During most western holidays in Japan, I’m supposed to teach about them an their history and do something “cultural” to make English fun. Thus I started brainstorming for Halloween in September, and nothing clever came to mind.  I usually like to give a bit of candy, too. Then my mother had the brilliant (I’m not being sarcastic here) idea to make popcorn balls with my students for Halloween.

Sticky, gooey, sweet goodness that they can’t really make by themselves.  “I’ll see what I can do!” I told my mother, and then went off to ask my teachers.

Well, the teachers were all for it.  This is good news.  So I bought an 8lb container of popcorn kernels from costco, looked up a Popcorn Ball Recipe online, and figured out what “hard-ball stage” entailed.  (I’ve now seen it so many times that I can usually tell by just eye-balling the syrup whether it’s reached the stage.)

I first taught the popcorn ball fun times to Hatsuyama, my smallest school (with 30 students over three years) and that went okay.  Worked on how to teach it.  Didn’t go too crazy.

Then today I made it with three classes.  Of thirty students each.  For a total of 27 batches of popcorn balls (I halved the recipe) including the demonstration batches.

Here was my schedule today:

7:00 – Snooze Button

7:20 – Drag self out of bed, prepare for day.

7:55 – Having finished preparing self, run back into house for forgotten item #1 (water).

7:57 – Reverse into parking place and run back into house for forgotten item #2 (info on charity: water for the speeches I gave today).

8:01 – Arrive at school one minute late.  AGH!

8:05 – Unlock school kitchens and begin setting up.

8:30 – Give the mid-trimester listening test to second year students.

8:35 – Search gigantic kitchen-like environment for bowls, spoons, measuring implements, etc.

8:50 – Begin popping popcorn for first class.

9:30 – Give mid-trimester listening test to third year students.

9:35 – Pop more popcorn.  (This is all I did, seriously.  I’m no good at popping it in larger pots, so I used 4-quart pots 9 times for each class.  It takes between 5-10 minutes to make popcorn depending on how hot the pot is when you start, so 9 takes a long time.  And, since I had back-to-back classes, I needed to prepare enough popcorn for third and fourth period so we could start making the syrup right away.  Which pretty much means about 180 minutes of making popcorn.)

10:30 – Third period begins.  The following ensues (roughly copy this for the following two classes):

Call class to order.  Greetings.  Talk about popcorn balls and how awesome they all.

Bring students to front of class to watch me mix together the syrup.  Tell them to go do it.  Glare at the students who try to take more M&Ms (saving them for future classes).

Call back students to the front to show them what the syrup should look like when it reaches “hard-ball stage.”  (This is when it holds its shape–but soft-like–when you put a bit into some water.  Don’t cook it long enough and the syrup won’t stick enough to the popcorn.  Cook it too long and it’ll turn into caramel candy.)

Wash off hands.  Run around madly as students call and ask me to double check their syrup to see if it’s reached “hardball” stage.

Search for parchment paper.

Make more popcorn.

Make popcorn balls for the teachers with demonstration batch.Clean off demonstration bowls.

Make more popcorn.

Hand students saran wrap for wrapping their popcorn balls.

Wave them goodbye. (at, say, 11:25.)

11:30 – Call 3B class to order.  Repeat above, except worse because I have to make more popcorn in a shorter amount of time.  (I was supposed to be busy during lunch recess, so I was afraid I wouldn’t have any time to prepare for the third class of the day.)

12:20 – Quick clean.  As quick as slightly-hardened syrup can be.

12:35 – Shovel school lunch in my mouth.  Part of it tasted like mold.  Not delicious.  But I was the only teacher who thought so.

12:45 – Rush to desk.  Check cell phone (thank goodness I did).  Note that the speech I was supposed to give at other school (fifteen minutes away) has been postponed.

12:48 – Collapse at desk for three minutes.

12:50 – Go to grocery store to get more M&Ms/nuts/coconut for the students to mix with their popcorn balls.  Forgot to get extra corn syrup.  This leads to problems later.

1:05 – Collapse at desk.  Read a bit of Dinner with Mugabe.

1:30 – Go back to kitchen area.  Pop more popcorn.

1:45 – Third time teaching how to make popcorn balls.  Only disaster!  Not enough corn syrup!  Consider rushing to grocery store again for fifteen seconds, dismiss it.  Give one group the demonstration batch.  Tell other group to disperse and join their friends.  One lucky group gets lots of M&Ms.  Coconut with them = DELICIOUS.

2:35 – Heavy clean after students have done most of their cleaning.  Suffice to say that popcorn and corn syrup and sugar had gone everywhere.

3:10 – Finish cleaning.  Go back to desk and prepare for charity: water speech at 3:40.

3:20 – Read more Dinner with Mugabe.

3:40 – Give speech on charity: water in really bad Japanese.  Somehow get point across.  Collapse after finished, embarrassed.

3:50 – Zone out but make effort to pay attention to the remainder of the teacher’s meeting.

4:40 – Get six donations!  yay! ($165 worth, huzzah!)

4:45 – Double check kitchen area for cleanliness and items.  Lock up.

5:00 – Chat with teacher about fundraising.

5:15 – Go home.

I honestly think that this is the busiest day I’ve had.  Thank goodness the first speech about charity: water was rescheduled!  I don’t know how I would have handled it if I hadn’t had that sort-of mid-day break.

Despite my insanity, I think the students had a really good time.  They were always hilariously impressed whenever I pulled the cover off a pot of freshly popped popcorn, made appropriately amused yelps when I told them, yes, you do form the popcorn ball with your hands and yes, it is sticky.  One of my students wandered around eating everyone’s leftovers.  I had no idea she had such a sweet tooth.  Others kept trying to sneak tastes even though I didn’t care whether they ate it right away.  We got to laugh uproariously when one group really did cook their syrup for too long and it turned into caramel.  (It was still tasty.)  It was satisfying to see all the students have smiles on their faces at the end of the class.  Probably should have used more English, though.  (I gave all the instructions in English, at least!)

If you made it this far, good job.  I’ll see what I can do about getting some pictures from the day, but I’m iffy about it.  I don’t like showing pictures of the students because of privacy issues but… we’ll see how it goes.  I’ve shown some before I guess.

I wanna go to sleep.  Still a bit too early though.  Might do it anyway.