Vanessa Tenazas: Zenryuji Nursery School

Building on my experiences last semester, this spring I focused much of my attention on the general concept of “teacher” as understood by the children at the daycare. In exploring the various roles they play in the daily life of the attendees, I also became fascinated by how the ways a teacher corrects a child not only reflects something about the teacher, but also by how it affects the child developmentally.

My observations have led me to identify a “teacher” at the daycare as one who simultaneously act in 3 major roles: as one who guides, as one who dotes, and as one who disciplines.

As a guide, a teacher instructs a child on acceptable moral behavior. For example, they may interrupt or arbitrate a dispute and then ensure that apologies or concessions are made appropriately. This role of course also encompasses the teachings of daily life, such as proper manners and routine living (e.g. greetings, washing hands before a meal, etc.).

Teachers are also, at least at this stage, something of a playmate to the children. Physical affection through hugs and tickling seems to build a sort of trust and intimacy between the two that, in my opinion, enables the teacher to fulfill their other roles more effectively. That is, while they inevitably have to correct a child, the physical affection communicates to the child in a concrete way that a teacher is not always so distant an entity, but instead one who emulates a parent.

Finally, as a disciplinarian, the teacher employs various methods to correct children’s behavior. Aside from outright scolding, I have noticed a particular stress on accountability, whereby a child must first admit their mistake and then correct it on their own. Spilled milk episodes are most representative of this tendency. Additionally, passive-aggression on the side of the teacher seems to indicate when a child has deviated from a long-expected behavior, such as playing around after eating snack instead of preparing to go home. This method tends to lead the children to realize their own mistake, as reflected in their guilty expressions afterward.

Until volunteering at Zenryuji, I did not realize how important a role a teacher at a daycare plays in shaping the growth of a child. By instructing them, being friendly with them, and also disciplining them, they teach children not only what is expected of them at the daycare, but also in society as they prepare to go further out into the world. Since I have always observed Japanese people to be sticklers on accountability, it made me wonder if the emphasis on recognizing and fixing one’s own mistakes at Zenryuji may be culturally influenced. In any case, it was a very enlightening to get a glimpse of one of the foundations of Japanese society, even if only for a short time.

4 thoughts on “Vanessa Tenazas: Zenryuji Nursery School

  1. Sounds like there was much more to this CIP than just getting to dote on really cute children. I don’t think you’ve mentioned wanting to become a Japanese teacher, but has this experience given you reason to think it could be a fun job (or just confirmed it as something you never want to do)?

    I bet these kids will miss you when you’re gone! Had they had a foreign teacher before you?

    • Thanks for the comment, Alexa!
      While I still don’t think I’m cut out for teaching, I think doing this CIP did help me respect the work of a teacher more at the pre-school level. Kind of like how you thought all I did was play with the kids (which is pretty close to the truth), I didn’t really grasp the impact of a teacher figure on children this age. Very eye opening.

      I believe there have been other KCJS kids to volunteer at Zenryuji before, though I can’t say I’m certain as to how many people have stayed for a full year. Needless to say it was a very emotional farewell on my last day. I hope I can go back again next time I’m in Kyoto!

  2. Vanessa,

    (The way you analyzed your CIP experience to extract some concrete meaning makes me think that I did my blog wrong).

    This is really thought-provoking, and I am surprised by some parts. For example, one of your three roles teacher’s play is that of playmate, which you say consists of physical intimacy. I cannot imagine this, because it seems like you’d have to threaten someone to get a hug out of it. I guess this goes along with your observation of “I have always observed Japanese people to be sticklers on accountability,” which, by the way, is my favorite quote from this.

    It makes me wonder change could there possibly be from childhood to adulthood that results in a contradictory shift in values? Hmm. Either way, I’m sure you had no problem having fun with the kids!

    • Thanks, Deanna! When I think about what I wrote for my blog last semester, I’m also very pleased that I was able to get something more out of it throughout these additional weeks. Considering I was surprised by the same aspects you were, it’s been just as much of an eye-opening experience for me as well.

      From what I learned in some other Japanese sociology classes I took, I think Japanese society just has different expectations for people once they’ve reached a certain age. While it’s okay to get touchy-feely with kids (something you couldn’t really imagine in America exactly), once you reach adulthood physical contact becomes too intimate to be appropriate “normal” behavior, I think.

      If I had had the opportunity I would have loved to visit the other levels of schooling (elementary, middle, and high) to see what kinds of concrete changes you can observe as children get older and older. Too bad our stay here was so short!