After I graduated from college, I lived in Japan for a total of three years. The first two years I worked in public junior and senior high schools as an assistant English teacher/native speaker. It was a wonderful job – amazing students, lovely co-teachers and personally inspiring.
Today, as I was preparing for a major presentation at work, I recalled a moment at Keihoku High School in Sapporo. I had been at Keihoku for a month and it was my last day there (during my first year of teaching I visited about forty schools – almost a new school every week). As part of my farewell to the students at Keihoku, I was to give a speech to the entire student body. In my six months in Sapporo, with about twenty schools under my belt, I wasn’t usually nervous about giving speeches. Especially because they were in English and I knew most people were more focused on understanding my words rather than watching me.
But giving a speech at this school felt different. The month-long visit meant I had gotten to know some of the students. The teachers were becoming my friends. I was feeling sad to leave. And the thought of this speech was making me nervous.
When I heard the Principal call my name, I stood and walked to the front of the gymnasium and headed up the stairs at the front of the gym which would give me access to the stage where the Principal was waiting with the microphone. Walking in my school shoes (you remove your outside shoes at the entrance to the school) I caught my foot on the final step. I stumbled across the stage, somehow catching myself before I landed on my face at the Principal’s feet. I steadied myself and giggled as I started to speak in to the microphone. This was not how I’d pictured this moment. I heard a few giggles from the audience and then someone yelled, “Elizabeth-Sensei! We love you!” from the crowd and I gave a curtsy. They all cheered.
This moment is what I thought of as I prepared for my presentation this morning: if you can nearly fall flat on your face in front of 1000 students and survive, you can survive a thirty-minute presentation. And, I did survive…without falling on my face.
And, there’s a happy ending at Keihoku, too. I returned to the school the following year and became the first semi-permanent assistant English teacher. I taught three weeks out of the month there. It was a wonderful year — complete without any stumbles across the stage.