedules. Language was a barrier in the beginning, but that barrier was bridged by the kindred spirit that we shared. Miho was not my first Japanese friend though. It was Kyoko, whom I originally met in an exercise class at the YMCA, who paved the way for me to understand how courageous the Japanese families who live among us, up and down I-75 are. The women are especially brave, because while their men find identity and professional camaraderie in their workplace, the ladies must find their own purpose in a country that is so foreign to their own.

Their children also have to learn to assimilate into a school setting with a language and customs dissimilar to what they’ve known. Yet it is often said that children are more adaptable than adults when it comes to change. Still, that’s not always the case, as I’ve heard stories about little ones crying themselves to sleep at night, overwhelmed by change.

As for the sense of loss and displacement that children and adults can both experience when they are thrust into a different environment, we commonly refer to this condition as homesickness. Dr. Josh Klapow, a clinical psychologist, who is a University of Alabama associate professor sees this phenomenon in college freshmen. According to a post on www.hercampus.com, “Dr. Klapow stresses that it’s important to recognize that homesickness is a very normal reaction to periods of rapid change and adjustment…people misinterpret what exactly it means to be homesick. It’s not about missing home – [your] house, [your] bed. Very often it’s about missing what’s normal and comfortable, what we’re used to, and not quite being comfortable with our new way of life.”

Yet, Kyoko and Miho shared a common trait that enabled them to find friends, and rewarding outlets and activities, while in the United States. They both sought diligently to master the English language, even though this can be a daunting challenge. By personality, they were also extremely friendly, willing to try new challenges and social situations, and accepting of others. I miss both of these dear ladies, but they left me with an important lesson about being aware of the transplanted individuals in our communities, not only the Japanese, but others who might be struggling with feelings of isolation.

Unfortunately, in recent history, due to terrorism, senseless mass shootings in general, and the Opioid crisis, we have become suspicious of anyone we don’t know. Sadly, now this distrust is even within our churches. There is legitimate cause for this fear, and we need to use wisdom and keep ourselves and our children as safe as possible.

But at the end of the day, we can’t let fear dictate our daily interactions with those who live, work, or worship among us. We need to reach out with hospitality and acceptance, and fight fear with faith. After all, this is America, “the home of the free and the land of the brave.”

Christina Ryan Claypool is an Ohio APME and Amy award-winning freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Her novel, Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife will be released in 2018. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

 

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Walking a mile in a teacher’s shoes

schoolroomThe school year is in full swing with teachers back in their classrooms. Some folks might mistakenly believe that teaching is an easy job. Not me. Fifteen years ago, on my first morning as a substitute teacher, I vividly remember standing in front of a class of about 25 high school students at multi-academic levels waiting for my instruction. Over and over the school bell rang that stressful day signaling the next period and at least 20 new faces would fill a vacated desk. Some of the students looked bored, some seemed intent on learning, while others were openly rebellious.

Thus began my year as a substitute middle/high school teacher. It’s necessary to qualify that I am not a teacher by training. Rather I was an unemployed journalist who had a rose-tinted vision of imparting knowledge to young people. My idealism about changing the world was quickly diminished when after a few weeks of subbing my goal turned to that of survival.

The truth is many substitutes never really get the chance to teach, since thankfully an absent teacher’s lesson plans include; a relevant movie, worksheet, or directions for a project already in progress. Seasoned educators know that subs are babysitters, just like veteran reporters know that recently graduated journalists are cubs. It’s a new substitute’s job to prove oneself, but that can be very difficult moving from school to school and classroom to classroom. For example, that first fall a particularly boisterous group of high school boys threatened to end my budding teaching career. While trying to take attendance, they proudly revealed that they had gotten rid of their last sub, “an elderly gentleman with purple hair” by flying handmade paper airplanes at him.school-desks

The mischievous teens laughed in mocking delight as they encircled me, while I frantically maintained that they were to “take their seats.” Their loud taunting voices were suddenly silenced when their principal mysteriously appeared in the back of the room offering them two for one Saturday School if they continued to be disrespectful.  Order immediately returned, because most high school students want to avoid punishment at all costs. Sadly, some parents enable their children to disregard school rules. This can become a teacher’s worst nightmare, when a student is empowered by the fact that they will have no consequences at home for acting up.

In my short tenure, I observed innocent teachers threatened for something as simple as denying a disruptive student a hall pass or even occasionally being pelted with undeserved obscenities by an unruly youth. I withstood my own daily teaching tests pretty well, choosing to focus on the majority of obedient, compassionate and helpful students who could be found in every classroom.

Although by early spring, it was the middle-school students who convinced me that I would have to end my career as a nomadic sub. Most of them didn’t seem to understand consequences like the high-school students did. Therefore, pandemonium broke out once when I was placed in a classroom with 15 middle-schoolers, 15 sewing machines, and a missing bobbin.

sewing-stuffMy young charges began to angrily blame each other for the missing bobbin, while imploring me to mediate the situation. In exasperation, I said, “What is a bobbin?” My admission of ignorance drew a look of disdain from the teens and tweens who showed me the small sewing machine part wrapped with colored thread. After settling the dispute, I leaned against the blackboard and gazed heavenward, silently asking, “God, what have I done to deserve this?” My answer came in the lessons gleaned during that memorable year.

Even though my brief teaching career ended shortly after the “sewing machine” incident, I learned that the life of a caring teacher is anything but easy or carefree. Their evenings are filled with grading papers, creating lessons, and doing all the things they can’t get done in a classroom filled with boisterous kids. This experience also prepared me for life as a school administrator’s wife, since I married one the following summer.

Headlines occasionally report the story of an unscrupulous mentor who lacks integrity and takes advantage of an unsuspecting youth, but these isolated incidents are the exceptions to the rule. Most educators invest countless unseen hours striving diligently to make the world better, one student at a time. My deepest respect goes out to teachers, knowing firsthand how difficult their path can be, because I was once honored to “walk a mile in their shoes.”

Christina aloneChristina Ryan Claypool is an Amy award-winning freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

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