When I first met Hideto, he was in third grade. He was one of three boys who were inseparable in elementary school. Hideto was the smart, science loving kid. His chosen sport was swimming. Masaki was the cutest and most personable. And Yuta would spend every waking moment playing soccer if he could. Hideto and Yuta lived near one another, and so everyday they walked to and from school together.
When I started teaching at Takasu Elementary twice a week, I could always count on these three boys to come to the teachers room after lunch and ask me to join them at lunch recess, most often for a game of dodgeball. But occasionally, only Hideto would come to the teacher’s room to attempt his English, chat in Japanese or rummage through my teaching supplies and prizes. It was clear he had a big crush on me, and I adored him quite the same. He was a good and sweet kid.
One of the most anticipated moments of my whole Japan vacation was that of my visit to the junior high where all of my favorite kids are now in their third and final year of junior high. When I left them, most of them were 11 years old. Now they are 14 going on 15, and any parent to teenagers know what a significant age difference this is. Any teacher knows what a tender age junior high school students are experiencing.
What amazed me about “my” kids is that all of their faces – the ones which used to smile so big and laugh in class and sing songs and enthusiastically raise hands to answer questions – were exactly the same. I remembered many of their names, but for sure could recognize all of their faces. They were taller, lanky, some a bit fat, a few pimple-faced and highly aware of their changing bodies, thus awkward in their body language and severely shy to show any bit of excitement to see me. The Principal had told me, though, that all of my babes were asking for three days, “Is Shanna coming today?” “When is Shanna coming?” “I will get to see Shanna?” It was reassuring to hear that they were just as eager for the reunion.
It was everything I could do not to burst into happy tears when I saw all of them. The wave of memories and happy times sweeping over me. We shared some good days together in that English room. My beautiful girls and my cool boys. And there they were before me, still youthful, but teenagers. I told them all when I left that I felt so attached to them and adored them as I would my own. My sentiments remain the same. I don’t care if it make me sappy, I was on cloud 9, seeing these youngsters!!!
I was standing in the back of one class when I saw a head pop up in the back door window. And then the boy returned and stared. It was Hideto. His face lit up and he gave me a very quick wave. I smiled at waved back at him, but he took off to catch up with his friends who had walked ahead. After that class was over, he returned to the room and we were able to chat. He and Yuta still walk to and from school together. And Masaki is still the #3 of the group. Hideto is a bit taller, his hair longer and “cool” but he is still that sweet little boy who had a crush on his teacher. We had only time for a brief chat and a photo, before I was whisked off to the next class, but I was elated that I got to see him.
I don’t know if when these kids are 20 or 35 or 50 that they will remember our days spent in the English room, or if those lessons will remain with them enough that they pursue a career involving English, but I do know that I will always hold those kids dear in my heart. While I’ve seen them as 14 year olds, they’ll probably always remain those amazingly energetic 5th graders in my memory. My students. My kids.
How cute is he? – This is Hideto Suzuki, now. It was so good to see him!