Children Full of Life

Japan Empathy

Please watch the documentary before reading this post! You may not need to come back here 🙂

This is a documentary of a homeroom teacher in Japan, and his 4th grade class of 35 10-year-olds as they learn about the value of life, being happy, and caring for each other. The teacher’s favorite word is ‘bonding’ and that’s what he tries to help the students do, as he knows that’s what will give them strength to face the difficulties of life, and death. As the commentator says, good teachers connect theory with with life. Mr. K blends academic learning with life lessons about whatever comes up in the lives of the students as the year progresses~ bullying, and standing up against it to protect each other; sudden death of a father, and how to cheer up the student who is facing such a terrible loss; classroom misbehavior, and how to defend each other and speak up even to the authority of the teacher if the punishment seems unfair. There are many tears, and many emotions that come up and are shared together. This is an amazing documentary to watch, as it will unleash your own trapped emotions better than a session of talking about them could ever do.

Mr. K wants his students to learn how to live a happy life, and how to care for other people. This is their class goal from day one. He asks each student to write every day in their notebook about whatever is going on in their life~ good or bad~ and three students read their letters to the class each day. Many of the letters are deep and moving. In the first video we see one child who reads his letter about the death and funeral of his grandmother. The other children listen attentively, and we see the beginnings of an emotional response in their faces. Some are crying. All are wide-eyed. One little girl stands up to tell about how hearing this letter has made her feel the pain of her father’s death 7 years before, when she was three, and that she was never able to express before. The class is weeping openly along with her, and the teacher is by her side, thanking her and hugging her and encouraging her for finally letting it out. He tells her how much better she feels now, and its true. The following day she brings in a design her father drew shortly before he died, and this time she is proud, and able to smile. It is an amazing example of heart healing and emotional growth. I was dumbstruck, and deeply moved.

“They tell the stories, and everyone shares their feelings. When people really listen, they live in your heart forever,” says Mr. K. He is 57 years old, and believes that the teacher’s job is to show how precious life is. Other teachers come to his class to watch and learn from him. I wish I could sit in on his classes as well!

In one of the videos, the problem is bullying. Someone in the class has been painfully made fun of, and Mr. K has decided it’s time to stop it. For weeks he asks the students to share about it, but no one wants to say anything. He tells them that bullying is contempt and hatred, and cannot be allowed to exist among them. He wants the bullies to confess and explain their behavior. As the discussion goes on day after day, slowly some truths start to creep out, as the commentator says it. Mr. K speaks to the class strongly about how they are saying only pretty words, but no one is taking any blame upon themselves. Finally, one girl stands up to share that she understands the feeling of being picked on. When she was in daycare, the other kids said she was smelly. Now, she doesn’t have the courage to stand up for the present victim because she doesn’t want to experience that kind of pain again, and is afraid that the kids will pick on her too. She breaks down in sobs, and the other students are moved and start to share their own reasons for not standing up, or for being mean. They acknowledge that it is unkind, and unfair, and they understand that they themselves will suffer from their own conscience when they treat others in such a way. The lesson? Mr. K tells them that we’re all vulnerable. We must admit it, and go on. “Don’t dwell on it,” he tells the student who is crying about her past. As he holds her, and tells her to take a deep breath.

“There’s no certainty in life,” he says when one student’s father dies suddenly in his sleep. “That’s why it’s important to think about life. I want to cheer him up. I want you to cheer him up,” he tells the other students as they prepare for the boy to return to class. First they decide to take him a month’s worth of snacks. Then everyone writes him a comforting letter, which they deliver to him and his mother, who is in tears. At the end of the school year, their last class act is to write a large letter out on the playground to the dead fathers of the two students, that can be seen from heaven. It is a very symbolic but real ceremony that makes so much sense, and yet we don’t have these kind of rituals in our society to help us go through these losses. I remember last year one of my 13-year-old students lost his father to a terrible suicide. Everyone knew about it. His father had thrown himself under a train. But no one, including me, knew what to say, or how to help. The boy acted as though nothing had happened. And so did everyone else. I was wondering what to do. So I called him to stay after class one day, and asked him how he was doing. It was a feeble attempt. After seeing this video, I know now that I would do something very different. I would talk to the class. I would ask them to write to him. I would encourage the healing process in a different way. As Mr. K tells them on their last day of class, “We tried to form a bond these 2 years. You all made an effort to make yourselves understood, and to understand each other. A mutual effort at understanding. The thought that when the going was rough, my friends were always there to help me, will help you in your life.”

Ahhh….yes. That is true. And Thank you to our wonderful teachers who have loved us and shown us something about how to live a happy life, and how to care for others.

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