9.10.2005

First day of teaching

My first day of teaching at KG (short for Kwansei Gakuin) was a great
introduction to a Japanese junior high classroom. Because our school
is a private school, I'm assuming that we have a bit more funding and
freedom to design classrooms with more technology. I taught
conversation with my co-teacher, Ms. Thrasher (or Thrasher-sensei as I
may throw in with my Jenglish at times). So we conduct class in the
AVLL (audio-visual language lab) which has typical headsets,
microphones, and control panels at each desk. I say typical because I
used a similar system in college, but nothing remotely close to this
in JH. And atypical, to my experience at least, is TV monitors for
every two students that are close-circuited to a device that takes a
picture of your handout. Sort of like an OHP display for each table.
There were all sorts of buttons that I didn't want to touch for fear
of discombobulating the entire system.
Today's goal was to introduce my role in the class, facilitating one
on one conversations. Yes, I will conduct approximately 190 2-minute
interviews with all the 9th grade boys. The junior high contains three
grades, 7-9. But today I was just introducing the idea. I created a
detailed handout about the procedure, format, grading criteria, and
success tips for the conversations. My master's degree has informed me
of a lot of issues for testing students, so I think I wanted to be
forthright and fair with the students, even if they aren't aware of
all these things.
As for the actual procedure of friday's class, Ms. Thrasher (a
bilingual, bicultural teacher with American father and Japanese
mother) had a well-organized system of randomly assigning a new
seating chart. The students were trying Survivor tactics (outsmart,
outplay) to predict where their number tag would show up on the
seating chart so they could plan to sit by a friend. All were
disappointed. But they laughed anyway.
Then it was my turn to go over the handout. In retrospect maybe a
more creative approach would have kept their attention, but I
proceeded to just read along with them on the handout. I dramatized a
few points where difficult words were. I planned 15 minutes for this
event, it took 30. I asked if there were any questions. Blank faces.
After the third class, I chose to elongate my "wait time" so much that
it was uncomfortable for the students as they fidgeted in their seats.
I gave them an out of asking questions after class. I've known for 2
years that Japanese students rarely ask questions of their teacher
during class. Hence, my teaching style is still conditioned for an
American classroom. This will take time to work out.
Finally, Ms. Thrasher played a spelling game with the students. The
first word "necklace" really confounded all 4 classes. What's cool is
that students "buzz in" using their control panel at their desk, so
the teacher can play Jeopardy! style games to see the order of who
buzzed in when. That could come in handy.
After school, I had the English club. Yes, from 4-5:30 on a Friday I
stayed at school to have a club meeting. I suppose that sports coaches
at JH and HS do this all the time too, but usually I'm familiar with
Americans who purposefully get off work early on Friday to get a head
start on the weekend. Not so in Japan. But that's fine with me to stay
late. At the moment I have no money to spend and no friends to spend
it with, so staying at a familiar place in an unfamiliar country is
fine with me for now. And I know that being dedicated to work
community is part of the culture here so I'm trying to find value in
this by toeing the party line.
So there's 3 boys in the English club. Fortunately, I have a
repertoire of short English games from Concordia Language Villages so
I wasn't at a loss for what to do with them. They're a polite,
fun-loving bunch. I think I'll enjoy this weekly respite from large
classes to have some comfortable and fun English learning with
motivated boys.
Well, the school day ends there but my teaching experience doesn't.
I'd made plans to meet with a JET colleague of my girlfriend Gilda's
at Starbucks in Kobe. Please toss out any issues you may have with me
patronizing this juggernaut American establishment when i should have
been searching out the local Japanese alternative. I was the only
Gaijin in there as I waited for Leon and the 70/30 post/pre-recycled,
unbleached napkin that I used to wipe my face was made in Japan. How's
that for social responsibility and local employment? Anywho, Leon has
stayed in Japan after 3 years in JET and teaches at the Cram (evening)
school upstairs from Starbucks. We talked about the bad rap that
English teachers get in Japan from those who have no empathy or clue
about cross-cultural differences. We talked about some case-studies of
pre-literate Japanese kids learning English at Leon school.
Interesting hypothesis that the writing system restricts older
students' pronunciation because the vowel systems, codified by the
writing, limit the pronunciation of Japanese people speaking English
because English has certain sounds that Japanse doesn't. For example,
there is no soft "c" sound in Japanese like in the English word "sea".
So for the letter "c" Japanese may pronounce it like the Kana "shi".
My trip to Kobe to meet Leon at the Starbucks was another adventure
story. The short of it was that I left my map at home but didn't know
how to negotiate the 3 private and 1 public railway between
Nishinomiya and Kobe. Yes, 4 seperate train lines. Most American
cities struggle to fill one public line, but Kansai area of Japan has
3 companies making a profit on public transport. Very efficient. The
end of the short story is that I obviously made it to my destination
and returned safely home near midnight. I walked the quiet streets
alone and didn't feel vigilant for thieves at all. This is certainly a
different experience than USA or my last life abroad in Jamaica. Ja
mata ne (see you later)!

3 comments:

Mrs The Experience said...

This is really quite fascinating. And, I'm curious... can you expand any on "the bad rap that English teachers get in Japan from those who have no empathy or clue about cross-cultural differences"?

Best of luck to you. What an adventure!

Larry said...

Boo Starbucks.

Yay Jeff.

Yay CLV.

Nicole said...

Re: Starbucks--
I've read that the spread and popularity of Starbucks, and their ongoing mission to educate the American public about good coffee, has actually enhanced local café business in the US. And that because of Starbucks, Americans have become more sophisticated coffee drinkers (coffee snobs? caffeine addicts?). I've also read the articles that portray Starbucks as predators who move into neighborhoods, forcing out local established coffee houses.
I'm sure you'll go to a variety of Japanese coffe houses, kissaten, they're all over the place. Just becasue Starbucks is a big company-chain doesn't make them evil.

Countries I have visited

Where I've been in the USA