Posts Tagged ‘career’


May 1st, 2013 No comments

The momentous two-month duo of March and April is over, and everything is fast becoming routine. I’ve had at least two lessons with all of my classes, and as many as five with some. I know most of my students’ names now, with only the exception of H-sho because the administrators there have been too busy to put together a name-list for me. The Kyle-store has transformed from an after-school thing with only non-club-members participating to an after-lunch thing so club-members can come, and as I only eat lunch at K-chu three days a week that allows one day for first-graders, one for second, and one for third. I’ve also expressed an interest in visiting the students’ club activities after school on Fridays, and the first of those experiences might happen as early as tomorrow, before the four-day weekend.

The most interesting experiences now are still the elementary school lessons. After the self-introduction, it was time to get right into actual teaching. As I don’t work at those schools every day and only see the homeroom teachers when I’m in the classroom, all of the planning is entirely my responsibility. I have a textbook which outlines what needs to be taught and the order in which to teach it, but how I teach it is completely up to me. It’s an interesting feeling—in contrast to the junior high school situation where the JTE does most of the teaching and I only come in once or twice a week to reinforce, I’m responsible for all of the elementary school students’ English learning for the year. The feeling of responsibility is particularly strong with the fifth-graders, as I’m laying the foundation for all of their future English learning. Things I could always count on every Japanese person to know are things these students don’t know until I teach it.

Lesson 1 was “Hello, my name is ~. What’s your name? Nice to meet you.” As much as I dislike the textbook and the CD that comes with it, I knew it would be useful in getting these structures into the students’ minds, as there’s a musical chant which sticks in your head and was very effective for teaching them. Because they don’t know phonics yet, they can’t memorize by words, so I reached all the way back to Narita training and used a technique I saw Cedric teaching to the elementary-school teachers: to draw a shape for each phrase depending on how many words. “Hello, my name is suchandsuch” is a five-point star because there are five words. “What’s your name?” is a triangle, and “Nice to meet you” is a square. The students were drawn in with curiosity as I drew the shapes, and when I pointed to each corner of the shape as the CD chanted the words, they understood immediately. Next week I opened the lesson by drawing the same shapes on the board, and the students remembered every word. The foundations of English are successfully being laid. It doesn’t get much more gratifying than that.

With the sixth-graders so far it’s just been counting and letter-games, as this year they learn numbers from 30 to 100 and the lowercase roman letters (I found out they learn uppercase in Japanese class because ‘romaji’ is one of the four writing systems they use here). I’ve been combining new ideas with some old ideas I’ve used in both JHS first-grade lessons (playing games where students have to guess ‘how many’ of something there are) and even some games I used for beginners in Germany (counting to 100 without saying multiples of a certain number, which these kids are better at than the adults were). I’ve found myself short on time a few times, but the students always have fun, and things I know I can always save what I don’t get to for following week, as I’m working with the loosest of guidelines.

One thing that will still take some getting used to is eating lunch in the classroom. It still feels a little awkward, even when I’m in lunch-groups with students who are inclined to think of questions to ask me. They think of a question (usually along the lines of “what food do you like?” or “what color do you like?”), ask me, I figure out what they’re asking, give them an answer, and that’s the end of the conversation. Occasionally I’ll remember to ask them what their favorite suchandsuch is too, but that only prolongs the conversation by a few words.

Yesterday I ate lunch with junior high school students for the first time ever, as W-sensei came up to me at with no warning at the beginning of the lunch-period and told me to come to her homeroom and eat with the students. One student was absent so I could sit at his desk. When I got there with my full tray of food, the students were just starting to get things set up so I had to wait for about ten minutes before the formal beginning of the meal was made, though unlike in elementary schools it was just a ceremonial few words instead of a whole speech. Lunch itself was just like elementary only even less social, probably because I happened to be at a table of particularly quiet students. I asked each of them what clubs or sports they were in, but that was the extent of the conversation. When I was finished with my meal I went to empty my tray, and because they’d served a curry with beef in it I’d hardly finished half of it, and when I put my tray down on the edge of the table to empty something else, it fell over and spilled curry all over the floor. So that was delightfully embarrassing, but it’s not like it was a complete disaster. If I was their age I might get made fun of for it all year, but I’m their teacher and they still respect me. I taught their class today without W-sensei (she was mysteriously absent yet again) and it went really well. They were even more respectful than when she’s present.

Regarding W-sensei, I’m afraid Enam’s warnings about her are turning out to be accurate. While she has yet to impose on me too much, it’s clear she doesn’t know how to discipline the students, and when it comes to teaching itself she’s pretty much just winging it and figuring it out as she goes along. I can’t be too hard on her because that’s been more-or-less what I’ve been doing since I started this job, but last year I noticed a distinct improvement in the first-graders’ reading ability from week to week (thanks to K-sensei and O-sensei) whereas now they seem pretty stagnant. At least it motivates me to step up my own teaching, as I don’t want them to have the disadvantage of not learning phonics at the same rate as the rest of Japanese 11-year-olds.

Outside of school, things feel like they’re picking up in the socialization department, mostly because Enam has moved in with Kim and he’s more inclined to come over and see if his neighbor wants to hang out a bit. We hung out Saturday afternoon, and Sunday evening was his birthday which we celebrated with a large group of ALTs in Chiba, starting at a bar and then migrating to the bowling alley. I got to see Stephen, Stacy, and a bunch of other people I hardly ever see, though Jack and Lily didn’t come. I’m going to try and visit them in Tokyo during the four day weekend.

But the most significant piece of news comes through a conversation I had with Enam on Saturday, about what I want to do in the future. I’ve had it in my mind since I started this that one day I’d go back to America and become a full-time teacher there. But what I learned about the present-day American education system from my own brief experience with teacher education courses as well as articles like this are a major deterrent to taking that path. Enam brought up the possibility of teaching at an international school instead, and the more we discussed it the more it made sense. I could become certified through online courses as I do the ALT thing (which certainly provides me sufficient down-time to work on assignments), then get a job as a real teacher, teaching any subject I want, anywhere in the world I want. International schools are everywhere, they pay well, and they don’t tie their teachers’ arms and legs to standardized test-scores like they’re now doing across America. I could also continue to teach in different countries around the world, but do more travelling as I’ll be better able to afford it. And I don’t think it prohibits me from returning to America either—I’m sure there must be some international schools within the United States.

So over the next few weeks I’ll be looking into online teaching certification programs and see what options are out there. What I’m doing now is the perfect springboard to what I want to do next. My life may appear somewhat aimless at times, but underlying all the shifts and changes would appear to be a steadily forward momentum.

Categories: Personal Tags: , , ,

In the Short and Long Term

January 7th, 2013 No comments

It’s the first school day of 2013 and the opening ceremony just concluded. It was almost exactly the same as the closing ceremony for 2012, only this time the speech lambasting the third-graders to take their entrance exams seriously only lasted for a few minutes as the other two grades filed out of the gym. It was nice to be back among the students again, and sad to think I’ve only got three months left before I never see at least a third of them again.

Today was just for the opening ceremony and most of the students will be leaving at lunch time, so I won’t be doing any lessons until tomorrow. I can hardly wait to get back to that again, particularly because I know what I’ve got planned for this week is going to be fun.

The winter vacation was a nice change of pace, but two weeks of it was more than enough considering I had absolutely nothing going on. It was just me alone with myself every day except New Years’ which didn’t exactly go as planned. Stephen came to Togane and we were going to join Stacy and a bunch of other Josai students for karaoke but she called us early on and explained that unfortunately the rooms needed to be booked in advance and theirs was already at maximum capacity. Stephen and I spent most of the night at my place engaged in intensely personal conversation, getting to know each other much more than we did previously.

Shortly before midnight I suggested we go outside to start the year somewhere slightly more interesting than my apartment. The only walkable place even remotely interesting is Togane Lake (the place where they have the hanami) so that’s where we went. There was nobody else just hanging out by the lake but there was a nearby temple where many people were going for the traditional New Years’ worship. It’s interesting how the Japanese are so secular most of the year but the one big religious holiday is New Years’, but they go by the Western calendar. So we didn’t get any fireworks but we got plenty of ringing bells.

The next morning we went out for breakfast at the nearest place that served it, which happened to be the infamous Denny’s where the Yakuza shooting occurred last year. That’s the first and probably the last time I’ll ever eat there—not because I’m afraid of another gang shooting but because the food doesn’t appeal to me. Although I must admit that the French Toast was pretty decent.

After Stephen left and I called my grandparents I biked to the beach for the first time of the year and was at my favorite spot—the river mouth on the beach—when 2:00 p.m. came around and East Coast USA officially entered 2013.

The rest of my vacation was as uneventful as the beginning, and while I had plenty of enjoyable ways of passing the time by the end of it I was starting to slip back into a mildly depressed state, weary of my relatively worthless existence. Teaching Japanese middle-school students might not be quite as fulfilling as other ways I could be spending my life, but at least I’m appreciated by people I also appreciate.

One thing I’ve been considering that I think I confirmed today is that I can only spend one more year at this school before moving on. I love this school so I won’t be disappointed if Interac keeps me here another year (something I won’t know for sure until the year is pretty much over), but there’s a much wider world out there and I’d like to expand my horizons a little, maybe get a taste of what it’s like to teach elementary or high school. If they do keep me here another year I’ll formally request to be moved next year, then depending on how that goes I’ll decide from there whether to stay or move on to a new country.

Before Stephen came to Japan he spent one year teaching in Saudi Arabia because the Middle East is apparently where you can make the most money teaching English. It makes perfect sense, as Japan is such a highly desirable location they can get away with paying peanuts, but not many Westerners are willing to live in Muslim countries. Saudi Arabia doesn’t appeal to me, but I know someone who taught in Egypt and that strikes me as perhaps the most interesting of the Muslim countries to live in as well as relatively safe and modern. Plus from there I could do some travelling to Israel or deeper Africa, places I’ve always wanted to see as well. This is far from something I’ve made up my mind about but now it’s floating out there as a possibility for my next and quite possibly last destination for overseas English teaching. I think after one more country I’ll be ready to settle down in America or some English-speaking country for a long-term career teaching something other than English as a foreign language to students I can actually communicate with. It would be worth it to spend a year or two in a well-paying country first to have a decent financial position with which to plant my feet somewhere.

So that’s where things stand at the beginning of 2013. I don’t expect it to be the most exciting or interesting year of my life, but I fully expect to enjoy it.

Another Beach

July 17th, 2012 No comments

A Chiba Landmark

I’ve been to the Pacific coast of Japan many dozens of times now, but it’s always been the same beach. Yesterday I finally got a taste of a different beach, apparently one of the most popular in Chiba.

On Saturday I got a Facebook invitation from an ALT named Tim whom I’d met at the hanami back in April to come to a beach party in the town where he lives the next day. Although it was short notice I had no plans, so I asked a bunch of other people if they wanted to go too and ended up going with Kim and Enam. I also asked Stacy, Jack, and Lily, but apparently Josai students still had classes on Monday even though it was a holiday.

I have to confess I didn’t really remember who this Tim person was, but through the magic of Facebook we’d apparently ended up in each others’ friend network and checking his profile pictures jogged my hazy memory.

I hadn’t seen Kim or Enam since our own little beach party a few weeks ago, but it was nice to see them again too. We took an 11:00 train from Togane and after a twenty-minute stopover in Oami got on the south-bound train for the hour-long journey to Onjuku. Along the way I noticed them playing a fun-looking word game on their smartphones and I downloaded it myself. We were all so engrossed in this game that we ended up missing our stop, as before we knew it we were in Katsuura, the last station on the line. We had to wait another 40 minutes for the next train to come and take us back to Onjuku, the second-to-last station on the line.

Stuck in Katsuura Kim + Enam

Once we got there we headed into a drugstore to buy alcohol and snacks, then walked to the beach and found the “famous” camel statues that this beach is known for, and a few minutes later another one of their friends, a Scottish guy named Hiroshi, found us there. We all then proceeded to navigate through the substantially large crowd—much much larger than any I’ve ever seen at the beach I normally go to—in search of the gathering of foreigners. It took us awhile because it was a very large beach and there were a ton of people there for the holiday, but eventually we spotted them and headed over.

Onjuku beach Looks kind of like Santa Barbara

Tim also vaguely remembered Kim and Enam from the hanami, and there were a few other faces I recognized as well, such as Anand from the Valentine’s Day party that was so disappointing for everyone involved but me. A couple of girls from that party were also there but I didn’t even bother trying to talk to them. Ben was supposed to come too but he never showed up.

Ba-ri bo-ru The camels mean...I don't know.

After that it was pretty standard stuff, drinking and snacking and chatting about everything from sports to politics but mostly about teaching. We met a few new people whom we may or may not ever see again, and just had an all-around good time, a perfect way to spend a sunny afternoon.

The view from our spot.

Although it was sunny, it was unfortunately also rather windy, to the point where sand was getting in our drinks and it messed up my camera so I couldn’t take anymore pictures (though thankfully it seemed to have magically fixed itself by this morning). After a couple of hours the wind really picked up to the point where it was no longer comfortable, so we all headed to Tim’s apartment for more drinking and chatting there. His place made me a little jealous, a sixth-floor apartment with a large balcony and breathtaking view of both the ocean and the beautiful hills so prevalent in southern Chiba but not around here.

And there’s not much else to tell, really. When Kim was tired we left and took a 7:00 train which got us back to Togane shortly after 8:00. While walking from the train-station I got spotted by former student, a particularly pleasant girl who graduated in March and who I was sad to think I’d never see again. So that was nice.

I had dinner at home and ended up getting to bed around 10:00 for a nice long sleep. The big advantage of drinking in the day is that as long as you finish early enough, you can be pretty well-recovered by the morning. I’m still a little hazy now, but I have no classes today anyway so it doesn’t matter. I’ve got a pretty sparse schedule this whole week, with no classes on Friday either. I assume there’ll be another enkai Friday evening but so far no one’s informed me about one.

And on a final note, I should mention that when I hung out with Trey last Thursday he went into this whole big pitch about how I should go to law-school, and he was persuasive enough to have me actually considering it. He said that once you pass the bar exam, you achieve a whole new level of societal status. You’re no longer just a subject of the law, but you can walk into any courtroom and file a motion—you have actual power. On top of that, it can lead to a political career. When Trey runs for office he says he’d really want to have me on his team, but he can’t put me in any position of real power unless I’ve got the credentials.

Aside from the fact that I don’t actually want to be a lawyer, it’s pretty tempting. I know that I could if I wanted to. Trey is going to Stanford, and I can not only hold my own in arguments with him but actually sway him over to my point of view sometimes as well. If I can argue so effectively with a Stanford law student, there’s no reason to think I couldn’t be a Stanford law student myself (though to be un-politically correct for a split-second, it might be more difficult for me as a white person to get into a school that prestigious). In the end I told him I’d seriously consider it, but no matter what I’m going to be in Japan for at least a couple more years. So we’ll stay in touch and he can let me know what the reality of being a law student is actually like, and I’ll make the decision later on.

It would undeniably be nice to actually have money and power, but I don’t know if it’s worth it at the expense of two things I truly love: teaching and travelling.