|Coverage Days: Saturday, October 15th - Tuesday, November 1st|
Entry#: The Fifth Season, Episode 09
Gotta channel my Japanese-side and bow down while saying "sorry! sorry! sorry! sorry! sorry! sorry! sorry! sorry! sorry! sorry! sorry! sorry! sorry! sorry! sorry! sorry! sorry! sorry!" in regards to not blogging here as often as I should.
And now I can revert back to my American-side and tell you why it's not actually my fault. And that's because... well... I've been attending a lot of events lately, and well, my computer is still broken. And there's the fact that I've been working until 630pm most nights. Plus, I have a new XBox360 and that "GTA IV" isn't going to complete itself*. Also not helping is the recent revival of one of the greatest anime ever, Last Exile.
* I have the added obstacle of the game being the Japanese version. While the audio is in English, all the text instructions are in Japanese... pooh!!
So yeah, that's my list of why I haven't been blogging regularly... but now that I'm here and finally getting around to it, let's get things underway. My main theme for this entry is what I'm calling "the Great Teacher Triathlon."
The First Event: Tuesday October 25thAbout a month before this event took place, I was first told that I would be doing some kind of demonstration lesson in front of "the teachers." All the details were in Japanese and broken-English. I had no idea what was going on, despite the fact that there was actually a lot of preparation involved. I had a few meetings with the 1-1-1 HRT who I would be team-teaching with, and then some more meetings with other teachers in our school. And when I say "meeting," I mean I was sitting in a room with other people while they talked and occasionally pointed at me.
Okay, so as far as I knew, I was just going to be doing a team-teaching demo... nothing new, actually. And what did I care anyway? I'm comfortable with my teaching style and my 1-1-1 kids are a good group... or... at least I think they are. Actually, throughout most... nay... ALL of October, they didn't have any English lessons at all. Crud... well, I hope they know me well enough to feel comfortable with me during this crucial trial. I mean, most of them I see after school at the daycare center, and others I see out on the playground during recess.
Skip to the actual day of the event (which was actually an ES-2 day for me... I had to transfer schools during the lunch break). When I arrived at ES-1, I was surprised to find out that all of the students were going home right after lunch (save for 1年1組, of course). Hmmmmm... so I guess my demo lesson is important enough to shut down the rest of the school... though I'm also curious as to why the parking lot had been cleared out.
Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh... so..... when they meant "all the teachers" would be watching, they seriously meant "ALL of the teachers" would be watching. As in... all of the ES-1 teachers... all of the ES-2 teachers... all of the JHS teachers... all of the school principals... plus a few administrators from the kindergarten and from the prefectural education office. Even my co-ALT friend from the junior high was there.
Oh crud... I guess I was mistaken in my assumption that maybe this would just be the usual type demo in front of maybe 12-15 teachers. Today I had a stadium packed with spectators... of them silently judging me...
... or becoming inspired by me? Guess if there was any time to shine, it would be now.
The room is pretty big, so I'd say about 40 of the 50 people there were actually inside the room. The overflow people in the hall could still see and hear since the interior wall is just a row of openable windows. I didn't pay much attention, of course, since I want the crowd to witness a natural, everyday lesson, and so all of my focus was on the kids.
The kids, luckily, had the same idea. They didn't acknowledge any of the observers at any point, except in the realm of behaving exceptionally well (thank Haruhi-sama!!). Best of all, they were very energetic, focused, and sharp. I was able to run the lesson using plenty of new English that was a bit challenging to them, but they were still able to understand. For instance, early in the period, a few of them wanted to know what we would be studying today. I asked them if they remembered what we learned last time in plain English, to which various students from throughout the room started shouting out the classroom phrases I had taught them nearly a month ago! Nice, way to go!
Actually, before the class even officially started, I had them all in a good and responsive mood. The were all chatting with me after I walked into the room 10 minutes before the start-time (which was when most of the observers had also arrived). Our "chat" quickly turned into an RPS123 melee... and soon enough devolved into a sumo match.
Interesting side-note... I can stand up against eight 1st-graders, haha.
The lesson itself was my usual schtick, though I guess the whole point was to incorporate a little bit more team-teaching... not a terrible idea, except for the fact that it takes a lot of pre-planning to do these tandem lessons... and in order to that, I'd have to have, you know, some free time available. Maybe next year if they decide to do something about my schedule, we can arrange something, but this year, I don't see it happening. I'm not about to give up my time with my daycare students... and luckily everyone seems okay with that.
So for this lesson, I did the namecard distribution while asking the kids "how are you?" I exaggerated the gestures a little bit (okay, a LOT) just to get some laughs out of them. I had done it earlier on in the other 1st/2nd-grade classes and saw how wildly entertained the kids were, especially with my "happy!!!!!" craziness. The spectators seemed pleased... if not afraid, haha. There wasn't much I needed the HRT for, unfortunately. Bah, I don't want someone else stealing my spotlight. These 45 minute lessons are my only time with these kids. I wanna make the most of it, even if it does mean more work for me.
For the previous lesson review, I made the arrangement with the HRT to let her be the one to carry it. We were covering Classroom Phrases 1 as the quick review... but even with her practicing a few times earlier in the week, she still could only execute it moderately well (plus she forgot one). It's more work than the admins think... and in the end, I feel like it's just better quality education to have me do it myself.
The main lesson of the day was Colors, a topic they should have learned numerous times in kindergarten. As expected, they were able to recognize all the items I had on my list, though "purple" "brown" and "gray" are still tricksy. We started off with a mini-activity where I had them raise their hand if their namecards had a particular color on it. They were greatly amused. Afterward, they greatly enjoyed the game of "Room Search" that we had set up for today... despite the fact that with all the visitors watching us, there were limited places to look.
After the class ended, the kids were sent home and the teachers went to the main assembly room to have a group discussion of what happened. We were put into 5 groups where everyone had their mini-discussions of what keypoints they wanted to raise. The group I was in had a few of my elementary teachers who were really interested in my views of elementary English education. I passed around my plan for the village's English program which in turn got a lot of praise.
I wish I could speak more Japanese because I know that many good things were being said about my performance... I could only understand about roughly 25% of it. A lot of people were impressed mostly by my class management abilities. I had built-in a few safeties with my lesson... all part of my strategy that the teacher must anticipate EVERY action the students will take and have methods to cut off unwanted behavior at the pass. For example, during the Room Search game, I knew that the kids would leap out of their seats the moment I called out the next color, so I designed the game that the kids would have to wait for me to say "ready... go!!!" before they could move. But even so, I know that a lot of the kids will forget that in their excitement, so to safeguard myself, I'm always prepared to yell out "stop!!! sit down!!!"... all phrases that they are already familiar with... and come in quite handy. The teachers were amazed at how well I was able to essentially wrangle the herd.
So even after the meeting and the discussions, I still didn't know what the whole point of it was. I know that there are 3 meetings like this scheduled throughout the year and that this one was the "English" one... though I don't know if it was meant for team-teaching or not. Something tells me that they were just focused on the English aspect the whole time, since I didn't see too much backlash about my taking over about 85% of the lesson (I did utilize the HRT when it came to verifying the colors the kids all found around the room). I do know that the teachers are very pleased with how I'm running things... especially since the ALT before me apparently just spent all his time on teaching phonics... a fruitless effort since most of the kids still can't read. Now they are entering junior high without the basic vocabulary and without the ability to master phonics. Double fail.
As for my list of goals I made for the elementary level program, it essentially consisted of:
1) prepare the students with the basic vocabulary needed for success in junior high school
2) give the students English that they can USE in their daily lives, outside of the English classroom
3) train the students to identify keywords of given statements
4) allow the students to enjoy English
Should be the national standard, don't you think? Heh heh ^___^V
The Second Event: Thursday October 27thSo if being put in the spotlight once a week wasn't enough, my company decided that they were going to do their own evaluation of me just two days after my big performance. Again, I didn't particularly care since I tend to ignore the presence of evaluators anyway. I'm comfortable with my abilities, so if they want to observe, then they can come anytime. Hell, come EVERY time... doesn't matter to me.
Up for this evaluation was my ES-1 5年1組 class. They're a good group of kids. I don't feel any particular close attachment to them, but then again, I've only been here for 10 weeks*. Nonetheless, they were a good class to work with, and this week especially since they were getting a very special lesson.
* I feel it takes at least 12 visits before the kids start feeling more comfortable around a new teacher
For October, I run my lesson on Buildings. I also tie in a game called "Keyword Listening Quiz Game." I put them into 4 groups, then read off a 100% English sentence describing one of the buildings. For example, "this is the place where you can see teachers and students." The objective is to listen to the sentence, identify the keywords, translate the keywords, decide which building applies, then share with me their final decision (they have the remember the English word for each building, too, of course). Despite its supreme difficulty, the kids enjoy the challenge. I usually divide it up over the course of 3 periods. This week was the second part, so we basically were right in the middle of it.
To start the lesson, however, we had a fun warm-up game. They go nuts for "Simon Says", so I let them play it using the actions I made for a lesson on Prepositions. Since it's a review activity, there is no explanation needed. We just get right into it.. using all English, of course. After that was over, we got right into our Buildings vocabulary review and part 2 of the big game.
After the lesson was finished, my coordinator was talking to me about it in the hallway. He thought I was crazy, but he was blown away by how well the kids performed. He surely thought that there would be no way that these kids would be able to keep up with what I was asking of them and that it would just lead to whining and complaining, but instead, they were all super-dedicated to figuring out the objective and winning the game. And the best thing is... they weren't doing it to impress my coordinator; they were doing it because they simply loved the challenge. And that's all that any teacher could hope for.
The Third Event: Saturday October 29thBig event on Tuesday... big event on Thursday... then no escape on the weekend!! Even though I am not obligated to work on the weekends, I was "asked" to "volunteer" to come to the village library on Saturday morning for English Storytelling Time. I didn't mind so much since I cherish any time I have to spend with my students, though the 11am-12pm timeslot pretty much killed my entire day. Ah well, the fall colors haven't reached this area yet, so despite the gorgeous weather that day, I wasn't missing much.
So what was up with English Storytelling Time? Basically it was the village's resident Japanese English tutor (a crazy free-spirited woman), my American friend working in the JHS, and myself just acting like weirdos in the library community room in front of 31 children and... their... parents!!!
Gah... I hadn't thought about that!!! I knew about the event for about two weeks prior and was all geared up to be all wacky and weird in front of the kids, but I hadn't considered that this was also going to be my first time performing in front of a group of parents!!! Oh well, as usual, I just ignore the extra eyes and just focus on keeping the kids happy. And luckily for me, though it was an optional event, a lot of my favorite students did show up that day (Yura, Aoi, Miyu, Haruka... there was even some Western girl there... a cousin or something from a nearby city).
I didn't need to prepare much as far as content. The library chose the stories. My friend and I thought that since it was the weekend before Halloween (and the poster advertising the event was mostly orange and had pumpkins on it) that this would be a Halloween-themed event... but nope... Chuck Testa.
I mean... no, it was just English Storytelling. Who's Chuck Testa? Well, we did manage to sneak in a trick-or-treating experience at the end, though I disagreed greatly with their layout. Oh well, the kids got to knock on doors, say "trick-or-teat", and receive candy. Well... most of the kids, anyway, but I'll get to that in a second.
As for the stories themselves, we went with some traditional Japanese stories since we didn't want the kids to have to stretch too much with their understanding. Apparently "The Golden Ax and the Silver Ax" is a story about how honesty has great value. "Ojizosama" is a tale about a poor old man who donates all he has to some lonely god statues and is greatly rewarded for his kindness. "I'm Proud of Myself" is about... ummmmm... I dunno... something about a frog being ashamed of being ugly but finding worth in his abilities. Japan hates frogs for some reason.
Our format was to have one of us Americans read the English, while the Japanese tutor lady translates sentence by sentence. The American not reading does some gestures the first time to kind of illustrate what's happening. And for the record, I gesture like a boss. After the first run, we ask some basic questions about the story (the kids can answer in Japanese). We then did a second reading, this time without the gestures... just have the kids listen to the English and try to pick out what words they know. They knew the colors and numbers, but also random words like "coins" "golden" and "snowy." Go, kids!
After the event was over, it came for my favorite part: mingling with the crowd, haha. One of my favorite 1st-grade students was there, though she is also the quietest girl in the school. She rarely ever talks, but once she gets going, she talks a lot... and she's not shy about wanting to play. She was there with her grandmother... the poor lady, haha... the girl was basically hanging on her the entire time. Or, well, she was... until she found her opening to jump into my arms and demand to be carried all around the library. I called her a monkey, which made all the parents watching us laugh.
If anything, this just proved how some students need a little extra attention to be reached. During the trick-or-treating event, as expected, she clammed right up. When she gets into her silent modes, there is no cracking her shell. Well, how about when she wants something? Surely she can be coaxed, no? Heh heh... well, if all else fails, I can just hold her upside-down and not let her down until she spills the English!! Luckily there were plenty of witnesses around when she finally squeaked out a tiny "trick... or... treat." All were amused; all were amazed; all bowed down before the power of the Great Teacher Xeno...
... and at that moment, was declared... champion of the Great Teacher Triathlon
Speaking of Sports...The last entry ended right at the time when the elementary school sports festival was supposed to be happening. It ended up being postponed because of rain, which moved the event to Tuesday. That was fine with me since that's the day I go to ES-2 anyway, the school whose undoukai I had planned on attending.
The event was very very fun, despite being only scheduled for the morning only. I took lots of great photos (585 in total... about 133 great ones). It was a good thing I remenbered to ask for a photographer's armband ahead of time since I ended up being the only one in the crowd who was constantly running out onto the actual field. I wouldn't want the parents thinking that maybe I didn't understand the rules of specators-versus-participants. Heh heh, though chances are that a few of them were jealous since I got all the best views.
Oh, and yes, the Akagumi won... for like the 6th time I've seen.
I did enjoy interacting with many of the different students and classes throughout the event, however my funniest story came courtesy of someone not actually enrolled in this school. It was during the opening ceremony speeches... one of those few moments of the day when all 500~ people present are exceptionally silent... one of my more adorable kindergarten girls ran up to me to say "hello!", followed immediately by her turning around and screaming as loud as she could to the crowd, "MOOOMM!!!!! XENO-SENSEI!!!! LOOK MOM!!!!! XENO-SENSEI!!!! IT'S XENO-SENSEI!!!!!!!"
Haha, of all the moments this could have happened... ~____~;;;
A Japanese Festival from a New AngleI've probably been to about 10 or 15 different Japanese festivals （まつり） by now. It's gotten to the point where they all just kinda blur together now, however, this time, I had a unique opportunity to not only attend, but actually participate in a local event.
The International Association in my teaching-village was hosting a booth where they were going to serve free orange juice and scones (haha, they picked scones because they thought they were American) while raising some money for flood-relief in Bangkok (some of the other members were from Thailand). I'm not sure how much they were expecting me and my fellow foreigner-teacher friend to help out, though I did make the English portion of the poster and helped pour drinks. Most importantly, I seemed to be useful in attracting visitors. Pretty much everyone under 13 years old noticed me (because they're my student, duh) and raced over to greet me.
Many were perplexed as to what I was doing there, though most didn't care about the technicalities... they just wanted to squee and be happy-tastic. Good chance to show me off to their parents, mostly, haha. Also, being here today in a spotlight kind of setting got me introduced to pretty much all the big shots around town, including the mayor and the festival organizers.
We had a good view of the stage from where were positioned, although it started to rain toward the end. At least the Power Ranger-esque "character show" went off without a hitch. Those things are always amusing.
Getting back to the kids being happy to see me, I do have one omega-amusing story to share, but it is deserving enough of it's own segment...
Confession CornerI've watched a lot of harem-anime in my days, so these kinds of situations aren't completely unheard of to me, although it does seem a bit odd given that I am pretty much 2-3-4x older than most of my... admirers.
I don't know what it is about this particular place or this particular time (as these have all pretty much come out in the last 2 weeks or so), but I've had an unusual number of girls come up to me and, well, confess to me.
In Okayama, total number of admirers: 1... total confessions: 0
In Fukushima, total number of admirers: 5... total confessions: 0
In Niigata, total number of admirer: uncountable... total confessions: 2
In Fukushima, total number of admirers: still counting... total confessions: 2!!!! (so far... plus some very amusing related points)
#1: a 2nd-grade girl came up and kissed my shirt and told me she loved me in Japanese (cute!!!!!!!)
#2: a 1st-grade girl came up and told me she loved me in English (very cute!!!)
#3: one 1st-grade girl told me that one of her 2nd-grade friends had a huge crush on me (oh no, the backstabbing drama has already begun!!)
#4: when one of my 3rd-grade girls was talking with me out on the playground, her friends ran over to us and told me that the girl was in love with me (more drama!!!!)
#5: while at that festival I mentioned above, I ran into a group of four 6th-grade girls. One of the girls was very happy to talk with me, to which her friends pretty much ran up behind her, shoved her into me, and shouted "kiss!!! kiss!!!!" hahahahahhahahaha... hilarious!! She was probably mortified, but she didn't seem to show any disdain; she just kept talking like nothing happened.
Guess I need to be on alert around here. Who knows what drastic things these girls will do to level-up their efforts at winning my affections? I should probably hurry up and find a girlfriend my age to kind of dissuade them from continuing further.
There's Three of Them!?On Wednesdays, I'm technically scheduled to be at the Board of Education where I should be preparing my lessons for the next few days... but that's no fun! I'd rather be with the students. So what I do now is I alternate between my two schools, dropping by to see what events are going on... even it's just a PE class or maybe an Art class or something, it's still worthwhile to attend.
I lucked out last week (Wed Oct 28th) when I decided to visit ES-2. They were having some kind of group activity bonding thing where the multi-class mixed groups were just playing games and whatnot together. I ended up in groups 17+18 since the principal said I could join her group in the gymnasium. This was good for me since this was also Mone-chan and Kirin-chan's group. Magnet-chan was also in the gymnasium, but she was a part of a different group.
The 1st through 5th-graders were doing random games like tag, duck-duck-goose, and hide-and-seek (in a gym? huh?). The 6th-graders were making lunch. The curry my group was served was pretty damn good, and that's a big compliment from a picky eater like me.
But yeah, it was nice just running around and not worrying about any real responsibilities or anything; just enjoy being with the kids. I did have one funny moment to share: I was watching the school principal talking with two of my students, a 3rd-grade girl and a 4th-grade girl... both who have very similar faces. I could already see they were related, but the principal excitedly called me over and told me over and over "these two... sisters! Sisters!" As fate likes to entertain me, at this exact precise moment, Magnet-chan, one of my favorite 1st-grade girls ran over and leapt into my arms. She is the younger sister of the pair we were already talking about. I said to the principal "look! Another sister! Three! Same face!"
Principal's mind = blown
... partially by the fact that I know the students a little better than she does, haha
Hula Hula Hula Hula Hula Hula Hula... A random note from my volleyball playtime with my favorite 3rd-graders: Anju-chan hula-hooped 923 times!!! Thought it was quite impressive to watch, I was lamenting it only because I was the one who was put in charge of counting. Dammit. And geez, she'd probably STILL be hula-hooping even now, as the only reason she stopped was because her sister bumped into her. She took it rather well. You woulda thought something like that would have ended up with someone getting a black eye, but nope, she was just like "meh."
Scary Shouldn't Be AdorableAs a way of spreading a little Halloween cheer (fear?), I taught my daycare center 1st-grade girls how to make a few Halloween decorations. We started with the simple jack-o-lanterns using orange and black construction paper (I wanted to carve real ones, but the teachers were not all on board with that idea). From there, they decided they wanted to make some other ghoulish things like ghosts, skeletons, bats... and the most adorable black cat imaginable. My spider came out pretty well, too, if I do say so myself. We hung them up in the lobby of the building for all to behold.
I should have added a sign that says "if you can see these, it's too late... your soul now belongs to the Cuteness!!!"
Time to Shape UpAs time goes on and we get deeper and deeper into the schoolyear, I'm learning a bit more about the attitudes and abilities of each class. A little disappointing to say, but my 6年1組 class at ES-2 isn't faring too well. It's not that they're dumb... but rather they just don't ever seem to want to pay attention. It's a problem because the 6th-grade classes at ES-1 are doing super well, and if nothing is done about it soon, they're going to enter junior high school with two greatly different levels of ability. Their HRT really needs to start hammering them. I've tried doing it myself, too, but who knows how well they can understand me. All I know is that they didn't do so well with the Keyword Listening Game mainly because they weren't concentrating... and then when I gave them an actual group quiz on the vocabulary after, they ended up missing 9 of maybe 25 or so.
The World's Next Magical Girlhahaha, okay, well maybe she's not due to be carrying around a heart-shaped wand, dressing in bright frilly dresses, striking some adorable poses, and making contracts to steal the souls of depressed people in an effort to gather energy for a dying alien civilization, but Mone-chan did learn a new magic trick today, courtesy of her gaijin friend. Actually, it's the only card trick I know myself, but luckily I know it well... plus, kids are so easy to fool anyway.
Maybe you know this one. You take a deck of cards, but you pre-sort them to divide up the red cards and the black cards. You present half the deck to your subject and have them select one. Then while you distract them somehow (typically by having them really really focus hard on remembering their card, or showing it to a friend), you switch the deck to the other color without their noticing. They slip their card into the other deck, then watch you shuffle. You're allowed to look at the cards as you "search" for their card... of course, it's just a matter of looking for the only opposite-colored card. It's magic!!
And yes, it blew their minds when I showed Mone-chan and Magnet-chan this afternoon at the jidoukan. When I showed them the trick behind it, Mone-chan was so enthralled by it that she just simply had to show ANYONE who would give her 2 minutes of her time. Adorable... except for the fact that she kinda sucks at the whole slight-of-hand/distraction portion of it. Oh well... she'll get the hang of it soon enough. I have a feeling she'll be looking around her classroom for a deck of cards tomorrow to use to show off her new trick, haha.
In SummationWow... the last two months have been incredibly slow... but maybe that's because I've been making the most out of each day. I haven't been sleeping much, but I still find the energy to pretty much go non-stop each day from 7:40am until past midnight, doing all that I can to fit in some personal time with as many people as I can. I have my favorites, but there also plenty more waiting patiently to the side, dying for their chance to step into the spotlight. As each day passes, more and more students are getting brave and coming up to me. It will only be a matter of time before I'll reach my goal of interacting and befriending all 400+ of my students here.
5 months to go until the next contract hurdle. Coming up next event-wise is my first trip back to the USA since I left for this wacky country 3 years ago!! Oh... and... a fire-festival and a cuteness-infused Christmas party. You know... the usual stuff.
Until next time... see you!!!
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