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That Bites.
Friday, July 02, 2010

            Iíve been busy since the last time I made a confession. On Sunday I went to a BBQ that was planned by Keiko. It was near my uber-small school in the mountains. It rained during the cookout, but it was still fun. What was not fun was that I got some bug bites. I assumed they were just mosquitoes, but in fact they were much more. Around Monday evening my legs started hurting and it was hard to walk. It felt like someone put duct tape all over my legs in little patches. Apparently the toxin from the bites pulls at the skin around it. Since I was already going to the hospital on Tuesday for the regular blood test, I figured I would ask him about the bites and get some medicine. He gave me some steroid cream and it seems to be working. I still have the bites, but I can barely feel them.

            On a medical note, I have been taking Magnesium supplements and found they help me sleep. Sometimes I get sleepy around 9pm and sleep until 6am the next day. I canít even remember why I started taking it in the first place, but one side effect seems to be sleeping well.

            On a different medical note, I have a rash on my foot and it hasnít gone away for months. Also some of my toenails have a fungus I canít get rid of. Since I only have 2 stupid dumb head classes at Ohse in the morning I took the afternoon off and went back to the hospital for the skin doctor (hifuka). She was a nice lady who actually talked to me slowly which is unusual in Japan. She said it was a form of Athleteís Foot and it was the problem with my toenail, red spot, and dry heel. Thatís awesome since all three are annoying and I have about 6 months to really attack them since the weather is warm and I can apply the medicine and not wear shoes. Thatís hard in the winter since I have cold limbs and my feet are literally freezing sometimes.

            Getting back to the bbq, I talked to a friend of Keikoís who was involved in some group called KALMIA. It has something to do with Koriyama and Internationalization. I remember telling Keiko I thought it stands for Koriyama Active Life Makes It Awesome, but it has some other meaning. Anyway, she said she was in graduate school learning about educational technology. Then she said she was disappointed when the big observed class day at Konan was cancelled back in the fall. She said she signed up to see my class. I figured it was just because she speaks English and knows me, but then she went on to say that her whole class had heard about me. I asked what she meant and she said ďeveryone was talking about Konanís NT named Ryan who was doing amazing things with video for teaching English.Ē WOW. What? How did they hear about it? I was planning on doing an interesting video, but I didnít know anyone cared or knew about it.

            Things like that have been happening often recently. People hinting or suggesting I should pursue making videos. I remember someone from the BoE saying that to me a few years ago and it came at a time when I was really wondering what I should focus on as a hobby or special interest area. So many things simply do not interest me and for me to focus on one of them would be unfulfilling. But I love making little videos and using CG and now I am steering away from making normal videos to making more Ryan-esque stupid videos that do teach a point, but are also fun to watch. Something I am planning to make soon for learning Ďcomparativesí is Ryan vs Ryan. So there will be a bad Ryan and a good Ryan. The bad Ryan will have a button that magically controls good Ryan for some reason. So he might press the FASTER button while GR is driving and it will speed up the car, or SLOWER and watch the cars behind me crawl along. Then I can do bigger, taller, fatter, and so on. Maybe it will be a 20ís style video so there is no sound and stupid music in the background. I have a ton of other ideas too, but I might need to severely upgrade my Mac to do them. I did buy the absolute lowest model just to see if I could get the loan. So Iíll see how that goes, but it seems this might be my creative outlet I have been searching for.

            I saw the remains of a wreck on the way to school yesterday and it was obvious someone ran a red light and hit another car. I wonder what the police are going to do when they try to fault someone. ďDid you run the red light? Yes. Well that is acceptable in Japan. Was it longer than the first 5 seconds of the red light, because that is less acceptable, but still ok. No it was within 5 seconds. Well what should we do, it seems no one is at fault.Ē

            It looks like I have to change the film idea for the 2nd years. There were about 5 classes where we couldnít film so we are no where near finished. Also there were some days where no one could remember their lines and things took way too long. Mostly Iíd say it was my fault though.

            I find it funny how schools hold the results of national English test until some stupid point. There is a follow up interview for the 3rd level of the test and the students need to know if they have to go to it. PLUS I need to prepare to mock interview them. But we get the results and put them off to the side and pass them out later. When the old JTE was here I would see the results on his desk and go tell the students right then.

            Sometimes when we play games in class we use dice or rock paper scissors. What I find really funny is that at the end of these games, these games of chance, we congratulate a winner. Thereís no way you can really earn a win with dice unless you have loaded dice and then we are congratulating you for cheating in a clever way. With RPS I suppose you could cheat if you remembered what everyone does first since people typically do the same thing first several times. I donít know, maybe itís just me, but it seems funny that people are rewarded for completely random events.

            I know this is a touchy subject, but I have a problem with some kids being in class. I understand everyone learns at a different level, but there are some kids that simply need to be at a special school. That rarely happens in Japan since parents of kids in one grade form a group and no one wants to say ďI am no longer in this group, my child is different.Ē So they just ignore the fact and send their special needs child to the regular school. I have had classes with some kids that simply didnít speak neither English nor Japanese. I remember two kids were catatonic and would wander the halls. It was clear they had no understanding of where they were. At each of my schools now there are a few students who end up dominating the attention of the teacher and quite often totally disrupting the entire class. One girl screams during half my class and then walks around hitting other kids. Tell me how this is fair to anyone???

This week I played the World Cup game and one student just wrote W (for win) in several spots without even playing the game correctly. She ended up winning, but some students started yelling because they knew she hadnít played correctly. There was nothing I could do and it annoyed several people who played fairly. I taught at a special school years ago in Japan and it was a perfect environment for these kids. Low teacher-student ratios, more than one teacher in the room, teachers who know how to deal with behavioral issues, and so on. Everything was designed to handle children with special needs. As I understand it, itís almost completely up to the parents to put their child in these schools. I think unless a child has an extreme situation, he or she might be in the mainstream classes. This is really difficult for foreign teachers since we donít have any authority/training/ability to do anything other than ignore the students.

I just finished filming with the seniors and it went mostly well, but many of the students are just annoyingly shy or laugh too much. I know I was probably the same way when I was in JHS, but I remember not being quite as giggly or shy. We are nearing the end of the filming and I think I have enough footage. The story is rather weak, but luckily they wonít care about that any. There are some gaps regarding why people do certain things, but I might have time to film some fillers for that. Overall I think it will be interesting, especially with the secret ending I have planned.

Today the teachers had their pictures taken for the album. I seem to remember having the same shirt on last year and my hair was unkempt as well. I was thinking of getting a haircut tonight so my hair is getting a bit sloppy. It seems like I am in some loop. It seems like I am in some loop.

This weekend I have nothing major planned, but I need to get about 10 things done on the computer. The one that works that is. For some dumb reason my PC is on the fritz and shuts down several times per hour. I still donít know what the problem is so Iím just going to upgrade to Win 7 since I am still on XP. Maybe a clean install will solve some of the problems. I have thought about getting rid of it and keeping the MacBook and getting a new iMac, but I do have some PC Windows needs sometimes. Some programs only run on Windows so I canít commit yet.

For some reason I have an impossible time printing various things at 2 schools. I can check the settings on the computer and everything is perfect, but when I print the printer goes down half the page and then starts printing there which ruins everything. ARGH. Why does this happen? I can print them correctly at home, but I am tired of using my own resources for school stuff. I can print things at Konan with no problems as well, but not my other schools. ARGH. Well one school doesnít even have computers or a printer.


Just Sitting Around.
Monday, July 05, 2010

            Iím at Kozu today, my small school with 21 kids total, and the weather is great. I had 2 classes before lunch and nothing much to do after lunch. One class was good-great, but not awesome. It was with the 1-2 graders and I taught ďanimalsĒ. It would have been great with more kids, but there were only 7 and 3 of them already knew it from last year. Teaching 4 kids really limits your plan. Then I had a break and then a class with the 5-6th graders which was a disaster for me, but probably fun for them. The teacher insists on using this completely worthless English book called eigo notto (English Notebook). It was created by the ministry of education and is very Japanese in the way it ďteachesĒ English.

            What do I mean by ďvery JapaneseĒÖI mean that the goal of the book is not fluency in English at any level. Itís simply having fun in English and never ever being stressed. In every chapter of this book students listen to someone with a stupid accent and then connect pictures. But the hints are so stupidly obvious anyone could do it. One day we were doing shopping and the recording said ďhello, I love your blue shirt with hearts and yellow pants. Oh thank you, you really like my blue shirt? Yes, it is a blue shirt that is blue and a shirt. Yes, blue blue blue.Ē So not quite that bad, but the point is there was one person with a blue shirt so when they heard ďblueĒ they knew it must be that one. This lesson is on the page before the explanation of Japanese culture IN JAPANESE. How is that even remotely related to ENGLISH?


            I just saw a teacher run from the pool to the school entrance to get umbrellas for the students at the pool so they wouldnít get wet on the way back from the pool in the rain.


My Dream.
Tuesday, July 06, 2010

            What would my perfect job be? My dream job? Right now it would be someone who is in charge of escorting Japanese principals, vice-principals, and people that work at various boards of education around the US. Specifically I would take them to American schools and BoEs and have them see how other places do the same thing, a cultural exchange of sorts. BUT the one thing that would really make it worthwhile would be showing them how stupid some things are about teaching English in Japan. I would schedule a presentation or meeting for them at some school on a Friday. Then I would tell them they have to show up Monday to sit and do nothing until Friday. They canít leave the building, they have to dress formally, thereís no air conditioning and itís broiling hot outside, they have no computers or they have ultra old ones, most anything useful on the internet is blocked, they canít read newspapers, and they have to drive 45 minutes each way to get there. Around Thursday when they say ďthis is stupidĒ, I will jump in and say ďyea I agree, but welcome to my life in Japan.Ē

            Itís not that I donít want to be at school or I donít want to work, itís that IF I am at school I want to be working. I donít even mind coming here occasionally when there is nothing to do, but they want me to drive 45 minutes twice a day to sit and do NOTHING. Thereís not even a word to express how wastefully stupid that is and yet they canít even acknowledge the absurdity. If they were to say ďyea it sucks, but itís the rule soÖ.Ē that would still suck, but far less. Itís the attitude of thinking that I should just sit here and do nothing that annoys me. Itís like Japanese people are embarrassed of their country and donít want people to explore it and see the historical sites. No, please donít visit Kyoto. It would be better if you were sitting here sweating and typing on the worldís slowest computer.

A First.
Wednesday, July 07, 2010

            I saw my first fight at school in 8 years in Japan. I donít mean boys merely hitting each other or rolling around on the floor, I mean actual punches and that Ďrageí look, then ending with whimpering and tears. It was between two boys at an elementary school waiting for the bus to go home. At first they were play fighting and both laughing. That went on for about 10 minutes. Then they stopped, but one boy was trying to mess around a bit more. The other said quit a few times, but the first one didnít. He just kept on pushing and laughing, so the other one (who was the weaker one early on) gave him a firm punch and then they started going at it. I was close and moved away, but another teacher was there that leads me to my other comment.

            When I was either in a fight at school as a kid or saw one, a teacher would step in and promptly say ďSTOP IT NOWĒ, but that is too direct for Japan. The teacher standing near them was saying ďoh now this horseplay should stop, is this really fun, well I think you should stop, hmmm, you boys should behave now.Ē It was just a bunch of vague round-a-bout comments avoiding the actual issue of them fighting. I didnít do anything because A) itís certainly not my place as an Assistant English Teacher, B) there probably would have been some weird Twilight Zone Bizzaro World result from me stepping in like me having to apologize to them, and C) sometimes itís better to let them work it out, which is exactly what they did. They fought for a minute and stopped and one kid whimpered while the other laughed and unofficially declared victory.

So Close, but I Should Have Known.
Friday, July 09, 2010

            Yesterday I went to Ohse and had 3 classes, which is much better than the 2 I usually have. They were all in the morning and I thought the afternoon would drag on as usual, but I managed to create a print during 5th, help them do an extended cleaning, and then help three students prepare for a national English test (interview). Of course the interview is not an actual interview designed to test fluency, it has a rigid style that is easily teachable. I have taught several students how to pass even though they couldnít really say anything in English. Plus they have Japanese people (who allegedly speak English) as the interviewers and that means itís even easier to pass. Foreigners would listen for fluency traits, but Japanese people listen for certain cues. I can teach those cues and help the students pass.

            At some point in the day we got next weekís schedule and I thought it would be the ultimate schedule ever. I had classes 1st, 3rd, 4th, and 6th. Wow thatís great, that will make the time fly and there will be a minimum of sitting around. Then I noticed that during the 2 open periods the other teacher had classes with the 1st years and OMG could I possibly have 6 classes in one day? That would be great since I HATE sitting in teacherís rooms doing nothing. As soon as I got my hopes up the other teacher dropped the bomb and said ďoh sorry I wonít have time to prepare so only 4 classes next weekĒ. This is annoyingly amusing for 3 reasons which are, vis ŗ vis, the following:

1) He doesnít actually have to prepare anything.
2) Not only does he not have to prepare anything, he would just tell me to make something.
3) He started out really cool, but has become lamer each week.

            So I still have 4 classes and I wonít complain. Thatís twice as many as I have had for several weeks there. Today I am at Konan and I had a class with the devil class (which ironically has some of my favorite kids as well). We played my online English computer games, but this time I beat the system. The networks here are horrendously slow and bottleneck my games even though the whole site is only 4mb. I have seen the computers download larger videos from Japanese educational sites, but my site always goes slowly for some reason. So this time I burned 10 small CDs and copied the games onto some of the computers and then had the last 10 kids play them directly from the CDs. There were no technical issues apart from kids being stupid and closing the browser window. I would say ďDO NOT CLOSE THE WINDOWĒ and then a kid would close the window. They just tune me out sometimes. So as punishment I would refuse to help them and make them bug another kid. Overall the class went great. I plan to make some more larger games with video or better recorded sound since a full CD is around 700mb and so far the whole site is only 4mb. Clearly I have some space.

            I bought a ticket to go back to the US for the summer and as it turns out I think I will be moving around that time as well. Someone in a smaller apartment wants my bigger apartment and I really donít need my 3 room apartment so I said ok. The apartment is longer and a little wider which will be good for my green screen, but only one room. Thatís all I really need so I donít care. The timing is bad and I would have liked more than a few weeks on the official notice, but whatever. I should be able to save some money in the new place and there are 11 other foreigners living around me. Now there are 3 others, but they are married or reclusive and I never see them. So I guess all that will be happening around late July. I need to start packing and cleaning soon I suppose. Itís going to make my summer travel awkward in the sense that I will be coming back to no apartment and having to move stuff in while jet-lagged. But it should be great overall.

            Other news, perhaps I have mentioned this, I plan to buy a nicer computer in the fall for my video stuff. I really want to level up what I can do since I am getting near the point of being proud of things I make and possibly being able to pursue it as a career. Iím not quite there yet since I have the lowest model computer out there and it frequently maxes out when I am working, but I have made some impressive things. In August I plan to make 1-2 projects a week and post them somewhere.

            A truck selling bread just pulled up and everyone went F-ing crazy to go get some bread. SOME BREAD. Is it laced with heroin? I donít know, but everyone truly goes crazy when this bread truck pulls up. They have come probably 100 times since I have been here and I have never understood it. They pull up, the office staff announces ďthe bread truck is hereĒ and people literally scramble and trip over themselves to get out to it to buyÖ..bread. Simply bread that can be bought at the store. The only thing I can possibly imagine is they have some special contract with us and the teachers are showing their appreciation or something, but still itís a bread truck. Now if the truck were made of bread, oh Iíd run out to see that.

So tired.
Friday, July 16, 2010

            I have been so tired recently because I am so busy and have too many things going on. Itís the end of the 1st term and the stress is really building up for me. I get home, relax for literally a minute, and then start planning the lessons for the next day. Or if I am making a video I do that. I keep doing that for a few hours and then itís 11-12 and I go to bed and get up at 6 and start it all over. The reason I am more stressed than usual is there are 4-5 different things I am working on at the same time. Everything has some strict deadline as well. I am working on the skit contest stuff since they are going to the prefectural finals, I have some private English lessons I teach during the week, today I had two extra classes that I had to plan for, next week there are some English Day Camps that I havenít even started planning for, 3 kids are in the speech contest and I am helping them, and there are a few other things. I am always so tired and looking forward to the break.

            My break wonít really start for a few weeks. Next week I have the skit contest and then the English camps and the following week I have another English camp on Monday and then I may or may not be moving apartments. Finally I will be leaving for the US on the 29th, but probably heading down there on the 28th to see a friend in Tokyo. So my break wonít really start until I get to the US. Even then my dad wanted me to immediately jump in a car and drive 6 hours to his relatives house to hang out while he went to his 50 high school reunion. I politely said ďnot a chanceĒ. After flying 14 hours and completely changing time zones, that is actually the LAST thing I want to do. I need 3-4 days to start recovering and getting over jetlag.


            Itís now 3pm and I asked when the 5 students would be able to practice for the speech contest (2 ppl) and skit contest (3 ppl). I was told they could come at 4-4:30 depending on when the track and field practice finishes. I reminded him I had to leave promptly at 4:15 today and he nodded as if to say ďoh wellĒ. I somewhat laughed and explained in the US we donít have after school activities in JHS and when we do they take a clear second place to anything education related.





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