Culture and interpretation of actions

A preservice  teacher linked me a 40-minute 2003 documentary , “Children Full of Life.”   (“Namida to warai no happî kurasu: 4 nen 1 kumi Inochi no jugyô”) It is worth viewing by those interested in teaching for happiness and resilience, including making an emotionally supportive classroom.

My interest here is the interpretation viewers make of the teacher’s actions part way through.  This is an example of factors to consider when classes have mixed cultural backgrounds,(Western readers might watch the video before continuing.)


For those who do not watch the video, it is a class of 10 year olds.  The Class aim for the year is happiness.

Through their use of daily letters, the students have implicit permission to write about painful topics, and to have public reactions to others’ letters accepted,  This includes the sudden death of family members.

The teacher is able to hug a grieving child. but also to spend two days making the bullied know they are seen as wronged (““Bullying is contempt, and hatred, completely indefensible.”) , and to make the hidden bullies think about the reasons for their behaviour, the effects on others, and start to admit their actions.


19 minutes in – that afternoon, teams are going to go  rafting in self-designed -and-built rafts in th school pool.

Teacher posture at 20:17 – 20:24 shows  he is angry at continued improper conduct of a student, as he bans him from the afternoon rafting,  The preservice teacher, a Manga / anime watcher, says the posture says “I show I am angry / disciplining.”

A team member protests courteously and asks others to speak, and continues protest argument for a  little.

21.51 – 22:11, 22:35 – 40 The manga / anime watcher says that the posture (folded arms, eyes shut, chin up, that expression)says “I officially disagree with you, but I want you to give me a good reason to agree with you.”

Teacher does eye-bag-at-side-of-nose scratch and slight chin lower at 22:41 as a student says “But it’s partly our fault, too” – (visual “yes, continue…”) hand returns to less closed position –  but eyes shut, chin up .  When the first speaking student claims it was a group task, not teacher task, so group has a right “If it’s all right with us, he shouldn’t have to stay behind”, 23:21 teacher lowers chin, and tilts face towards speaker. Student asks others whether invite him, and they do. 23:22:  teacher opens eyes as they murmur agreement, looks at speaker.

Speaker then notes class agreement and respectfully asks teacher to permit the boy to go in their group to rafting.  Teacher says “Well spoken, Yo.” and (by gesture) invites the teary speaker to a high-five.


From many westerners’ viewpoints, the teacher was giving strong negative signals – and risking class disruption by closing his eyes.  From the (Western ) Japanese Youth Culture enthusiast’s  interpretation,  the teacher’s posture (including  closing his eyes) was giving strong tacit, visual permission for further attempts to speak for the argument.   Do any young Japanese have a comment?

Cross-cultural teaching is such challenging fun.

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