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A Special Assignment
... big responsiblity, big pressure

GTX: Great Teacher Xeno [ Check this category ]

Written by xenocrisis0153
April 13th, 2012


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.


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.

Until next time... see you!

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I'll admit it took me two minutes to find out what was wrong with "I live shirakawa city"...

2012-04-16 12:18:16

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