|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 1The 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!!!!!
It's... it's... GODZILLA!!!! AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!
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 2I 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 2For 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 DiscussionI 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....
Nice! Seems like GTX is wowing the big wigs now. Good job!
Hey, have you ever thought about setting up a facebook page? I would definitely "Like" the GTX facebook page, and having GTX comments showing up for me to see in my facebook would also be pretty cool.
|Fame at last!|
Although it seems that the the Minister has grabbed a photo opportunity to publicise the new teaching book, it is still impressive that she picked you as the main event. Clearly your name is being mentioned in high places...
Another thing Japan can be proud of is that their Minister for EDUCATION is actually a teacher. So many countries have cookie-cutter ministers who are nothing but career politicians, rather than people with knowledge relevant to the area they are supposedly responsible for. Maybe you didn't find her teaching so impressive; but then, if she were a Great Teacher, she'd likely have remained in education rather than going into politics. Its enough to know she has been there.
I think that she is aware of the need for more ALTs teaching English in the country - particularly when so many left after the disaster. So, you're a shining example of reliability! She acknowledges the low pay, maybe, but don't expect her to put her hand in the pocket and give you a raise. That part is likely just words for the camera, I would say.
All in all, it's clear that people think a lot of you and your ability, not just in your schools but also further up the chain of management. Something to be rightly proud of...
|nice to know.|
Nice to know you are going fine (more or less), and i must admit, with too much distractions in your nights, it must be tough... ...if i can help, let gtx and stick with Last Exile.
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“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” -- William Arthur Ward
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