Going at the olde grindstone…

First, and most importantly, let me remind everyone that I am an assistant language teacher.  That means that while I may create lessons or games and technically have the label “sensei” attached to my name, I do not create curriculum, I do not discipline, and I do not teach classes by myself.  Which is good, as I think the longer I’m in Japan, the worse my Japanese becomes.  (Seriously.)

Second, I have three Junior High Schools and four Elementary schools.  However, I only go to Elementary school on Friday, which means I visit each school once a month.  That means not a lot of interaction with them (sadly), and probably not planning much in the way of lessons-I hope to create a stronger relationship with the teachers at my schools so I can see what they expect me to prepare.

Okay?  Okay!

So, I officially taught my first class on Wednesday-though all my classes were more along the lines of “Let’s meet Kat!” versus “Let’s learn English!”  I prepared some pretty thorough visual aids to go along with it (Basic Facts, My Family, Washington, Arizona, China, and Japan story boards) which I think helped with comprehension since-at the teacher’s urging-I spoke in solely English at the Junior High Schools.  In Elementary, I nixed the China/Japan boards and spoke in an English-Japanese mix.

Please note the sweet map of the US in the background.

Please note the sweet map of the US in the background.

Explaining that I have three names.  Wow, am I brown.

Explaining that I have three names. Wow, am I brown.

I also prepared a true/false quiz to go with the introduction.  Even though I thought it would be pretty easy, the things were (in my opinion, though my JTEs-Japanese Teachers of English-disagree) an unmitigated disaster.  Why?

One word: BORING.

Me talking at students is not that fun for them no matter how interesting I try to make myself sound.  Me talking at students followed by a quiz?  DEFINITELY not fun.  I don’t really think it helped them retain any of “Let’s meet Kat” more than anything else would so, after teaching at Naka chuu, and playing a few games with the kids courtesy of Adorable-sensei, I’ve modified my plans.

Choice of:

Let’s meet Kat! Bingo – in which the Bingo squares are phrases about me, and the first few people to get Bingo get a cool sticker of me saying “YES!” or “YOU ROCK!”

Let’s meet Kat! Pictionary – in which several terms are chosen from my introduction, the class is split into teams, and students draw.  First team to shout out the correct answer (in English) gets a point.  The team with the most points at the end wins.

Then at least they won’t think I’m a bore.

I’ll be able to use this modified plan with my second years at Muchuu and with all three years at (the very small) Hatsuyama. 

I’m very busy at Muchuu.  Muchuu is the biggest Junior High School on Iki, with about 250 students.  There are eight total classes, and I teach five every time I go (Mondays and Wednesdays) out of six class periods total.  It’s pretty grueling, but I’m actually happy about it because then I don’t sit at my desk doing absolutely nothing like I did over the summer.  During the free period, my plans are to do one of two things: plan lessons, or go to home economics classes and bake with the students because schools have ovens.


Not sure what we’ll be making though.

Have thought up several genius ideas for games for next week (my first years-seventh graders-are learning numbers above 10, and my second years-eighth graders-get to learn measure words/counters).  I have to ask Nice-sensei whether they’re ok, but I’m pretty proud of myself.  Hopefully they’ll work as well as I hope.

Elementary school is a different bag of worms.  I taught sixth- and fourth-years today, and it was a lot of fun.  Compared to Junior High Schoolers, they’re a lot more involved-but maybe that’s because I spoke in Japanese.  The fourth-years were especially genki and, when question time came, we spent the whole class asking and answering questions.  One after another!  It was amazing, nothing like the other classes I’ve taught so far.  I was also very impressed in the sixth year class, when one student asked which Presidential candidate I prefer, McCain or Obama.  This kid is either eleven or twelve years old!  When I was eleven or twelve, if you would’ve asked me who the Prime Minister of Japan was (at the time, Koizumi Junichiro), I would’ve raised an eyebrow and said, “Seriously?  You expect me to know that?”

I’m really looking forward to teaching an actual class, and running around with them.

A few further observations:

Japanese people get a kick from me saying “Mondai nai” (no problem).  Not sure why, as no one has been able to explain in Japanese that I understand.  Maybe I will ask Nice-sensei next time I go to Muchuu.  I’m guessing it just sounds weird, like if I were to say in English, “The problem does not exist.”

School lunch: Students serve school lunch to one another and eat in the classrooms.  At Hatsuyama and Naka, I eat lunch with the students (not so, sadly at Muchuu, but I do get to know the other teachers).  The lunches aren’t too bad-most of the time-but what gets my goat is how the lunch is served.  For hygienic purposes, I assume, students wear aprons/special jackets, hair covers, and face masks.

Except the girls can still have bangs poking out. 


Especially in elementary school, the hands are the dirtiest part of the body!  And they handle the food ladles, the chopsticks, the bowls and plates, but don’t wear gloves.  No wonder so many other ALTs spoke about getting sick from the kids at school.  It’s because during school lunch they’re collecting all the germs from everybody.

But that’s ok.  I’ll still eat school lunch.

Also, milk here is very fattening.  They don’t have non-fat, 1%, or even 2%.  Everything is 3.6%–or even more if you’re looking for whole milk.  So I don’t drink the milk.  I can’t.  It’s too thick, it makes me gag.  But when the teachers ask, “Oh, do you not drink milk?” I feel weird lying because I drink nonfat.  So I say, “Yes, but not this kind-the nonfat kind.”  And then they look at me like I’m crazy.  I bet they think it’s a diet thing.  …but really, I’m just used to nonfat.

School Uniforms: I was a public school kid my whole life, and you can’t exactly enforce uniforms on most college students, so I’ve never experienced the life of strict clothing rules.  But let me tell you, I’ve been to three school assemblies, and it’s an experience.  Uniforms are not just clothing, they’re a way of life.  Coming from a culture that revels in its individualism, this I think is the most interesting and different aspect of Japan.  (I’m not knocking it, I’m just saying it was a shock and interesting to see.)

As a note, the word for “individualism” didn’t exist in Japanese until the Meiji Restoration when it was created so that Japanese people could understand western thought.

But seriously, I stood in the back of an assembly once while Jovial-yet-Scary-sensei put the fear of God into the kids (he teaches Art… and is also the school’s disciplinarian).  I saw a sea of white shirts, black bottoms, and black heads.  You could have taken one girl and stuck her in another girl’s place and never noticed a difference.  Really distinctive cultural aspect.

Ninensei-sensei: (ninensei means second year) I now have a new Japanese teacher.  She mentioned that we could help each other study the other’s language, and my response was “Oh, you are now my new sensei!” and I bowed.  She got really embarrassed, but giggled.  I think it’s hilarious, so when outside of class I will continue to call her sensei unless it seems like she doesn’t find it as funny as I do.

Any questions?  I’ll try to answer as best I can.

And as a parting shot, some pictures from a high school’s sports day

The purpose of this game is for the guys on top to try and steal the other persons headband.  Can be viscious.

The purpose of this game is for the guys on top to try and steal the other persons headband. Can be viscious.

Classic tug-o-war.

Classic tug-o-war.

Poor yellow team did not perform as well as hoped but ganbatted their way through.

Poor yellow team did not perform as well as hoped but ganbatted their way through.

I have my Sport’s Days on September 14 and 21.  Wish my students luck!