Help Needed, Help Received
Professor Tatsumi Souichi gradually became aware of a muffled D-d-d-eet! D-d-d-eet! drawing his attention away from the microscope. Glancing around the lab, he tracked the sound to his jacket hanging near the door. Oh, shit! That's my phone alarm! He quickly shoved his specimens into the refrigerator, grabbed his work bag, exchanged lab coat for jacket, and dashed off toward his classroom. Then he spun around to go back and lock the door. He leaned his head against it for a moment and took a deep breath.
I hate teaching classes! He banged his head on the door a few times. I hate it...and I'm terrible at it, he admitted to himself. He took no notice of the students giving him strange looks, didn't care that he was going to be late now. Let them wait, they don't pay any attention to me anyway! Because I'm boring! I'm making Botany boring! Well, Botany is boring, but never mind that! I'm supposed to teach Agriculture next semester, but there won't be any students if none of them make it through Botany first. Then I'll get fired.
Tatsumi kicked the door and again headed for his classroom, but didn't bother with running. Hands in pockets, head down, he forced himself to walk calmly down the hallway, down the stairs, down another hallway. On the last stretch, he raised his head, put on his fiercest frown, and marched into his class.
Late in the afternoon, Professors Miyagi and Kamijou were both sitting at their desks with stacks of student papers before them...being ignored as they argued. A sharp knock on the door interrupted them – mostly because no one ever bothered to knock and usually just barged in.
“Come in!” called Miyagi. When the door opened, it took him a minute to recall the name that went along with the man who wore glasses and kept his light-brown hair tied back in a long ponytail. “Tatsumi-sensei! Welcome! What do you think of Bashō*?”
“I don't. Haven't since high school, probably.”
Kamijou roared with laughter. “Good answer! Stupid Miyagi – he's a scientist.”
“Even scientists can read poetry, dammit! But anyway, what's brings you by? How's your friend, the tall guy?”
“Ah, um. He's fine. I, well, I need some help. I guess. Or something.” Tatsumi looked very uncomfortable, staring at the wall of dusty, overstuffed bookshelves rather than making eye contact.
The two exchanged a quick glance, realizing this might be serious. Keeping his tone light, Miyagi said, “Come in, and lock the door behind you because I'm going to smoke and it's totally against the rules. Would you like one?” He waved his pack.
“I have my own, thanks.” Tatsumi fished his crumpled pack from a pocket.
Kamijou got up to open the window and offered Tatsumi his chair, but he chose to perch on the edge of Miyagi's desk. Cigarettes lit, Miyagi waited patiently while Tatsumi took a deep drag, then began to explain to them his problems, staring out the window into the campus quad.
“Look. Back at Nagoya Uni, all I ever did was stay in my lab and occasionally send a progress report to my professor. They all left me alone, let me have a few assistants, gave me my own small lab to work in. I barely even went to classes when I was an undergrad – just showed up for tests and studied on my own. Then, I got my doctorate and there was no place for me there, not as a teacher or pure researcher.”
He paused for another puff before continuing. “Since Morinaga was being transferred to Tokyo, I decided to come too, and the offer from M University was excellent. But suddenly it hit me. Between packing, looking for an apartment, moving...I had no idea how to teach a class. I've been trying to teach myself on the side, but I think I'm failing at it. I'm not good with people anyway, I have no patience with fools, and I'm as bored with Introductory Botany as all my students seem to be.”
“Ahh,” sighed Miyagi, “Beginner Teacher Syndrome.” He mashed his half-smoked cigarette out in the ashtray. “We all go through it, truly. None of us are ready to teach when we first start. It's worst for college professors because we aren't required to take any 'How to teach' classes like lower-grade educators do. We're just expected to share our knowledge somehow.”
“I had a terrible time my first year,” admitted Kamijou. “I just kept making my classes read passages of their books out loud for the entire period so I wouldn't have to say anything. And all my tests were so hard, students dropped my classes until they were half-empty.”
“And look at you now, The Demon Kamijou, famous for your rants and throwing objects at your students...and inspiring a love of Literature in them.” Miyagi loved to tease Kamijou.
“Shut it you!” He tossed a pen, which Miyagi dodged from long practice.
Miyagi sat silent for a minute, then jumped up with enthusiasm. “Come with me, Tatsumi. Hiroki, we'll be right back.” Tatsumi barely had a chance to stub out his own cigarette before Miyagi grabbed his arm and dragged him out of the office.
Steering them out across the quad, Miyagi said, “Now, I don't know anything about plants, but I'm thinking you should give your students an away assignment. Tell them to break into groups and spend the next week out gathering weeds from local parks. Make them record an insane amount of details about the locations and dirt and weather or whatever. That will give you a week from teaching that you can use to get organized and then a week to go through them one at a time with the class. And they'll like it since they can basically goof around outside.”
Tatsumi, pushing to keep up with Miyagi's long-legged pace, goggled at him. “That's actually...a really good idea.”
“Right? I've been doing this a while now, you know. Okay. Now we're going to Admin and make sure you are authorized to have assistants – you should be, having a Ph.D., but we'll just make sure. You can put up a notice on the Science message board, and I'm sure you'll get some eager students who want to get the credits and experience. You can get one to help you with the class, and at least one to assist in the lab - if you want that?”
“Uh, yes. That would be perfect for the lab. But, even with the classes?”
“Yes. Kamijou and I don't bother, because we're too obsessed with our subjects, but any professor can have a student help them grade papers, run errands, or even watch over the class when you need to step away. You just have to choose your helpers wisely.”
Tatsumi thought of Morinaga. I'll never find anyone like him...but that's probably a good thing! He's going to pitch a fit when I tell him I'm getting assistants. He'll probably want me to choose ugly ones – ha!
“Here's Admin. Izumi should be able to tell us what we want to know...”
Somehow, they were already back at Miyagi's office. He's like a typhoon, thought Tatsumi, tossing everyone around him this way and that, drowning them in chatter while he's at it. But damned if he didn't get results. Tatsumi now knew he could take on two assistants – one for the lab and one for his class. He had the papers he would need to fill out for them. He had a lesson plan for the next two weeks that didn't sound impossible or boring.
Kamijou glanced over at them as they came back into the room. He was talking on his phone, so could only wave a greeting.
“Is that your handsome lover? Is he at home, eagerly awaiting your return?”
“Can I take you all out to dinner?” Tatsumi asked abruptly. “You've been so much help, I'd like to show my gratitude somehow.”
“Oi. That sounds great. You in, Hiroki?”
“Kamijou,” he corrected automatically. They could hear some response from the phone. “Hai, hai. Fine, Nowaki. I'll come home to change first. Okay, be there soon.” Kamijou hung up.
“I guess that means yes,” said Miyagi. “Where are we going?”
“Um...you'll have to choose. We don't know many restaurants yet,” Tatsumi said.
“Let's go to the yakitori* stalls. I haven't done that in forever. We can meet at the JR Yurakucho station. Can you find that, Tatsumi?”
“I'm sure I can. 7:00 pm sound alright?”
“Perfect,” answered Miyagi. “Oh, I'd better call Shinobu…”
“Go now, Tatsumi-sensei. He's disgusting to listen to when he talks to that brat. See you at 7.”
Tatsumi made for the hills – he did not want to listen to lovey-dovey talk! I'd better call Morinaga, he thought [oh the irony!], and headed for home.
*Matsuo Bashō – famous poet of the Edo period (1603-1868). Miyagi is an expert on his works.
*Yakitori stalls – yakitori is grilled chicken on skewers, and near the train tracks around Yurakucho station, there are a bunch of street vendors selling it. Wikitravel for the win! Also, Abroad in Japan, the YouTube channel.