Archive for ‘teaching’

October 3, 2013

JET-ting Off: The Epic Conclusion to My 2 Years in Japan

Note 1: Maybe it’s not actually epic, but it was pretty momentous to me.

Note 2: I have been meaning to write this post for months, so I am aware it is very very very late! Sorry about that!

In February 2013 I made the choice NOT to re-new my contract (which ended in July). I was loved at my job and in my little circle of friends, but I also felt homesick. The long winters and short summers of Aomori had worn on me. I missed family and friends back home in Texas. I also felt the need to get back on some sort of a career path, because teaching English/ESL was never my true career goal. Two years on the JET Program felt right. I signed the paperwork with my intent not to re-contract and that was that. Another chapter of my life had been signed and closed. All I had to do was enjoy the last five months in Japan.

The actual leaving preparations and goodbyes took about a month. Slow at first, and then fast & furious at the end. It’s enough to make your head spin and I don’t think I will be doing another international move for a very long time.

I thought I’d write about some of the things I did before leaving Japan.

 

I started teaching an English conversation class in the evenings. Three elementary school teachers came up to me and asked if we could have "English Conversation Time" together at a local coffeeshop. Of course I said yes. I liked all of the ladies a lot. We met three or four times and had a lot of fun together, talking about different subjects. One teacher bought me my first soy latte, which tasted pretty disgusting. I couldn’t even finish the whole thing, although I tried to drink as much as possible to be polite. :P They gave me a really nice send-off when I left.

 

Nishimeya Sports Festival [Sunday, May 26]

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I attended my first and last Sports Festival at my favorite junior high school. This is significant because of my position as a one-shot ALT with 12 different schools. When you have so many schools, you don’t have a "home base" and often don’t receive invitations to special school events like culture and sports festivals. I’d never been to one of my schools’ sports festivals in the two years I’d been there. I rode with a Japanese teacher (JTE) and watched my kids run relay races, do tug-o-war, and other events. I loved that day’s weather. I still remember it clearly because the weather was amazing. It was almost warm enough to wear a short-sleeved shirt (for me).

 

Lecture at the Office [Monday, June 27]
For an entire year and a half my co-workers have been saying that they want me to give them a lecture on something/teach them something. They were just so busy or something that it never got scheduled… It’s true, everyone was so busy and stretched so thin with school visits that it was rare that everyone was in the office at the same time. Well, finally… at the 11th hour… they scheduled me to teach them… something. I decided to make 45 minutes of the 1-hour lecture about conversational English. The last 15 minutes would be a slideshow of my 2 years in Hirosaki, the highlights. I figured they would be pretty interested about how foreigners live in their little city. The turnout for my lecture was pretty awesome. Almost everyone squeezed into the director’s office to hear me speak and I held their interest for an entire hour.

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February 25, 2013

Greetings

This post started out as something else and turned into something completely different. But I guess that’s what happens sometimes when you just sit down to write! Sorry if this is kind of all over the place. My brain cannot think linearly today.

Yesterday I was visiting one of the inner-city elementary schools and had a strange feeling. At some schools, they don’t have a desk for me in the teacher’s room (where all of the teachers have their desks), so they either tell me to sit in the area for guests or put me in a different room entirely. Sometimes I sit in the principal’s office. At this school they had another little room next to the principal’s office with a table, chairs, and heater. I guess it was just a general tiny multipurpose room. I couldn’t see through to the principal’s office (the glass on those doors were frosted), but the doors to the hallway also had glass panels that you could see out of. And people could see in.

I sat next to the heater trying to thaw from this morning’s commute. During the breaks between classes and afternoon recess, the students would run and play in the hallways. It’s winter, so they tend to stay inside. These children would press their faces and hands up to the glass, stare at me, and yell, “HELLO!” over and over again because it’s the only English they know. Some of the older kids will say “NICE TO MEET YOU!” if they remember. I guess it was the combination of being in a small room and being yelled at from behind glass, but I kind of felt like an animal in a zoo. “Look at the foreigner! Look at the English teacher! Do you think she heard me?!” I could almost feel my ears ringing at one point.

After the bazillionth “HELLO!!” I decided to leave the room and see if that was any better. The kids still shouted HELLO at me, but they also stood back and stared at me with wide eyes. They made sure to let me know that I was very big and tall. “Yes, I know,” I say in Japanese. “But I’m pretty normal in America.” To that they just stare in disbelief and scamper away. Every school is different, for sure. The young kids are either extremely friendly or extremely shy. But I can’t blame them for trying to greet me in the only way they know how.

One thing I learned upon coming to Japan is that students are required to greet their teachers. And it’s not just a “Good morning” when you walk into class first thing in the morning. You are supposed to say the appropriate “good morning”, “hello”, or “good afternoon” every time you pass a teacher in the hallway as well.

I’ve even had junior high school teachers stop a student and ask them where their greeting was. Some students are shy towards me, so they will forget to say it to me or just get nervous. If I happen to be walking with a JTE (Japanese English Teacher), they will stop the students and make them say “Hello” or “Good morning/afternoon” to me.

At elementary school the kids are encouraged to greet me in English, but sometimes it comes out in Japanese. When a small child comes up to me or passes me in the hallway and says “Hello!” they are rewarded with a “Good job!” by their homeroom teacher. Sometimes applause, even.

I think Japanese teachers and students might be really shocked by the way American students don’t greet their teachers religiously. I think back to all the times I just entered a classroom, sat down at my desk, and quietly waited for class to start. Then the teacher would say hello to everyone and start the class. A response from all the students wasn’t really required. It’s pretty different from Japan, where students are assigned on rotation to be “on-duty” to lead the class in their greetings. The student group greeting vary from school to school, but they are usually a variation of “Good morning/Good afternoon” and “Now begins/concludes 4th period”. Sometimes it reminds me of a military call-and-response.

With all these greetings going on around me, I’ve gotten pretty used to using the ones that are required of me too. I’ve gotten pretty used to the myriad of greetings that I use in the office and at schools. For example, you are required to greet the entire office when you enter for the first time that day. It’s usually “Good Morning” for me, but sometimes I have a school visit in the morning and come back to the office in the afternoon. Then I say, “Good afternoon, I’ve returned from ________ School.”

And at one school I visit there is a vice principal who loves to practice his greetings in English with me, even though he says the same exact thing every time I come. It goes like this:

Me: Good morning, how are you?
Him: I’m fine, thank you. And you?
Me: I’m good, thanks.

Sometimes I try to switch it up with a “How’s it going?” but that seems to catch him off his guard.

But okay. What I’m really trying to say is…

Greetings are a really interesting part of their culture. An essential part of it, too. Without greetings… things don’t start. Communication is not smooth.

Many times in my life I have spoken with a Japanese person and have used a Japanese greeting like “こんにちは | Konnichiwa”. The Japanese person immediately said, “Oh, your Japanese is so good!” or “You speak Japanese very well!”

I only said one word. How is this in any way indicative of my ability of speak the language?

Well, thinking about it now… Greetings in Japanese are basically half the battle. If you know how to greet well, you will be praised by Japanese for knowing their language and culture. Pretty sweet!

February 6, 2013

January Gone

– Where did January go? I’m actually not too sad to see it go, because I am still waiting on graduate school admission results. Those will come at the end of February or beginning of March, so I hope February is a short month. I mean, February is already short because of the number of days, but I hope it feels short as well.

– It was hard to get back in the "swing of things" after coming back from Italy. I do seem to have a hard time with transitions. It was cold, there was snow everywhere, my house was messy, and I had a weird lingering jet lag that caused me to not get sleepy until after midnight and then struggle to wake up in the morning. I usually *always* wake up before my alarm.

– I was back to normal after a couple weeks and started back up with yoga with my mom on Wednesday and Friday mornings at 6am. It’s been really good for me emotionally and physically. She has been teaching me via Skype and it has been wonderful. I finally feel like I am making some progress and getting pretty good at a few things. I hope I can make this a regular thing for me. I just have to remember to go to bed early the night before.

– I went skiing in Owani with my co-workers again this year for our annual “ski school” that my office puts on for district teachers.

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It is for teachers to learn how to ski, the techniques of skiing, and how to teach skiing to kids (I think). It wasn’t as fun as last year because I was miserably cold and skied alone for a bunch of the time.

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The “Holizon”

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December 17, 2012

Working, working, working…

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…

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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.

Commuting

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.

Coloring

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:

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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.”

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October 17, 2012

Random Observations as of Late #6

Aaaaaaaaaaaand it’s time for another catch-up post. I haven’t posted a “daily life”/random observations blog in a while, so here we go! Warning: This is long.

※ I was wondering…Why is everything I do so interesting? To everyone? For example, every time I come to this one school, the office lady asks me, “Did you bike here again today?” She asks me this and she is amazed when I answer “Yes”. The weather is nice and it only takes 30 minutes. Why is that so interesting? Also, people are amazed when I mention that I like exercise. And that I like to go to the gym after work. You’d think I qualified for the Olympics from the reactions I get. This stuff is normal, but since I am a foreigner in Japan… I guess everything I do is just interesting?

※ At one of my schools, there is a transfer student from another country. His father has already been here for a while, working, so he just recently came to join him. The rest of their family is still in their home country. I think it is interesting, because this kid speaks little Japanese and little English. Man, that must be hard. Plus, his name when put into Japanese katakana means “Ant.” I talked to the teachers about him recently and they said that the kid is being teased a bit and has few friends. The situation kind of makes me sad.

※ For the month of October, Kyle and Tori’s tradition is to watch one Halloween movie per night. So far I have joined them for Nightmare Before Christmas, Slither, Idle Hands, The Witches, and The Ring. The Ring (American version) is one of the scariest movies I have seen. I had horrible nightmares the night after I watched it the first time. I even slept-walked in Sam’s house and woke up on the floor in her bedroom’s entryway with a huge bruise on my foot. Still have no idea what happened there. Since then I’ve gotten a little desensitized by it and was okay to go to bed by myself. After we watched it last week, I went home and got in bed. I reached up to turn my overhead light off, but then froze. My lamp that hangs above my bed is a circle-shaped light, resembling a ring. The line from the movie played in my head: “Before you die, you see the ring.” So I bravely turned off the light, knowing what I would see. The room was completely dark aside from the ring of light, which faded into the dark seconds later. Pretty scary.

※ I’ve been cooking a little more lately. I’ve made a new curry recipe and this one is rocking my taste buds right now: click here for the recipe! And also, I rediscovered some of my Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-free baking flour that Tori and Kyle gave me for Christmas last year. I still had some left! So I decided that I was going to try and make carrot cake. I even bought nutmeg and everything. I used this recipe from Chocolate Covered Katie and while the results were not as visually “pretty” as a normal carrot cake… The taste was incredible. I hadn’t tasted carrot cake in probably over a year, so it was pure heaven for this carrot cake lover. Plus, it takes 5 minutes and you can make it in the microwave. I don’t have an oven here in Japan, but… This carrot cake can be made anywhere in the world with a microwave! I need to order more gluten-free flour. :)

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Another thing I made was… CHILI. Oh my gosh. I have not had chili in… two years? I can’t remember the last time I ate real chili. I am so looking forward to eating this with a nice ripe avocado on top. I used this recipe from Oh She Glows.

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June 17, 2012

Random Observations as of Late #5

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A stack of essays waiting for me to grade them..

– So, every week I do these reports about my school visits. These reports include a cultural observation section that can be anything I want to write about. Last week’s report was about the sempai-kouhai system in Japan. I wrote the following:

Basically, age hierarchy is an essential element of Japanese society. It really has to do with how you relate to people older or younger than you, especially at schools and in the workplace. If someone has more experience or is older than you, they are your sempai. If someone is younger than you or has less experience in an area, they are your kouhai. Because I am a foreigner, new to Hirosaki, and 24 years old, I am pretty much a kouhai in every situation. I guess I am the “low man on the totem pole (下っ端).”

Well, this report was translated by my supervisor and distributed for everyone else to read, as always. When the report reached my section manager, he turned to me and said, “ステイシー、Low Man On The Totem Poleじゃない。” Which is basically, “You’re not the ‘low man on the totem pole’.” I felt pretty validated at that point.

– I so very much wish that I could listen to music at work. My iPod would make things go by so much faster, I think. And maybe it would help me tune out all the other noise and concentrate too.

– I need a haircut. The ends are crazy and need to be cleaned up. I still want to keep my hair long for now. I quite like it long.

– Recently, I discovered something very wonderful in the bathrooms of my office building. You all know my irritation with the women who flush the toilet several times in order to mask the sound of them going to the bathroom. Well, they installed the Oto-Hime machines in the bathrooms! This means that I no longer have to listen to the Japanese women in my office building waste gallons and gallons of water just because they are embarrassed to use the bathroom at the same time as another person. Thank GOODNESS!

– Last week there was an 8-day stretch where I did not go into the office because I was teaching every single day. So I hadn’t been to the office or seen my co-workers for 8 days! When I finally returned, I was welcomed back warmly with smiles. I sat down, organized my things, and ate my lunch (since it was 12pm and I had just come from a school visit). But then my supervisor told me that all of my co-workers would be leaving in the afternoon on official business. “No!” I said. “Don’t leave me alone!” Then they asked me if I wanted to come with them. Of course I said yes. So that is the story of how I was able to escape from the office one Thursday afternoon in order to go organize textbooks at an elementary school a couple towns over.

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May 14, 2012

About Today

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Today was a mixed day. I was happy, frustrated, relieved, proud, stressed, anxious… and a bunch of others. The whole gamut.

I woke up with the sun at 4am, feeling pretty energetic. I probably owed that to the 8 hours of sleep I got Saturday night. I did random stuff, had breakfast, called my mom, got ready for work, made my lunch… Before I knew it, it was time to go to work.

My train to go to my school visit wasn’t until 10am, but I had to go into the office. They don’t let me just chill at home, so I went in before my school visit for a while, from about 8:15-9:20am. A little over an hour. My friends’ schools don’t require them to show their faces before or after their school visits, but my office is a little strict. I can ride my bike there now, so it isn’t that big of a deal to ride up to the office and then back to the station (my home is right near the station). It was, however, a bigger inconvenience when I had to trudge in the snow.

I felt a little overwhelmed returning to my busy office. I said my “Good Morning!” greeting as I walked in and no sooner did I set my backpack down did my supervisor turn to talk to me. I hadn’t even sat down! He gave me my new teaching schedule for the next year (until December). I think the total school visits came out to 88. Then he had to talk to me about the abolishment of the Japan Alien Registration System and how he was going to take care of my new resident card for me. And then he asked me to write my term goals (to be reviewed in June). All employees in my office are required to do a job evaluation/goal sheet that is reviewed with the big boss later on in the year. I think this is pretty normal for most jobs. My office takes it very seriously.

At around 9:20am I packed up my things and biked back to the train station. I got there early, so I chatted with friends on my phone for a while. Thank goodness for instant messaging apps. They make me feel like I have my friends in my pocket wherever I go.

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