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Thursday, October 2, 2014

Speaking The Truth

The speech contest has officially ended and now it’s time to write some thoughts about it. 

Close but no cigar

     It is true that we didn’t come home with a prize, but despite that there’s still much to write about. We’d been practicing for over 2 months by the time our regional contest came around. I felt extremely confident in all my kids. It's probably hard to believe that I was being objective about their abilities but we honestly had a good shot at it this year. I never put any pressure on them though; above all else I told them that we should go to have fun, do our best, and be proud of the work we put into the competition. I can safely say that we accomplished all of these. It’s a huge achievement - something they’ll probably remember for the rest of their lives, and I’m thrilled that I was able to be a part of it.
     Watching them improve their abilities as the days went on was incredible. I’m positive that their self-confidence has improved dramatically, which is a hard-earned award of its own. One of my girls in particular, who I will call R here, made a complete transformation from her shy cocoon.  
     R was always one of my favorites because she's just a bright kid and damn near everything a teacher could want from a student. She was always very timid though; most of the work we did was to crack that shell so she could feel comfortable in her own skin. I think we nailed it too. I remember the first day I was able to make her laugh while we were practicing. Eventually she was smiling regularly during our sessions. One day, when I was in the gym waiting to start practice, R approached me and said that she had already worked with one of my JTEs earlier so she would just be doing club activities. I said that was fine and gave her a "頑張って"* for her practice. During one moment of downtime she walked back over to me where I sat along the edge of the stage awaiting the other three students: 

     "It was kind of lonely with only the two of us working together today." She said with a half smile.
     "Yeah, it is more fun when it's the whole group of us isn't it?" I replied. She smiled.
     "Yeah, like when it's the 6 of us..." She trailed off as practice demanded her attention once again. I leaned back on the stage feeling as though I were doing something right.

     Those kinds of small moments are really what spelled our time working towards that contest. Every single one of them had an effect on me. K was our comic relief, A was and is ever studious about English and I enjoyed having grammar conversations with her, Ka is the veteran, having competed last year. I knew her the best from the start. 
     I still can’t believe how strong the four of them were. I know what a nerve-wrecking experience it can be to stand amongst one’s peers and perform before a panel of judges. Rather than shrink with fear or lose their voice to nervousness they courageously rose the occasion; standing tall they confidently gave their speeches and performed admirably by all standards.
            Our small band of five applauded with uproarious cheer after each speech, never failing to support one another. In the break periods between these moments we huddled together and congratulated those who had finished their performance and offered encouraging words to those whose time had yet to come. They were amazingly brave and poised throughout their speeches. If the tables were turned and I had to speak Japanese I can’t say I would’ve done as well.
            In all honesty I felt very confident about taking home a victory this year. It’s hard to be objective when one is one as close as we were throughout these months but I thoroughly believe they performed in a manner worthy of accommodation. When their names were not announced, I felt my heart sink. They accepted this loss with great dignity but I was left feeling as though I had let them down. When the ceremony had ended I made sure to tell everyone how proud I was of them.
            The next day I asked how they were doing and they all seemed fine. I was glad that they were handling it well but I still felt a bit bad myself. While I was working on my English board, rearranging a few things, A came and handed me a letter. In it she thanked me for all help along the way and said that despite not winning she felt we all gave it our best shot. While I was still riding down the happiness from that letter R later told me that she had fun.

And then it struck me: that was the goal wasn’t it? In the end, that’s all it took to make it better.

Well that says it all doesn't it?


 * 頑張って (ganbatte) is an expression that one hears quite a bit in Japan. It's sometimes thought of as being synonymous with the English saying "good luck!" but I tend to disagree. "Ganbatte" means "do your best" and would therefore imply that the person it is told to must put some effort into their happiness. "Good luck" on the other hand feels less contingent on the agency of the person involved in the fortune. But that's just me!


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