Sleepers are common in the Japanese classroom. Certain students develop an alarmingly regular habit of coming to class and promptly nodding off. Their teachers have various methods of coping with such inattention. These range from the gentle wakey-wakey shaking reminiscent of a mother reluctantly rousing her volatile teenage son, to the more commonly offered oh-he-is-tired-from-studying-so-hard-so-leave-him-be excuse. I used to think that excuse was at least better than being told a student is ‘shy’, but still fell into the camp that it was, at best, utter horseshit. Recently, I have come to think there may occasionally be truth in it.

I teach small groups of students and thankfully don’t encounter sleepers often. I do have one, though. He is a high school boy, far from lazy, but under so much pressure from his parents and teachers to study that he is chronically lacking in sleep. He comes into my classroom and almost immediately closes his eyes and begins nodding like those comical passengers you see on trains here. He strains to keep his eyes open but seems quite incapable of doing so. Instead, he will occasionally wake with a start and apologise as he wipes drool from the table, or blurts out some inappropriate remnant from a half-formed dream.  In small classes this is very noticeable and embarrassing for all concerned. I teach mostly groups of about six students and it is very, very obvious when one is snoring or wakes with a wild-eyed stare shouting, ‘Get mum! The dogs are coming!’ You can try to ignore a sleeper but when the slow rhythmic breathing starts, everybody knows he’s gone. Sometimes nobody mentions it but then it’s like when the vicar pops in for tea and farts aloud.

This boy is not in a small group class, however. His is a private lesson. Now, I know he really is tired and I know most of my students are reasonably satisfied with my lessons, but  still, when a chap comes to your abode each week and falls asleep the second you open your mouth, it is hard not to feel a little bit disheartened. To speak with his mother or father is to invite their apology and a parental reprimand that he pay more attention, neither of which is really satisfactory. So week after week he comes and I relinquish my role of educator to one of instigator of torture. I turn the volume up on listening activities, shine the lights brightly and do all that is within my power to deprive this inmate of sleep. I question him constantly and loudly even when he drifts off half way through his own answer and I find any excuse to have him stand and move around against his will. We play this game for fifty minutes and then, after a gentle shake, he thanks me and goes home. There he will study until the early hours of the morning.

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8 Responses to Sleepers

  1. I find this sad, as there is no joy in learning for these students. They are learning out of obligation to please their parents. At least, that is what I take from this. I could be wrong, since I’ve never been to Japan.

    • No, you’re right. It is sad – there are a lot of teenagers who spend too much time studying and simply do not get enough sleep. In the worst cases, they can’t possibly function properly and time spent supposedly studying doesn’t correspond to a significant increase in learning.

  2. Jeffrey says:

    “Sometimes nobody mentions it but then it’s like when the vicar pops in for tea and farts aloud.”

    Another reason for being an atheist!

    And you know, you can’t tell the Japanese anything about their education system, as anyone who has taught English there knows so well.

    We fight constantly in the U.S. about pedagogy, innovation and class size. Some districts have finally begun to shift school hours to accommodate the natural sleep patterns of JH and HS students with later start hours. However, too many kids still fall through the proverbial cracks, but mostly for the opposite reason they do in Japan – not enough parental involvement, supervision or, at the very least, pushing.

  3. jonallen1966 says:

    that’s very sad for the poor lad. you could just let him sleep and not charge him?

    • It is a bit sad, but he doesn’t pay – his parents do. And they simply apologise and tell him to stay awake because they are really keen for him to study with us. Actually, he wants to carry on too (or he says he does, anyway) but he is just exhausted. I wouldn’t mind at all if he quit and I suppose I could refuse to teach him but I suspect his parents would just send him elsewhere. He’s a good kid, just overworked!

  4. eewyi says:

    I’m a Finnish High School student, starting my 3rd year in coming August.
    Sleeping is absolute no no in our school, and actually, I believe in any school. Not that we wouldn’t be tired. When someone is dozing off, and teacher notices this he/she usually addressed him/her loudly and strictly to stay up and not to sleep. I have seen only once that teacher let the student sleep through a lesson. All other times teachers have disturbed the one sleeping so he/she can’t fall asleep.
    I’m dozing often in morning classes or classes I’m not interested in. However, I don’t have the nerve to actually fall asleep, but some times teachers have scolded me for dozing as well. My friend is often pretty tired, so she has a habit to sleep a little in breaks instead. Luckily, many students [well at least my friends] nudge and keep the tired one active, so he/she doesn’t have a chance to sleep.

    Sleeping is quite an issue for me on it’s own right, I don’t fall in sleep easily, I want to stay up late and especially during school and stressing over exams, sleeping can become a nightmare. And then I go to school, being pretty tired. It really can’t be helped, but it’s 100% sure that in Finnish school, there’s always someone to wake you up, being it a teacher or your friend.

    However, Japanese school system in a way is way more time consuming than the Finnish one, so in a way, I understand why some teachers let them sleep. But in a long run that’s not good at all.

    Sorry if my English sounds odd in some sentences, I wrote this pretty quickly ^__^’ Feel free to correct me, you are a teacher after all, haha!

    • Thanks for commenting! Your English is excellent and there would be very, very few students in Japan who could write anything nearly as accurate and readable as that. I have heard the English education in Finland is great.Yoor comment suggests that is indeed the case!

      • eewyi says:

        Oh, ahahaha, thank you so much, I’m happy it didn’t sound odd ^//~//^’

        Umm, yes, our English education is quite good. Kids expose to English from young age quite effectively here, nothing expect some kids series are dubbed, and 99% of games are in English. This might sound like a childish excuse, but I have learned a lot of my English outside school, for example, by playing Pokémon games from the age of 10. I’m also pretty active in some English/International fandom forums, and in Twitter [Between Finnish Twitter users, there’s this quite interesting phenomenon that we usually tweet to each other in English instead of Finnish, haha! Shorter sentences you see.] I would say that in the Internet, I communicate mainly in English. But if I wouldn’t be so active, I’m sure I wouldn’t be this good.

        Also, it must be noted that in HS level, Finnish students are expected to have knowledge of quite difficult English already. We once had a text about brain functions, for example. Finnish students start to learn English in the 3rd or 4th grade, at the age of 9~10.

        Also, my teacher is quite strict. There is a rumout that she hasn’t given 10 [A] to anyone. Getting 8 [C] is already quite a honour from her. All of my courses are C.
        We need to write one to two essayd during each course, and our teacher uses Higher School examination as a basis for everything she rewievs.
        The max points you can get from it is 99p. I’ve usually gotten 85~97p. Usually 90 or little over. I was pretty surprised by that, haha! : D

        In tests, there’s also an essay you need to write. You can choose from some alternatives, and in one test, there was a task to write an anniversary speech about 9/11. I got 49/50p. I was pretty glad!

        Our teacher has quite and effective way to keep everybody active. She chooses who answers. [and we need to address her and other students in English only during class. If we try to use Finnish, she orders to use English instead] and she addresses all the students one by one, being it a homework check up or a lesson about grammar. I did find that stressing at first, because I felt bad if I didn’t know the answer. But now I’m used to it, and it’s actually pretty effective way to learn.

        She also some times asks so long, that the answer is correct. Here’s one example I experienced.
        We re-learned numerals.

        Teach: “Eve, your turn”
        Me: “Um, in the 19th century?”
        Teach: “That would be in the 1800s”
        Me: “In the 18th century?”
        Teach: “That would be in the 1700s”
        Me: •I giggle a little• Oh uh, the 20th century?”
        Teach: “You got lucky, correct”

        I must say she is the best English teacher I’ve ever had, although she is strict :3 She gives me motivation and challenge to maintain my English in a good level.

        If you have any more to ask, please do!~

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