|Otsuki Award (Japan)
" The Teachings of 1 Point "
Masahiko Takeuchi (65,Part-time teacher at a school for the blind) Okayama city
For many years I worked as a teacher at my alma mater, the Okayama School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and I continue to teach there part-time in my post retirement years. Exams are held several times a year, and whenever I read the students’ answer sheets, it always calls to mind a particular episode when I was a student myself.
It happened when I was in the 12th grade. I was facing the 2nd-term midterm exams and cramming overnight as usual. I remember the subject for that exam was “General Medical Care.” The questions in the test were about treatments for many diseases and illnesses, and many of them required answers in full sentences. The test also covered a wide range of material. It was very difficult to get a perfect score in this subject, but I had been lucky that time. I gambled and focused on a specific section of the material, and it turned up on the test. “Yes!” I wrote down the answers in haste, turned in the answer sheet and left the classroom.
About a week later, I got back the results. I had been sure I would receive a perfect score of 100 points, but I got a 99. A single point would not affect my grade, but I wanted to know the reason for the deduction. I listened to my teacher’s explanation of the exam carefully, but I still did not see what I had gotten wrong. After the lecture, I caught him on his way back to the teachers’ lounge and asked:
“Excuse me, can you tell me what was mistaken on my answer sheet?,” I asked.
He replied without even looking having to look at the test.
“There are too many ‘meh’ marks,” he replied.
“Meh” in Braille are the equivalent of crossing out letters to make corrections in regular writing.
“I don’t see what’s wrong with having too many ‘Meh,’” I protested. To which he replied, matter-of-factly, “Masahiko, you write an answer sheet to have someone read it. You must write it with care, so that it’s easy to read. When you turned your exam in, you still had 20 minutes left. I believe that was enough to time rewrite your answers clearly. I had a hard time reading your exam because there were ‘meh’ everywhere. That’s why I took 1 point off.”
I am usually quite the complainer. I remember thinking, “Corrections don’t make a right answer wrong.” But instead I said:
“I see. I’ll be more careful from now on.”
That was not like me. It was not that I was overwhelmed by his powers of persuasion. Instead, it was as if his words had penetrated deep within me before I could even understand their meaning in my mind.
I came across Braille for the first time when I lost my sight and transferred to the school for the blind in the 3rd grade. At first I thought I would never be able to read and write these “bumps,” but all of my classmates who had been at the school since the 1st grade could read the textbooks without any difficulty.
That fact fired up my competitive spirit. I took intensive training in Braille after school and caught up to everyone in six months’ time. From that point on, the teachers always told me to write my Braille carefully, but I never listened. I had a bold and careless character and I thought as long as people could understand my Braille, it was enough. For a long time, I had ignored punctuation and I did not care about mistakes, often leaving them just as they were. But I felt sincerity in what my teacher had said that day. I felt that he was saying that I had the potential to write beautiful Braille. That is why I accepted his words without protest.
Since then, I think my Braille has improved a great deal. After college, I became a teacher myself. I’ve made materials for teachers’ meetings and official documents to submit to the prefecture. I always remember that 1 point in times like these. By writing carefully, I began to value each and every word. Perhaps I could even say that I began to face life itself with more respect. Common sense dictates that correct answers are all we need to achieve a perfect score. How many teachers are there who have the courage to take 1 point off in order to really educate their students? A periodic exam should not be a mere tool to measure academic achievement, it has to teach more. Every time I read my student’s answer sheets, I remember my own teacher and try to grade my students as he would.
One summer near the end of my career as a teacher, I attended a seminar in Akita. On my way home, I visited Sendai to see the same teacher who had been living there after retirement. We decided to meet for dinner.
“It’s been a long time, Masahiko,” he said merrily. “The dishes at this restaurant are my favorite. Sendai is a paradise if you like ox tongue and sea squirt,”
I’ve never been a picky eater, so I enjoyed every dish we had.
“They all taste great,” I said.
“Good. You’d like the Sendai life too, then,” he responded.
As our conversation progressed, I asked him if he remembered the episode involving the 1-point deduction in my test. He said only, “Really, I said that? I don’t remember,” and laughed it off.
Had this just been a minute, everyday occurrence for him? Or, was he gently wrapping a profound lesson in his laughter and letting it go? That 1 point taught me so many important things in my life. And the night with him in Sendai also became a wonderful gift.