Right now, I'm helping several junior high school students practise for the annual English-language speech contest. I've done this every year since I came to Kawamata, and it's a lot of fun. Well, I don't exactly mean it's fun sitting in a hot classroom all day long throughout July and August, but it is fun to hear the students get progressively better and better as they perform their speeches.
I always enjoy watching the actual contest as well. Of course, there's a sense of pride in watching my own students perform. I know how hard they've worked on their speeches all summer, and, no matter what their results are, I think it's a wonderful achievement. But I also think it's fascinating to watch and listen to all of the other students competing, because I know how hard they all must have worked as well.
There are two sections to the speech contest: recitation, and original speeches. In the recitation section, there are always some popular speeches which are performed by several students. There are well-known folk tales, and stories from the school textbooks, historical speeches by famous people, sometimes even rakugo sketches. I think it's interesting to see which speeches are popular. I also enjoy seeing how different students give different kinds of performances... sometimes the exact same speech can be a drama, a tragedy, or a comedy.
The original speeches are always performed at the end of the day, and I love listening to them. These are speeches that the students have written themselves, about things that are important to them personally. I always feel as if each student has poured part of his or her own soul into their speech. The recitation section may be all about the performance, but the original speeches are all about the messages contained therein. And sometimes they can be very moving.
Other ALTs come to the speech contest too, of course, and it's always interesting for us to compare our thoughts as well as our experiences. Naturally, each of us is cheering for our own students... but coming to the speech contest gives us all a rare chance to see how special and talented the students from all over Fukushima are.
Having the opportunity to see that for ourselves is perhaps the best part of all.