Hi all. Not sure if anyone ever visits the A-S blogs now that GTX has retired.
Just wanted to mention that I will be attending Toronto's Anime North again this year, but just for the Friday. I will be selling some of my stuff at the Nominoichi (Flea Market). Nominoichi will occur on Friday May 24th from 7 PM - 10:30 PM. If you're attending Anime North this year, feel free to come by and say hi!
It's been so long since I've been to this site. I couldn't even remember my admin password to log back in. I'm happy to look over the numbers of the last few entries and see the huge surge in readership, but I deeply apologize for the long break that's been taken since my last entry. And because of this, I feel like I need to formally and officially end this blog series.
The support of the readers, both casual and devoted, has been great. I'm happy to know that many people enjoyed reading my stories. Even looking back at the four years' worth of posts (436 of them!!!), I find it unbelievable how I was ever able to find the time and energy to write all of them. But of course, I'm glad I did. Every story preserved here will be a monument to the epic time I had in this country, meeting and interacting with all of the great people I met along the way.
But actually, I have plenty of good news regarding my decision to discontinue this blog. I'm not leaving Japan. In fact, I'm in a new school district. I left my elementary schools in Fukushima in a tear-filled dramatic anime-esque showdown with the Board of Education. This time it was about trying to change my role in the schools to "less friendly, more professional," essentially meaning they wanted me to stop playing around so much and just focus on acting like an adult. Surely a valid request, but an insult to everything I stand for. And considering my close relationship with many of the students under my care, it would just be a devastating change disrupting all of our lives. The children would never be able to understand "xeno-sensei can't play with us anymore because the BOE wants him to be more serious," so I choose to surrender my contract and walk away.
I'd rather be a murdered hero than a transformed villain*. At least I get to leave while the children still think highly of me... and not as some boring husk of a man. Unfortunately, however, this all happened during the summer vacation, and since I left before the start of the new semester, I didn't even get to say "good-bye" to many of them.
(yes, boring officedrones are villains in my eyes, haha)
At least I did get to give a farewell speech to the children who attended the jidoukan after-school program that day. It was a total shock to them all. They had been anticipating spending an entire summer together with me. But instead we were forced to go our different directions. I am glad that the Director of the BOE herself was there that day escorting me, because she got to see for herself what a destructive decision she had made. She got to see how hard those kids took the news, how many tears they shed. But it certainly proves what kind of effect a truly great and inspirational teacher can have when they allow their actions to come from the heart.
As sad as I was to leave the children of Fukushima, as it's always been, this was a new opportunity for me. This was finally my big chance to do what I had originally come here to do!!! I wanted a one-school assignment (none of this once-a-week visit crap) at a junior high school (my favorite level to teach, I can now safely affirm) on the edge of a mega-city. And with those rubrics in mind, I set out to seek a new job. Spent the entire summer applying and interviewing, looking for the perfect placement. Of course, as it normally seems to go, everything was super slow until about the final week of August when the companies were desperately trying to fill new vacancies.
I think I applied with about 20 different companies and private schools. Actually, after all was said and done, I think I was officially given 5 offers. But only one placement stood out amongst the rest: a 1-JHS position in Nishinomiya City.
If you know me and this blog well enough, and you know your anime facts, then you know exactly how big of an opportunity this was to me. Nishinomiya City is the setting for The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, my all-time most favorite anime (of the 400+ series I've seen). The pay wasn't that great*, but really it just felt like this was a chance I shouldn't be passing up. Nishinomiya is nestled in between Osaka and Kobe, Japan's 2nd and 4th-largest cities, respectively. This wasn't only my chance at living in an urban area, but one that had great significance to my coming here in the first place.
* this contract is officially the least-paid of every contract I've had here... and when you take into fact that not only did I just come off of the highest-paid contract, but also turned down another very highly-paid contract, it speaks to my devotion in coming here
So being in the city now, I can finally appreciate the true Japanese way-of-life. My 4 years in the mountain villages and countryside were a great opportunity at living peacefully amongst the people and really immersing myself in the lives of those around me, but that's only about how 20% of the people live. Now is the time to see how they really live.
I live just 5 minutes from a JR train station (15 minutes if I want to use a private-company railway), and 10 minutes from a super-sized mall that has not only a McDonald's and a KFC, but also a Subway, Starbucks, Mister Donut, and a cineplex!!! There are parks all around, and plenty of museums, shops, and other points of interest. Plus, with Osaka's Umeda District just 20 minutes away by train, I have numerous ways of keeping busy. And I'm not sure if this is a plus or not, but I also live right across the river from one of Japan's busiest airports, so every 5-10 minutes, I have a passenger jet flying over me. (but I love watching planes taking off, so I enjoy it).
My new school, itself, is the perfect dream. Nearly 1,000 students attend, broken up into 24 different classes! And right from the start, all the students have been enamored by me. I went with the strategy of just hanging with the boys for my first month, and now it seems like the girls are competing for my attention. I can't turn a corner anywhere on campus without hearing my name shouted from across a room!
And this school has 7 English teachers... 3 of them being young women (2 fresh-out-of-college, heh heh). It's certainly nice to be able to teach with a wide-range of JTEs. All my other schools either just had 1 teacher, or they made me be the main teacher while they just supported me. It's a bit of a hassle to try to keep in mind who does what for each class, but at least it shakes things up and breaks my day up a little bit.
The assorted range of clubs available is everything I imagined it to be!! Unfortunately there is no photography club at my school, but I can still experience sports clubs like Volleyball (girls only, which is fine for me), Soccer (boys only), Basketball, Badminton (!!), Table-Tennis, Baseball, and Track & Field. For academic clubs, there is Tea Ceremony, Music, Art, Home Economics, and Student Council. I've been making the rounds quite a bit as a way of getting the most of my time here. I am surprised to find out how much fun the academic clubs are. With the sports clubs, I can chill and play with the students, but with the academic clubs, the kids are free to talk and joke around as much as they please. I never imagined I would have so much fun at Tea Ceremony or Music, but those students love to me pieces.
I think part of the reason why I'm so popular here is 1) I'm so rugged and handsome... like the smexy clone hybrid of Indiana Jones and Harry Potter, hahaha, 2) I'm the first ALT these kids have had after a semester of not having a foreigner English teacher, and 3) I decided to use my epically awesome T/F BINGO of amazing facts about my life as my introduction game, complete with over-the-top-wackiness... the students were blown away by what seemingly absurd things were actually true (I HAVE been to the White House, I HAVE been on tv and on radio, and HAVE traveled to more prefectures in Japan than they've probably all been to in total collectively, heh heh).
oh, and my family back in Boston has a swimming pool... Japanese people are always amazed by that.
Also awesome about my ginormous school is the high pressence of other foreign-raised, foreigner-bred students. So far I've had one girl tell me she's spent every summer of her life in ItalY, another tell me she was raised the first 8 years of her life in Australia, one of undeterminate origin but has a Western name, and a few others who have been to Canada and the US for short spurts. Even overall, the general English-speaking abilities are quite good. We haven't had too many times when they couldn't understand me.
Oh, and best of all... being back in Kansai/Chugoku, it means I arrived just in time for Sports Festival Season, again!!! I think I've had 4 festivals in the last 2 years. Haha, it's been awesome!!!!! I was allowed to take photos at this festival, and the results were amazing. I had so many requests for photos. I hope the school can find good use for them. :D
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
So don't you all worry about your ole' pal, xeno. Just listen to the swelling of the dramatic music as the sun begins to set, and have good feelings in your heart knowing that it will rise again the next day. I'm going to keep on doing what I've been doing. I know it hasn't been popular, and I will always need to fight with those who don't agree with me, but that's what holding your own means. Stick to your guns and fight. Don't let anyone push you down. Don't give up on what you believe in. Some may disagree and some will try to force their own side against you, but as long as you have support on your side, you can always take pride in doing what you think is right. Even if you lose in the end, you can move on knowing that you gave it your all.
I've fought with my company supervisors. I've fought with teachers. I've fought with principals. I've fought with parents. I've fought with students. I've fought with Education Boards. I've fought with the Minister of Education herself.
I even fought the crust of the Earth and the nuclear rain that poured down upon me.
But everytime I've fall, I've always gotten right back up. I've done it on my own; I've done it with support. For every battle I've waged, I've always had support. Friends, readers, principals and teachers. I even had a 7 year-old girl stand up to her principal in front of her parents to defend me.
For every swing I've delivered, for every punch I've taken... I've always had people on my side. You can't change the system... you'll hear that at every corner... but God damnit, you have to try. You have to try with every ounce of your strength. Even if you don't succeed, if you can inspire the next person in line to stand up in your place, then eventually, someday, somehow, somewhere, everything you fought to believe in, will have meaning.
Inspire those who lay their eyes upon you. Inspire those who listen to your words. Inspire those who believe in you.
And even if you're not looking to start some kind of epic reform in society, you can still better your own life. Never say "no" to a new opportunity. Be satisfied with what you have, but never stop trying to get more. Never stop learning.
Don't ever stop trying to become a better person.
I have to go now. It's been fun. I loved contributing to this blog day by day. I love knowing that I will have a record of everything that's happened to me on this awesome adventure I've had. I truly encourage anyone who has the same opportunity to take it. It won't be easy, but it will sure as hell be worth it.
This blog is dedicated to every student of every age I have had the great pleasure of meeting. I've taught nearly 4,000 children aged 3 to 18 in every corner of Japan. I dedicated my life to you all. I dedicated every ounce of my strength to being the kind of person who you could admire, respect, and hopefully one day emulate.
Coverage Dates: Sunday April 15th - Sunday June 10th
Entry: New Evolution - Episode 3
Hey, yeah, I'm still here. I kept putting off updating this blog series because I ws trying to convince myself to switch over to a video-blog... but I really really hate the sound of my voice, so I still need a little more convincing (opinions, please).
At any rate, it's been a huuuuuuge mix of good and bad going on around here. Let me do it by list since that's the best way for me to organize my thoughts.
#1 - kids are as happy as ever. Even my troublesome ES2 3-1 class is much much more tame now. The tsundere girls (Miyu, Hinano, and Nanoha) are actually my biggest supporters these days. I feel it's a mix of their getting a new homeroom teacher, their class size being reduced down from 28 to 24 (4 kids transferred out!!!! holy crap!!!), and the ones who attend the jidoukan after-school program are the senior members. They've matured a lot over the last 3 months.
The 1st-graders have all adapted to elementary school life quite well. The ones who go to the jidoukan love me especially. The cuteness overflows constantly.
#2 - Swimming season will be starting again soon. I've already gotten the permission from the two principals to help out with the P.E. classes and with the summer swimming supervision. Being someone who spent 3 years in emergency response and who has helped with pooltime for the last 3 summers (not to mention being the most able-bodied staff member, considering all the other teachers are mostly women in their 40s/50s), my presence should ensure no students suffers any huge water-related injury.
Although swimming doesn't officially start until later into June (after the "rainy season" goes away), I have already swam with the 6th-graders when we went on our field trip. Surprisingly, the girls were quite friendly and inviting about the whole ordeal, which is odd when you consider that the older girls are more shy and embarrassed when it comes to being in the pool with boys.
And yes, we did the classic "pool cleaning episode" thing, too, haha. That was a lot fun. I didn't actually go into the pool this time because I didn't have a change of clothes with me, so I didn't get drenched this time. But it was quite amusing throwing buckets of water on the students from up where I was on the pool deck.
#3 - Speaking of the 6th-grade field trip, we had that just last week. Another overnight trip to the British-simulation resort about an hour away from our school. Luckily it didn't rain this time, so we actually to enjoy walking around outside and taking in the scenery/architecture.
Highlight: walking quietly behind groups of students in the evening on the dimly-lit main path and then screaming in horror once the time was right. Oh, the terror, haha. ::trollface::
Lowlight?: one of the girls ran up to me, told me that she wasn't wearing any panties, and then immediately playfully called me "ecchi!!" Gah, what anime did that come out of? Oh, I know... all of them -________-;;
#4 - made a new foreigner friend. British chap arrived for the start of the new year (or well, a little late, actually) to teach junior high school in a village not too far from me. He actually works for the same company I used to work for just a few months ago before I turned into a direct-hire. They got him an apartment in Koriyama City, which is good for me because now I have a reason to visit the city more often. We share personalities and both love anime, so we've been getting along famously. Nice to finally have someone to nerd out with. Most of the other ALTs I've met here have only been marginal fans of anime, and rarely of the same stuff I've been a fan of. We've already hit up all the anime stores in this area... which may not be a good idea considering he's living on a limited income until payday, heh heh.
#5 - The village had its annual English Recitation Contest in late-May. It was a lot of fun coaching the students (4 students from each grade) after school each day. As usual, I felt like they gave more effort during their practices and just got a bit of stage fright when it came to the final performance, but none of them had any serious mishaps. The 2nd-grade boy who I felt deserved it ended up taking 1st for his division, as did a 6th-grade boy in the other division. However, a 4th-grade boy who never should have won ended up taking 3rd-place... a huge blow to two of the girls who put in a lot more effort than he did. He actually dropped out of his original 4th-grade level speech and took on a 2nd-grade level speech, so that should have been an automatic disqualifier. Also the fact that two 1st-graders (who did do well, I'll say) ended up beating two 3rd-graders who had much harder speeches. Thankfully my advice to seperate the categories by grade and just select one winner per level was taken by the supervisors. Next year these problems shouldn't arise.
#6 - The Sports Festivals came and went already. This year the weather was perfect... or, a little TOO perfect. It was bright and sunny, which didn't agree with my camera as much as I would have thought it would. Oh well, I still got about 950 decent photos, about 100 of them being showcase quality. Unfortunately for me, both schools had their events on the same day, so I only got to see half of each. I think the White Teams won at both schools, as opposed to the Red Teams that usually win at the undoukais I attend.
#1: I guess I need to just come out and say it... looks like my supervisors have a different idea of what "elementary English education" means. Despite being called one of the best ALTs ever in the histories of my 4 previous elementaries (hell, Kawauchi ES even changed their 18-year long rule of "no male teachers" just because they were so happy with my performance), the schools I work for now are not at all impressed.
Well, for the most part. Seems like huge debate has sparked here. Some of the teachers really really love me. Some of the teachers really really hate me. I'm willing to bet it's mostly the new teachers who have come in this year and just see me totally goofing around with the kids. It's the Okayama situation all over again. Luckily the two principals love me to freakin' death, so it may be a big battle come turn-of-the-year when recontracting happens.
But my style aside, the other debate emerging is regarding which is better to teach first-learners of ESL: drill as much vocabulary as possible or drill as many phrases/sentences as the students can handle? Personally, I prefer the vocabulary route, just because it's easier to turn those lessons into games and it's easier for non-Japanese-speaking foreigner teachers to teach words 1-by-1. Plus, vocabulary words are the building blocks of language. I say, "before the kids can put the puzzle together, we have to give them the pieces." Let the junior high school teachers show the kids how the words go together. They have the fully-trained staff there to do that.
Unfortunately, with the Minister of Education coming by for inspection every month and the new Board of Education Director constantly watching me, it's hard to deviate from the new system they want to use... which is more sentence-usage and less games. Hell, I've been told I can't even use stickers anymore. Talk about close-minded! They see them as pointless pandering to the kids, trying to buy their affections, I've been told. They don't seem to realize the importance for children to visualize their achievements, as well as giving me a tool to recognize who the star students are and who needs more attention.
We've been doing sample lessons for two months now, with Ellen-sensei still in command (though now she tells me that she hates being here and just wants to leave... way to get me energized about this new system!). Basically, we're just going with a junior high school-style system. Writing, worksheets, chanting, mindless repetition, CD-listening (I mean, fuck the ACTUAL NATIVE-SPEAKER STANDING RIGHT THERE!!!)... and worst of all, "Interview" activities, which I hate for three solid reasons:
1) I can't monitor what the kids are saying, so I don't know if they're right or wrong
2) if they ARE wrong, then all they're doing is going around the room and teaching the wrong thing to their classmates
3) most of them are lazy cheaters, so they'll just do the activity in Japanese anyway
Future of English education, everyone. All board the sinking ship!!
So as it stands right now, I've already been pretty much told that I can expect to be replaced at the end of the schoolyear. BUT... they want to replace me with a JET teacher, which unfortunately won't send Americans/Canadians/Brits/Aussies until August. If I can convince them to offer me a half-year contract, that would actually be perfect for all of us.
In fact, I'll tell you my plan right now. I stop teaching in March 31st, the end of the schoolyear. To be frankly honest, I really have grown tired of teaching. I've been doing it for just about 4 years now and it just doesn't interest me anymore. However, I loooove working in the schools because there is just so much to do and the kids are a lot of fun. But I realize that playing with kids is not my "job." Sooo... let's make it my job. There is plenty of other stuff I can do here:
1) speech contest coach (April-May)
2) field-trip chaperone
3) pool lifeguard (June-August)
4) event assistant
5) Kindergarten teacher (every Wednesday morning)
6) eikaiwa conversation class teacher (every Wednesday evening)
7) jidoukan assistant teacher (everyday 3pm - 6pm, and some Saturdays)
8) random school handyman (cleaning, maintaining)
9) general student interaction (hey, they need all the practice in USING English, right?)
10) P.E. assistant teacher
Ideally I'd just like a half-year contract that gets me through next summer... because that's actually when my earthquake evacuee benefits end, though there's also the whole economic job market fiasco to contend with. Still haven't decided what kind of job I want when I eventually do go back to the US.
#2 - Moving on, the next thing isn't so bad since it's technically still undecided, but the whole JHS international exchange trip to Australia still has me nervous. We've already spoken with the host village in New South Wales that we'd be traveling to, and they are already making preparations on their end, but the final say still hasn't been given. We have the itinerary and some of the rules already laid out... all we need now is the budget approval, I guess.
#3 - A lot of Japanese people will hide their anger and hatred to a coworker out of sheer need of having to maintain a peaceful work environment, however there is one teacher at the jidoukan who just flat-out hates me. She's always rude to me, she's always yelling at any student who tries to talk to me, and she's already shooting me nasty looks. I think she's suspicious of my true intentions of why I come to the jidoukan every afternoon, which I suppose she has the right to do so. But I just hate how she tries to hammer any student who tries to get close with me. Kids need attention and a little bit of affection (a LITTLE bit, you pervs), so things like hand-holding or putting your hands on their shoulders/waist, or letting them lean against you while sititng on the floor is all harmless things friends who trust eachother do. The other teachers are perfectly fine with it, including the center's head teacher (who loves me, BTW), and certainly the kids are okay with it, since they're the ones who initiate (I would never initiate contact like that, since it's the kids who need to choose where the line is drawn), but for whatever reason, this woman is in ultra Japanese-mode where such things are the devil!!
P.S. side-story, haha... I was so tired after I got back from the 6th-grade trip this week, but I did walk with the students from the school to the jidoukan center. Mone-chan, my favoritest student, was not happy at all when I told her that I was leaving early. She gave me the silent treatment, which of course only lasted until the next time I saw her the following day, haha.
I can't say because I'll jinx it, haha. Let's just say, it's been worth the wait and if everything happens as I hope, it will change a lot of things in my life. :D
Daily Humor via Facebook Posts
May 5th: Crossed another item off my "Nerdy Things to Do in Japan" list: sleep in a capsule hotel. How would I rate the experience? Ranged from "so-so" to "terrible." Being in the capsule was as cool as I thought it would be, but community showers and community bathroom (the smallest bathroom I have ever been in... gross!!) are always terrible. Worst of all... no ventilation in the capsule itself!!! It was like trying to sleep inside an oven. Maybe it will be good in the winter, but never again during the summer!!! D:
May 7th: Helped the Shirakawa Fire Department with their elementary school safety lecture by demonstrating how to put out a fire in English. All were amused.
May 7th: I got a hug from one of my worst-behaved girls today. Proof that even bad kids just want a little attention. So adorable.
May 12th: Apparently being an official teacher of the Board of Education gives me the horribly terrifying responsiblity of driving students places. O____O;;;
May 14th: At the after-school program today, I felt kinda bad when one of the tempermental 3rd-grade boys got absolutely torn apart by one of the teachers for legitimately accidentally knocking down two of the girls (on seperate occassions). There have been times when he's intentionally injured other students and no one said a word to him, but when he was trying to be careful, he got shredded. Sigh, Japan... let's try to get things straight, k?
May 15th: Even though I've been sleeping the same 12am to 730am I've been sleeping for the last 4 years, I just can't feel completely rested over the last week or so. The only logical conclusion I can come to is I must be sleep-crime-fighting.
May 15th: A parent of one of my 1st-graders signed up to Avenge Sevenfold's Twitter account, but they're all in English. Haha, of all the weird things I've been asked to translate here in this country...
May 16th: Two of my after-school 3rd-grade boys got into a fight this afternoon. The bigger one kept egging on the smaller boy who kept punching and kicking him. I could have easily stopped the fight immediately, but the bigger kid was being such an ass that I let the littler boy get in a few extra kicks before I ended it, haha.
May 17th: Today was the first day we used the new Hi Friends "robot teacher" in my 6th-grade classes. Luckily the JTE and I are on the same page when she asked me what I thought about it and I said it was terrible because it is just a far inferior replacement for a real English teacher. She pointed out that I shouldn't worry too much, because for as excited as the kids were to first see it, they couldn't even make it through the entire first lesson without being completely bored by it. So... yay?
May 17th Had to go from ES1 to ES2 this afternoon for Speech Contest training. I was running a little behind schedule. When I arrived, there were three very adorably angry girls standing in the lobby ready to yell at me, gyaahhhh!! haha :D
May 24th: Stopped by my school this afternoon after 3 "days" of absence. So sweet to have all my 1st- and 2nd-graders run up to ask me why I've been missing from the after-school program all week.
May 28th: "I come to school by fish."
Yeah, I was bored in class today, so I made the kids make up stupid sentences for my amusement. It was beautiful.
June 1st: Just played tag with 33 eight year-olds. It was me versus all of them. I kicked their asses.
June 1st: Why did I find a frog wandering around the 1st-floor central hallway? Oh yes, because this is an elementary school.
June 4th: In the 3rd-period, I joined the 1st-graders' P.E. class. They did this one activity where they all had to skip in a circle, then the teacher would blow her whistle a random number of times. Whatever that number turned out to be would be how many members of each group the students would need to race to make. I felt terrible when she called for groups of "10"... in our class of 21 students. As expected, the 1 poor girl who was left out bawled immediately. I ran over to comfort her and I told her that there was nothing to be sad about because I'm worth 9 students, haha. She was still upset, but she clung to me for the next 10 minutes. Poor girl.
June 5th: My 1st-graders are too adorable. Played a boardgame with one of the girls this afternoon. As soon as she realized that my win was inevitable, she just silently stared down. I told her that it was her move, but she just kept staring sadly. I told her again that she had to make a move, but she just kept staring. I poked her in the cheek, but she just kept staring. I asked her if she wanted to play again. She silently nodded her head. hahahaha, soooo cute!!
* started watching Bokuha Tomodaichiga Sukunai. I <3 Sena-san!!!
* went to a festival in Fukushima City... not technically a summer festival, though
* going to Tokyo to meet my friends from Okayama later this month
* Fukushima Prefecture sent the radiation scanner trucks to my village this week. Wooooo... life in the post-meltdown world. Sources say the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant is still far from stable and still poses a risk of exploding again. Awesome -_______-
* my car repair/inspection was a bitch this year, but at least it cost less than the last time I went. Oh, and I FINALLY have Fukushima license plates now. :D
* Cherry Blossom Sakura Season was beautiful this year!!
* Happy 10th Anniversay, Anime-Source.com!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Until next time (whenever that will be)... see you!!!
Coverage Dates: Monday April 9th - Saturday April 14th
Entry: New Evolution - Episode 2
What's this? Two entries to the GTX blog series in a single week?? We haven't seen that happen in nearly a year!! What's the occassion?
Big news, that's what!!
I have officially unofficially heard that for this year, I will officially unofficially be the official foreign advisor to the official Minister of Education's official elementary English program... unofficially. What does that actually mean? Well, something along the lines of my village being the Minister's personal choice for initiating her new cirriculum for elementary English education. She will be dropping by for inspection and progress reports on a monthly basis, I've been told.
How exciting!! What a wonderful opportunity!! What a...
what a terrible thing!! Gah!!! It's bad enough having my private company supervisors breathing down my neck, let alone the school administrators. It's headache-inducing stress enough when the local BOE officials want to check up on me, but now the friggin' head teacher of the entire country wants to stick her nose in my classrooms personally!?!
Now, I'm fine under pressure and I love my students enough to get them to work well with me... using MY own lessonplan. But now that I'm being forced to use a cirriculum I don't believe in, it's more pain than pleasure. I really had meant for this to be my final year, so I could finish my career here with a big bang having perfected my art, but now that things have changed so much, I'm not quite sure what to think about this opportuniy.
I should mention at this point that, despite having aced my prefecture-level evaluation, I know the Minister isn't coming here because of me directly, but rather because she's buddies with the local Board of Education Director and the newly re-hired elementary Japanese Teacher of English (who is acting as the teacher-trainer for me and the homeroom teachers). But then I think about when I initially came here and how badly they wanted me to choose their village as my next placement. I thought it was because I was a fellow earthquake victim, but maybe it was because of my work record and their needing someone who knew his shizz to take over.
I dunno... there is so much junk I'm not told.
So, first off, as I briefly mentioned above, this village has also hired a new "Japanese Teacher of English (JTE)" for the elementary schools, which is pretty rare, as usually ES English classes are left totally up to the ALTs and homeroom teachers. The JTE here is being utitlized more as a "trainer," but TBO, she hasn't done much "training," as she has the personality of a wild free-spirit and likes to just do whatever random thing pops into her mind.
I can't fault her enthusiasm, but if she's trying to teach us how to build a structured lessonplan, then she needs to stick to the script just as much as the rest of us are expected to do so.
Which leads me to my next point. One of my major issues with the new cirriculum is that it seems a little too easy... too childish even for children (let alone the fact that we basically spent at least 2, sometimes 3 or 4, lessons drilling a single concept). I've said it all along that the lessonplans they laid out are waaay too easy, but my concerns were brushed aside. And just what was the first complaint the new JTE had when we sat down to start planning our activities for the week?
I'm gonna stab someone before this month is over.
I shouldn't complain too much, because technically these lessons are much much easier for the ALTs... as really they are designed to be easy enough for the homeroom teachers to teach alone. But... then... if that's the goal, why even have the foreigner teachers in the classrooms at all? If CDs and videos can replace the role of the foreigner, why have both? I can tell you already that this is not what most foreigners have in mind of doing when they sign up to take this job. They're basically taking all the fun, freedom, and creativity out of the whole thing... which is odd since it's being pioneered partly by someone who claims to be such a "free spirit."
The Weekly Lessons
I started school technically last Friday, but there were no classes, so it was mostly just preparation time. I was supposed to be trained on how to use the new cirriculum before the start of this week, but that never happened. I wasn't given a class schedule beforehand, so I went in not knowing if I had to teach or not that day. I was hoping since it was the start of the schoolyear, the classes would focus on other subjects first, leaving me with a day to get myself settled in.
Not only did I have to teach, I had to start with the most disruptive class, my unruly 3rd-graders (formerly my unruly 2nd-graders). Well, I did slap together a really simple starting lesson on self-introduction. But I learned from last year that these 25 kids don't work so well together, so I was hoping my idea of using the sticker progress charts this time around would give them more incentive to sit down and pay attention.
I started off by explaining to them how the new system works. They were actually pretty excited about it. One of the boys even exclaims "tanoshisou!!!", which translates to "sounds like fun!"... golden words to any teacher. :D
I just had them memorize a short script on self-intros that was basically:
"My name is ~.
I live in ~.
I like ~.
Nice to meet you."
I put them in pairs and had them practice for about 10 minutes. As they did that, I went around the room handing each pair a black playing card. I had the red ones. When time was up, I shuffled the red cards, then drew at random. Whoever had the matching black card had to come up an perform... ideally with the whole class listening, but we knew that was hoping for too much. Oh well, as long as I could hear them, that's all that mattered.
And what happened? Magic!! Magical happiness!! I told them I would give them 1 sticker for doing it, 2 stickers if they did it well. I'm happy to say, even as pains in the ass as they typically are, they all did this assignment perfectly. I was so proud.
Their new HRT (formerly the 6th-grade teacher), she wasn't as optimist. She told me afterwards that she couldn't believe how noisy and disruptive they all were. Haha, I told her basically that that was about as well-behaved as they would get. :D
Morning recess came after this class concluded. It was my first chance to see the new 1st-graders (my former kindergarten kids). They are sooo adorable!!!! ES-2 got the good class, which is what they desperately need to make up for the crazy 3rd-graders and now 6th-graders. I ran around with them outside on the field... our first time ever to actually just freely play with them. We stuck to playing tag (onigakku) because it's simple enough.
I was supposed to teach the 1st- and 4th-graders according to the schedule, but they ended up cancelling the 1st-grade class just because it was too early for English (thank Haruhi!!!) and then the 4th-grade classes because they actually had an assembly scheduled in the afternoon on traffic safety walking home. Cool... safe!!
This is when the teacher-trainer came in and gave me the low-down on everything that will supposedly be happening this year. Apparently we're going to team teach for the first 1-3 months (I'd like to know which, ya know!?). We spent the next 2 hours planning and discussing junk.
Tuesday was the first time we'd be teaching together... using the new lame-ass English textbooks, "Hi, Friends!" (a not-quite-so-different upgrade from the terrible "Eigo Noto" I've bitched about for the last 3 years). I tried to listen in on as much of her Japanese explanation to the classes as I could. From my understanding, basically she told the kids, "all you've learned up until this point is vocabulary (which I believe they need!!) and not so much communication (they're only kids, geez!!). From now on, less games and more group activities (which is when the looks on kids' faces turned pretty sour... haha)."
And so the new era begins.
We spent about 15 minutes along talking about names of people in the US (how we all have middle names) and the different greetings depending on the time of day. All good points to know, but how are the homeroom teachers supposed to know all these points? The only reason we were able to discuss these things so much at length was because the dedicated English teacher knew this stuff from her specialized education. I already know the HRTs can' do this.
I was instantly reminded of my first year when we were forced to use the awful English textbooks. The HRT was completely in control of teaching ENGLISH... and yet one class period I clearly remember timing her speech to see how long it would be before the first word of English would be spoken. 17 minutes... that's how long it took to finally use English, all the while I'm standing there doing absolutely nothing, just wasting my time away in the corner of the room.
It's basically the worst part of being an ALT in the junior high schools... now in the elementary schools!! D:
At least Wednesday brought some good news. I knew that this village had wanted to re-start up it's night classes (oh boy, more work!!!) on Wednesdays. As I had been told ahead of time, it was originally going to be one 25-30 minutes class for the 1st-2nd graders, another for the 3rd-4th, another for the 5th-6th graders, and a final class for the adults around the village. I mean, yeah, technically we had the afternoons free to prepare, but it's still a huge pain in the ass... though I was looking forward to working with the small groups of students who actually wanted to learn English*.
* instantly negated by hearing that usually 20-25 students join each class. Dammit!! I can't even get what I wanted as a consolation!!
But for some reason, they decided to change it around so it's only for adults now. Discussing the issues of who should be included with the teacher trainer and my ALT bud working in the JHS, we decided that the best way to utilize this program would be to turn it into a workshop for the schoolteachers who will be responsible for upping their involvement in the English classes. Killing two birds with one stone, so to speak.
I was relieved at the news that my workload, though still extra work, wouldn't be as bad as I thought it would be. But then it got better. I thought the classes were gonna be year-round, but really they only go until October (with summer off). Awesome to the max.
Wednesday was also the day that the teacher trainer suggested that the three of us go to ES-1 to talk with the new principal... a man who I refer to as "Nathan Lane." They share the same flambouyant, lively personality, complete with mannerisms. The man is really really friendly, which is a huge step up from the former principal. And apparently he is famous for his singing abilities... which he demonstrated during our afternoon chat, haha.
It's gonna be an interesting year at this school.
Before we had the chance to sit down with him, the teacher trainer (who I should refer to from now on as "Ellen" because she's basically a Japanese Ellen Degeneres) got roped into a conversation with all the teachers, so my ALT friend and I decided to just go walk around the school since it was recesstime. We didn't get past the first hallway junction before my 4th-graders had us surrounded. A lot of them just wanted to bombard me with flying hugs and arm-grabs, though those all quickly turned into questions of who the hell the strange foreigner standing behind me was. They were probably all in a panic because they know it's new-teacher season, so they thought maybe he was going to be my replacement, haha.
Another guessed that he was my father, which made me laugh because the guy, though nearly a full foot taller than me, is actually 6 years younger than me. Good to know the kids are concerned about our future together... especially since they need me to drag them (literally) down the hallways for their fun, haha.
Thursday was a bit of a bummer. Ellen couldn't make it in for the 1st-period, so she had them combine the two 4th-grade classes. I told her that that wasn't such a good idea because those are my insanely crazy 3rd-graders from last year. And there's also 46 of them. She just brushed off my protest like it was nothing...
... until the next morning when she came running up to me and was like, "holy crap, there are sooo many kids in this class!!!" My "I told ya so" impulse had to be supressed big time.
As expected, the class was mayhem. I'll give her credit, she did have entertained for probably a good solid 20 minutes before they all started breaking off into their own little chitty-chatty groups... and the crazy rambunctuous ones started wandering around the room. The last 10 minutes were just chaos. She was bragging afterwards of how well she had them following her instructions, but she was just kidding herself. Man.
Classes with the 5th and 6th-graders went pretty much the same as they did with the ES-2 classes of that level. I am picking up on a lot of these mini-games she pulls out of her ass, but there is still a huge lack of structure. It's never clear WHAT she is trying to teach... she just teaches little things as she goes along. There never seems to be a time when the kids know they are supposed to using what she's taught. I'm gonna give her the benefit of the doubt and just assume that because it was the first lesson that she's just testing the waters a little bit, but if this is how things are going to continue, it's gonna be chaos. How the Minister could put her stamp of approval on a system like this would surely have me doubting her wisdom.
Friday went a little better for me. Leave it to my precious 1st-turned-2nd-graders to make my day. All the other classes were in wide-eyed bewilderment at seeing a new JTE coming into their room, but the 2nd-graders didn't care for a second... they were just happy to see me back!! Awwwwwwww... I love those kids. We started them off with storytime. We read this book about a wise-ass parrot who tries to steal the identity of his owner, heh heh. This went rather well, having two teachers doing it. First, Ellen read it in English with Japanese translations. She threw in a high-pitched voice for the parrot to amuse the kids.
Alright... I see how it is.
My role was to read it the second time through, only this time just as a native English-speaker would. Seeing the bar was already set for hi-jinks, and not wanting to be a copycat (nor raise my voice to unnatural levels), I decided to go the opposite way... I'm giving that bird a deep voice. Time to channel my inner Batman, once again.
"WHERE WERE THE OTHER DRUGS GOING?"
Oh wait... wrong story. Forget I said that, kids.
As amusing as Ellen's high-pitched rendition was, mine was killer awesome. :D
For the 1st-graders, they got storytime, too, but also, thankfully, Ellen was alright with the idea of letting them color their namecards that I hope will be used throughout the year (I would like to know the kids' names, ya know). We gave them 20 minutes to do their designs while going around the room asking them some lowball questions. After they finished, they each got to practice "my name is ~. Nice to meet you." ES-2 kids actually handled this task a lot better than the ES-1 kids.
It's gonna be interesting seeing how this year turns out. Or, at least that's what I keep telling myself. Yes, I am highly disappointed that I am no longer solely in control of the program I have spent the last 3 years trying to perfect, but I can understand the reasoning behind why they would want the changs to be made. Not all ALTs can be (or even want to be) super awesome teachers. And definitely not all of them plan on staying for multiple years. Putting control of English education in the hands of the homeroom teachers is a wise idea... on paper.
But when you consider how difficult it is to not only speak grammatically correct, but to also use English in proper context, we're going to see a major dip in quality. I see so many opportunities where teachers COULD use English (like "open your textbooks to page #" or "please look at me," but instead just say it in Japanese. So many missed opportunities. Then there are multitude of tiny errors made at every corner. Put it this way... all of the teachers were asked to introduce themselves to their classes in English; one said "I live Shirakawa City."
Good luck, Japan. Hope you know what you're doing.
Funny and Cute
I had dinner with the ALT from the JHS the other night. He had his first chance to work with his new ichinensei (1st-year students) who were my rokunensei (6th-year students) from last year. I was so proud to hear that the JTE who will works mostly with the new students remarked at how much better this year's batch of students is prepared for junior high school English than all their predecessors. Again, not to toot my own horn, but I think THAT's what elementary English needs to be about; preparing them for the next stage where they can learn the grammar and sentence structure under the guise of a proper JTE. Hopefully we can use this example to demonstrate to the Minister why my system works.
I already mentioned how much fun I had playing with my own new batch of students. I had worked with them at the kindergarten last year, but they are usually just sitting down, listening to me reading them a book. I never really get to play with them, let alone interact with them on a more one-on-one basis. This week was my first chance... and they are adorable! We played tag... our first chance at actually getting to run around. Now that they can see how fast and tricky I can be, they are infinitely more amazed.
More importantly, now that we are having formal classes together finally, I can start to learn their names. A lot of them attend the jidoukan after-school program, too, so I get even more time to spend with them... much to the chagrin of my now 2nd-graders.
One of the worst changes from this year has to do with the 2nd-graders and jidoukan, actually. Juna-chan, the school runt, has been removed from the program, meaning I don't get to see her much anymore. She wanted to make up for our missing time during school recess by dragging me to her classroom to play with her and her classmates. Gladly... 2-2 is one of my favorite classes! Haha, a few of them were showing off their new gym shorts and just being weird by sticking their hands deep down into them. I told them to sit still for a second as I had an idea.
With their hands in their shorts, I pulled their shorts up as high as I could (teachers usually get in trouble for pulling kids' shorts down, not up, haha) get them. For some of the students, I could get the waistband all the way up to their shoulders, exposing their hands out the bottom. When I told them that it made them look like penguins, they all started penguin-dancing around the classroom, haha.
When I had first been told about all these changes that would be dumped upon me for this year, the first concern I had was would I still be able to have time to attend the jidoukan after school. I mean, I'll be honest with you all (and you probably all knew this already), but I didn't come here to teach English. Yes, I want to be a teacher, but not so much for English. I just enjoy being a miscellaneous helper-teacher who just keeps the kids safe and entertained. Formal structure and lesson-planning and material-making... that's alllll boring!! I don't mind being in the classroom, but any moment I spend sitting at my desk is excruciating.
Luckily, this week at least, I was still able to break free from the schools at my contracted time of 4pm (a couple days even earlier) and make my way over the jidoukan. Same as I noted in my entry from last week, the 2nd-graders are extra hyper around me, now that they know they have competition for being the cutest around. Mone-chan has stepped up her presence (partially also because her other main competitor, Karin-chan, graduated from the program). More adorable is Magnet-chan, who I had seen in a while. She gave me a flying hug, then refused to let go. When I told her that I had to go help the new 1st-graders practice with their unicycle training, she just gripped harder, haha.
Some days, Magnet-chan transforms into "Panda-chan", which is the days she wears this cute little panda-pattern jacket, complete with ears on the hood, heh heh. I think it was Wednesday when I walked into the jidoukan and immediately Mone ran up to tell me "look!!! Panda-chan came!!!!" I musta missed the magical transformation sequence.
Hmmmm... trying to think up some more cuteness moments. Certainly there are plenty, but my story-telling abilities have gotten stale. If you want to know anything in specific, just ask in the comments.
As for this weekend, the sakura blossoms are just starting to bloom, so I'm gonna try to get outside with my camera soon. I have a "hanami" flower-viewing trip planned with the local international association in two weeks. After that comes Golden Week. I want to try to get down to Akihabara again for the anime art show held at UDX, but we'll see how things go. For now, I just need to get through each day, little by little.
Coverage Dates: Sunday March 25th - Sunday April 8th
Entry: New Evolution - Episode 1
It's the start of a new season!! The 6th season, to be exact, but I'm gonna take a cue from Pokemon and go with naming my seasons, as opposed to just numbering them, because... that's what Japan does.
Since the last entry I submitted, a whole lot of stuff has happened, which is surprising considering that we haven't even had a single full day of school in the two weeks since. Well, not "school" school, at least. I did went to the jidoukan supervision thing, which during Spring Vacation, turns into an all-day thing. The first week was official duty for me (yeah, they made me work during a time when most ALTs get a free break, but I was probably going to be dropping by most days anyway, so no big deal). It was perfect anyway because it would be the last few days in which I would get to spent with my 3rd-graders before they "graduated" from the program.
Well, with the ones who showed up during this time, at any rate. A lot of them had other arrangements which allowed them to spend their vacation with their families or whatnot. But at least all 21 of them showed up on Friday for the official final day ceremony... figures, though, my favoritest of them all was out sick. Karin-chan had been there all week, but she started to feel sick on Thursday, so she and her sister went home early that day. Her sister came back for Friday, but Karin did not.
Oh well, at least they were there for the "fun day" we had on Monday. The jidoukan staff hired a group of entertainers (or maybe they were volunteers doing some kind of "community service" (the good kind, not the court-ordered kind, haha)) to come in a play some organized games with the kids. The 45-50 kids we had that day were split into 3 groups. I somehow got put in charge of the group that was made up of all girls (and one boy). I guess the teachers all assumed that the girls will listen to me without issue (which they did, haha, they're so sweet), so it was no trouble leaving them to me.
The first game was some kind of oversized "Karuta" game. It's a traditional card-search game where each card has a picture of some haiku or poem or saying marked with a hirigana symbol. The players race each other to find the card that is announced.
After that it was off to make miniature hovercrafts using plastic bags and decorated squares of cardboard. All the girls were screaming for my attention during this. I had hovercrafts being shot at me from all directions, haha.
There was another activity that involved making towers out of papercups, and then something going on in the next room that I didn't get to see. The group was pretty adament about being there for just one hour and not a second longer. Geez... so much for being fun and whimsical. Maybe they were there by court-order, haha.
The rest of the week was the usual funny nonsense. Of my group of 1st-grade girls who cling to me, only Mone-chan and Ako-chan were there every day. Ibuki-chan also was hanging out with us, which I guess was out of necessity since none of the other girls from her class were attending this week. I remember one day they made cellphones out of paper and used them to call my real cellphone just to tell me that they had become ghosts!!!!
My screams of terrorifed surprise made them giggle with madness. What macabre sense of humors they all have.
After the first week, I was given the weekend, followed by bonus days off on Monday and Tuesday (it was the jidoukan's official break), to have has my mini-vacation. I used the time to visit Tokyo for no reason other than to just enjoy 3 days of city-life. I'll talk more about that later.
The New Contract Begins
Wednesday was my first day of officially working directly for the village. There was actually a small ceremony for it in the office, haha. The Education Director presented me with an official employment certificate good until March 31st of 2013. I also got to meet the man who will serve as the ALT coordinator for this year. He seems cool and laid-back... despite the tall lanky office-dronishness of his appearance.
I also had the... lovely... pleasure... of working with the new (well, technically old, since she was here 12 years ago) English education advisor. She's like a Japanese version of Ellen Degeneres, which is terrible because I actually LIKE Ellen. She's one of those new-age spiritual kooky nuts who goes at her own flow... which is wonderful for getting along with... when she is in the mood to actually work.
On Wednesday, she was in the mood to work. Or... well... collect and sort materials.
On Thursday, the day she was supposed to sit down with me to train me on how to USE the materials... she apparently didn't feel like working. In fact, she didn't even show up at all. I had to be at school for the opening ceremonies and meeting the new teachers, so I didn't have time to work with her then. So now I'm really really hoping that Monday and Tuesday I don't have any lessons scheduled because as of this weekend right now, I have no lesson plans.
On Friday, when I sat down with the 5th and 6th-grade homeroom teachers, they were surprised, shocked, and stressed to find out that they were the ones in charge of teaching English this year. They begged me to take the lead role, but I told them that the Board of Education was very adament in their decision that the HRTs were in charge this year.
I've written numerous times on why I hate the Japanese system of teaching English, so I won't go off on a tangent this time. Look, I understand WHY they want the homeroom teachers to be the ones to take the lead, and it's mainly because ALTs are technically only hired to be assistants, plus they are only meant to be here for a short term, so the system they want needs to be designed for longevity. However, I think whenever an ALT volunteers on their own to take things to a higher level, the government shouldn't stand in their way. It puts a cap on creativity and really limits what English can be learned and used in the classroom settings.
Plus I really really hate the cirriculum that is being pushed by the Ministry of Education. It's a huge emphasis on short phrases and "communication," none of which are necessary at such a young age. Building vocabulary and learning to pick out the keyword of sentences should be the basis of English education for children. But no one in the office wants to listen to me, despite the homeroom teachers proclaiming to them what a perfect system I have to offer.
Japanese conformity at it's finest. We're all going to learn the same thing, the same way, and that's that. Hell, they told me that games and stickers are even to be pushed to the side. Way to take all the fun out of life. English is now just another thing to be learned, and not enjoyed.
Well, I did tell the teachers that if they want, we can still do the "sticker chance!!!" vocabulary activities as a 10-minute exercise at the start of each class. When I said that to them, they were so happy, haha. One even applauded... like... literally.
I should also mention at least one saving grace in this mess is that apparently the 1st-grade and 2nd-grade classes will start off with the same lessons, as will the 3rd-grade and 4th-grade classes... meaning I technically only need to teach 4 different lessons each week.
Introducing the New Staff
ES-1 had a major shake-up this year when it came to teachers transferring out. And not only that, but with 12 classes being reduced down to 10, a lot of shuffling was made. Amoung the changes:
- the 1st-grade class is reduced to one group of 29 students... mostly boys. Their teacher is a new one to us, but she's a lot older so hopefully she has some awesome veteran tricks to use to keep the peace. Good luck to her!!!
- the 2nd-grade classes will stay exactly the same. Same students in each of the two classes, same teachers in command of each. Should be a smooth transition.
- the 3rd-grade classes are being combined!!! It's not such a bad thing, though, since I taught them together as one group often last year, and they behaved quite well despite the large size. I know one of the teachers is on maternity leave this year, but I wonder if they would have combined the classes regardless of that.
- the 4th-grade classes will stay the same as far as students go, but the teachers changed slightly. 4-1 will still have the same teacher they had last year (which earned a hilarious groan from some of the kids during the assignment announcement ceremony, haha), but the 4-2 students will get last year's 4-2 teacher.
- the 5th-grade classes will have the most major changes. This school system changes the student rosters around every two years, so this year, the classes will stir around. Last year's 5-1 teacher will stay at her level, while 5-2 will get one of the new teachers... another "veteran" teacher.
- the 6th-grade classes will stay the same, but the teachers are changing for them. Last year's 6-2 teacher (the only male teacher in this school) now becomes the 6-1 teacher. 6-2, however, gets the new, young, cute female teacher!!! And this is good for me because 5-2 was my "attendant" class last year, which is what I call the class I am unofficially the co-teacher of. Of course, I'm so busy that I rarely got to do anything extra with them.
We did have some support-staff changes (like a new school.. nutritionist? Srsly, why does every school in Japan need a nutrionist??), but the biggest move was the changing of our principal. The last guy was friendly, but very very recluse. He spent all day in his office, only saying "good morning" to me, and nothing else. This new guy is totally friendly, and best of all... he can speak English!! Or, well, enough English, haha. He seemed pretty excited about talking to me numerous times throughout the day. I hope he's not getting his hopes up about all the wonderful conversations we'll be having, because I don't think he realizes how busy I am going to be over the next few months.
And speaking of which...
All Those Extras
So we did have an ALT/English-education meeting with the BOE officials last week. A few things popped up...
1) the evening eikaiwa classes will be starting soon. Oh goody, now I get to work at night, too!! Wonderful..... Sigh, oh well, at least it will be a chance to work specifically with the students who WANT to speak English.
2) the village will hold a Speech Contest soon. Ugh, seriously? An English speech contest for elementary students? They can't even remember how to count to 20, how the hell is this going to work? And yes, practice is every day, after school.
3) overnight field trip to British Hills for the 6th-graders. Last year's trip was fun, but not so much fun that I wanted to do it twice. Oh well, hopefully it won't rain this time.
4) the summer trip to Australia.
... wait... what was that? We're going to ... Australia? And I'm invited, too????
A W E S O M E ! ! ! ! !! ! ! !! ! ! ! ! !
I was getting more and more pissed off as the list of responsibilites kept growing, but hearing that a trip to Australia with the junior high school students (technically not my students, but this year's 1st-year students were my 6th-graders last year, so that will be cool) would be included in my job duties made me so happy. I'm assuming it's all-expenses paid... no?
But wait, Australia is full of creepy crawlies and insects the size of baseballs. And we're going during August... oh... but August for them is actually winter, so I'll be safe, right? Right? O___O;;;;
For the record (and so my Australian readers can torment me), we'll be staying in a small community about 400kms West of Sydney, which according to this map above, is in the "fire" territory. Cool.
The Battle of the Cuteness Rages On
Apologies all around. I know you come here not so much to hear about how awesome I be (that's just an added bonus), but rather to hear stories about incredible adorablenes. If it's true that cuteness increases as age decreases, then the next few weeks are gonna be overload, as a new group of 1st-graders has come to join the GTX world. Who in their right mind wouldn't be overjoyed by that???
Oh, last year's 1st-graders, that's who. It's been such a long time since I've done two consecutive years in a school that I had forgotten about how turmoltuous a year-change can be for a school. For one thing, the entire average age of the entire school drops by one. For another thing, as mentioned, the school gains a fresh new group of youngsters who have no idea what the hell is going on around them or what the rules are. It is cute for those of us observing, but for those who formerly held the ranks of "cutest in the school," it ain't so adorable.
On Wednesday, I spent most of the day organizing and shuffling teaching materials around the Board of Education office. When 3pm came, the woman working with me decided suddenly that she had had enough of all this "work" nonsense and just decided she was done for the day. Good news for me, of course, because now I can go to the jidoukan and finally see what the new roster is like over there.
I walked into the main activity room where I was immediately rushed by cutest of cutest students, who were giving off this sense of "oh god, we've been surrounded little children all day and they're driving us insane!!!!". Though it may also just have been a showing off their proper claim to me in front of their new underlings to let them know that I'm not glued to "1st-graders" but rather to them, no matter what their level is.
Of course, this didn't last long at all. Wasn't more than 3 minutes before I was being bombarded by new students (who knew me from the kindergarten anyway) wanting to play. This was not cool in the eyes of the now 2nd-graders. This sentiment grew even more when it came time for unicycle training. I had been telling the girls for the last month or two that they would need to hurry up and get their balancing down pat because once the new ichinensei came in, they would need more help than them. Apparently they thought I would be helping them forever, but nope, the harsh reality that needier, grabbier, screechier students would soon be standing in their way hit them like... like... well... a needy, grabby, screechy child.
Well, they can at least get their revenge in dodgeball, haha.
With the English advisor being a no-show on Thursday (srsly, wtf?), I just cut out stupid little paper props the new syllabus requires. I got through it faster than I thought I would. I cut half a year's worth of material in about two hours. I was sitting in the lobby of the library as I was doing this, giving the chance of a few of my now 6th-graders to come up and spy on me. When I told them that this coming year would be in the hands of the homeroom teachers and that we would be doing more textbook learning and less games, they were not happy at all.
I know, girls. Me, too. Me, too.
With the rest of the day open, I dismissed myself from office boringness to go to the jidoukan once again. The only story I took note of was one of my new 1st-grade girls showed me a blank piece of paper and told me that it was "unko" (poop). This lead to a lot of poop jokes (because I'm as mature as a 6 year-old) which were easily overheard by one of my more English-saavy 2nd-graders. She interjected a quick "everybody poops!!!!" into our conversation. hahaha, I taught her that about 6 months ago. So proud that she remembered it... and used it in appropriate inappropriate context, haha.
Friday was the first official day of the new schoolyear. I was assigned to ES-1 where I met all those aforementioned new teachers. Despite this being my 6th contract season, today was actually the first time I have attended an elementary school entrance ceremony. It was sooooo adorable seeing all the new 1st-graders wearing suits-and-ties and super adorable dresses. The ceremony itself was a little bland... amazing that the kids could sit quietly for as long as they did (though one girl did stand up and randomly darted out of the room... no idea where she went, haha).
I did stay at school long enough into the afternoon to get a decent amount of work done, though that was mainly printing out new progress charts, making sure I got all the teachers' names right, making new namecards for the new 1st-graders, and having quick sit-downs with the higher-level teachers. I made a break for the jidoukan around 2:30pm. I was hoping the new principal was still gonna be there so he would understand that this is what I tend to do, but he was long gone. Oh well.
The most important thing worth noting about the jidoukan is that not only did we get a new group of 1st-graders, but also a few other students were randomly added in, particularly Yuuri-chan, who is a girl in the now 3rd-grade class at ES-2. She is a bit of an outsider in her class, but she absolutely loves me, so this could be interesting. Actually, it's a good chance for her to try to build a better relationship with the "cool" girls in her class who are always picking on her.
Oh, that reminds me. In the week I spent every day with the jidoukan students, the tsundere girls who always aggratave me were being less and less obnoxious. They were asking me tons of questions about my name, which AKB48 girls I liked, Okayama... and more interestingly, they wanted to play with my phone... or rather, the camera. I didn't check it until later that night, but those four girls took about 23 photos of the most random things you could find around a school... all blurry, of course. -_____-
Now that they are the "leaders" of the after-school program, here's hoping that they will grow up a little and stop being such little terrors. I learned from the "Sayonara" Party I had with the teachers at ES-2 early in the vacation that their new homeroom teacher was going to be the former 6th-grade teacher. This is actually what I had hoped would happen, because I think she will be a lot tougher on them and not let them get away with the craziness they were dishing out to their poor 2nd-grade HRT.
I finished off my week at the jidoukan by busying the kids with a marble ramp I made for them out of Legos. What? Legos can be made into things which can be played with OTHER things??? A whole new world has just been opened up to these kids!!
Tokyo Adventure #... 7? 8? (I've lost count)
This was the first time I went to Tokyo with absolutely nothing on my itinerary. I just wanted to go live in a city for 3 days. I wanted to shop, walk around, ride the trains, and eat at restaurants with ease*. I've pretty much done and seen everything that really need to be seen... except for visiting a maid cafe, but that had to be postponed because my friend who was supposed to hang with me got sick right at the end of the week.
* Ueno has a Hard Rock Cafe, Shibuya has a TGIF Fridays and an Outback Steakhouse
So I mainly just did what I usually do... walked around Akihabara, rode the trains, swung by Odaiba, went to Tokyo Tower, and just ate and ate. Akiba was a bit of mess this time around. Terrible Saturday weather aside, one of the major buildings right on the ekimae (station front) has been torn down and is undergoing reconstruction. Inside that shop used to be my favorite store in the whole district, this second-hand TCG shop called "Card Kingdom." I didn't even notice that they had just relocated across the street until the end of Sunday (I was their last customer of the weekend... and then they were closed all day on Monday!!!). Oh well, didn't stop me from still dropping about $75 on cards this trip. What? It's my only vice here, haha.
I was also disappointed in this week's array of "art shows/events." Usually the Anime Center at UDX Crossfield has art shows, but looks like they only do their major ones during Golden Week in May. In fact, this year's will be a sequel to what they showed last year, the Eshi 100 Event. Dang it.
Even Art Jueness, a great gallery right on the main road, was just doing an "encore" showing of the same guy I had seen the year before.
Over the course of 3 days, I managed to visit prety much every shop in Akihabara. My observation is this season's biggest battle is between Puella Magi Madoka Magica and K-On!. As someone who has seen both, I can say that K-On! wins objectively for quantity (2 tv seasons, 4 volumes of 4-koma collections, and 1 movie), though Madoka wins subjectively for quality (better story, better art, better character design, more in-depth character personalities, and gasp!! BETTER MUSIC!!!). K-On! doesn't hold a candle to Madoka, and yet, in the sheer volume of things, they are even. Boooooo!!
Oh well, I did get to drop by the new AKB48 Official Shop/Cafe. It was so crowded that there was a line just to get in. But then again, the shop itself was actually quite miniscule. I did have a chance to ask the clerk if she could identify the AKB girl in the photo I had in my wallet... this pic I show all my students when they ask me who my girlfriend is, haha. None of us can tell which girl she is, though. I thought it was Mayu Watanabe, but the clerks thought it was Miho Miyazaki. hmmmm...
Aside from a small shop and a rather large cafe, the place also had a thing called the "AKB Theater." It was set up like a tiny concert venue with tables, but it is used mainly as a movie theater... with a bitchin' sound system. Well, for $30, I wasn't sure what I was getting. Too expensive for a movie, too cheap for an actual live performance. It was kinda in the middle, I suppose you could say. It was a movie, but with the sound system set up like a live show, it was as close to a live performance as we could get. Well, at least the cute attendants wearing AKB-ish uniforms were real. There was also a free buffet involved.
So while I was a little disappointed that I didn't get to meet any actual AKB48 members, the universe made it up to me. On Sunday, I was wandering around Odaiba when I randomly decided to stop inside the MegaWebb Toyota museum thingy they have right in the center. I walked in just in time to catch a live promotion mini-concert performance by some other cute-girl mega-group... this one with a maid theme to it, haha. Afilia Saga East is apparently their name.
The concert was super adorable, but as expected, no photos were allowed. I did buy whatever CD they were promoting, which earned me a free meet-and-greet ticket to go up on stage and have a quite 1-minute conversation with each of them, but I was feeling kinda virusy-contagiousy from whatever I caught on the busride down. Being the nice guy that I am, I decided not to make an entire group of kawaii Japanese 20-somethings sick.
Karma, you owe me!!!!
Now if you don't mind, I'm just gonna take a stroll through Ueno Park...
Okay... well, this kinda makes up for it. Damn, Japan, even your cats are adorable!!! Next time make it a cute girl stuck in a tree, then we'll be square. :D
Until next time... see you!!
P.S. I started watching Accelerated World since that's what Akiba was pushing the most. It's pretty good, based on the 1st episode.
GTX: The 5th Season, Episode 14 (finale)
Coverage Dates: February 25th - March 24th
So there is great news and there is terrible news. But there's also a truckload of little good newses... so... don't fret.
First, the great news: I have officially been hired to work directly for my village's Board of Education!!!! What this means is a gigantic increase in pay and benefits (we're talking a 25% raise, and considering I still get free house rent and healthcare as an earthquake victim, I'm raking in serious cake this coming year). It also means I am no longer a slave to those crooked ALT dispatch companies. You know, those corporations that take about 1/3 of my salary and in exchange DON'T give me life-support (as they promise the forgeign teachers) and DON'T give me the proper teacher training (as they promise the education boards).
Despite there being a legal clause in my contract saying that I would not approach to nor accept from board of education a direct-hire opportunity, it is obviously just a feign attempt at forcing me (and other unfortunate dupes around the country) from claiming what is legally within their rights. The role dispatch companies should play is they should introduce teachers to the education boards, get them settled, and give them initial trainin and support for their first year. After the first year is over, the foreigner teacher should be ready to handle things on their own as a full employee of the school board. That was how it was essentially expressed in 2005 MOE Directive 16-121, and luckily the current Minister (who I met personally in February (see entry) and the ALT Union still agree with this plan of action.
Thankfully the company which had me employed my first year in my new village didn't fight me on it. Actually, they were quite courteous about it, wishing me luck and everything. Of course, if they did challenge me on it, I had a whole list of violations they had regarding the care of our contract waiting to be thrown in their faces. But since it didn't come to that, we can part on mutual terms and go our seperate ways.
(Actually, this particular village didn't plan on recontracting with the company anyway. They only hired a private ALT because they thought their previous JET was going to be returning in March.)
Before we celebrate too much over here, I do have to discuss the terrible news that comes with this new arrangement. When we "negotiated" my new contract, I thought it was under the guise that my workload wouldn't be changing all that much. Last week I had a meeting with the new BOE director and the two school principals over the new English program, and things didn't work out much in my favor.
Basically, the 5th- and 6th-grade English classes will be taught mainly by the main Japanese homeroom teachers. Okay... fine... whatever. If Japan wants to be a sinking ship of Engrish ridicule, then that's their deal. I've seen English classes taught by underqualified teachers before (see Season 2) and it is painful to watch. But Japan insists on conforming its education system from coast to coast, so really, I can't fight it.
What really gets me is the change they want to see for the 1st through 4th-grade classes. They still want me to be the main teacher, but they want me to use their... lovely... curriculum. I took a quick glance at it. It's basically everything I hate about teaching English, forced heavily upon me. Songs... chanting... favoring random short phrases over building vocabulary... heavily reducing keyword listening practice... critically damaging the concept of reusing previously learned material. I tried to fight it, but they wouldn't listen. Somehow they think this system is far superior only because they've used it in the past.
Now, normally I would fight tooth and nail, but sad to say, I've chosen to actually downplay it. Face it... I'm on my way out the door after this year anyway, and since this is the lesson system they're going to be using after I'm gone (despite its flaws), then no use trying to change it. What bothers me is that now I have to adapt to a completely new system in a time when I really just want to check out and enjoy what time I have remaining. I want to spend quality time with the students; not hammering away in the teachers' room trying to put materials together. I did that in my first year when I was more wide-eyed and busy-tailed. Now I'm just tired and grizzled.
I did think about resigning, but two things:
1) I don't want to throw away my first chance at direct-hire, nor do I want to risk giving up my earthquake victim benefits.
2) despite the extra work, it could be an interesting change of pace to try something new. I mean, I really only have to work on the 1st-4th grade classes, and half of those are mostly just songs.
oh, and there's the whole part about being able to stay with my students, of course, but the students I'm closest to are mostly the 3rd-graders at the jidoukan who will be leaving that program soon. Also, the 6th-graders I liked have left completely.
I suppose as long as my time with the jidoukan students isn't taken away completely, I can manage. Technically, they can only have me work until 4pm anyway. I am still an ASSISTANT teachers, afterall. But even if I see my jidoukan time cut to just 2 or 3 days a week, I suppose it would be fine.
I will be spending a week straight with them starting this coming Monday because of the Spring Vacation and all.
And that leads us to that truckload of mini good new stories to share... mainly, what I've been doing each and every day for the last month. Let's see what I can remember (with a little help from looking back over my Facebook feed, haha)
I bought 4 graduation albums this year. They were as expensieve as hell!! Two of them cost over $200 each... but well worth it since they were printed on stiff cardboard photo paper... really classy stuff. I was actually honored that the ES2 yearbook featured a couple pictures taken by me. Another achievement crossed off my list!!
I did also order the yearbooks of two of my high schools from Niigata. I would have liked all 4, but only two of them returned my emails. Luckily they were the two schools I was close with anyway, heh heh... even though one of them technically only had 6 of my students (HS4... the mostly-girls school). I did get the HS2 yearbook, too, but I haven't opened it yet, haha. The box it came in is sealing it up quite well... I almost don't want to ruin it, haha.
You know what I realized? I hadn't been to an elementary school graduation in over two years. Last year's elementary ceremony was cancelled because of the earthquake (which, coincidentally enough, was the day of the JHS graduation ceremony). That means the last ceremony I attended was waaaay back in Okayama when I favored attending the ES-3 ceremony over the ES-1 ceremony.
This year both of my schools had their ceremonies at the same time, so again I was forced to choose. I went with ES1 officially because "it has more students", but really it was just because I liked those kids much better. They behaved a lot more during English class, plus I got to play soccer with them quite a lot throughout the year, as their P.E. time was on Wednesday afternoons when I was free.
(though ES2 did have a last-minute save when the boys invited me to go play soccer with them during recess. I kicked their asses, but lost coolness points by sucking at softball later in the afternoon as their end-of-year free-time activity.
The ceremony itself was quite nice, though they favored using the multipurpose room over the gymnasium. I guess it's just the tradition of this school, though a bit lame since the room is significantly smaller than the gym. There wasn't even enough room to fit in all the younger kids, so the 1st-, 2nd-, and 3rd-graders didn't even attend. They still got to see me in my suit and tie when I went out to say good-bye to them during their second-period dismissal.
I didn't have any specific role to play this time around save for sit quietly and be pretty. Oh, and bow and stand and bow and bow and bow again along with the crowd... for 90 minutes. Considering I can't understand Japanese and was sitting under a heater, my work consisted mainly of trying to stay awake, haha. I did tear up during the 4th- and 5th-graders' good-bye speech. Again, couldn't understand their words, but I could read their hearts.
After the event was the traditional "sakura tunnel", which is when everyone lines up and the leaving students walk out of the building for their final time. After that, it erupted into a flurry of photo opportunities and yearbook signing requests. I only got one photo request, but did sign about 8 or 9 yearbooks (haha, I felt bad for the students whose names I was a little unsure of, though I did get Aika, Yuuka, and Takuya for certain (Miyu, Rie, and Taiki were the ones I only realized after I finished)).
I was quite sad to see them go, but this is the nature of teaching. You teach so they can flourish on their own. If they leave to go on to better and brighter things fully prepared, then you've only done your job. I am quite close with my current 5th-graders, and being with them for 2 years, I might find next year's ceremony a bit more emotional.
For a while, she wasn't attending the after-school jidoukan much at all (maybe just 1 or 2 days a week, leaving early, at that). But two weeks ago, she resumed her regular schedule of being there 4 or 5 days. Maybe she needed to be sent to a Cuteness Stablization Facility. Letting litte girls walk around freely with too much adorableness is bad for the environment and safety of humanity, haha.
Yesterday she sat next to me on the floor while watching the Disney version of Beauty & the Beast. I was trying to play the marble game with Magnet-chan, but Mone-chan kept grabbing my arm during the scary parts.
During one scene, she asked me why the Beast would save Belle from the pack of angry wolves after attacking her himself in the castle (when she first found the cursed rose). haha, such a difficult concept to explain in Japanese, let alone English. Why couldn't she ask me why the candlestick and mantle clock can sing and dance? Only Disney could make something as strange as that the LESS baffling thing in a movie.
The Out List
The end of the schoolyear is a terrible time for teachers in Japan. This country likes to hammer in the mentality that "nothing lasts forever," so every 3-5 years, teachers must transfer schools. They also do it so bad schools have a chance of getting better teachers, but it's still so lame.
It's also a huge secret, but I was given the list of who is leaving ES1 already. I'm a little mixed on it.
3-2: young woman... she was kinda "meh." Very quiet, but never gave me any trouble.
4-1: young woman... the athletic cool teacher. She was good, but always yelling at the kids, despite having a good group.
5-2: older woman... gah, this sucks... she always included me in events her class was doing. I'm not happy she's leaving.
6-1: young woman... another super-friendly teacher leaving. I talked with her a lot and she was a lot of fun.
Spec. Ed.: older man... he could speak English, but he bothered me whenever he helped with my classes because he would always just say the answers when I prompted the class.
Principal: older man... a friendly guy, but very recluse. I never really felt he had the knack for working with children. He was always serious, never messed around with the kids. I look forward to having a new guy in charge, but then again, there runs the risk of there being someone even more hard-handed taking his place. -_____-
No idea who is leaving from ES2, though I will find out on Wednesday since I was invited to their Farewell Party. They asked me two weeks ago. ES1 called me last night to tell me about theirs... which is scheduled for the same night. Grrrr... well, gotta go with who asked first. That's always been my rule.
Highlights of the Final Week
- of all 20 classes, my worst-behaved one (2-2-1) was the only one to give me a "thank you" present
- ES1 4-1 and 4-2 were my last classes to be taught using my system... we finished with a grand game of Flashcard Basketball. Though the rules were the same, I upped the point values, which for some reason, made them all crazy, haha.
- got to play soccer with my ES1 Attendant Class, 5-2
- spend a period with my ES2 Attendant Class, 1-1... I helped them write their explanations of each room in the school for their tour for next year's incoming 1st-grade class. I use the word "helped" lightly, since mostly they just poked at me and asked me odd questions about dogs and whatnot.
The Great East Japan Earthquake Anniversary Ceremony
March 11th this year fell on a Sunday, which was good in the way that it meant I would be free all day to remember the day as I pleased. I chose to go to Koriyama City where I attended the rememberance ceremony held on the station front (ekimae). There were some festivities leading up to the event (including cheerleaders!!), but the actual ceremony itself was quite somber. The members of the Koriyama Fire Department were amoung the VIPs, as were a handful of local politicians. A few speeches were given, but the main part was everyone watching the Prime Minister's and Emperor's * speeches from Tokyo, followed by a moment of silence.
* not sure if that was him or not, but he was pretty old and had a woman with him who must have been his wife
The ceremony ended with the performance of the Fukushima Fight Song...
After the ceremony, I was approached by TUF TV for an interview, but my Japanese skills were not enough to fully express what I felt. I could understand what he was asking, but our interview would have been akin to
Reporter: "So, Mr. Ambassador, what are your thoughts on the current state of the crisis that plagues our fine nation and what is your opinion on the resolve of the Japanese people to endure this tragedy?"
Just one of those moments where the language barrier really gets to you. Oh well, I was featured on the news in the US that same night. They interviewed my sister on camera and showed some photos I had taken around the damaged area.
The BBC has an interesting documentary out called "Japan's Children of the Tsunami." If you can find it, I suggest you check it out. It features Tomioka-machi and Yabuki-machi a bit, but not Kawauchi-mura.
The kids around here don't have their radiation dosimeters anymore, but a lot of us had to go in for radiation screening in February. I went to the local radiation center for my check. They took a blood sample which left a bandaid on my arm... and lead to this:
I had this conversation about 7 times today...
student (upon seeing the bandaid on my arm): oh, did you get a shot today?
student: did it hurt?
student: can I poke it?
me: ..... nooooo O_____o
student: ::pokes it anyway::
7 times >_____<
- two of my 5th-grade girls at ES2 have been warming up to me lately. The girls in this class are very shy. We played basketball together with some of the boys during a recess one day.
- my biggest fear came true: took a dodgeball straight to the face from one of the more athletic 3rd-grade boys. The ball didn't hurt, but it did drive my glasses right into my eyelid and made for a little nasty cut. All the kids were astounded by the blood, haha.
- walked one of my 2nd-graders home one afternoon. Because they were quarentined on account of influenza for about a week, they've had to have make-up classes every afternoon, meaning they get out later than the other classes. One of the girls realized this meant she'd have to walk home alone, so she asked me to walk with her using a sad, heart-melting face. Couldn't resist her charms... though I probably should have asked how far away her house was before I agreed. Oh well, wasn't too too far. Gave me a chance to see more of the neighborhood around our school. A lot more earthquake damage that I realized zipping through by car. Kinda depressing. :(
- saw Star Wars: Episode 1 3D in the theater. As usual, the 3D effects looked like crap. Get it through your heads... 3D movies are only worth it if they are shot with a 3D camera (and AFAIK, Hollywood only has 3 of them). If it is retroactively rendered as a 3D movie, then it's gonna be awful. But on the bright side, Jar Jar Binks and that stupid Anakin kid were far less annoying in Japanese.
- bought round-trip bus tickets to Tokyo for next weekend. Going just for the hell of it; nothing in particular to see. Just want to enjoy being in the city... and eating at the Hard Rock Cafe and Ruby Tuesdays, heh heh. It's been over a year since I've stayed in Tokyo (though did go once for a one-day job interview and another time as I passed through on my way to the airport for my USA trip). Getting there from where I live now is a cinch... just 3 hours by bus for 6,100 yen RT.
- Caught up on the Big Bang Theory. Almost caught up on Modern Family now (Season 3, Episode 8 buffering right now). Still a huge fan of SouthLAnd (highly highly recommended cop-show).
Sorry for the lack of posts this season. This year has been quite memorable for me in so many ways, so it's a bit of shame that I couldn't cover it as well as I have with the past seasons. Just been too busy being out there, making memories... not enough time to come back and discuss them. Here's hoping for success and more cuteness in the upcoming 6th Season!!
Coverage Days: Friday, February 24th, 2012
Schools Visited: ES1 and ES2!!!!
Entry#: The Fifth Season, Episode 13
I teased this at the end of my last entry here. February 24th has been circled and starred on my calendar for weeks now. Those of you offered guesses in the comments section were leaning toward "hot date," but this is something much much bigger. The most incredibly unbelievable honor had been bestowed upon me. Yuuko Naoyama, the Japanese Minister of Education, the woman herself, came all the way from Tokyo to my tiny Fukushima village to actually sit in and observe two of my elementary school English lessons.
It's like something out of a dream (or nightmare if you're prone to cracking under supreme pressure). And what pressure this was! Why, of all the schools, of all the teachers, of all the classrooms in this sizeable country, was the #1 teacher coming to watch MY lesson.
Well, apparently she had heard of my greatness. No, I am not making that up. Remember back in October when I did that big demonstration lesson in front of all the teachers in my village plus a few state education board representatives? Well, she had caught wind of how well things went there and decided to come down to see for herself.
Gah!! Now listen, I will be the first to admit that the only reason why that lesson went so well was because my 1st-graders rock. As much as I like to brag about how awesome I be, it's really just for show. Though my lessonplan and my execution is rock-solid, I'm still too new here in this current village to have the absolute control that I once had in Okayama. It takes a lot of time for classes to become accustomed to the teaching style of a new ALT. At least with the 1st-graders, since they don't know any other teaching styles, I was free to mold them quickly to my system. The older classes are still operating under the system of their previous ALT which makes them a little more of a challenge to control.
I would have liked to have had a little more information on what was going on with this official visit, but pretty much all I was told was "she wants to see an everyday lesson... so don't change ANYTHING!!!" This also meant to dress as I usually do, which seemed odd given the position of this special guest. I was also hoping for the opportunity to talk with her personally, since I had heard that she is an excellent English-speaker.
Of course, what I was wondering most of all still was... why? Why was she coming here? Someone told me that she would be watching two of my lessons (3-1 in the 3rd-period and 6-2 in the 4th-period) at ES1 and then we'd all be watching a demonstration English lesson by a Japanese homeroom teacher at ES2. My assumption would be that she'd want to observe both styles and then compare, but as I found out as things were going on, I was a bit wrong in my understanding.
Here's how things really went down.
3rd Period: Grade 3, Class 1
The Minister's visit for this grade level was pretty good timing. The 3rd-graders are on their unit on Weather, which has a pretty fun and interactive game built into it. That was going to be the main activity of the day. As usual, I like to stick to my review, review, game, drill new vocab system.
I arrived at the classroom a little early. All the kids were sitting perfectly in their desks, everything in the room was neatly put in its place. No doubt their homeroom teacher pounded them with the importance of behaving perfectly for the next 45 minutes. Haha, if only every class could be like this.
I should also note for personal records that a lot of my jidoukan students are in this class, namely Anju, Saki, Jin, Yuina, Yuzuha, and Shunya. I was heavily reliant on their support in keeping the others in check, but unfortunately for my "Injection Strategy" of class control, the group dynamics of this school system don't allow me to take advantage. The kids in the jidoukan are just too quiet to quell the others.
Things started off perfectly. They came up to the front of the room quick and orderly as their names were called to collect their sticker charts (which never happens any other day). We started by doing a quick review of the last lesson, which was School Rooms. They were given a quick 5-minute refresher just the day before so they didn't look like complete dolts in front of our guest, though I was confident that they'd be able to perform without it anyway. When I do the quick reviews, I show the flashcards of the previous lesson vocabulary and have the kids raise their hands if they know it. I then select one student to speak and if they are correct, they receive a sticker for their progress chart. As I had hoped, pretty much every card garnered about a 75% understanding rate.
That was over and done with in about 5 minutes. Right on schedule. Next up was reviewing the new lesson vocabulary I taught them at the end of the previous lesson: Weather. As a group, we went over the words as the homeroom teacher posted them to the chalkboard. For Weather, there is the usual "sunny" "cloudy" "windy" "rainy" etc vocab. But just to make things interesting, I threw in a random card. I teased them about what it could be by telling them the day before that it was a secret mystery card. Today, they got the reveal.
As I looked at the card myself in horrified disbelief, all the kids were gasping in tension, writhing in anticipation. My terrifed screams only deepened the mystery.
What's outside? What could it be?? What's out there!?!?! Tell us!!!!!
Yes, I know a giant radiactive monster is not technically Weather, but it is something you point out the window to see, haha. But it's not like anyone is gonna call me on it. Any excuse to scream and cower is entertaining enough to let logic slide.
The game I designed is called "Weather Forecast Game." I put the kids in groups and give each group a sheet of paper with 5 boxes labeled with the days of the week, and a stack of picture cards with each weather type on them. I read out a weather report for the week and have them all just silently listen and remember what I'm saying. After reciting it twice, I tell them "ready, go!!!". The fastest group to arrange their report in the correct order gets two points (I make the HRT be the judge of who's fastest). The other groups can still get a point if their report is correct. It's amazing how quickly the kids work... usually finishing within 5 or 6 seconds.
The students were enjoying the game. However, after playing the scheduled 4 or 5 times the classes in the practice-runs got, I got "that" feeling in my stomach when I looked up at the clock and saw that we were running waaay ahead of schedule. Dang... I hate that. Oh well, guess we'll just keep playing. I hope the kids don't bored.
Actually, I should have stopped earlier because it would have given me a moment to organize my thoughts better. We counted the scores and I gave 2 stickers to the top 3 teams (1 sticker to the other 2). Usually I let them have the stickers right away because I know how antsy kids get when you delay their gratification. But I didn't want them all hovering around the sticker sheets, not listening to the next part of the listen. Maybe this was a mistake on my part because for the last 5-10 mins, they were just pitiful-looking zombies.
Way to lend your support, kids. Oh well, the Minister didn't appear to notice much as we moved on to the next portion of the class: drilling the new vocabulary that they will use for the next week.
4th Period: Grade 6, Class 2
I was a bit nervous when I had first learned that 6-2 was being chosen for this observation. Of my 4 upper-level classes, 6-2 would actually be my last choice. 6-1 would have been better, but really either of the 5th-grade classes would have been best. No idea how the decision was made, but we all know how much say in anything an ALT gets. Oh well, 6-2 started off rough, mostly because there is one ADHD boy who can never sit still nor keep quiet, plus a couple chatty girls, but as time passed and they got to know me more, they've calmed down a lot more.
Though the MOE came at a great time for observing the 3rd-graders, she actually came at the worst time for observing the 6th-graders. In February, the older classes are already getting ready for the end-of-the-year preparations, so English takes a bit of a sidestep. And with the 6th-graders needing to prepare for junior high school, I actually adjust their lessons to be more suited to the higher learning levels... which probably wasn't what the MOE came here to witness. I did contemplate just giving this class a random lesson from earlier in the year, but with only 2 lessons left on the schedule, I didn't want to mess with their syllabus.
The topic of the day was School Subjects. Their last lesson was just a simple "School Life Sticker Chance Extravaganza!!!" where I simply just threw every school-related vocab word at their faces. To kick off this lesson, we did a quick review of School Rooms (same vocab as the 3rd-graders, stickers given to those who volunteered to answer). Then we reviewed the list of School Subjects.
To give them a more JHS-style lesson, I taught them a simple, informative sentence that would be more of a capstone project.
"We study (subject) on (day) at (time)."
It's a simple listening activity. I put them in groups with a worksheet, then read off a sentence of randomized variables to which they need to catch and record. Then we rotate through the groups (1 "star" group and 3 "circle" groups). The star group has to read their answer out loud, but they get the benefit of rolling the two dice. They get the higher value of the dice multipled by the number of variables they got right. The circle groups just need to show me their answers, then their score is the number of correct variables multiplied by the smaller dice value.
Everything was going great, except that the friggin' homeroom teacher was a thorn in my side the whole time. He's a nice guy, but I dunno... just today... he was... gah. First, I asked him to hand out the sticker papers before my arrival so we didn't need to waste any class time (he didn't do that... but I'll chalk it up to mistranslation). Second, I asked him to keep score so I could move on with the game... but he kept messing up the numbers. Third, he kept butting into the inner-workings of each group... something that irks me terribly because it wouldn't be a challenging game if someone is constantly just giving out the answers. In this case, he wasn't giving the answers so much as he kept giving away hints unfairly to certain groups, which just upsets the other groups who worked hard on their own to get it right.
Luckily, the MOE is a sharp tack and she caught notice of all this. But we'll get to that soon enough.
Not sure why, but this class ended up taking a lot longer to complete the main activity than the other 3 classes needed (though I'm sure it's because the HRT kept telling me to give more chances for the slower groups). I kinda had to rush the final activity toward the end, technically running over time.
To finish the lesson, as I always do, we drilled the vocabulary to be used in the next lesson: Actions. This one is kinda fun because I can be wacky and crazy.
Walk - easy enough... just walk
Run - just a quick dash across the room
Jump - just jump
Eat - pick up a random object, stare at it curiously, then motion to put it in my mouth... hopefully the kids will panic and tell me not to eat it, but there are usually a few punks who want to see me go through with it, haha
Swim - just mimic swimming
Sing - sing a few loud and overly-dramatic "la la la LA LA LA!!!"s... usually gets a good laugh
Sleep - yawn, kneel down at a nearby table and start snoozing. This worked better in other schools, but they seem to already know most of these verbs, including this one.
Clean - this one is the killer because what I do is pretend to start wiping off a nearby table, then move on to another. I choose a "victim" and make my way over to that person, all the while brushing away and saying "kitenai" ("dirty"). When I get close enough to the student, I'll start brushing away phantom dirt from that person, too. It's gotten a few chuckles in other classes, but here, it was quite an uproarious burst of laughter... which is certainly what I needed for a big finish today.
Go Home - this one is simple... just say "good bye, see you!" constantly as I walk toward the door. Some classes understand it quickly, others don't.
Go Shopping - the other uproarious joke, not so much in laughter, but in crazy excitement. I'll survey the room for something unique on a student's desk, like a pencil case or a nice pen. I'll walk over and take the item in hand, inspecting it lonely. Then I'll say to its owner (who is usually panicking over what sneaky think I have in store for it) and ask them how much they want for it. Some of the cool kids will say something like "10,000 yen!!", but others will say it's not for sale. Doesn't matter what they say, because I'll open my wallet and take out the largest bill I have (in today's case, a 5,000 yen note), then proceed to offer it to the student, all the while the others in the class are all like "ehhhhhhh!!?!?!?!?!? nani nani!!?!?!?!?" Takes them a moment, but they usually can see that I'm obviously confusing the classroom for a shop.
As a big finish to all the insanity, I then go on to combine the actions. Walking and Jumping is good. Singing and running is funny. Sleeping and swimming is hilarious.
5th-period: Grade 5, Classes 1 and 2
For the Japanese English lesson in the afternoon, I was slightly off on what I had been expecting. I knew it was going to be at ES2, but I thought it was going to be a lesson arranged and instructed by one of the teachers there. Really, it was a lesson given by the Minster herself. And the class they handed off to her: 5-1 and 5-2. Not exactly the best choice, considering that it's about 34 students, mostly boys. But nevertheless, let's see what she's got. Luckily, as an observer, I was able to take notes throughout.
We were situated in the school's central multipurpose room, set up with all the desks and chairs carried down from the 2nd-floor classrooms, plus video projector and smart-board. About 40 teachers and admins were standing around the sidelines, watching the demonstration by the highest ranking teacher in the entire nation. I should note, these are issues I find with ALL lessons taught by Japanese people.
First Mistake: waaaay too much time on introductions
She went through every student individually and asked them something simple like "how are you?" I don't do this with my classes because it's only proven to be a huge waste of time (in this case, 15 minutes!), plus the other kids in class lose interest quite quickly. I'll let it slide only because this was her first time meeting the kids and she was just doing a one-on-one survey to see what the skill level of a typical Japanese 11-year old is.
Second Mistake: waaaaaay too much Japanese
As expected, she immediately dove into speaking in all Japanese with just little tidbits of English thrown in randomly. What happens with this is the students instantly tune out the English parts and try to piece together what is happening by focusing on the Japanese. That is the exact opposite of what you want to happen. English lessons need to be done in alll English so that students can pick out the keywords in order to understand what is going on. Teachers shouldn't underestimate the abilities of their students. I'll admit that I've gotten pretty bad about using more Japanese than I should, but it certainly was never a problem in my first few years when I hardly knew any Japanese at all.
Third Mistake: NEVER let the students speak Japanese
This is pretty much the only time of their day when the students will be allowed to use English, so don't let them get away with not using it. Even, and especially, if the answer is something that had been taught before in a previous lesson (an advantage using a dedicated English teacher is that they can remember on the spot what lessons have been covered before).
A few examples... she was apparently doing a lesson on the alphabet. She used an interesting slideshow showing some romaji letters familiar to most Japanese people, like "ANA" (All Nippon Airways) and "LAWSON STATION" (a popular convenience store). When she asked for answers on where the students had seen these letters before, she let them answer in Japanese, though I knew for a fact that the kids of this class were knowledgable of the words "airport" and "convenience store." Drove me up the wall.
Even simple classroom instructions could have been given in English. For instance, "take out a pencil."
Fourth Mistake: give full and proper instructions
Actually, this one just baffles me completely, because it's not only something inherent in English lessons, but any class lesson. Never at any point was she clear on the instructions... and minus further points because she was using Japanese anyway.
In the main activity of the day, she handed out worksheets that had a graphic of a city neighborhood. There were plenty of signs and labels written in English, but really what the image was was a search for hidden letters. She gave the students some time to search for the letters of the alphabet, but a lot of the kids whose papers I snuck a peek at were just looking through the obvious signage, not trying to look beyond the shapes to find the real objectives.
It only got worse when she announced that time was up (without setting a time limit) and had the students flip over their papers. She then did a survey of the room to ask the students how many letters they had found.
She didn't ask the students to check off what letters they had found while they were searching.
She didn't ask the students to count how many they had after time was up.
Again, if she was using English, I could maybe understand the confusion, but even with cheating by using Japanese, she is still failing. It was around this point that I swear she was doing this on purpose as a way of demonstrating what NOT to do during a lesson, but even now, I'm still not so sure.
Fifth Mistake: don't just give the kids the answer when they cannot understand
As a fully-dedicated teacher, this is what irks me the most. Let me spell it out with the example I noticed here in this lesson.
So she wanted to play the Keyword/Eraser Game. A classic game that can be used for ANY lesson. You put the students in pairs, put an eraser between them, tell them the keyword, then rattle off a list of select vocabulary. When the keyword is spoken, the students race eachother to grab the eraser. Simple enough.
Well, this was a new game for the students. She did tell the students to break into pairs (in English) and take out an "elaser" (in broken English), but was slow to tell them that in order to play the game properly, they'd need to put their desks together (in Japanese). The whole thing was a mess because the kids were not understanding the instructions. When this happens, you need to repeat the instructions over and over. If the students still cannot understand, then you highlight the keywords for them. Eventually, one student will get it right. It's at that point you call attention to it by praising that individual. The others will quickly catch on and follow suit. That's how you teach a class. Unless you plan on following them around all day and telling them everything they cannot understand, they will never learn to think for themselves.
Oh, and there was a fatal flaw with the way she set up the game, too, haha. She had a deck of alphabet flashcards to file through while playing. Her mistake was putting the keyword flashcard on the chalkboard. Actually, now that I think about it, using the flashcards at all was the mistake because now you've turned an audio game into a visual game... and with the keyword flashcard on the board, all the students are now just waiting for when she says a letter without flipping a card.
Misc. Mistake: a Japanese teacher cannot recognize/correct mistakes
Well, not the really major mistakes, but a lot of the minor mistakes slip through, and it's really irritating. I didn't notice anything hugely irking during this lesson demonstration, so it's more of a general matter.
Well, that was my list of the bad things I noticed throughout the lesson. I did put a couple of good things, which were just "good use of hand gestures" and "high energy" (but good luck keeping up that energy level when you teach 4-6 classes plus run around during 2-3 recess breaks each day).
Post Meeting and Discussion
I wasn't sure what was going to happen after the demonstration. No one told me anything. Was I going to have a chance to sit down with her afterwards? Was I going to ever hear her opinion on my lessons? Would I have any interaction with her?
We had a big teachers' meeting after the students had left. The Minister was the main presenter, which was cool because when I think of Ministers/Secretaries, I just think of big office head-honchos sitting behind a desk, delegating work and singing off on stuff. I never imagine that they'd be out on the road, talking to the little guys out there in field. Quite an honor, for sure.
So first up was the feedback. Since all the teachers were not present for my lesson aside from the actual HRT of the classes and a couple admins, she gave a rundown of what happened, plus her notes.
From what I could understand with my limited Japanese ability (and by her demeanor), she loved the high-energy and fun the 3rd-grade students were having with their race game. She thought it was awesome how even in a lesson on Weather, they were still using the vocabulary they learned from Days of the Week.
She was also quite pleased with the addition of the Godzilla card... just a fun easy something-something to make the lesson a little more playful. She called it a nice "service," which is what the Japanese call anything that is meant to be ridiculously generous and stress-relieving.
The one negative thing she had to point out was that not all the students seemed to be participating, even when I had them rattling off their group's arrangement. But she seemed to pin that blame on the homeroom teachers for letting the students get away with being lazy. I have more to say on that, but I'll get to it in a moment.
For the 6th-grade lesson, again, she found it superb that they were tying together and using English that they had learned earlier in the year (in this case, Days and Time). She loved how there was plenty of English practice being made available to all of the students throughout the period. She also found it funny that the students seemed to understand the game and the scoring system better than their homeroom teacher.
And that's where things begin to fall apart... but not for me, haha. I know that no lesson can be 100% perfect, so all the while she was praising me, I was gearing myself up for the oncoming attack. But actually, all the negative things she had to say were about the homeroom teachers. She referred to me as "the English expert." She understood quite well the plight of the ALTs of this country. We are Masters of our craft, yet we are ridiculously overworked (she knew I was fully responsible for over 20 classes and that time allowed for nothing other than just teaching) all the while making unfairly paltry pay. What she had to point out as her major issue was exactly the same thing that I had been meaning to bring up myself: class control.
As the main teacher of the class, my responsibility is to run the course of the lesson, design and implement the activities, and measure the success of the students. The job of class control and discipline is that of the homeroom teacher. I've only begun to recently recognize that my success in Okayama wasn't 100% because of me, but rather because the teachers who I started off with were just simply the most amazing group of professionals I have ever had the honor of working with. It was because of their not only keeping a watchful eye, but also their encouraging the kids to be more open, friendly, and accepting of me into their lives that I was able to run those classes a lot more smoothly.
During today's lessons, there were a couple instances with the 3rd-graders were students were not paying attention, to which I had to snap at them to keep up. With the 6th-graders, there were the aforementioned issues of the students not being able to listen to the target English and begging for more chances... and the HRT asking me to cut them some slack only proved negative in the eyes of the Minister. If the students are not paying attention or not following the rules of the game (when clearly understood by the vast majority of their peers), it is the fault of the HRT. Kudos to her for pinpointing this exact problem.
From there on, she talked a little bit about English elementary education in general. She is a huge supporter of having foreigners in the classroom, as it's a lot more fun to learn from another actual person as opposed to just reading from a textbook. Plus, and I don't know if she said this, with a foreigner in the school, English becomes an all-day thing, and not just a 45-minute cordoned-off experience.
And again she acknowledged our shitty our pay is, haha.
From there on, she went to discussing the new textbook program sanctioned by MEXT (Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology) for the 5th-graders and 6th-graders called "Hi, Friends." It's meant to be an improvement on the highly disregarded previous endeavor, "Eigo Noto", which was used beginning in 2009 when English became mandatory for upper-level elementary students.
Of course, my usual complaints about textbook learning appeared in my notes as I was listening to her explanation. My problems with the textbook (not the book itself, but rather just the use of it) are as follows:
- it alienates the learning of the material between the student and the teacher
- it's essentially just a script, which hugely stifles creativity in the classroom
- it becomes difficult to utilize previous knowledge ("PK")
- conversations sound rigid and unnatural
- it focuses too much on phrases and not so much on vocabulary-building
And THANK HARUHI-SAMA that this was brought up by another teacher during the feedback session toward the end...
- though designed for a 5th-grade level, it appeared to be quite childish
It was the ES2 1st-grade teacher (a woman who loves me because she seems how well I get along with her class) who brought this up. She essentially said, "everything you taught in this demo lesson to the 5th-graders is stuff that they are learning in 1st-grade." And that was always my biggest reason for not ever wanting to use the textbooks.
But luckily, the Minister of Education said this herself in response: the textbooks are not mandatory. Even though they are present in 99.4% schools in Japan (Heisei-22, 2010), if the school has a better cirriculum, then they are free to use it. I wish I could say it was a direct-quote, but it's my understanding of what she said based on my weak knowledge of the Japanese language. I'll try to confirm it on Wednesday.
From what I was understanding of her general message, it's she wants the HRTs to become more involved in the lessons... but that's actually quite the opposite of what I want. I mean, they have their role, which is to just help me with demos and presentation, and it would be certainly great if they were the ones to shout at the kids dozing off instead of me. But as far as the actual lessons go, I am quite content with just doing things on my own. I was planning on bringing this up for next year when the classes change around, so it's nice that the Minister has given them all something to think about.
I had been hoping to have a chance to sit and talk with her personally. I had thought I had heard her say early on that she would sit down with me and the principals afterwards to explain all of this in English, but that never happened, so who knows what was going on with that. She does seem to be really friendly and extremely intelligent. I would love to sit down and talk with her, not only about my opinions on the direction of English elementary education in Japan (and why it's 2nd-to-last amoung Asian countries), as well as the terrible conditions of ALTs working for private companies (this blog is proof enough how bad we have it... getting fired over fear of "company image" despite being in schools that absolutely love me).
I regret not being more forward with asking if I could sit with her afterwrds, but there is no guarentee that she really does want to listen to what I have to say. Well, if anything, she saw my lesson and, assuming the vice principal made the hand-off, she has my yearly cirriculum with the bullet-point list of goals I set out for the program. I plan on talking about what happened with the BOE next week. I may be able to slip in the idea that I'd like to sit down and chat with her again in the future, now that I know she values me as a respectable professional.
I did hang around for a little while, hoping an invite to sit down for tea was going to be extended that afternoon, but nothing doing. I could have waited longer, but I decided that going to play with the students after school at the jidoukan would have been a better use of my time.
And that's the truly rewarding experience of teaching in Japan. Not when the highest teacher in the country comes all the way from Tokyo to praise your work, but rather when a 6 year-old girl says to you in the language you came here to teach....
Coverage Days: December 19th 2011 - February 3rd 2012
Schools Visited: VISIT ALL THE SCHOOLS!!!!
Entry#: The Fifth Season, Episode 12
Xeno's 7 Excuses Reasons for Not Blogging In Over a Month
7. My jetlag from the US trip really took the wind out of my sails.
6. My brother bought me Star Wars: Force Unleashed for christmas and it required my attention.
5. Because it's cold outside... I dunno... I'm sure that had some effect.
4. My new laptop keyboard has taken an oddly long time in getting used to. Can't say why... maybe because it's Japanese and the "spacebar" and "backspace" keys are much much smaller than on other models.
3. Found a way to watch NFL football over the internet, and with the Patriots in the playoffs, my weekends became football-centric.
2. Girls... well... not a legit reason... just wanted someone else to blame. But yeah, I was talking to a girl online for a bit, so that kinda took priority. And also, I made a new male Japanese friend who is going to help me find more girls, haha.
and the top reason why I haven't been blogging much lately....
Yeah, while I was in the US, I had the luxury of just being able to flip mindlessly through the channels to see what was on, and I just so happened to catch an episode of the Big Bang Theory... and holy crap on a crapcake was it hilarious!!! And considering that I am 5 years behind in watching it, I had a lot of ground to cover. Even now, after devoting at least 3 days of just marathoning episodes online, I'm only up to season 5, episode 4. My plan is to be caught up by the end of this weekend.
So given that... on with the blog!!!
Hmmmmmmmmmmmm... where to begin? I guess my trip back to the America would be the first thing to discuss. My trip got off to a rocky start when I tried to check-in to my flight from the school education office before hopping on the train to head to the airport. My eTicket number was being rejected and it wasn't telling me why. Even a frantic call to my travel agency only got me a "well, we issued the ticket, but was can't tell why it's not being accepted. The airline says to just go to the airport and ask the staff there." So great... a nerve-wracking journey through one of the world's largest megaopolises in the time building up to an even more nerve-wracking 14-hour flight. Well, long story short, my flight was cancelled and I was moved to another flight. It was the same carrier, same layover (Newark), but just at a different time. You would think that the airline could have just said that to my travel agency, who in turn could have relayed this info back to me to save my gut.
Anyway, I had originally planned on writing out a huge piece devoted solely to my trip back to the US (for the first time in nearly 3.5 years), but reviewing my notes, I can pretty much sum everything up in a couple bullet-point lists. I mean, most of you all live in the US, Canada, Australia, and Europe anyway, so you don't need to hear much about what you're probably all doing yourselves each day anyway.
The quick-list of semi-touristy things I did while visiting home:
- went to a Celtics game with my brother (my first NBA game ever!!)
- watched 2 NFL Patriots games... including the trouncing of Tim Teblow
- visited the Patriots Hall of Fame with my dad... saw the 3 Vince Lombardi trophies
- visited my old coworkers at the fire station, including a couple ride-alongs on Engine-1
- went to my dad's for Christmas and to show off my photo slideshow
- went to my dad's for my sister's wedding party. A lot of family friends were there and so there was a lot of talk about Japan life and the disaster
- saw two movies: Sherlock Holmes 2 and MI4
- filmed a mini-movie around Boston with a friend of mine to bring back to Japan
and of course, I ate at every restaurant I could get to. I was there for 12 days, I probably ate out 24 different times, heh heh. And I even ate breakfast, which is a rarity for me. I never realized how much I missed Wheat Chex, haha. The only cereal Japan has are "Frosted Flakes" and "Chocolate Rice Krispies." yeah... what?
I thought I would have had more to say about comparing American and Japanese culture, you know, being a sociologist and all, but surprisingly, my list of observations isn't as robust as I would like it to be. The one thing I missed mainly about the US, I should say, is the temperature of the water in public sinks. Japan doesn't heat it's water, so the only options are "ice cold" and "arctic freezing." Some places will have gas heating units attached to the sink, but it takes about 30 seconds to get the burners going and get the water warmed up.
And as expected, the US is just plain dirty. Where's that American pride? I can pick on you, America, because I grew up in your land, but you don't realize what a craphole everything is until you see other places. Japan is amazingly spotless. No litter, no graffiti, no potholes... no puddles of vomit in the parking lots. Parts of the US are clean compared to other parts of the US, but on the whole, we can do much much much better. I was thinking of writing a letter to the editor of a newspaper, but I'd probably just come off as pushy and elitist. I'm just happy that my friends took notice on their own when I showed them photos of my adventures.
Oh, and of course, it was an amazing relief to be able to communicate freely with store and restaurant staff without fumbling through broken Japanese. I took immense joy in the liberty of speaking as much as I could. I had been expecting myself to accidently slip into Japanese at points, but oddly enough, not once did I ever. Actually, of the 40-50 or so friends/family I interacted with during my trip, only ONE person asked me to demonstrate my Japanese abilities... and she caught me off guard, so all I was able to muster was a pathetic "konnichiwa." d'oh!!!
Let's go back to Japan now, shall we? Ikimashouka?
The Weather Report
It snowed. A lot. It hasn't gone away since. I can't play soccer outside, which is a shame because I had a good thing going with the 4th-graders at ES-1 where our recesstime games were a new regular activity. Wasn't fun being pelted with snowballs, but it was amusing watching the kids slide down the hill at ES-2.
Also, I got to smash ice into itty-bitty tiny pieces. I love smashing ice. What a wonderful job I have. I get paid to act like a kid.
The Love of Older Girls - continued
haha, looking over the blog stats, I see the biggest jump in readership for the November 10th entry, The Love of Older Girls (who are still too young for me). In that entry, I explained how amazed I was to see how the 5th- and 6th-grade girls are a lot more friendly to me than their peers from other schools I've been to. I think mainly it's just because 2 particular girls have made it known to their classmates that they are insanely in love with me, and rather than ridicule them, the others have... I don't want to say "encouraged" it, but they certainly have been supportive.
haha, though I don't know what this means for me. What am I supposed to say when an 11 year-old girl wants to kiss me? I know... I say "well, would ya look at the time!? Gotta run!!"
But anyway, the update for January has been that I've been helping the 5th-graders of the ES-1 Unicycle Club prepare its piece for the upcoming school pageant. I'm not sure how big of an ordeal this thing is supposed to be. Usually elementary schools have a big "bunkasai" (school festival) after the sports festival, but these schools did not (on account of the disaster screwing up the entire school year). I think this upcoming event is just going to be a mini-event where smaller groups just put together some kind of 5-minute thing, as opposed to the 20-minute long class performances.
So to help the Unicycle Club, I just pretty much stand in the center of the room. The older girls are good at unicycling (including Nanami, one of my admirers), so I just need to be there to be like a turning around point or something. Of course, they still use any excuse they can get to grab onto me. I know they're doing it on purpose... I'm like a toy for them to play with. -__________-;;
Well, I shouldn't say all of them are good at unicycling. Two other girls "joined" the club this semester, but they're not that good at it yet. I'd be willing to bet that they only joined because they heard I was there. Whenever they come (thankfully, because of the snow outside, we can practice indoors in the big multipurpose room), they always shout for me to come over and help them. If I walk away to help the other girls (they want me to throw hula-hoops at/to them), they scream for me to come back, haha.
I'm still not sure what they will be doing for the school pageant. It's going to be held in two weeks, and though they started off planning a routine, I haven't seen any more attempts at synchronizing it since.
A B C
I suppose I should take a minute to discuss the actual English lessons I've been teaching. I typically devote January to teaching the alphabet. The 1st/2nd-grade classes will focus on the upper-case letters; the 3rd/4th-grade classes will focus on the lower-case letters; the 5th/6th-grade classes will focus on phonics and spelling. I know the ALT before me did a lot with letters and phonics throughout the year, and in the regular clases, the older students do a lot with romaji writing, so really the lessons I provide are just more real-world practice. I know the little kids like playing karuta (find the card race) and the older kids loved the challenge of playing the scrambled words spelling game I invented for them. However, the middle graders didn't seem all that engaged in the matching the words with the letters activities I made. Maybe it was too easy for them or something. I dunno.
Oh, and they are amazed at how quickly a native-speaker can recite the alphabet. 6 seconds is what they timed me at, haha.
For the kindergarteners, we've been using a pop-up book to practice the letters one-by-one. I think I'm more amused by it than they are, haha.
In related news, I've been using RPS123 as my warm-up for the younger kids. They love hearing my Christian Bale Batman voice when I do it, but unfortunately the real humor behind it is completely lost on them.
P.E. Ain't No Fun
Figures, right? In the third semester, the schools are already getting ready for the next schoolyear, so English has kinda taken a little push to the back of the line for the time being. Of course, I'm alright with that. The more free time I have, the more chances I have to go drop in on the P.E. classes!!! But wait... all they're doing this time of year is jumprope, which is quite possibly THE MOST BORING THING EVOR!!!! I still go just as a sign of solidarity, plus at least when they do the group rope-jumping, I can direct the traffic (the students tend to stop after they've done their own jump, which congests the jumping area for the students behind them).
I am disappoint :(
Where's All the Cuteness??
It's everywhere!!!! Everywhere, I tells ya!!!! However, unfortunately for me, it's become like a drug to me. I am exposed to each and every day so much that I almost take it for granted now. It takes a real moment of extreme adorableness to even register on my meters nowadays, haha. I think it's almost ruined me for life, too. Any job I take after this will be devoid of sugary sweetness and it will just put me in a downward spiral of a funk. Damn you, Goddess of Moe!!!! Why have you forsaken me!?!?!?
Let's analyze our top players...
Karin-chan: she's moved into the top-spot for this semester... though mainly be default (I'll get to that in a minute). But where the others lose out, she certainly wins. Every moment we first come into contact now is begun with a flying hug. I almost expect it every time now... which is more of a survival necessity now, haha, as if it were to catch me off-guard, she would certainly knock me over. I know part of the reason she's so attached to me is because her dad lives in a different prefecture, so she misses having an adult male in her regular life. I wonder what will become of her next year when she graduates from the jidoukan program. I will probably still see her at the evening parents' volleyball practices, and she already told me that she wants to join the Unicycle Club since she knows I volunteer there a lot. All I know is we better make the best out of the next few weeks.
Mone-chan: she still adores me, which is great because she is such a sweet girl (and a bit of a klutz... she's always getting hurt somehow). Unfortunately, she doesn't come to the jidoukan much anymore. Maybe once a week, though there doesn't seem to be much regularlity to her schedule.
Magnet-chan: the other 1st-grade girl who is always attached to me (literally). She still doesn't talk, but whenever I'm around, she'll just come and pin herself to me. She's been sick a lot lately (it's cold and flu season, afterall), so I haven't seen much of her since Winter Vacation.
The 2nd-grade girls: I don't know why it's taken me this long to figure out, but Miyu-chan, Hinano-chan, and Nanoha-chan are all classic tsundere. They are so catty and mean to me, but they always have to have me around. I think they're just at that age where their emotions vary so greatly, easily tipped by the simplest things. Runa-chan and Aoi-chan are still my sweethearts. Mizuki-chan is still as silent as a mouse (though she fell in the mud the other day... didn't say a word about it... just stood there covered in muck as if nothing happened, haha). Sad news to report is that my two 1,000% identical twins, Yuuna and Wakana, moved back to Okayama this winter. How odd that their mother's hometown was right next to my first assignment city.
The troublemaker boys: I've been paying greater attention as of late and have identified the catalysts for trouble in each and every of my classes. For the most part, it's just 1 or 2 really hyper ADHD boys who just can't sit still or be quiet, but they all have redeeming qualities that make them impossible to stay mad at.
Ako-chan and Yura-chan: my two 1st-grade girls who always come to the jidoukan... and they are vicious to eachother when it comes to unicycle time. They are adorably sweet any other time of the day, but when it comes to who gets to hold my hand for balance, the gloves are off. If I can get them to calm down long enough, I am usually privy to the oddest of conversations... like the other day, they were talking about the breast sizes of the AKB48 girls. I... I... am so glad I can't speak Japanese.
Mako-chan: this girl from ES-2 3-1 is a newcomer to the Xeno Rangers Brigade. She absolutely loves English, apparently, though I had never been able to tell because she just kinda lingered in the background of her class. I only was able to single her out of the crowd after her cleaning group rotated into my area and she made it a point to talk to me as much as she could. Of course, but "talking to me" I mean pointing at random things around us and trying to tell me what they are called in English.
She's also the one who told me one day when I was pushing some of the younger kids on the swingset, "I... don't... like... Jeff's... swing... performance!!!" Got to be the funniest thing anyone has said to me here!!! :D
Kotose-san: Kotose is the best English-speaker in my roster this year. She's a member of ES-1, 6-nen 2-kumi. Our thing has become trying to sneak up on eachother... and I got her goooooood last week. She was the volunteer librarian during the recesstime on Wednesday, and with the back wall of the library room open to the multipurpose room, I was able to just walk up behind her as she and a group of classmates were looking over a book. I was standing with my head over her shoulder looking down at the book for probably a solid 10 seconds before the teacher holding the book looked up to me and asked me my thoughts on it. I just casually and sharply said it was pretty, though it was moreso as a way to just suddenly annouce "gotcha!!!!!!", which of course scared the poor girl so much that she screamed and fell to the floor. Heh heh heh, I win!!
Be Gone, You Devil!!!!
February 3rd is the day of Setsubun in Japan. It's like a spiritual Spring cleaning, if you will. Children and homeowners must throw beans in their homes and workplaces to ward off any demons that are carrying bad luck with them. This also includes the classrooms. So this past Friday, the students of my schools all used their morning recess to cleanse their rooms (haha, they even opened the windows so the spirits could leave freely). I tried to watch the ceremony with the 1st-graders, but I walked in just as they were finishing. But not to worry, as this was the perfect opportunity for me anyway. The 5-2 students were heading the ceremony there, and their teacher seems to understand how popular I am with this group, so she invited me to go with her upstairs to be the official bean-thrower to her class.
awwwwww, what an honor! haha, she told me what to say in Japanese, but I instantly forgot it, so I replaced it with a half-half "onii out!!!!"... all the while throwing, in this case, handfuls of peanuts at a group of 11 year-olds, haha.
Later in the afternoon, the jidoukan was also doing something to mark the occassion. All the teachers had demon masks on as they distributed peanuts to each snack-table group. They asked me to take photos, so I assumed that they were gearing up for a peanut-chucking throw-down, but nothing of the sort occurred. Ah well, might as well xeno this place up. While the kids were eating their snacks, I put on the onii mask and went around the room doing what I do best: taunting weaker humans and annoying them as much as I could. Lots of cool "can't touch this!!" poses and butt waving to angry up the anti-demon blood.
The capstone in the performance was trying to steal their food and shove it into my demon mouth... except, the mouth on these masks was drawn on. The only openings I had were for the eyes... so.... hey, demonds are scary as f*ck right? They have to do crazy and wild things, so it's only fitting that I stuck the stolen potato sticks I had through my eyes, right? heh heh heh heh heh. I wonder what kind of nightmares the children of my village had that night. I'm sure they were incessant on making their parents go out and buy extra peanuts, just in case.
Super Brady's Super Bowl
I can't do a blog entry this weekend and not make mention of fact that THE NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS ARE IN IT AGAIN!!!!!!!! awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww yeaaaaaahhh!!!! We can finally get our revenge on the New York Giants for that loss in 2007 (which ruined our perfectly perfect season). And best of all, we're going to be doing it in Indianapolis, which is not only an AFC stadium, but it's also the homefield of the Colts, our archrivals!! How wonderful will it be to crush little Eli while Big Brother Peyton watches it happen right in his own house!!!!!
Of course, being in Japan, I have a little bit of a problem when it comes to the game. Since it's on Sunday in the early evening, for me, it will be Monday morning... classtime. I have devised a plan that I wish I had thought of, you know, at any point in the last 3 years!!!!!!!!!!!! But yeah, I'm gonna have my mom DVR the game, then set up her laptop to point at the screen so I can watch it via webcam. It will be broadcast in Japan on Tuesday night, but by then, the results will already be all over the internet, so what would be the point? Plus, the commentary will be in Japanese.
hey, NFL... I would gladly pay for an internet subscription service... if you'd just let me buy one particular team for a reasonable price instead of forcing me to buy EVERY game for $50. No thanks.
I got a little blast from the past yesterday when one of my co-teachers from one of the high schools I worked at during the 1st semester emailed me. He wanted to know if I still wanted a graduation album. Hells yeah I do!!!!! I'm hoping the other schools contact me soon about their albums, too... although, Japanese yearbooks are insanely expensive, typically costing about $200 a pop. I guess it's because all the work is done by the companies, as opposed to being done by the students themselves. Lamezors.
New Sheriff in Town
Starting after the 2012 new year holidays, my village's Board of Education hired a new Director. I met her when I returned to work halfway through the month. She's a sweet woman... who can speak English!!!!!!
oh happy day!!!! Finally, a direct-line to the very top of this crazy world of English education!!! And since I work at the BOE office every Wednesday morning (before my kindergarten classes begin), I can make a little bit of chit-chat with her so she can get to know and understand me a lot better. No longer will I just be a nonsensical name written on a piece of paper. But with her arriving so close to my new contract signing time, I hope she will have a good enough sense of the kind of person I am and be able to approve me for another year.
I mean, yeah, ideally we would rely on the opinions of the principals and vice principals, which would work awesomely as far as ES-2 is concerned since I have lunch with the two school admins twice a week, but with ES-1, I am so busy all the time that I have no time at all to speak much with those who hold my fate in their hands.
I made a date with the BOE Director to sit with her during lunch next week so she can ask me anything she wants to know about me. Gotta take advantage of these opportunities, and all.
THE BIGGEST NEWS I CANNOT SHARE
And just when you think having a one-on-one sit-down with the head of the village school department, an even bigger opportunity lays itself before me!!!! I don't want to say what it is just yet, but it will be happening soon, so just be patient and stay tuned!!!! Put it this way... it requires a suit and tie and my bestest best behavior, haha.
I recently discoved that my new cellphone comes with a Japanese-English dictionary feature. Using it at work yields some very amusing moments for me. According to my phone, during our game of dodgeball, Karin-chan either "inflicted a penalty" or "burst into flames." O___O;;
Odds & Ends (courtesy my Facebook status updates)
Jan 17th: "New York Likes You As A Friend" - random English phrase on one of my 1st-grader's sweatshirts. I laugh inside everytime she wears it.
Jan 15th: One of my 6th-grade boys apparently loves soccer so much, that even with an injured leg and a pair of crutches, he still runs around the soccer field during recess. He gets an unfair advantage with those crutches obviously. I call him the "soccer robot."
(yes, I understand "soccer cyborg" is a lot more appropriate, but they are 12 year-old Japanese kids... they wouldn't understand, haha)
Jan 13th: Because my Friday schedule requires me to teach 6 classes in just 5 periods, we are forced to combine either the two 1st-grade 2nd-grade or 3rd-grade classes each week. The administrators assume that since they are the oldest and thus supposedly more mature, usually I have to teach both 3-1 and 3-2 together. However, these are my two biggest classes and each has a couple, let's say, rambunctous students. I noticed today that when the classes are separated, the chaos is much more minimalized.
So, not wanting to go through another semester of headaches, I went out on a limb and proposed to everyone that we avoid combining the 3rd-grade classes. I was half expecting to hear, "pfft, who does this guy think he is? He's not Japanese. He's not a real teacher. He's got a lot of nerve." Suffice to say, I was pleasantly surprised when all the teachers were like "Thank god someone finally had the guts to bring this problem up!!!!"
Guess it pays to be an American in Japan. Victory!
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Okay, I think I've covered all the major happenings of the last few weeks. Forgive the odd gaps in checking in, but hey, gotta live the life in order for me to report back on it, right?
Until next time... see you!!!
P.S. another observation about the US after my long absense: there are a lot more blondes in the world than I remember :D
P.P.S. because I like keeping random charts and graphs and whatnot, my total number of classes taught in the 2nd-semester was 255. ES-2 6th-graders had the most with 17 lessons.
P.P.P.S. does anyone have just like a whole box of old Pokemon cards? My plan was to give them out as the prizes for finishing the sticker papers, but when I went back to Boston to find my box of repeat cards, it was nowhere to be found. I'll gladly pay for the cards and shipping... or send something from here by request as an equal exchange.
Coverage Days: November 11th 2011 - December 18th 2011
Schools Visited: ES-1, ES-2, Jidoukan, KS
Entry#: The Fifth Season, Episode 11
Man... what day is it? We're somewhere in December, right? Is it 2011 or 2012? I'm not sure anymore. Time is but a vapor, someone in a random internet clip once said. I think I get what he means now.
I suppose I should apologize for not keeping up with the blog as much as I should, but since these long pauses are now seemingly the new norm, it would just become repetitive of me to do this each time. And really, it's myself who is suffering more from my own laziness anyway, as this blog had originally been created to serve as my own time-capsule, preserving my memories of my wonderous time in Japan for when I'm a senile old man, unable to remember where 10% of my life disappeared to.
Let me give you the basic jist of what I've been doing over the past month before I get into the more detailed stories.
I have, according to my calendar here right next to me, worked everyday Mon-Fri until at least 6pm, if not later. When I get home, my mind and body are just mush. I have enough energy to make myself something to eat and basically just veg in this extremely uncomfortable apartment-provided chair while listening to my radio from back home in Boston and goofing around on the internet (ragecomics has sucked up a lot of my time). I wish I could say I was spending my evenings taking my mecha out for a spin or practicing my transformations with a clan of magical girls, but sadly that version of Japan only exists on tv (or in Tokyo itself... I still refuse to believe that these things don't REALLY exist somewhere here in this island nation).
The major story of the season is that I will be going back to the United States for Christmas!!!! This will be my visit back home since I came here over 3 years ago. A lot of my spare time this month went into figuring out what I will actually be doing for the 13 days I'm back amoung the English-speakers of the Western World... though, to be honest, it's mostly the food I'm looking forward to.
Oh, and because I will be back home, I have no excuse to not buy Christmas gifts this time around. Because of this, I had to do some Christmas shopping, which is much harder when you lose touch with your friends and family and knowing what it is they want (and don't have). Well, random Japanese trinkets may not be high on people's holiday lists, but it more or less guarentees they'll be getting something unique. My sister wanted a "sweatshirt with bad English on it," which surely would have been easy to find in a store. I mean, I see bad Engrish clothese EVERYWHERE, especially in the elementary schools, yet, disappointingly and annoyingly enough, when I try to actually find anything for purchase, I can't seem to have much luck. Items in the children's section are more plentiful, but how creepy does it look to others to see a 30-something foreign man browsing through the little girls shirts? Gah~
This week will be the final stretch for my preparations in returning home. I've had my flight booked since August for this coming Thursday (the 22nd), though I'm a little miffed by what I was told as far as my work schedule goes. When I first came, I asked the Board of Education what day my winter vacation started, and they told me that "December 22nd will be no school," meaning I was free to skip the country that day. However, I've only recently learned that what they REALLY meant was that the 22nd will be "no classes."
The kids will be at school, but they won't be stuck in formal lessons. They'll be doing fun activities and having Christmas games/parties/food, etc. And I'll be missing out!!! Even worse, the after-school jidoukan program, which I have become a big part of, at some point changed their party from this past Saturday to also being on the 22nd. I'll be missing that, too. Not cool.
Sigh, but whatever. I do have some good stories collected from the last few weeks to share. I don't keep my specific day-by-day notes anymore like I used, but rather just highlight one interesting story from each day on my Facebook feed. And now that Facebook Timeline has just come out, I was able to sort everything easily, giving me quick reference back to what happened at school.
Now let's just see how well I can recall the specifics....
Sun. Nov 13th: haha, I had almost forgotten how wildly fun it is to talk to hyper friendly junior high school girls.
This was at the junior high school basketball tournament for this part of Fukushima prefecture. I don't teach JHS-level anymore, but my friend here does, and he wanted to go support his school. I tagged along just because it's been a while since I've interacted with any older students, plus I like watching basketball.
As we were watching a game from the second floor gallery, this group of girls came and stood next to me. It was apparent that they were interested in talking with us because they kept practicing random English phrases amongst themselves, loud enough to be heard, hinting at us that they wanted one of us to make the opening. I can't remember what phrases finally got me to respond to them, but it was probably something along the lines of "I hate watching basketball," haha.
Mon. Nov 14th: Special thanks to Yuina-chan, Kaito-kun, and Ibuki-chan for helping me make my "mystery game" today. Hahah, none of them have any idea what the finished project will be, but they enjoyed making the individuals parts I needed. Makes me wonder how feasible it would be to make a doomsday device entirely from child labor, haha.
This project turned out quite well, actually. I had randomly remembered earlier in November that my kids from the jidoukan in Okayama were obsessed with this game we played using marbles and paper cups glued to a sheet of styrofoam. Since the teachers here mainly just let the kids do whatever they want without much guidance (save for some origami projects and whatnot), I took it upon myself to construct something on my own for the kids to wonder and amaze at.
Even to this day, a full month afer I introduced this game, the kids have been obsessed with it. There isn't a moment of the daywhen this thing isn't in use; seriously... there is ALWAYS a line to be next to play. Of course, yours truly is still the champion with about an 80% success rate. I think I've played at least once with every student enrolled.
Wed. Nov 16th: Not a big fan of jumping rope or cold weather, but 2nd-period P.E. with the 2nd-graders was quite enjoyable.
My 2nd-grade class is a bit of a handful. There are 28 of them, making them the second-biggest class in my roster (2-4-1 is the biggest with 29)... and being one of the younger classes, they are often a little chaotic. But you'd think I'd be able to work some magic, considering the class is 20 girls and 8 boys. Seems to only take 1 or 2 disruptive forces to really send things off the deep-end.
This is why it is near imperative that I get to spend ANY non-English-class time with them. I need to better relate with them on a level where I am not the big scary teacher, but rather just another fun-time individual like themselves. Hence my glee at joining their P.E. less... even though it was just jump-rope. They were beyond ecstatic at seeing me come outside to join them, even though I didn't have a jumprope.
Fri. Nov 18th: Today's "American Games" activity of Capture The Flag went very very well. The 5th-graders were a bit more brave about charging into enemy territory than the 6th-graders. Actually, for the most part, the 6th-graders just stood at the middle line and taunted eachother from their safe-zone. Awww... just like real American children.
I was pretty nervous about this one. Wasn't sure if the kids would 1) understand the rules, 2) enjoy the game, and/or 3) enjoy it long enough to fill an entire period. I mean, if they got bored of it after just 10 minutes, then I'd be in hot soup trying to fill the rest of the class time. Gah... pressure!!!
But turns out that everything worked out in the end. The 5th-graders were up first. I decided right on the get-go to break them into 3 teams instead of 2, just because the gym was a little smaller than I imagined for 40~ to be playing in. Explaining the rules went alright; used the homeroom teachers to serve for demonstrative purposes.
Once the games began, it was total awesomeness. They played really tough and took a lot of chances. They planned a few coordinated attacks and made efforts whenever they saw openings. When the clock ticked down, they all went for broke and tried to be heroes. It was immense fun.
For the 6th-graders, though, it was a different scenario. As my FB status points out, they took the more delicate, calculated approach. They set up several guards around their flags and jails, plus send out guards to the center border. They basically stalemated eachother for the entire durations of their games. Anyone who did try to make a run into enemy territory was immediately captured.
Of course, what amused me was how like the American version this was... complete with the taunting from the safe-zones, haha. Oh well, as long as they had fun and enjoyed it for the full period, I guess I'm happy. I'm sure a few kids got slapped in the back of the head in the period after for being such douches during the game.
Mon. Nov 21st: wow, I knew the graduation album from my evacuated elementary school would arrive to me eventually, but I never expected a hand-delivery by one of the teachers.
I was totally caught by surprise on this one. I was outside for the morning recess playing soccer with the 5th-graders when I heard someone shouting my name from the sidelines. I looked up to see a man waving for me to come over. Wasn't sure at first who it could have been, but didn't take long to see that the 6th-grade teacher from my evacuated elementary school had come to bring me my copy of this year's graduation album.
Wow, what a nice surprise! I told him that he could have just mailed it, but he insisted on bringing it over. Ah well, he got to see my new school, so I'm sure that was worth it to him in some way.
Thurs. Nov 24th: Aw crud, it's Thursday again. This means...
topped off with 3 hours of after-school supervision.
From 8am until 6:30pm, my only time away from the insanity is the 15 minutes I have at the very start of the day before classes actually being. Sigh... well, fortunately I like my students and my schools, so here's hoping nothing too crazy happens.
Fri. Nov 25th: There is this 1st-grade girl who attends the after-school program I volunteer at. She is like a prodigy when it comes to English. Anything I say to her, no matter the length, she can repeat flawlessly without trying. Today's lesson: "everybody poops" hahahaha
Before you chastise me for teaching children dirty words*, I should point out that I only brought this up because she was reading the Japanese-translated version of the classic children's book... only in Japan, it's called "Minna-san unchi." There, you learned something today.
* hey, I hate parents who think it's amusing to teach their kids that swearing is funny
P.S. yes, the girl in this situation was Yura-chan
Sat. Nov 26th: My first serious injury ever in my life... and it comes while at a UNESCO World Heritage Site, of all places. Stubbed my toe on an odd-shaped tree root and cracked right through the nail. The officers at the police station patched me up, but we're not sure if the toe is broke or not. Guess I'll see if it still hurts like hell in the morning. Oh well, luckily all this happened at the end of the trip and not toward the start. Good day in Nikko was had by all.
I probably should have posted something more profound about this trip. I mean, Nikko is not ony the original capital city of Japan and home to some of it's most treasured shrines, but it's also the birthplace of those "See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Spake No Evil" monkeys. Truly hallowed ground that must be respected*. And while I did enjoy my time there, took some great photos, and scratched another important locale off my travel list, the story of the day was that above.
* despite seeing some asshat Europeans hawking loogies right on the steps leading up to one of the shrines. You stay classy.
I didn't end up breaking the toe, but the toenail itself was very uncomfortable and painful. This pain ended up lasting for nearly two weeks. I showed it to the school nurse, who advised I take it to a doctor. The doctor took an x-ray, poked at it with some metal tools (thanks for that, doc), and then wrapped it up in some kind of anti-inflammatory gel. Best part... drugs!!! Instant relief!!!!
But only 3 days' worth.
hahaha, I said it again
Now, many of you might be thinking, "aww, poor whiney baby... a hurt toe and waah waah wahh. Let me call you some kind of vehicle used for medical transport and slightly modify the term used for it to meld it with some other taunting word. An 'ambulashutthehellupyoupussy,' if you will." But remember, I teach in an elementary school. Walking and standing I could handle; the pain was there, but not debilitating. It's when the kids rush up to me in the halls and during recess and want to be picked up and spun around... or just want to stand on my feet. They understand when I say my foot hurts, but then they forget what I told them no more than 12 seconds later.
For the record, it's been 22 days as of this posting, and the pain is still there, albeit very minimal at this point. Hoping it won't affect my trip back to the states.
Sun. Nov 27th: Clerk: So with your insurance points, your replacement phone costs 17,350 yen. Do you want to pay it all at once now or in payments each month?
Me: Is the price the same either way?
Clerk: Yes, there is no discount for paying all at once today.
Me: Well, since I don't have the cash on me now, let's do it each month.
(5 mins and many questions later)
Clerk: Okay, so you'll be paying over time. You're not qualified for the free gift.
Me: Wait, huh? What free gift?
Clerk: If you pay all at once, you get a gift card to the store in the value of 10% of your purchase.
Me: So it's pretty much a discount then?
Clerk: No, it's not off the phone, it's just bonus money to spend in the store later.
Me: (all sorts of rage faces) CLOSE ENOUGH!!! I'm going to the ATM. brb...
I have been looonng overdue to get myself a new phone. The one I had been using for the last 3 years took a lot of abuse. It was mangled by volleyballs, basketballs, 4th-graders, and just the usual wear-and-tear. It was scratched, chipped, and fading fast. I could deal with the rattiness of it's lost veneer, but then the vibration function stopped working* and then the battery was losing it's life (was to the point it needed to be recharged daily, even when I barely used it). The final straw, however, was apparently when I took that fall in Nikko, I ended up cracking the camera lens. Or... the plastic screen that protected it. Miraculously, it still worked fine, but it was just a sign that I need to get myself a more super-awesome phone.
* no jokes about "overuse", plz
I told one of my Japanese friends about what happened, and she offered to bring me to the phone shop to get a replacement. I just needed something simple that would let me send texts, take photos, and let me manage a calendar. The cheapest model suited my needs, but best of all, it came with an earthquake-alert... which is awesome, except...
Mon. Nov 28th: Hey, look, new cellphone of mine, I know you were just brought to life yesterday and all, so I won't hold this too much against you, but you come equipped with an earthquake warning alert... and, well... we just had an earthquake, and you just sat there silently. Kinda dropped the ball on that one. Well, like I said, I won't hold it against you, but in the future, I'd appreciate it if you could keep up with what's going on around us. All right...
Apparently it only buzzes if there is a more decent-sized quake... or so I can only assume.
Wed. Nov 30th: JHS/ALT-sensei came to one of my schools this morning for a mini-presentation. Fluent English conversations in front of the 6th-graders makes for about 47 blown minds.
If you look back at Nov 24th's post, you'll see why they didn't ask me to do any sort of mini-presentation. I woulda just laughed and said "yeah... that's gonna happen." So they asked my friend over at the JHS to put something together on Food.
I was amused by this only because to kick things off, I stood up front to introduce him and get the kids in learning mode. As my friend came up, we had a quick conversation using our mighty understanding of the English language to blow all their minds. Haha, they probably easily forget that I am capable of communicating in more than just short phrases and broken Japanese.
I let him do his thing uninterrupted through the duration of the period, only interjecting myself occassionally to ask them if they understood a word he had used from one of our lessons together. It wasn't until the end that I made some comedy of my own. The game he prepared afterwards was a multiple choice game where students would stand in a certain part of the room corresponding to their guesses. One of the culture questions was "Who is my favorite AKB48 member?" I forget who choices A and B were, but for C, it was Mayu Watanabe. I was standing over at A, so when he made the revelation about the options, I made a big show of it running over happily to C, as it's become a joke in our school that I love Mayu Watanabe.
Thurs. Dec 1st: To my favorite 1st-grade girl: you are always adorable... even when you're trying to act mean and tough... which only makes you all the more adorable when you come stomping up to me with a huffy attitude only to trip on a jumprope sitting on the floor between us and fall flat on your butt.
This is why I adore Mone-chan, my favorite student.
Thurs. Dec 1st: Just added up my "volunteer time" for the month of November: 44.50 hours... that's a lot of unicycle training, dodgeball, card playing, scarf making, math homework helping, jumproping, LEGO building, and anime watching.
Fri. Dec 2nd: hahahha, I love my students who actually want to learn English. Said to one of my first-graders that I would see her next "getsu-youbi," to which she responds with this cool finger-pointing suave maneuver and says "Moooonnndaaay!!!!!"
Yura-chan strikes again. She's been curious about all the things the older 3rd-graders come talk to me about, so she tries to listen in whenever she can. She heard me talking about the days of the week one time and wanted me to go over each of the days with her. Her memory skills are amazing.
... and her adorableness levels are off the charts!
Mon. Dec 5th: Today and tomorrow the after-school program teachers are letting me bring my camera to take some pics/vids to show my family back home what I do each day. I decided it would be a lot more interesting to just let the kids play with the camera as I went off and did my various things. Looking the results now, I see what they came up with is... about 20 or so vids all between 5-20 seconds which consist of either 1) the floor, 2) the room spinning around in a lopsided blur or 3) extreme close-ups of their friends arguing with them over who gets to use the camera. Sigh... cute, but I think tomorrow, I'm going to do all the camera work.
Tues. Dec 6th:I put out a fire at an elementary school today!!!!! Well, I mean, the quote-unquote fire was actually made of plastic, and this was done with the supervision of the local fire department in front of all the kids. But hey, I knocked that sucker down quicker than anyone else doing the drill today, heh heh.
The kids were amazed at how quickly I was able to do this, but truth is, I hesitated because I wasn't sure when I was supposed to start. I coulda had that thing busted in 4 seconds flat, but I stopped to see if the other teachers were moving forward yet. Heh heh, well, if there's ever a fire, I'll be ready.
Tues. Dec 6th: LOL... I should bring my video camera to school more often. Somehow at some point this afternoon, one of my 1st-grader's earthquake RFID card ended up in my pocket. Wasn't sure how that happened, but watching these videos now, I see that she gave it to me when she was trying to jumprope. Mystery solved.
This was Mone-chan, again. She often comes to me to hold onto her lanyard which has her earthquake victim beacon/barcode in it since it tends to get in her way when she's trying to do something like play dodgeball or tag. On this particular day, we had both forgotten that she had given it to me, so when it came time for her to leave, she was frantically searching everywhere for it. When I realized what she was looking for, I thought instantly, "oh, maybe I have it in my pocket." And surely I did, only it baffled me for the rest of the day as I couldn't remember particularly when she asked me to hold it for her. The video caught the moment and pointed it out. How oddly coincidental.
Thurs. Dec 8th: holy crap... what a difference! For my 1st-period class with my 4-1 class, the three troublemakers were out of the room on discpline. The rest of the class was able to be move forward in absolute peace and silence. Ahhh... relish these moments
I should also point out how much I love this class. My 4th-graders are so sweet.
Sat. Dec 10th: Lunar Eclipse... the red moon (11:42pm local time (GMT+9))
This was the big news of the day, since apparently the next one won't be until 2014. Unfortunately for those of you in the US and Europe, this lasted for only about 40 minutes around what was daytime for you all. I had a beautiful front-row seat, heh heh. I got a few decent photos, which I'll post when I do a photo update, hopefully soon.
Mon. Dec 12th: My usually chaotic 2-2-1 class actually behaved today!! I think they liked the lesson on Animals, heh heh.
I mentioned this class earlier. The 2nd-graders at ES-2 are very difficult to handle. They have very low attention spans, unfortunately. I was amazed, however, at how much they liked the lesson on Animals. I think it was because I was asking them to guess the next animal before I showed them each new flashcard. They were pretty interested in not only seeing if they could guess correctly, but also in seeing how wrong they were.
For instance... if most of them guessed "bear," it was hilarious to show them the answer was really "chicken"... complete with bear-growling sounds, haha.
For "snake," I through in some of my good-fashioned xeno-sensei humor. I get to peek at the cards first, obviously, so when I saw that "snake" was next, I acted all over-the-top horrified. This signaled to the kids that a scary animal was up next. Most of them did guess "snake," but this is only where the joke starts. The previous animal was "rabbit," and as anyone who knows their Animal Channel programming can tell you, snakes and rabbits do not play together well. I put the snake flashcard up on the chalkboard, then had the rabbit pretending to freak out about its unfortunate placement in the line-up.
GTX to the rescue!!
I drew a chalk-line "barrier" between the snake and the rabbit, which had the kids wildly entertained. Even more so when I made the rabbit taunt the snake by waving its butt through its protective shielding. But then the clever ones were telling me that the snake could just go over the barrier. Haha, I took care of that problem by punching the snake and telling it to behave. Kids love watching things get punched.
I thought everything was in the clear, but then another student pointed out to everyone that the rabbit was left unprotected on the other side from the "bear." hahaha, I just pushed those two cards together and said "nah, it's okay, they're friends."
Tues. Dec 13th: Should I feel bad about totally mopping the field with my 3rd-graders during 4th-period soccer? I mean, I was playing defense in their passing drills with a hurt foot, so the playing field was somewhat level, no?
Not a particularly interesting story, but I suppose it's always worth note ANYtime I get to join in one of the P.E. classes, since they only happen once in a red moon, it seems. A lot of my admirers are in the 3-2 class.
Tues. Dec 13th: I know that it takes roughly about 1 minute and 15 seconds for a student in my after-school program to run down the hall, go to the bathroom, wash their hands, and come back... even doing it at top speed. When they come back ANY sooner than that, I know they skipped a step... which makes me wary about continuing playing with them after that. @____@;;;
Wed. Dec 14th: My adorable 1,000% 2nd-grade identical twin girls asked me to write their names on their hands in Romaji. I wish they would let me do this everyday; I'm sure many people would be grateful.
I've lamented about these two before. You would think that their mother would dress them in different colors or something. I dunno, I guess these two love not being able to be told apart* and never seem to raise a stink if anyone confuses them with the other. But anyway, I was asked after lunch to write the names of the kids who didn't want to finish their juice on their juice bottles in Romaji. When some of the kids saw me writing Romaji, they loved the idea of having their names written, too... only, they didn't have any bottles for me to write on. So, they used the next best thing: their hands, haha.
* unlike one of my other pair of twins, Ryouko and Shouko, who HATE it whenever anyone messes up their identities. Luckiily I can tell who is who... but I cheat because I go by who they are hanging out with, haha.
Thurs. Dec 15th: Can't get too many kids interested in making Christmas ornaments for the tree, but for some reason, wreaths were extremely popular. Handed one of the teachers a stack of 6 and she was like "wow, this is a lot." Knocked her back when I told that these were just the ones that had been finished so far, haha.
Trying to get into the Christmas Spirit for my own sake while spreading international culture for the children. I made a pretty spiffy tree out of paper to hang in the hallway out front. I was leaving the ornament-making to the children, though they don't seem to have many ideas of what to make. And I'm no help because most of my family ornaments were Star Wars-related, haha.
However, when I brought up the idea of making wreaths, suddenly every kid within earshot was all over this idea. Hopefully the jidoukan doesn't mind how much of their construction paper I've used on this project... but then again, isn't that why they HAVE the paper in the first place?
Sat. Dec 17th: Survived another overnight teacher trip. Failed miserably during the "quiz" portion of the big game we all played, but pwned the physical challenge.
It's an annual tradition in Japan for co-workers to have an end-of-the-year party together. Some are just the typical 3-hour food/drinking parties sat around a long table, usually with games and Secret Santa. Others, like this one, were an overnight trip to the local mountain range. There was an onsen (hot spring bath) there, but of the three I've been to, it was the least fancy. Oh well, at least the 5 of us men who were there timed our usage so there was no overlapping, haha. Onsen all to myself... though this one was absolutely scalding hot. I couldn't even get in, it was so hot.
Anyway, the game we all played was a three-stage ordeal. We were broken into 3 teams. The first event was a bottled tea taste-test quiz. Man... how lame. The second event was a tamaire basketball thing. I scored 3 for 3, mostly because it was just like the game I play with the kids during English classes anyway, haha. The third event was one of those "let's see if everyone can come up with the same response" quizzes, which left me out in the cold since some of the questions were like "what is your favorite Japanese tv show?" I asked them if I could be excluded since obviously I'm just going to be hurting my team, but they insisted that I must join. Ugh... what was the point?
The Secret Santa present selection was interesting. We played BINGO... only, instead of using numbers, we used the names of the students at our school, haha. I had no problem thinking of 16 names to use, except when we started playing, they were going by last names, not first names. Argh... I don't know any of their last names!!
I was supposed to join in the karaoke mayhem afterwards, but instead ended up talking with the 3-1 teacher upstairs for about 3 hours. Hahah, he had a lot of questions to ask me. He especially wanted to know if I was coming back next year, which is a sure sign that I'm respected and valued in this school. I told him that it was up to the BOE and my company, but if he wanted to support me, then he can put in a good word with the vice principal. He was also amazed at my reasons for staying in Fukushima after the big earthquake and nuclear disaster.
Also, he asked me if I own a gun, haha. I've heard every American is asked that at least once.
Exactly 95 hours from now, I will be in the air over Hokkaido, entering Russian airspace, on my first journey back to the US. I will definitely blog about the differences between Japan and America early on in my trip.
Also, I have some photos taken over the last 2 months of the various events I've attended. I have them all sorted and resized... it's just a matter of uploading them and coding the article. If I'm good, I'll have it up before I leave.
And I should also point out before I end this that Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate are still in need. Please don't stop donating to Japan just yet!! The clean-up from the radiation is a contuning problem and the roads/utilities, especially in the more ravaged areas up North, are in desperate need of repair. In my area alone, there are no less than 5 roadway reconstructions going to fix damage, and we're fast approaching the one-year anniversary.
Keep Japan in your hearts, and come visit, if you can!!!
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go watch Sucker Punch, or as it's titled in Japan, "Angel Wars" :D
P.S. Since these articles are a lot more in-summation of the more interesting events, it would help me a lot if you told me what you want to hear more about. Ask me questions about anything, anyone. I've been here so long that everything just blends in as normal life for me now, so I tend to forget what is "foreign" and "unique." Plus, I have over 100 Xeno Rangers here, so let me know who you want to hear more about.
P.P.S. I finally learned the difference between Chiyori and Shiori. Chi-chan is the super-quiet nerdy girl who only talks to me; Shi-chan is the tomboy who is super adorable in her own way. Now that I've been here over 3 months, I'm starting to understand better the personalities of all the students.
P.P.P.S. ::Peter Griffin laugh:: You all know what I was going to say...
A well written and engaging story can be hard to find in games, the kind that tugs at your heartstrings. To the moon is an example of one of these games and it does this wonderfully despite it's simple medium or perhaps it's because of it that it's able to concentrate on what matters in this game, the story.
You take control of the two characters Dr. Eva Rosalene and Dr. Neil Watts whom have a different job, they give people a chance to relive their lives and fulfill the wishes they weren't able to fulfill. However the changes are merely applied to ones memories and comes at the cost of ones life so it's only used on shortly before people pass away and if it all goes well the patient passes away with happy fulfilled memories.
Enter Johnny whom only have a day or two left before he passes away, his wish is to go to the moon and thus begins a journey through Johnnys life from the recent memories to his oldest in order to help him realize this dream and find out why he wants to go to the moon. Needless to say the story of Johnny is quite touching while it did bring me close to tears several times throughout four to five hours story it didn't make me bawl my eyes out until now when I really think of the story. It's a sad, touching, warm and funny story and took me on quite the ride that very few manages to do, in fact I'm not sure if any animes I've watched can come close to how well told this story is.
I can't really do the story and the game justice and while I felt like it was a little overhyped at first my tears obviously disagrees with that opinion. If you like games for their story or simple like a well told story you should buy it because it's well worth the money.
To the Moon is an indie game by freebird for $11.99, there's an hour long trial that you can download at their website http://freebirdgames.com/to_the_moon/