Thursday, September 27, 2007

An amendment

I need to amend that last observation. Apparently manga is only forbidden at Kita HS. Today (at Kabutoyama HS) one of my 1st grade students was blatantly reading his comic book instead of paying attention and the JTE didn't do anything. I was a little peeved that this kid was so disrespectful, so I took it from him - as he was reading. He was so engrossed in his comics that he didn't notice me until I had taken the manga out of his hands! He looked completely bewildered! Then, I turn my back for 10 seconds to walk back to the front of the classroom, and he pulls out another comic book from his desk! This time, however, he saw me coming, so he shoved it back in his desk before I got there. I said to him, "NO!" several times and I'm pretty sure he understood because he didn't try it again. Meanwhile, the JTE did nothing!! (Granted, this particular JTE is a bit difficult to work with because he's just coasting until retirement...but I digress) After class I told the kid, "Don't do this again!" and gave it back. When I told my supervising teacher about it later, he just laughed and said, "Oh yeah!" like it's no big deal.

My two schools are like night and day!
I guess it's to be expected because they are two different schools, but it's hard to know what goes!

Japanese phrase of the day:
Wakarimasen! I don't understand!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Don't bring your manga to school!

An interesting observation about Japanese schools:

I find it funny what teachers let slide in class and what they don't. For instance, students can have loud conversations, stand up, talk back, sleep, text on cell phones, and basically completely disregard the teacher with little to no reprimand. However, if you are caught reading manga (comic books for those of you not in the know) in class, this is a serious offense! First you will be yelled at in class. Then you will be taken to the teacher's room after school and be yelled at by your homeroom teacher in front of all the other teachers. Manga is where they draw the line!

Today, in a class of 35 I counted at least 8-12 students sleeping at any given time (you can wake them up, but they just go back to sleep - plus most of the monsters were sleeping, so I let them!) and there are always a couple students texting on their phones, but the student who was caught reading manga was yelled at, called "dishonest", and later reprimanded.

I don't get it!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Zombies and Monsters

I have a bit of time, so I figured I should write a bit :)

The past few weeks have been very crazy. My schedule doesn't allow for much free time during the day, so I spend every extra minute trying to plan lessons. I'm getting the hang of it, but I still feel pretty spastic.

One hurdle I find rather difficult is the group mentality of the quiet students. No one wants to stand out, so no one says anything. In each class there is maybe 1 or 2 genki students, but everyone else is a zombie. And it's so funny because after class, I think that the lesson was a complete disaster since no one responded to me at all, but usually one of the zombies will tell me later that they really enjoyed the lesson and thought it was very interesting! Why couldn't they act interested during class? Because then they would stand out and being different is bad. Sheesh!

Hurdle number two is dealing with the monsters - those students that won't shut up, sit down, or pay attention. I had a class the other day where 4 boys in the back were throwing things at each other. The JTE didn't do anything, so I yelled at them "hey!" This brought their naughty behavior to the attention of everyone, so they stopped...for approximately 30 seconds. Other students will make fun of me or the JTE right in our faces - and what do you say to a kid who is making fun of you in Japanese and barely understands English? I usually just tell them to sit down and ignore it. They're trying to get attention, but they won't get it from me.

So there you have it: my students are either zombies or monsters...or 3rd graders who are wonderful. The 3rd graders actually want to speak English so I try to plan the class around at least 20-30 minutes of just talking. It's great. :)

I started going to a Japanese tutor once a week. It's through the Takarazuka International Friendship Assoc. What a great name! Anyway, the tutors are volunteers and it's one-on-one, which is fantastic. My tutor, Suwa-sensei, is a very nice lady who is very patient with me, but also pushes me pretty hard. The first lesson was pretty tough because it is primarily in Japanese. I'm getting better, but still have a long way to go!

So, I have quite a lot to update. I'll go back to where I left off in the past...

8/11 (Remember way back then?) I decided that I needed to explore Kobe by myself because all the other times I had been there (or Osaka), I had been with other ALTs that I just followed around. So, to figure out where things are, I dedicated the day to wandering around.

I started at the main shopping strip called Center Gai. It spans many many blocks, has 3 levels of stores, plus a basement of just restaurants. Not much else to say - but if any of you come to visit and want to go shopping, it's a great place to start!

Then I wandered up Ikuta Street to the Ikuta Shrine. I basically just took pictures because I don't know or understand the traditional way to approach and pray at a shrine/temple. I know that you're supposed to get a fortune and if it's good you take it with you; if it's bad you tie it to a tree near the shrine and pray for the gods to prevent it from happening. There's also some sort of ritual I noticed where you approach the shrine, throw money at the shrine, ring a very large bell, bow, clap twice, and bow again. I think it's to let the spirits know that you're there...?

I went up to another shrine, the Kitano Tenman Shrine, that had a fantastic view of Kobe and the harbor. There were about a million stairs to walk up, but it was worth it for the view! Same rituals, etc.

After this I wandered up Kitanozaka Ave to the Kitano-cho Plaza. This is where the "heritage architecture," also called "historical foreigners' houses," is centered. There are maybe 10 houses up on the hillside that used to be consulate housing, but now are restored and for 300-500 yen you can tour the houses. Each house represents a different country: England, France, etc. I didn't go inside because I didn't feel like spending the money to walk the houses alone (and I can save it for when someone comes to visit).

I did, however, visit the American House. I had to. Why? Because it has been turned into a Teddy Bear Museum! The woman in charge of the house was a little bit crazy and very chatty just as I was about to leave. She wanted to take my picture many times, in several poses. She also kept telling me "this is famous" and that I should take a picture! Then she would wait for me to take the picture! She invited me back "anytime" so that I could catch up on the Kobe gossip. :) I have many many more crazy pictures of the American House and all of its teddy bears... If you are interested I can share some more!

I met some other very nice people and found some very cool little shops in this neighborhood. It's much quieter than Center Gai and I had fun wandering around. It's definitely worth checking out.

Japanese phrase of the day:
Anata no shashin o totte mo i desu ka? Can I take a picture of you?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Busy, busy, busy

Sorry I haven't blogged in a while - I am terribly behind. As my excuse, I offer all of the time I've been putting into work. School is taking up a lot more time than I thought it would. Mostly it's because I have so little time to plan lessons during the day (so I end up staying late). I promise to catch everything up soon. But not now - too busy! :)

Japanese phrase of the day (or past two weeks):
Watashi wa isogashi desu! I am busy!

Friday, September 7, 2007

Week 1...Oh what a week!

So, I have officially been a teacher for an entire school week! And what a week it has been. I hope you're all caught up on what happened the first day, because that was my last day of peace...

My first day at N.Kita HS (visiting school) began much like the previous day: kyoto-sensei introduced me to all the other teachers during the teachers' meeting and I gave the same speech. This time it went over really well and several teachers came to me afterwards and told me they appreciated my joke. :) I had met the English teachers there the week before and we had discussed our first lesson - I created a lesson to introduce myself to the students:
Anna's First Lesson!
1. Quick intro - go over some hard words that they will hear a lot from me (i.e. laboratory)
2. I read a speech and they listen
3. Pass out worksheet that has my speech with a few fill-in-the-blanks (stuff like Seattle, America, younger brother, etc.)
4. I read the speech 2 more times (btw, I've pretty much got the speech memorized now. I think I've read it to 7 classes and I still have 6 more classes next week)
5. Go over answers - hopefully students volunteer?
6. Pass out worksheet that has comprehension questions about the speech (What country does Anna come from?)
7. Go over answers
8. Students work in pairs and write down 2 questions to ask me - they can be anything (students at this level may want to ask some racy stuff, but don't know how so I wasn't worried - mostly it was "How old are you?" "What do you like Japanese food?" "How you like Japan?")
9. Students ask their questions

The JTEs (Japanese Teachers of English) had warned me last week that their classes are a little rowdy. They kept telling me, "These classes are not so well behaved. But please do not get furious. Take it easy!" Way to bolster my confidence!

If I may digress: Japanese high schools are not like American high schools. In Japan, high school is not required. Once you finish jr. high, you have officially left the public school system. However, something like 98% of students continue on to high school. To get into a high school, you have to take an entrance exam for each school that you are interested in. There are different levels of high schools and also public or private high schools. Where you go to high school will most likely determine where you go to college (or "university" as they say here). High school is basically 3 years of prepping you for the university entrance exams. The 2 schools that I am in are very low level schools. I don't know what the passing rate is, but it doesn't really matter because everyone graduates. You can come to school 3 times in 3 years, fail every class and still graduate because your parents paid for it...(it won't help you with those university entrance exams, but most students who really want to go to university are also taking classes at a "cram school," which is why we don't give homework, but anyway...) So, like I said, my schools are pretty low level, which means maybe 10-30% will go to university - maybe. The other kids are there probably because their parents are making them. In other words, most students don't want to be there.

Because these students choose to come to school, they can pretty much do whatever they want. They have a right to be in the classroom while we are teaching -- but that doesn't mean they have to pay attention. We can't remove them from the classroom if they are being disruptive because we would be taking away their right to an education. (There are extreme cases where a student has been removed from class because they were so disruptive they were affecting the education of every other student in the room - only then can you send them to the vice-principal's office.)

So, back to my first day. I had 3 classes that day: two 1st grade classes and one 3rd grade class. (Note: high school is 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade = sophomore, junior, senior). The first class was the "best of the 1st grade classes". While I was trying to teach, the students were talking to their friends, texting on their cell phones, sleeping, staring out the window... I think I had the attention of about 2/3 of the class for most of the period. And this is pretty good because I'm new, so they're interested in me! There were a few boys who always wanted me to call on them so I would give them attention. The other 1st grade class was the "worst" of the classes. I probably had 1/2 of their attention. They would get up and walk around, write on the blackboard in the back of the class, whatever. As I was passing out worksheets, if I miscounted and forgot one, they wouldn't speak up, probably because they weren't going to do it in the first place. One boy kept saying my name so I would look at him, then he would put his hand over his heart and swoon. I've already got some crushes! Woo! We didn't get through the entire lesson with this class - we had to spend the first 10 minutes of the period actually getting the students into the classroom... The 3rd grade class has only 2 students! So we talked a little bit, I showed them some pictures, and they took me on a tour of the school. Our conversation consisted of, "This room music room." "This room staff room." "Do you have boyfriend?" Two very sweet adorable girls, but cannot put two sentences together in English.

So ends my first day. I was pretty wiped out and went to have dinner with a couple friends so we could complain about our days (we all have low level schools).

Second day, Wednesday: I'm back at my base school, N.Kabutoyama and I only have one class (3rd grade) because the 1st and 2nd graders have testing. This 3rd grade class has 17 students. I went through the same lesson as the first graders, but went a little faster because I figured they would understand more...I was wrong. Although they muddled through all the questions and directions, at least 10 students didn't understand what I was saying most of the time. Oy.

Oh, and at this school, 2 of my 3 JTEs have no interest in the class. I do everything. I plan the lesson, I give the lesson, I grade anything I give out, I create the exams...they don't care. They come to class to moderate or speak in Japanese - which I find frustrating. Especially the 3rd grade JTE. A little beef: First of all, I didn't even meet her until halfway through 1st period that day - our class is 4th period and she has classes 2nd and 3rd periods. She's a part-time teacher so she only shows up for her classes, not any of the teachers' meetings or after school meetings. When I asked her what should be covered the next day (because we teach the 3rd graders twice a week instead of just once), she looked at me like I was an alien (which I am, but you know what I mean). She said, "Didn't Jamie tell you?" Jamie was the ALT before me. I told her no, he didn't tell me what to do. So she said that I should just make worksheets like he did and make sure we get through all the lessons in the text book by the end of the school year (there are about 9 lessons left). And then she left! During class, she stood at the back of the classroom and after I would give some instructions, instead of trying to help me make myself more clear in English, she would just tell them what to do in Japanese. Which will really help their English. And I find completely irritating. Blah. The only "help" she gave is telling me that most students didn't understand me.

Anyway, despite the 3rd graders not being able to understand me, they were all really sweet and gave me recommendations on what to eat from the cafeteria. :) During the lunch period, I ate my lunch in the teachers' room, but a handful of 3rd and 2nd grade girls came to me and asked if I would talk with them. I said sure!! So we talked about Harry Potter and Disneyland :) Also, later that day, another student came and found me. She told me she is going to be doing a one-month home-stay in Spokane this October and wants to practice talking with me before she leaves. Also very cute. I've talked with her twice now and she's mostly worried about bathrooms, showers, and farting! :P My supervisor told me today that it's very good that students are coming to talk to me - especially the girls - because they didn't do that with the previous guy. Hooray! I'm approachable!

Thursday, I had 3 classes at N.Kabutoyama and 2 classes at N.Kita (I have to use my lunch period to take the bus between the two schools, which is not good). At Kabutoyama I finally had two of my 1st grade classes. I was expecting the worse - just like at Kita - but more so because the JTE isn't involved. At Kita, at least the JTEs are in control and I'm the assistant - I don't have to tell kids to sit down, shut up, turn around in their seats, etc. BUT..... The 1st graders at Kabutoyama are the exact OPPOSITE of Kita. They were silent! Not a peep! When I asked if anyone knew the answer - even when I saw it written on their papers - they would stare at their shoes. All I saw were the tops of heads. There was one boy in the back who volunteered for pretty much every question. That's it. I tried going around and picking people to answer, but their answers were barely audible. It was almost worse than the rowdy kids because I didn't know if they were alive! I'm going to work on these kids... They will have to speak to me eventually! The 3rd grade class this day went waaaaay better than the day before. I took a lesson from the textbook - about pets - talked very slowly, and tried to start a dialogue about pets for the first part of the lesson. For the second half, I reviewed easy past tense and got them to talk to their partners about what they did yesterday, what they did over the summer break, etc. Much more successful! The stinky JTE agreed that class was much better.

Friday, there was more testing, so I only had one 2nd grade class. Now, this is interesting: as motivation for speaking in class, Jamie created "passports" and every time a student volunteers, they get a stamp in their passport. The 2nd grade JTE (who is very nice and will actually talk to me about lesson plans) told me about this, so I decided to use it. It worked wonders! Kids were waving their arms around wanting to be called on - just to get a stamp! At the end of the term, the stamps count towards their final grade, so they want as many stamps as possible! It was awesome! I'm going to use this on the 1st graders.

The JTEs at Kita said that I handled the rowdy classes pretty well because through it all, I still kept smiling. I was smiling mainly for the students who were paying attention because I appreciated them listening to me! Plus, what the heck, I was told that my primary goal is not to teach English but to expose these kids to another culture. So, if they don't want to listen to my lesson, fine, but I will get through to them some way or another. Probably exploiting the schoolboy crushes! ;) Just kidding, but seriously...

Ah, this has been a long one. A lot of ranting, a few raves. I know my schedule will be even more hectic next week because the testing will be over. I tried using my downtime this week to get ahead in lessons - making worksheets from the textbooks - so that I can concentrate on the fun stuff. I want to spend half of the class on textbook stuff (required) and half of the class on fun stuff. More speaking, less staring out the window.

That's all for now. I think I will hit the hay! (BTW, I want to do a lesson on American slang, so if you feel that there are some words, phrases, or expressions that an American just can't do without, please tell me!)

Japanese phrase of the day:
Eigo ga wakarimasu-ka? Do you understand English?

Monday, September 3, 2007

First day of school

I'm going to jump into the future a bit and tell you about my day - TODAY!

Today was the first day of school! The first day is pretty much reserved for the Opening Ceremony and for students to catch up with the teachers after their vacation.

Japan's school year is a bit different than ours. School starts April 1st and ends March 31st. The year is split into 3 terms and after each term is a long break. Students have all of August off for summer vacation, so when I arrived most students weren't around. The next break is in winter (Dec 12-Jan 7) and spring break is in May (they call it "Golden Week" because everyone goes on vacation -- it is very expensive to travel at this time). Teachers, however, do not get this time off. We have to use our nenkyu, or paid-time-off. :(

Another bit about Japan's school culture: students and teachers take their club activities VERY seriously. A hobby is not just a hobby, it is a life-long pursuit! So even though school was out for summer, there were students at school every day for baseball, soccer, tennis, dance, ping-pong, volleyball, Junior Red Cross, orchestra, guitar, tea ceremony, home ec, etc, etc, etc... Clubs also go all year round - there are no seasonal sports. You have to pick one and stick to it! I've gotten pretty good at telling who is what club: the baseball players all have buzz-cuts, the dancers all wear leggings (circa 1984) all the time, guitar players are boys who don't want to have to run around a field all year long... It's fun to guess!

Anyway, back to my first day. Everyday before school starts is a teachers' meeting. At the meeting this morning kyoto-sensei, vice principal, introduced me to all the teachers. I had to make a short speech:
"Hajimemashite! Anna Amen to moshimasu. Amerika no Washington-shu, Seattle-shi kara kimashita. Watashi wa nihongo ga hanasemasen shikashi eigo ga totemo jozu desu! Dozo yuroshiku onegaishimasu." = Hello/Nice to meet you! I am Anna Amen. I come from Seattle, Washington, America. I do not speak Japanese, but I am very skilled in English! Please treat me nicely as I will treat you (sort of, this phrase doesn't really have an English translation). I got a few laughs, which is what I was going for.

After the introduction to the teachers and the rest of the teachers' meeting (all in Japanese so I don't know what was said) I was taken to the gym to the Opening Ceremony. All the students sit/stand in rows: boy/girl and by year. The kocho-sensei, principal, made a long speech and they played a song (school song? National Anthem? no idea!). Then kocho-sensei brought me on stage and introduced me to the students. I know he said something about how I'm from Seattle and something about Ichiro, but that's all I could catch. Then I had to make another little speech, this time in English (basically, I'm excited to be here and look forward to speaking English with all of you). After that there were more speeches by various teachers about bus schedules and who knows what. It was stinking hot and we all had to stand... And for the occasion I wore a suit, so I was dying!

After the assembly, students were dismissed to their homerooms. The first day of school is also "cleaning day" where all the students are assigned a classroom that they have to clean. I guess this happens every week, but today was special (?). I am in charge of the International Classroom (my classroom!) and so a handful of students came to clean it up. They didn't really talk to me, just called me kawaii, cute! (Side note: my school does it a little differently - usually the students stay in one classroom and the teachers come to them. At my school for English class, they come to the International Classroom instead of me going to them.)

Not much happened the rest of the day... I actually start teaching tomorrow! But not at this school -- Tuesday, Thursday afternoon, and Friday morning I go to my visiting school. So my first lesson will be there! Yikes!

In other news, last night I had my first encounter with a cockroach! AAAAACK!! It was hiding in my towel! As I was getting ready for bed, I grabbed my towel and out it came!! Yuck yuck yuck!! I screamed, dropped the towel, ran into the tatami room, and slammed the door! And I didn't go back in the kitchen/bathroom until morning. Mike tried telling me that it is more afraid of me than I am of it, but I don't think so. Regardless, I've decided that this cockroach needs to die! This apartment isn't big enough for both of us! After school today I went to the drug store and stocked up on gokiburi hoi hoi, roach motels, and gokiburi supurei, roach spray. I put 5 motels all around the kitchen, so we'll just see how long he lives...

That is all for today!

Japanese phrase of the day:
Kata no chikaro o nuite yaro yo. It helps to have a sense of humor.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Brought to you by the Letter C!

Celebrity endorsements!

I had to write a quick blurb about this because I just watched two commercials in a row with celebrities in them (Ichiro and Orlando Bloom). Here's what I've seen so far:

Ichiro takes his car to be detailed at a gas company called Eneos!

Orlando Bloom loves Shiseido's Uno hair gel!

Cameron Diaz only uses Softbank as her cell phone company!

Tommy Lee Jones drinks Boss Coffee everyday!

I've also seen Meg Ryan on a huge billboard in Kobe, but I can't for the life of me remember what it was for...

Anyway, I think celebrity endorsements are hysterical! Right up there with Engrish!
I have seen so many examples of very fine Engrish, that I can't take pictures of them all. Here are a few of my favorites:

There are a lot of sad looking puppies on gift bags around here. And also a lot of strange sayings... On Friday I found a bag that said," God chooses our families, thank God we can choose our friends" !!!! Who would you give that to?? What kind of gift would you put in these bags??

(It's hard to see, but on the bird's crest it says, "1994 Seattle Teenage. This is a shirt that I had to have!)


Aug 7th-9th: Banks and Fried Food

Aug 7th and 8th: Not much to report. A lot of signing papers, getting used to getting to school by myself, setting up the apt.

Oh Aug 9th, I had an interesting day at the bank. A word about Japanese banks:
Japanese businesses as a whole are very honest. They won't charge you hidden fees (except maybe cell phone companies), they won't accept tips (even cab drivers!), and will chase you down the street if you forget your change (even if it's just a few yen!). With utilities - gas, water, electricity - cell phone, and rent, you can have it set up so that the money is directly taken from your account to pay your bills. Kind of like what you can set up with online banking, except Japan has been doing this for years. For someone like me, it's rather convenient since I wouldn't be able to read the bill anyway! (If you don't have the direct payment set up, when you get a bill you don't send them a check -- checks don't exist in Japan -- you take the bill to the convenience store, they scan the barcode on the bill, and you pay cash.) Also, Japan is primarily still a cash society - they don't use checks, credit cards, debit cards, anything like that! So keeping track of your cash is very important. And pretty much everyone carries around a lot of cash all the time (this is still hard to get used to - being someone who rarely carried cash).

Also, the post office is also a bank. The post office was the first government run organization to act as a bank before banks existed in Japan. Most Japanese people still have accounts at the post office -- usually they have their paychecks deposited into the bank and they use the post office as a savings account.

When you open up a Japanese back account, you get a banking passbook -- kind of like a check book. This contains all your bank account information (I'm pretty sure it's coded). When you go to an ATM, you put in your ATM card and your passbook and it automatically updates the passbook for you! It's fantastic! No more writing in your checkbook trying to remember when you took out some cash or used your debit card -- the ATM does it for you! And if you don't have your passbook with you, that's okay - you can have it updated the next time you go. I love it :)

Anyway. Back to the story. I went to the bank to exchange and deposit the last of the money that I had brought with me. I knew this would be difficult, so I brought the point-and-speak phrasebook that Mike's mom gave me, bookmarked at the bank section. I mimed to the bank greeter lady that I wanted to exchange and deposit my American dollars. She helped me fill out the forms and get in the right line. The teller who was helping me was also very nice and tried to speak English... HOWEVER... While she was exchanging my money, she LOST my bank passbook!! My proof of my bank account!! I had given it to her with my money and she misplaced it while calculating the exchange rate or something. Oh you should have seen how they fussed over me! The teller, the greeter lady, and another teller who wasn't with a customer were frantically looking all over the desk and shelves. They kept talking to me in Japanese, trying to reassure me, and I tried desperately to get a hold of someone who spoke English and Japanese so they could talk to them for me (sadly, no one answered their phone). After what seemed like hours (but was probably only 20 minutes) they found my passbook and apologized over and over. As a parting gift, they gave me some dish soap and wet wipes to compensate me for my trouble :) I was escorted to the door by the greeter lady while she kept bowing all the way to her knees!

Now I can look back and laugh, but at the time, I was sooooo scared that my bank account was going to be frozen!

Later that night I met up with some other ALTs at an English Pub in Kobe called The Hub. (For all you Huskies, funny right?) Most Friday nights the ALTs in the Kansai area meet up a The Hub for happy hour and then go get some dinner. It was decided to take me someplace new (again!) for dinner...

We went to a kushi-ya, which basically means "a shop to deep fry food." Again, pay by the hour and built into the center of each table is a pot of hot oil. There's a buffet of various foods on sticks -- like shish-kebabs -- meat, vegetables, sea food, all sorts of things. You dip your selected food in batter, roll it in bread crumbs, and put it in the pot to fry! Not the healthiest meal, but it was very fun.

(This isn't my picture, but looks pretty close to what I experienced...I should've taken a picture!)

Okay folks, I should be going -- school starts tomorrow and I need to work on my opening speech! Wish me luck :)

Japanese phrase of the day:
Gambatte! Try your hardest!