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Thursday, June 01, 2006
I think I can sum up the JET Program and the basic attitude/beliefs of many Japanese English teachers with this one simple sentence:
Ryan, you donít have to come to class today because the students are taking a listening test.
Well of course, why would a native English speaker need to be at a listening test? They have CD players with samples of English (usually written by Japanese people) so clearly there is no need for a native English speaker to be at a listening test. Matter of fact why are foreigners teaching English in Japan at all? CD players do what they are told, play-stop. They never take time off. They are at the school 24 hours a day and on weekends. They are the perfect English teacher.
From now on, whenever the one English teacher tells me I donít have to go to class (and suffer the enduring torture of teaching kids English) I am going to make a note and just add up how many classes I have with him (or don't have). The sad thing is he is a well respected great teacher so all I can figure is he likes to do things his own way and when I am in class I point out various things. I can say that because I never once went to his class as a 4th grade teacher, but now that he is a 5th grade teacher I go there twice a month, because he has no say in the schedule.
I had a class with the ES 3rd graders. It was fun as usual. They are a fun bunch. Fun, but not too loud. They know when to get quiet. Today we reviewed ďmy name isÖ.Ē and then I taught ďhowís the weatherĒ. We played a stupid game where they walked around asking people howís the weather and taking their cards if they matched. It was a strange game that I didnít plan well. But the best part is at the end I gave them the sticker book and let them choose a sticker. They went crazy for the Snow White and Dinosaur stickers. Those were separate, not some new strange Disney movie. I asked if they wanted more and they screamed YES. In Japanese of course. Then I told them they would have to tell their teacher to have me back for another class.
Iím nearly finished with the piŮatas I have been making. Actually I had some of the classes make them. I called it an international activity, which is partially true, and they seemed to have fun. I had them make 5 and I have one useable one at home so I will take those six and use them for the elementary school sometime in a week or two. I might have the whole school go into the special use hall and then briefly explain what it is and then let them go at it. It would be great if I could get some sombreros and play Mexican music or something. I wish I could have done it on May 5th though.
Friday, June 02, 2006
I had a normal day more or less. During the morning I showed The Wizard of Oz to the 3rd years (9th graders). They seemed to really enjoy it. Then I made the Selective Class memorize Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Right as they were ready to recite it to me like always, I told them they didn't have to recite it and played the DVD of TWoZ. They all gasped since they have heard the tune before but never knew the lyrics and I had just made them memorize the lyrics. They were singing along or moving their mouths to the words. Then I played it again with Japanese subtitles. That was a real "teacher's moment". When all the students think you are mean for making them do something hard and then suddenly realize what you have actually done. Then you hear them singing in the hall when they think they are alone.
Then came lunch and afterwards a meeting at 3:30. I thought I didn't have to go, but the organizing teacher said it was crucial I be there. I have come to learn that means it makes no difference if I am there or not and will have no part in the meeting. As was the case this time. It was supposed to last one hour, but it took two. Part of the reason it lasted so long was what nearly gave me a heart attack. Seriously my chest started to hurt at one point. I get frustrated and impatient when things are stupid or illogical or go beyond their clear ending point. Which is really odd that I am still in Japan since most everything falls into that category. So here is what was annoying and this may seem like a gross exaggeration, but it's actually not too far off.
In the US I recall pretty much all the company or school meetings that I attended to be something like "blah blah, ok that's about it, any questions or comments.....no....ok let's call it a day". Not in Japan. Here's how today's meeting ended, and almost all the other meetings I have ever been in while here in Japan:
That's about it, any questions?
(a minute later)
(a minute later)
(a minute later)
(a minute later)
Comments or questions?
(a minute later)
(a minute later)
Then someone feels compelled to say something thinking it's a good idea to break the pattern, but it really just makes it start over. It just kept going. I wanted to scream "NO THERE ARE NO QUESTIONS. Do you see anyone raising their hand? Do you hear anyone trying to say something? NO".
So then the pattern repeats. Finally we get up to leave and someone again says they have something urgent to say. Why did you wait while the other teacher asked if there are any questions? The urgent statement was to READ a memo we have. To READ it to us. Everyone is Japanese, the memo is Japanese, they can read it. I don't need it read to me I need it translated. Another five minutes of this. Then the closing process begins again, but this time I am livid. So I stand up and start gathering my papers and walk out. I see some teachers look at me like "oh no what is he doing, wait that's a good thing, we can all leave now, we can blame it on the foreigner who doesn't know the Japanese way".
Finally it was over and I spent a while adding ears to the piŮatas I have been working on. I showed 4 of the elementary school teachers and they seemed really excited. Hopefully I can do the pinata thing in a few weeks. I still need to paint them and stuff them with candy. Tomorrow I am going to look at black curtains for the English room. The school won't buy them since we have black curtains in the gym. But the gym is not the English room and I show movies in the English room so I will have to buy them myself. The current curtains might as well be made of clear plastic. They let all sorts of light in.
Monday, June 05, 2006
I woke up at 6am and went for a jog/run. I only went for about 30 minutes and was just speed walking most of the time. Then I came back and juiced some carrots, green peppers, spinach, and other green stuff. During the morning I felt great. Then around noon I had a bad headache and have been really sluggish all afternoon. So Iím not sure how that is going to work. If I exercise and feel like crap I sincerely doubt I will keep it up. Iím going to try to exercise and still have my morning coffee. If that keeps me from being sluggish then maybe I can do it, but if I work out and eat right and feel like dirt then it is unlikely.
I actually had a class with the first year students today. I wasnít used much, but at least it was better than sitting in the teacherís room.
Tuesday, June 06, 2006
I have no classes today. I would normally be ďput offĒ by this but I realize it has something to do with the 1st years having a field trip this Friday, and I actually get to go. Not only do I get to go (I was allowed to go at Fukushima Higashi after asking and begging), but I am expected to go. I am an equal part of the teacher group that is going and I have actual duties and responsibilities. I think Iíve more than covered how much of a big change this is. Anyway, I have several things to do and it might be good to have an off day. The classes I do have this week require no planning since they are the 2nd half of things started last week. In my Selection class that meets Wed & Thurs, we will play Monopoly using only English. Oh wait, maybe I do have two classes to plan.
You know, I feel really good after drinking my morning coffee. I am awake and alert and slightly, only slightly, hyper. I want to get things done. This is not good for the diet / exercise method, at least a plan that excludes coffee. I was all sluggish and tired yesterday and I had a nasty headache. Though that could have been coffee deprivation or from hunger. Iím still hoping to combine the two somehow.
Being a teacher here is almost like being a CEO or something. At least as far as the kids go. I can snap my fingers and kids will run around doing almost whatever I say. I was in the English room and I was curious as to where another teacher was, just for a small stupid question. I asked a passing kid where so-and-so was and he dropped what he was doing and searched the school. Thing like that have happened before with other things. Itís strange sometimes, but also fun. The principal is much better at it than me though. He can snap and all the teachers jump up and do whatever. Usually I donít because I donít know whatís going on or I just donít need to brown-nose like they all do. Itís such a vertical ranked society that people must BAN to move up, or rather to not move down.
Another thing along the CEO lines, I just went into the office and asked about having a personal letter mailed. The office lady called the post office who sent someone over right away. They weighed it and priced it and mailed it for me. Wow, I was really just curious about how much it would cost to mail and was going to mail it later, but whatever. Something that is amusing is when a visitor comes by, the principal or vice principal will literally snap at a female teacher and she will jump up and serve them coffee or tea. I have offered to do it, but the furthest I can get is to help a lady prepare it. It would be odd if I served coffee to the visitors, because I am male and a foreigner.
Hereís something very Japanese. There are a few students each year who simply wonít go to class. They come to school and sit in the nurseís room. This year there are some students who wonít even come to school, they just stay home. You think they pass or fail? You think they graduate junior high school? Remember the algorithm, logic Ė opposite Ė Japanese way. It would be rude to fail them. How dare you even think that. They are part of the group and we must protect the group.
No classes today so I used the time to work on a book based on my journal. Man time flies when you are having fun. I got here at the usual time and goofed off until first period. Then I started working on it. 15 minutes later teachers are asking if I am going to eat my lunch which is ready. Wow already 12:30? I eat with the elementary 2nd graders and then walk around for a bit. Finally itís 5th period so I sit back down and continue working. I just looked up as I stretched my back and noticed it is 5:30pm. Apart from being stiff (my back that is) it feels like I have been here an hour. I could have barged in to a few classes, but time slipped by.
I stretched a bit and then worked a bit more. When I looked up again it was 7pm. Luckily I had a reason to stay late. I am what is called the "shuuban" this week. That is (shoe bahn) and means week number technically, but here it means the people who lock up the school. I walked around the whole JHS and checked all the doors and windows.
I think I will go to Koriyama tonight and have sushi and then mail some packages since the post office has a late night window open 24 hours. Sweet.
I did go to Koriyama and had sushi. The main reason I went was to mail some letters. One was to my accountant in Tokyo. Foreigners overseas can do their taxes late, which I clearly am. While I was there I decided to mail two other crucial packages that have been sitting in my car for months. One was my suit pants to Thailand to have the tailor replace them since I busted my knee going to Chuo's graduation. That hurt and I still have a scar from it. The other was a pack of special thank you cards for an American musician who lives in Italy and came to our school back in March. It was fun and good practice for the kids. Earlier in the day I mailed a package of Asian coins to my nephews who collect coins. It should be a nice bonus for them since it was about 60 coins, but 50 one yen coins. One for each kid in their class.
I think it was National-Drive-with-your-Brights-on night. I swear every other car had their brights on.
Wednesday, June 7th, 2006
I was in a really teasing mood all day. First I kept offering chocolate to the kids waiting in line for the school dental inspection. But only on the condition they eat it before they go in to see him. Only a few considered it. That would be funny, though I am sure I would get in trouble for it.
Then there was a big observation class where all the Koriyama Japanese Language teachers came to watch two of our teachers show how they teach Japanese. I would imagine that is really nerve racking. Or is it nerve wracking? Either way, having your peers judge you is never fun. When I get observed itís by Japanese teachers or parents and I virtually canít mess up. So there was this big class and they had it in the elementary schoolís special use room which means when class is over in the ES all the kids will run into the hall squealing as kids do. I was standing in the hall acting like I was trying to quiet them down, but really I was jumping around so they would yell more. I have no idea why I was doing that, but it was fun. When a teacher would come out into the hall, I would act like I was trying to quiet them down. Then when the teacher would leave, I would grab someone and say ďyouíre ITĒ and they would run around screaming and chasing other kids. You do that to just 3 or 4 kids and soon everyone is yelling and running.
Other than that I showed the rest of the Wizard of Oz to the kids and they really liked it. I always played Go Fish with some other kids as part of a class. That game has good repeating English such as ďdo you have anyÖ.yes I doÖno I donítĒ.
Friday, June 9th, 2006
Had the school trip today. It was a mixture of enlightening & wasteful. It was enlightening in the sense that these kids are in the 7th grade and were just set free in a major city. As best I can remember there is no way 7th graders would be set free to roam as they choose in a big city.
It was wasteful in the sense that we went all the way to a major city and spent more time having standard Japanese ceremonies and other wasteful things than we did actually seeing things. We left at 7:15am. We started the departure ceremony at 7:00am. It wasn't just the teachers telling the kids how things would work, it was actual ceremonial events. Someone opened the ceremony. Someone gave some standard opening speech. Then we reviewed the plans, including times and ways of getting there. Like which roads we would take. Then the principal gave a small standard speech. Then someone closed the ceremony.
Then we drive 2 hours to Sendai. We are dropped off at the Sendai Castle, though the technical name is ďplace where the Sendai Castle WAS before it was destroyed by the Imperial ArmyĒ. Everything was starting out peachy. Then the kids all separate and I go with the teachers. We are walking to a museum. We walk through the woods and then IN THE ROAD while it's pouring down rain. Everyone, minus me, is wearing a suit, in the rain. From the museum we walk to a bus stop and go to the station for a long lunch, like 2 hours. Then we get on a subway and go to a cool science museum with a lot of things to play with and touch. Then the bus brings us back. There was so much more to see if they would have just kept us on the bus and taken us around to the spots. We spent most of the time walking to bus stops, waiting for the buses, getting on the buses, then waiting in traffic. Then at the station we spent thirty minutes buying lunch and hurriedly eating so we would have plenty of time to buy gifts for the teachers back at the school. We also bought $10 gifts for two teachers who spent $2 buying us drinks.
It was just a big ďalmost effectiveĒ day, which we seem to have a lot of here. In Koriyama the Board of Education is really into teaching English and I am so glad to be here. Every so often we have an English camp where one or two kids from each school go after school for a few hours of mingling with foreigners. Wow what a great opportunity that is. Nope, it falls into the almost category and drives me crazy. They spend about an hour with us. The other time is them doing homework, bathing, eating, and then free time. Plus when they are with us we just play some game or something. I have suggested we push them more. I mean these are the best English speakers from each school who begged and tested and won the right to be at the English camp. Then there are all these native English speakers. I just think we should do more, like pick about 10 phrases and make sure the native speakers say them over and over on several occasions and then quiz the kids. Or make each kid interview us. Or something like that. It just seems to be almost a great event.
Saturday, June 10th, 2006
I stayed in today and got caught up on some web stuff. I am building a site for a friend who just started a music school in Atlanta. I also worked on my book and some other web things. I plan to do the same tomorrow. I thought about going to Koriyama, but I really don't have that much to do or buy and money is really tight.
Sunday, June 11th, 2006
I forgot to mention, tomorrow about 6 kids are coming to our school for a month. I think they are of Japanese heritage, but have grown up in Hawaii. Which means, and one teacher confirmed this, they speak native English and some Japanese. This will be fun for me being able to speak native English at school, but hard for them since the classes are in Japanese, this being an actual Japanese school. I think the purpose is like an exchange experience. They will have good stories to tell when they go back in the fall. I just realized one kid will be in the elementary 6th grade, but that is a middle school grade in Hawaii so maybe he/she will be mad about having to be in elementary school. Of course in the morning we have a welcome ceremony.
Tuesday, June 13th, 2006
I should call this site "I hate it when...".
I hate it when I email someone with a few points and they reply vaguely to only one. Here's a random example:
I was wondering a few things.
First are you coming to the party on July 2nd?
Second, did you get that thing back from Susan?
Lastly, when do you start your new job?
Then Jack writes back "I start next Friday".
Yea and what about the other stuff moron? I have to write back and say "what about the other stuff moron?". Plus you answered the question at the bottom so I know you read it all. ARGH.
On a different note, I got an official note, all in Japanese, from my favorite Japanese government agency telling me about my duties for next week. I am going to try to not go into this venture with a negative frame of mind and be all bitter.
The Hawaiian elementary school kids do speak English and Japanese. We chatted briefly in English. It is strange since they look Japanese and they just start babbling in perfect English. Kind of relaxing though not having to think in Japanese or dumb down my English.
Argh. I just did spell check and had a finger spasm or something and accidentally hit CHANGE three times real quick, so now I don't know what I changed. Most likely it was some Japanese and the dictionary changed it to English. ARGH. Like shuuban is Japanese but the dictionary likes SheBang. I don't even know why that is in there.
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
Had a nice moment in class again. I had the 2nd years (8th graders) memorize John Lennonís Imagine. As usual they resisted and whined about it. Then when they memorized it I gave points to the first few people to present it to me. The nice moment came when I played the song for them and they had all heard it but never really understood it. Plus I had some lyrics in Japanese as well for them to understand the meaning.
Then I had a class with the 1st years or 7th graders. I had them put some vocabulary cards in alphabetical order. Honestly there are about 1,000 cards. They are written on that thin cardboard or stiff paper and they are about 6 feet high. Itís at least several hundred if not 1,000. Anyway, the kids thought it was a great activity for practicing letters and the order, but it was really just helping me organize them.
I have made some good progress on the book I am writing which is based on this journal, but also includes some tangents not mentioned here. I think I will make all proceeds go to charity, specifically BaanDada.org which is my site for the Thai boyís home.
I need to go into Koriyama city at some point, maybe tonight, and eat sushi. I need to get a haircut and a few other things, so while there I might as well have some sushi. I need to buy some ingredients for gyoza night on Thursday. Actually I need to calculate how much I will need now.
Three 3rd years (seniors) are practicing for a skit contest in July sometime. It should be good if they get accepted by the Koriyama board of education. Itís a fast paced skit based on English and Japanese differences. We just had a practice and they are progressing nicely. On the way back I was walking across the over built deck that cost way to much and will last through eternity. I was looking back talking to someone and my foot almost went off the edge. I stopped and looked down and instantly had this foreboding vision. In the dream vision, my foot went off the edge and I fell forward. My head slammed against the side of the deck and a pen I was holding went into my neck. The girls on the deck started screaming and running around. It was all in a fraction of a second and then I just stopped talking and walked away. I must have looked stupid, but the dream was so vivid and quick.
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
They love soccer in Japan, as with most of the world (minus the US) and today I coincidentally got some sports culture bonus points. Last night I couldnít get to sleep until about 2am. I didnít do anything super unusual other than go to Koriyama and get some things at the dollar store and then have sushi, which is right next door. So I am awake at 1am and there is some game on TV for the World Cup. I watch a little of it and then roll over hoping I will go to sleep. I donít right away and the TV was still on since I set the off timer for 60 minutes. So I see a bit more of it.
Then this morning I get to school and I am yawning because I didnít sleep much. At the door a few teachers asked if I saw the game. They were implying I was yawning because I stayed up to watch the game. But I just answered yes I had seen it. Or at least some of it. So they all thought/think I am hardcore about soccer, but I didnít even know who was playing, it was just something that was on. Just before that I watched a little Rawhide with Gil Favor and Rowdy Yates. Itís just something thatís on late at night and surprisingly entertaining for when it was made.
I asked the English teacher to call the car place for me. He called and then realized he didnít know why he was calling. So he asked me and I too didnít know why I had asked him to call. So he hung up.
I just did this dumb spur of the moment thing that came off as impressive. Sometimes the phone blinks before it rings. This is the phone that rings all over the teacherís room so everyone can hear it. I was standing up to stretch and happened to look down and see it. I pointed at the phone and in a deep samurai type voice semi loudly said ďphoneĒ. Just thing it rang and teachers looked at me. I pointed to my head to imply I had mental powers. A few teachers thought it was cute. Then it happened again moments later and I said ďphoneĒ again, in Japanese both times. This time teachers were amused and curious at the same time.
Thursday, June 15, 2006
Staffs isnít a word is it? Or at least it isnít correct I think. I seem to feel like staff is like English and you donít say ďhow many Englishes do you knowĒ. There is a new brochure made for our school and it says ďstaffsĒ. I just feel like thatís wrong. Then again, maybe itís British or something and I donít know it. Unless you are talking about poles that wizards use.
Tonight the teacherís house is having a party. There are only 3 people living in the 8 apartments now, but some of the younger teachers were invited too so there should be about 8 people. I bought all the ingredients last night and Tuesday night, but I feel like I need more meat. Iíd rather have too much meat than not enough.
We just watched a student teacher teach a class. She didnít observe as many as I assumed she would, apparently it was more about random teachers giving her advice. Which in itself is helpful, but doubtfully as helpful as actually teaching.
Iíve been down all day. I even drank my coffee this morning, which did get my brain going, but mood wise Iíve been down. I donít know why apart from maybe the weather too is a bit down. Itís overcast and drizzling off and on. I remember waking up like this. Speaking of waking up, for some reason that I have not yet determined, my alarm clock didnít go off this morning. I mean I use the alarm feature on my phone and that has worked for 3 and a half years or so, but today it just didnít go off. I happened to feel strange and wake up at 7am and checked the clock and it hadnít gone off, but was set to. It looked as though I had hit snooze a few times, but I sure didnít remember that. Maybe once I could believe or if it showed off, then I would assume I turned it off in a coma-like slumber, but I would have had to have hit snooze 3 times for it to be 7am and show the snooze screen. So I am a bit confused. I then set it to go off at 7:02 and it worked fine. Maybe it only goes for a minute and then jumps to that screen and I just didnít hear it. I need to check on that.
Friday, June 16, 2006
The gyoza party was fun, but a bit strange. For one thing it started at 7, and everyone showed up at 7, minus the host. Who was still at work and we live 5 minutes from the school. Iím not so much mad at her for being 30 minutes late, but moreso at the dumb cultural thing. Young teachers have to show the allegiance by staying at school late. Leaving at 7pm is considered leaving early for them. Thatís one of my big sticklers with Japanese society, the way people are meaningless. Company employees are literally slaves or at least petty servants who jump at every whim of their superiors. I think obedience is good for employees, but I am a person first and an employee second. You can have me stay late when there is a crunch for something like end of the month accounting, but staying late everyday is silly. Efficiency is actually punished here. You are a bad employee if you get a weekís worth of work done in 4 days. You will be promoted to president someday if you stretch out a dayís work into one weekís time.
Ok, that rant is out of the way. So we started late, ok fine. I had the mixture pre-made so when we all got there everyone could start folding and wrapping and packing. They quickly made about 60 so I started to cook them. Then we had those 60 or so ready to eat, but we would eat through them quickly so I was going to cook a few more and then sit down and eat a few while they are cooking. They kept asking when I was going to come eat. I said soon but they can just start. Nope. There is a process for all things and all things are group based. I had to go over to the table and say cheers before they could start eating. There was simply no other option in their minds.
Fine, cheers, ok back to cooking. So I cook most of the gyoza, and they make some cheese and shrimp gyoza which was pretty good. Then itís all over eventually and I leave. The whole time, even though I didnít say anything, I was wondering when they were going to pay me back. Clearly I had spent about $60 on all this stuff since everyone kept commenting on how much I spent on all this and how cheap they were. But other people also brought some drinks and beer and snacks, I sure hope we are just going to say it all worked out evenly since 5 bags of chips doesnít cost $60. But now it is 9am the next morning and still no word of paying me. I am going to just not mention it since the 5 of them seem to be agreeing on some unspoken understanding. Then again I am not plugged into the hive mind.
Oh yea, buses. I was following a school bus last week since I was going to 7-11 and it had pulled out of the school in front of me. Some kids waved out the back. We go about 2 kilometers and it starts to stop. There are about 5 cars behind me. I stop behind the bus since:
The kind that were behind me. Not only did they pass the bus, they didnít even slow down. When I started slowing down the last car just started to pass us all. Then the 2nd to last and so on. Full speed passing the bus that was stopped letting kids out. Just seemed really stupid to me. Then again I am not plugged into the hive mind.
Then one day this week, maybe Tuesday, when I went to Koriyama to buy stuff for the gyoza party last night, there was a big truck in front of me and an SUV of sorts behind me. We were driving for a while and then the road turns into a bigger type road where passing is allowed, at some points. So the SUV decides to pass us both. Thatís fine, there is plenty of room and a straightaway. But nope, letís wait until we get to the end of a straightaway, to the curve. Letís pass on a curve. Which he did and many other people have done and still do. Of course nothing happened since I am not plugged into the hive mind as they are and seem to have an unwritten understanding of things. I was secretly hoping a car would come so the SUV would have to slow down or back up or maybe even the impossible idea of thinking ďmaybe I shouldnít have passed on a curveĒ.
I have noticed I donít like weekends when I have nothing to do because I have a morning schedule at school and I donít like when I canít do it. When I have some weekend event thatís fine because it keeps me pre-occupied, but when I just sit around the apartment (usually due to money) I get antsy. Antsy, what a fun word.
My schedule is waking up around 6:45am, checking email and surfing a bit while listening to music, getting a shower and getting dressed, heading to school around 7:45-8 depending on the dayís load maybe as early as 7am if something needs doing, then at school I drink the coffee I bought on the way, cold coffee of course. I usually drink it in the English room where it is quiet and peaceful. Then I do something on my computer and/or sit through the morning meeting where they read memos to us. Then between 8:40am and 10am I take care of some business in the washroom. While doing so I play one game of ďspeedĒ on my phone. Itís some card game feature on my mobile phone. I always lose at poker, solitaire, and blackjack, but seem to win at this speed game. I only play one game. So if any of those things donít work then I feel all strange and out of whack.
OH OH OH. Sorry that was a bit of an over-reaction. I have partially figured out the mobile phone alarm issue. I know WHAT happened, but not WHY. This morning also my alarm didnít go off so my body woke me up at 7. I saw the same ďsnoozeĒ screen on the phone. I got up and played with the phone and learned all ring tones and alarm settings have changed to a pulsing vibration. There is no volume no matter what buttons I press or functions I change. Also the alarm will only go for 1 minute and then jump into snooze mode, so I assume it has been doing that and I havenít heard it. I either need to put the phone somewhere that will vibrate loudly or get another alarm clock. I have another one, but itís a loud bell that scares me when I wake up and makes my pulse race.
Man talk about a serious teacherís moment. WOW.
I had the second class do the memorization of John Lennonís Imagine. They were much weaker than the other class at it and had two of the biggest whiners in the school. Yet the main whiner was the first to volunteer to show me. Anyway, they whined and whined and only 4 people volunteered to present. While they were memorizing it most of the class was just chatting or basically not trying, only a handful were. So a few present it and only get about 5 lines at best. One girl said she thought she knew the words from somewhere.
Finally I say presentations are finished, after the 4th person, and passed out the lyrics with Japanese translations and info about the song. They read it and I see they are figuring out what it is. Then a few girls are trying to sing it, but canít remember the music exactly, though they know it is on a piano since they are playing their desks like pianos. Then I tell them to repeat after me and I read each line. When I get to the ďliving for todayĒ part, I press play on the CD player and the music starts. They all look up and realize they know the song.
Most people stare at the words and sing/read along. A few people stared out the window and mouth the words. Two girls start crying to themselves. Wow. That was an emotional roller coaster, but the best part was the kids understanding my plan and enjoying English. I need to lie down now.
Student: Ryan, where is Naito senseiís desk?
Me: Directly in front of Naito sensei. (who was sitting at his desk)
Monday, June 19, 2006
I spent all weekend working on school stuff. In all honesty, I spent more time this weekend preparing for school stuff than I spent in three years at Higashi planning or preparing things. I wanted to do more, but my poor native English skills werenít needed. This weekend I added questions to an online quiz I am making for the students. It will be set up so that they can log in and take mock English tests as much as they want. The questions should be random and I will keep adding more and more so they should be able to keep coming back. Plus I am going to have a review section and a place for little English things like the differences between Much and Many. I will give them points when they log in.
I guess the other news, which is irrelevant to you, would be I am changing web hosts for this site. I had been using a small time one man operation and for 4 years it provided great service. However, recently they/he had to change a policy and limit all sites to 900 Megs. Well this one is around a gig since I also have the old site on here, so I would have to pay extra or something. I could do that, but I have been wanting to transfer to a more well known place and then upgrade to a more powerful server. I guess Iíll do something before July first which is the change date. Iíve already transferred my site to the new place, but I wonít cancel the old one for a while.
From students journals:
Today I watched ďAli
Baba and 40 people who take thingsĒ.
(The way you say ďAliĒ is Ari, which is Japanese for Ant. The way you say place is Ba, so some of the kids just translate it forgetting itís a name.
Now itís 3:30 and they are having a pep rally for something. These are funny because, as with most things in Japan, they are rigidly scripted. Thereís really no pep to them at all. The to-be-pepped people are on stage, and the peppers enter looking really mad. They have their arms crossed and are looking down. They walk to the front and yell some things and do this scripted punching movement. Then everyone joins in, and finally itís over. Pep rallies at my middle school involved people cheering and saying peppy things to the to-be-pepped people. Lots of cheering and stomping and so on. Nothing was scripted.
I am in the process of moving my website to a new web host. So far I lost the guestbook. Well not really lost it, but I can't post it here, at least not yet. I'll create a new one since it was popular. Tomorrow is a regular day. Today I gave the 3rd years a surprise homework check. By surprise I mean I told them last week and they ignore it. Tomorrow the 1st years get a homework check, but they are still in the gotta-do-good-all-the-time mode so it should be better. Though I was surprised at some of the students who turned in full notebooks today.
Wednesday I have that kenchou native teacher presentation I was hoping to avoid. I have to give a 30 minute speech on "the differences between high school and JHS" and then give my advice to people who have been doing the same job as long as me or longer. That's almost as brilliant as teaching native English speakers how to speak English.
Off to work on the book.
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
I had a class with the first years where I was going to catch up and grade all their homework. Most of the class had stopped doing it since I donít regularly check it. Iíd say 75% of the class took the time in class to catch up and finish it since I said they could and turn it in by the end of class. About 4 boys just sat there chatting. I asked if they were going to do their homework and they casually said probably not. They arenít punks, but they have figured out how grades mean nothing, especially those of the foreign teacher. Then I looked at them for a second and realized my strategy. I said ďoh well, thatís no problemĒ. They looked at me funny and I started to walk out of the classroom. I did so in a way that would cause them to ask where I am going. They asked and I told them I was going to tell the baseball coach that they werenít participating.
They were all on the baseball team.
They jumped up faster than something that jumps up really fast. They were in the back of the room copying down the previous phrases and then out in the hall writing down the weekly new words. They were serious about getting it done. I love having a secret weapon, I hope I donít have to actually use it at some point.
I had another episode of Ryan Syndrome. I have mentioned it before, but basically itís when the universe blocks me for no apparent reason. Itís not just when things donít go my way, that always happens. Hereís an example:
I ran out of some copies in class so I came back to my computer to print it out. First it simply would not print. No reason why, just wouldnít print. I checked another computer and it printed fine. So I put the simple MS Word document on my flash drive and moved it to the other computer. Wouldnít print there either, but every other document would. Just not that one. There were no fancy links, images, embedded audio, drawings, or anything. It would just some text on a page. I tried another computer, still wouldnít print. Then I heard the printer spit out a page, woo hoo. Nope it was blank.
So I gave up and found a sheet that was already printed and used liquid paper to adjust it. Then I go to copy it. All three of the copy machines suddenly wouldnít print it. It was like a Twilight Zone episode. Now occasionally copy machines will mess up and though highly unlikely, they all three could mess up when I need to use them. So I asked a teacher in the room to tell me what the error was and he said in his 10 years of teaching he has never seen this error, that was on all three machines. Then he goes to one and it works. He offers to let me jump in real quick and it stops working. Then he goes back to it and it works. So then I ask him to make a copy for me and it works fine.
By this time I am no longer angry. It was actually amusing. I was impressed with all the effort the universe went to just to frustrate me for a few minutes. Seems like I am exaggerating, but Iím not and this stuff has happened before. Iíll document more cases later.
Thursday, June 22, 2006
Did you know I am a native teacher? Can you figure out the meaning of that title? It means a teacher who natively speaks English. Well so I thought. The Japanese meaning is either that or some Japanese person who has lived abroad in an English speaking country for at least three years. There were many native teachers who were Japanese at the meeting yesterday. I have no problem with their English ability, they also spoke very well. Itís just funny that they are called Native Teachers when they arenít native.
The meeting was fine. We watched two classes by Native Teachers, both were different and interesting. They made me realize I am not doing enough and should speak more English. I think I overreact because I hate taking Japanese lessons all in Japanese, but part of that is Japanese teachers/people rarely slow down and annunciate sentences and words. If I say things slowly and repeat them and use simple English maybe it will be alright. All I know is the kids in the first grade of the JHS we went to yesterday spoke great and the teacher uses all English.
Thursday morning 8:25am
We are having our bi-weekly morning meeting. As usual we are handed several memos and the meeting consists of someone reading the entire memos to us entirely in their entirety. I would understand if certain parts were pointed out as important, and maybe read to us, but really the whole thing?
I like watching people who donít know they are being watched.
Yea, I am addicted to coffee. I didnít drink any yesterday, but had a big McDonaldís breakfast. I was sluggish all day especially after lunch. I didnít sleep well either. Argh. This morning I felt like I weighed a millions pounds until I drank some coffee. Argh. I really donít want to be stuck on coffee usage. As my sister would say, well poo. Maybe she doesnít say that.
You know the main reason I am always broke now? Itís not because I have a spending problem, which I did, itís because whenever I balance my budget and set a 2-3 month plan of catching up, I get some surprise problem. I had planned on being debt free (locally) by August. Then I had a $400 car tax and some strange other fee I had to pay. So then I worked through that. I made an adjusted plan. So yesterday I get paid, but it was $200 less than normal. What is this? I have sent an email politely asking why, but chances are itís not coming back. At least I updated my bank book so I can start to track my expenses, which seem to be around $300 a month. I should start taking bets on what and how much my next surprise fee will be.
Friday, June 23, 2006
Theyíve already watched the video of the skit we sent in for the skit contest. Iíve heard from various people that all the videos were shown, so what is the delay in telling us whether or not we go to the regional finals? The delay is there is a certain day in which we are told. That would be fine, except the day is supposedly on another week or so, making a total of at least two weeks, and the skit contest is in 3 or 4 weeks from now. So when time is a factor, couldnít we do things differently to give students more time to practice? Ha ha, I just cracked myself up. Do things differently. Ha ha.
I wonder if music is relative. Like there are certain songs that elicit certain feelings and I wonder if they transcend boundaries. Like if I were to play ďWe Will Rock YouĒ at a pep rally here, would that give them the same feeling as it does in the US? What about something like ďBad to the BoneĒ? That opening riff says it all, but do they get that here? I guess I will have to try and see.
We watched Phantom of the Opera in my Elective Class and so far it was semi-boring. I think it was starting to get better once his face was burned and he stole the costumes, but so far it was really opera-ish. Speaking of which, I really donít like musicals or opera. I resent that watching people sing in Italian is related to status in society. I donít like seeing people sing in a foreign language while stretching out words and making it all un-understandable. But it is implied that educated rich people like opera and poor uneducated people donít. Well I am educated and not rich, so I guess I like half of it. But really I donít like it at all. Musicals too.
I worry sometimes that my impulsiveness is bad for the kids. I donít like having people check and approve my lesson plans, but at the same time I can make up something and do it right away. This seems great, but I worry that I might be doing things before thinking them through all the way. I know I am making a difference, but I worry that I should be doing more. I donít know, maybe I am thinking about this too much.
I have to be at school on Sunday from 6am to 6:30am to clean.
Sunday, June 25th, 2006
I'm not really mad about having to get up that early and go clean, I just wish I could understand why we had to be there at 6am. Some people who live in Koriyama left home around 5am, which means they were up around 4-4:30am. That's just obscenely early. I got there at 6 and wore shorts and a t-shirt. We had an opening ceremony, which I oddly look forward to these days. Then we pulled weeds in front of the school for an hour. The sun was barely up so it wasn't hot and the weeding as a bit therapeutic. Everyone seemed happy and some students even showed up. I had no problem getting up and overall it was pleasant. I just don't understand why it had to be at 6am on a Sunday.
Then I came back and had a short nap and when I woke up I had that strange headache from being in bed too long or something. It lasted most of the day until I went for a walk-run-climb and got the blood flowing. Then I came back and over ate. Now I am watching the Tony Awards since it's in English and I just wanted to hear English.
I have no planning-classes this week and only a few other classes. Thursday and Friday are big tests, oddly final exams for the term and yet the term is out July 20th. I plan to work on the book and various other projects I have to fill the emptiness.
Tuesday, June 27th, 2006
Yesterday I chose not to drink my morning coffee. I did get a headache in the same place as before so Iím sure the headache is coffee related. Plus I had a similar headache on the weekend. Mondayís headache eventually passed so maybe I have broken my habit. Plus I want to change my morning drink to green tea since I read all sorts of health benefits about it.
Yesterday afternoon I took off two hours early and went to Koriyama to meet a friend who was just hired on as a new Native Teacher. She currently lives in Gunma and drove up here for some meeting. Rather she took the train up here this time for some meeting. I drove in to meet her and have Okanomiyaki, which is hard to explain, but it has to do with an omelet type thing which looks nothing like an omelet.
This morning is trash day so I walked to the trash drop off spot. On the way there a neighbor asked if he can talk to me later. Iím not sure what it is about, but I am worried since he was pushy and made me commit to tomorrow after 6 in my apartment which sounded like some sales training routine. ďMake them set a specific time and have the meeting at their place so they feel comfortable and canít leaveĒ. I hate pushy sales people and even people selling their religion. One reason I am not religious is that is seems to be so commercial these days. There are commercials, TV programs, people on the street, people going door to door. Religion should be between you and what you believe in and no third party. So weíll see how that goes tomorrow.
Itís strange, whenever I am not interested in drinking green tea, itís all over the place. Now that I want some, I canít find it at all. There is always this container at school and teachers use the tea mix inside to make green tea. Now itís empty. I am going to push through this and fight for my tea. Never Give Up. Never surrender.
I think the green tea plan might be working. Apart from the fact it doesnít taste all that great, it seems to be keeping me awake. I donít know about the anti-oxidant factors since Iím not aware of my body on a cellular level, but from what I have read it is great. So far I have had about two cups and I am as awake/hyper as I am when I drink coffee. Letís see if I stay awake all night.
A teacher was just on the phone with someone. Then she put the person on hold to ask a question to someone sitting near the intercom. Another teacher was about the use the intercom. The intercom guy started making a school wide announcement. The phone teacher started talking. The intercom guy covered his ear and started talking a bit louder and more clearly. The phone teacher started talking louder to hear herself over the intercom guy. This went back and forth for a minute. Then the intercom guy asked her to please wait a moment while he finished since he couldnít hear. Then she apologized and he apologized. Then she apologized for making him apologize, then he apologized for making her apologize for making him apologize for asking her to be quiet. All this was being broadcast on the intercom. Cackles of laughter could be heard around the school.
I just pulled off a little joke. A teacher was using the computer attached to the color printer (that we abuse). Another teacher came over to use the color printer. They got into this little apologizing/asking if it was a bother loop conversation as is the Japanese way. The color-printer-needing teacher said he just needed to print something and didnít need to get on the computer. I heard this and quickly wrote something in MS Word and sent it to the printer, hoping it would get there first.
It was in Japanese, but an English phrase. I wrote it in the phonetic Japanese language so he would read it and not get it, which would then cause him to read it out loud. He hears it printing and walks over to the printer, picks up the paper and says ďI lika do da cha chaĒ. Then reads it again.
I was the only one who got it and started laughing so he figured it was me and made me explain what it meant, but even then he didnít get it.
Wednesday, June 28th, 2006
The CUTEST system admin just came in the school to fix the server. Yes she is female. Man if she speaks English and Thai and does programming and Thai massages then I would be in heaven. When I worked for an internet company before coming to Japan, there were about 4 girls there and maybe 1 was attractive, and I canít think of any that were server admins. The admins were all guys and nerds of some sort.
The green tea instead of coffee plan seems to be working well. I am awake and alert and it has health benefits out the whazoo, however you spell that. I hope to be able to keep it up. In lieu of coffee.
I have English camp tonight and tomorrow so no updates for a bit.
Friday, June 30th, 2006
English camp is over, but there is another one next week for the 2nd year students. Each school sends one or two of their top English students to this camp and we do extra English activities. Well that is how it works on paper. Some schools are stupid and send students who need extra help in English. So these lower lever kids are mixed in with upper level kids playing upper level games.
I love English camp, or at least the idea of it. What I donít like is how it is such an ďalmostĒ event. 56 English loving kids are mixed with 25 native English speakers for 5 hours after school over two or three days. Wow thatís a lot! Nope. We must do things the Japanese way which involves having ceremonies and meetings and so on. I would say out of the 5 hours we are together the kids spend about 30 minutes with us. This one I just returned from was the last camp for the 3rd years so we spent an hour the first night having an official closing ceremony where they are given official diplomas. Then we spend 30 minutes welcoming them back and explaining the activity. Now the activity time has been cut so they only have ten minutes per station. So they get to one station and the directions are explained. That takes 3-4 minutes. Then there is the obligatory milling around acting like you donít understand time. Another minute. Hey letís start. Now we have 5 minutes for the 15 minute activity. Time's up!. Oh no we arenít finished, but all we need is another 1 minute, which is actually another 5 minutes. Now we are dipping into the next groupís time. I have volunteered to help document what works and what doesnít, but apparently thatís not needed. No harm in reinventing the wheel each time.
We also stay overnight at these things. There are dorm like rooms with 4 people per room. I had a good room with 3 other ALTs. Apparently my room was the talk in your sleep room since we all did it at some point. I was yelling something like ďI donít care what you do in this room, but donít include meĒ and then someone was yelling at me in their sleep too. I am always disoriented when I wake up or am sleeping. If the phone rings I will hit the alarm and vice versa.
I just said farewell to the elementary schoolers since they are going to a play today in Koriyama. The entire school packed into 3 buses (which is what three classes in one grade of a city elementary school would need) and headed out. I acted like I was crying. Itís mandatory for all the teachers to see students off and wave. Itís part of the forced reinforcement plan, which I suppose is overall a good thing.
Today I have no classes, actually this week I havenít had any, but I am not whining about it since they have term end exams (though the term end is on July 20th) and this week they have been preparing for it. I have plenty of things to do so I didnít really mind the break. Iím sure Iíll have a regular schedule next week. Though after summer vacation, I will have to rethink my whole teaching plan since I heard some things during English camp.
Basically, even though the NT program just started and we werenít given any form of clear directive as to what the goal of the Native Teacher program was, next year they want to start seeing results or the soon to be budget cuts might affect us. Hmmmm, speaking of budget cuts hereís an idea to save some mad bank:
All the Koriyama JHS ALTs are driven to their schools by taxis. Iíd guess each day the BoE spends around $500 on taxis. They are picked up at their apartments driven to school and then picked up at school and driven home. $500 a day, and I think it could be more really. I understand insurance would cost a lot, but how about ALTs riding a bus or riding their bike in the summer months? Thatís $2,500 a week times about 40 weeks give or take. Thatís $100,000 a YEAR they spend driving ALTs around. Budget cuts, funny.
So anyway they want to see results. Well what kind of results? What is the goal of this program? I assumed since we are native teachers they want the kids to learn native English or improve their speaking and listening, but the more I think about it and the more I talk to people I realize that speaking doesnít improve the students. Listening is helpful, but speaking isnít on the test. And everything related to school and education in Japan revolves around these tests. Thereís the high school entrance test first and then the college entrance test. The college, or university, entrance test is what the whole country revolves around. Even though there is a ministry of education, the people who really set the curriculum are those who make the university entrance test. Everything must prepare students for those tests.
So with that in mind I am going to focus on improving their test scores starting in the fall. Iím going to teach less speaking and more test related stuff. Iím going to really push them to take the Eiken English test which is three times per year. I think if I can get a higher percentage of students to take the test, and hopefully pass it, that will be one thing that will look good on paper.
Another NT at the English camp made a good point. I said the program just started and it will take at least 2 years to show results. I am even at a smaller school which could show results faster, but the fact that we are a country school cancels out our size advantage. The other NT, who is at a huge school, said itís like trying to steer an oil tanker. It just takes a little while to see any progress. My school might be like a cruise liner.
Something else I found out was about why I am not used more in the elementary school. Since many of the ES teachers have English certificates they feel they can teach English to the kids just fine and there is no need for a native English speaker. Itís not even like they think they are better than me or I am bad, itĎs just common sense to them. They have the certificate and can do the job so why bother troubling me. Keep in mind these are teachers who have never once spoken English to me. There is one teacher who always speaks English to me and his class has great English, but the others just never speak. I told the guy semi-in charge of us about it and he said he would casually ask the teachers why I am not used more. I have found ways around it, I talk to the kids in the hallway a lot and quiz them on things weíve learned. So far I have been to about 8 classes total in the elementary school since April, which is when classes started. I asked the guy how many times ALTs came before and he said about twice a month and each time they would have 4-5 classes. I should have been in each class once a month, ideally twice a month. I canít develop any pattern of teaching or curriculum since I go so sporadically.
Thatís the core of what bugs me about Japan. Doing things one way regardless of how inefficient they are. Itís like moving a mountain using only a spoon when there is a team of dump trucks and back hoes on staff just sitting in the office. But you have always moved mountains with spoons and this is how you always will. There is nothing inefficient or wasteful about your plan, itís just how you do it. You have never considered doing it any other way.
I am all in favor of doing things a certain way as long as you stop and check and make sure it is the best way to do it, or at least you have decent reasons as to why you arenít doing it a different way. Japan is such a formal culture and the US has such an informal culture. Coming from one to another is really hard sometimes. Most of my Japanese friends who have spent time in a foreign country, especially the US, come back and are much different. They are able to see around the matrix and they recognize annoying customs within their culture. They can usually explain why things are done in such an odd manner.
Tomorrow I am going to Minami Aizu, which is south of the area called Aizu, for a cookout camp out. The organizer said there is only 1 cabin, which I foresee as being an issue. There will be like 11-15 people there and I know they will stay up until 4am partying and being loud. I might take a tent so I can crash outside if that happens, she said tents are ok. I need to air it out though. I wish I had a station wagon at times like this.
So itís 9am now. I have a 4 minute speaking test with the 1st year JHS students around 4th period. They used a CD player for the 2nd and 3rd year studentsí listening tests.
I have been somewhat depressed today. Itís really just a series of small things that brought me down. The most recent was because all the teachers got bonuses today. I knew I wouldnít get one so I didnít care. But the principal was handing them out and everyone was all excited. Then he was across the room and said ďOh Ryan tooĒ and was holding something. Then others heard him and were curious and looking around. He walks over to me and right as he gets to me he says ďoh wait, this is your pay stub from last weekĒ. It was a mixture of that and all the teacherís being happy that bugged me. But what it really is I think, is how foreigner English teacherís, ALTs and NTs, flip between being ďactual teachersĒ and ďspecial teachersĒ depending on whether or not it benefits the Japanese side. When the breaks come and I want to take a vacation, well I am an equal member and have equal rights. Japanese teachers must use vacation time so I must as well (though the BoE lets us have some special leave). Then when itís bonus time, oh no you are a special situation, you donít get a bonus. Then as an NT, all teachers must participate in certain activities on weekends and after school because I am an equal member of the staff. Then when I want to drive to see the kids playing soccer and baseball, I am told I am not allowed to drive, because I am special situation. It always goes back and forth like that. I donít mind not getting the bonus, though I think it is at least 10% of the yearly salary, but I just wish there was more consistency. Either treat me as an equal or as a special situation, just not both when it is convenient.
Saturday, July 1st, 2006
I really think my green tea plan is making a difference. I do seem to have a little more energy at school and feel better overall. Last night I mentioned I was feeling down so I pulled out my brownie mix since brownies always make me feel better. I cooked them up and had a few and felt nasty after eating them. Like my body had been cleaning itself and I through garbage back in. Hopefully that was the case. I would love to feel like crap every time I eat something bad.
I am cooking two chicken breasts that were marinated in Italian dressing overnight now. That will be my brunch. Then I will pack and head out to the BBQ camp out thing.
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