I suppose I should be flattered that the kids at my junior high school have warmed up to me enough to give me a nickname. Unfortunately, the creation of my nickname was left to the imaginative power of a group of 15-year-old boys. They call me “nipples.”
It could be worse. They call the science teacher “pig.”
My own private nipplegate started in one of my Grade 9 English classes. The students were making Christmas cards and I was walking around the room correcting their mistakes (“Umm . . . ‘Let’s enjoying Christmas’ is good but ‘Merry Christmas’ would be better”).
There is one kid in this class who is the ringleader of a cabal of sexual harassers. He is failing English miserably but he knows every swear word in the dictionary and is fluent in dirty talk. His current favourite expression is “I want you.” The kid propositions me at least five times a day.
Anyway, he called me over to his desk to ask for help with his Christmas card. I should have known it was a ruse.
He asked me to spell a word for him. Which word?
“Nippluss,” he said, while his friends snickered in the background.
I couldn’t understand what he was trying to say so I asked him to repeat it. Over and over again.
“Nippluss! Nippluss! Nippluss!”
I still didn’t understand what the hell he was saying so he drew two red dots inside the upper half of his snowman’s torso. I clued in immediately.
The expression on my face sent him and his friends into hysterics.
“Nippluss! Nippluss! Nippluss!” he chanted.
I (lightly) smacked him over the head with my textbook and told him to stop. And he did stop. For a little while at least. He waited until my back was turned and softly said, “Nippluss.” I ignored him. So he said it a little louder, “Nippluss!” I carried on like nothing was happening until he yelled, “NIPPLUSS!” and the whole class exploded into laughter.
I turned to the Japanese teacher for help but she just shrugged her shoulders and said, “He is very rude boy.”
Unfortunately, the name stuck and now half of the Grade 9 boys yell out “nippluss” whenever they see me.
Now, I don’t really care that they call me nipples. I gave my teachers crude nicknames when I was their age too (my personal favourites were Mr. “Rock Hard” Rocca and Mr. “No Weenie” Novini).
But what surprises me is that they have the audacity call me nipples to my face. I wouldn’t have dared called Mr. Rocca or Mr. Novini by their nicknames to their faces. It would have meant a week of detention.
But in Japan there is no such thing as detention. No such thing as sending a kid to the principal’s office. By law, teachers aren’t allowed to kick a kid out of the classroom. I am not allowed, under any circumstances, to discipline the students.
So the kids talk in class. They sleep in class. They party in the back of the room. And the teachers just put up with it. Talk about blowing your stereotypes about the Japanese education system to smithereens.
Before I came to Japan, I assumed I would be teaching some of the most focused, dedicated and studious kids in the world. I imagined them staring up at me with reverence and respect.
Instead, they’re staring at my chest and calling me “nippluss.”