It’s been far too long between updates… I keep meaning to write, but things just kept piling up. Two months, though? I am ashamed!
This post is mostly about my job lately and daily things that have happened.
Me in Pictures:
Here is a picture that my student drew of me. Don’t ask me why I am blonde…
A Weird Conversation
The principal of one of my schools asked me why Americans were so against eating whale meat. That was an interesting conversation. I told him it was because they are endangered and we want to protect the whales we have right now on our planet so that they do not go extinct. He told me that Japanese people don’t eat a lot of whale, just a bit. I countered with: if everyone ate a little bit, wouldn’t that amount to a lot in the end?
Angels and Demons
It really surprises me how some 3rd graders can be sweet little cherubs who hang on my every word and look up at me in awe… and then some 4th graders can be screaming monkeys who don’t give a rat’s you-know-what about what I say. It’s crazy. Needless to say, I prefer the younger ones.
The snow came early this December and I had to put up my bike in my storage shed. My only methods of transportation were buses, trains, and my own two feet. Last Thursday I walked 4.6 miles to work and back in the ice and snow. By the time I got home, it was very dark and I honestly cannot say I have ever been as happy to see my couch. But this week the snow has melted a bit and it has been raining… I have been able to use my bike a few times. Carefully, mind you! It only takes me 10 minutes by bike to get to work from my house.
I have recently learned that coloring is a godsend. A simple coloring and listening exercise can get even the worse-behaved boys to be quiet and concentrate. The teacher came up to me after class and basically said, “Thank goodness you brought that coloring activity… It would have been bad if we didn’t have that.”
This came to mind… Here, have a meme:
Mistakes, Attitude, and Discipline
A few weeks ago I was at an elementary school, teaching those little 5th graders. I was telling them how the Japanese language even has some loan words from Spanish (or words that sound like Spanish). I thought I wrote “Spanish Language” on the board in Japanese, but instead I had written “Spine Language.” The kids cracked up and started laughing and kind of mocking my Japanese mistake. Last year I probably wouldn’t have said anything, but I have a bit more of a backbone this year. I spoke up and said, “Hey. Everyone makes mistakes. I’m still learning Japanese and I’m not perfect, so it’s okay to make a mistake. You’re learning English too, aren’t you? It’s better to try and make a mistake than to not try at all.”
I keep thinking about this thing that a fellow JET said on Facebook about Japanese people’s attitude about the English language. Mostly about learning and speaking it. This JET observed that Japanese people constantly say “I can’t do it” or “I don’t understand”. Even teachers will say these things in front of their students. This furthers the myth that English is just “too difficult” for normal people to learn and speak. This frustrated the heck out of her, because she wishes more than anything that her students would just try. Better to try and make a mistake than to not try at all. At least, that is the American way of teaching things.
And then Tori chimed in to the Facebook conversation to say that she wondered the same thing once. It was explained to her by a Japanese friend like this: “…they just say that to help when they are actually wrong. It’s not a weak mind, but they are taught to do things perfectly and are trained to basically not make mistakes. It’s also a polite way for them to be modest. Plus, we come from a culture where you shouldn’t be afraid to make mistakes. And being silent is better than being wrong.”
I am still a little ways away from understanding this fully. How can they say “I don’t know” and then immediately say the answer perfectly without any help? It is bizarre. They will deny knowing the answer, but then the teacher will be able to coax the exact right answer out of them. I don’t get it.
And then at other times they clearly don’t know the answer and just don’t want to try. I can’t tell the difference between the kids who know the answer and just have no confidence and the kids who really don’t know. I was with one girl today, kneeling down to her eye-level and carefully pronouncing words for her. I asked her to try to say “I”. That’s it. The letter “I”. She responded with “I can’t do it, I only know Tsugaru-ben (the local dialect)”. Frustrating. I hope she knows that won’t fly in junior high.
Now I am going to talk about discipline. I am not a licensed educator and my job as an ALT is not to discipline, so take all my opinions and observations with a grain of salt.
How can Japanese parents leave the disciplining of their kids entirely up to the school? The parents get mad if the school sends them home, saying that it is the school’s problem. In the US, if you can’t behave in school, you get disciplined at school and then if you get a certain amount of strikes, you are out of there. At least, that’s how I thought it worked when I went to school in the US.
Here there are a handful of boys at this school who would have been suspended several times over from the way they act. Their behavior is just… terrible. The school brings in teacher’s aides and volunteers to help reign in these wild kids, while the other kids try to learn. For example, I was trying to teach a class, but there was scuffling, screaming/shouting, and slamming noises from the hallway. My poor students were distracted. Even I flinched at the noises because they were so loud. Another case: I taught a class and there was a boy running around the room stomping his shoes so hard against the floor that the noises echo in the classroom and drown out my voice. The class seemed hopeless at that point.
So what does the administration do? The vice principal, volunteer aides, and anyone available just follow the kids around. The kids basically do whatever they want to do and the adults just try to corral them into their classes. They don’t participate in class either, if by some miracle they are in the classroom and seated in their chairs. Today they called a member of the board of education to come sit with a problem child in class. This man handed the boy his pencil case and textbook. The kid just shrugged and said, “I don’t need that” and tossed them on the floor.
I know every child has a right to education, but problem kids ruin the learning experience for their peers. I feel so sorry for the kids who actually want to participate and learn. This school has such discipline problems that my director considered canceling my school visits there for the rest of the year, worried about my safety. I said I still wanted to go there, so we shall see what happens in January.
And of course this is such a contrast to the near-angelic children of my rural schools. But anyways, that was my last teaching day for a while, so I get a nice break.
Acquired a new nickname yesterday: Spaghetti-sensei. Here are all the names the students have called me so far: Spicey-sensei, Steak-sensei, Sticky-sensei, Stitch-sensei, Spacey-sensei, Spaghetti-sensei, Sexy-sensei… You wouldn’t think my name is so hard to say, but there you have it. I hear any number of these names when I walk the school hallways.
Last Friday (12/15) was my office’s 忘年会 (literally, “forget the year”) party. Every workplace has one near the end of the year. We had ours at the same place as last year, a onsen hotel at the base of Mt. Iwaki. It is called Asobe no Mori Iwaki-sou. The place is on a hill and just gorgeous. I love the atmosphere there and always feel relaxed.
The party came at the end of a long day. I was already tired. One of my co-workers picked up my supervisor and I and the three of us went in his car. We had a little bit of time before the party started, so we just hung out until 7pm. The party was your usual Japanese work party, full of speeches, toasts, and shenanigans. We separated into two teams and had a “game battle.” My team won. We all got prizes at the end, though, so I guess everyone is a winner.
The food was amazing. Again. There were ten dishes in all, described for me on a sheet of paper placed by my seat. My awesome co-workers ordered a special non-dairy, no-wheat vegetarian meal for me. It included things like soymilk nabe (hotpot), edamame rice, grilled miso eggplant, tofu potato salad, grated chrysanthemum and daikon vinegar salad inside a tomato shell, kombu-boiled veggies and tofu with ponzu sauce… It was all decadent. Needless to say, I ate well that night. And my co-workers gave me their fruit that they didn’t want. :)
After the games and toasts were over, we moved upstairs to the second party, held in one of the party organizer’s rooms. We sat around, eating and drinking (me with my soda water) and chatting.
The big boss was pretty drunk and kept talking about “travel” and “adventure” and asking everyone if they had traveled and wanted to travel. Everyone kept on talking about me and my upcoming trip to Rome… Nonstop. They were even more impressed by the fact that I was not going with a tour and deciding the itinerary by myself. They acted amazed by this fact. By the end of the night, I was really sick of talking about it with them and I don’t like being the center of conversation anyways, so it made me even more uncomfortable. I really think that Japan’s attitude towards work and their workplace culture prevents the workers from getting out and seeing outside of their country (and not just Hawaii). They take great pride in their work, but they work like crazy and never get to take time off or travel anywhere. Anyways. We sat around until people were ready to play mahjong. I really have to learn the rules in English sometimes, because I never know what is going on when I play in Japanese.
I crashed pretty fast and hard at around 11pm.
Despite it being a futon (which I can never tell if I am going to sleep well on or not), I slept pretty well. Got up around 6:30am to head to the onsen baths downstairs. No one else was there, so I had the baths all to myself. Did some reflecting and praying. And got clean!
After that I got dressed and went to breakfast, sitting with a group of my co-workers. They are all around my dad’s age (40’s and 50’s), but I try not to fixate on how much younger I am than all of them. We have good conversation nonetheless. I tried to ask my co-workers about themselves and get them to talk about themselves instead of us talking about me and going to Rome. I succeeded for a little bit, but then the conversation deviated back to me. Sigh. Breakfast was delicious and beautiful as well. I really enjoyed it.
After breakfast, my co-worker and I headed home in his car. We dropped by his house and he gave me a huge bag of apples. Lucky me! They have a friend who grows apples, so they had a huge crate of them that they wanted to share with me. Got home around 11am, dropped my stuff off at home, and then turned around to go to the gym.
And that’s pretty much all that’s been going on with me and work lately. I will be taking my first days of paid leave of this year starting on Monday when I go to Rome (much more about that later). I have been teaching a ton lately (had school visits every single day for the past two weeks), so I feel burnt out and need a break. With the way the national holidays line up this year, I will be taking 4 days of paid leave but will be gone for 13 days. Heck yeah! Time for a break!
Take a look at these apples that one of my schools gave me: