May 9, 2004 – Hiyoshi NOVA

I paid back my shift swap by working at Hiyoshi school. Hiyoshi is an older school – the classrooms are 3 students maximum. It was a great relaxing day and a refreshing change of scenery.

2014 Update – It seems that I left out a lot of the detail on my original post. File this one under “don’t talk badly about your employer and coworkers”.

Hiyoshi NOVA was in fact an older school with a 3 student maximum in the classroom. Even if there were 4 students per classroom, the schedule still would have been a lot less busy and chaotic than Kawasaki NOVA. In addition to the lighter schedule, it’s always nice to see some new students in the classroom. Even in a huge school like Kawasaki, you end up teaching the same students regularly.

In my short time at Hiyoshi, I was surprised by a few things related to the teachers and students. The first issue I noticed was that the only female teacher was referred to as “bouncy” by her male coworkers. This nickname was an obvious reference to the ample size of her breasts, and happened to rhyme with her first name. “Bouncy” didn’t seem outwardly bothered by this, but that doesn’t mean that it was in any way appropriate for the workplace.

My other issue was with the way the teachers treated one particular student. This student, let’s call her Rika, was in one of the lowest levels. Before I taught the lesson, I was warned by the other teachers that Rika was not very good, and that she had been stuck in the same level for a long time. I went into the lesson fairly open minded, and found that Rika was easily good enough for the next level. She wasn’t the strongest student, but was far better than any of the teachers had given her credit for.

To move to the next level in NOVA, students require two consecutive level up recommendations from different teachers. At that point they have to pass a test to ensure they have learned all the necessary skills from their current level. If they pass, they are advanced to the next level.

Generally, visiting teachers are discouraged from giving level up recommendations outside of their home school. The reasons that were explained to me were that the visiting teacher is less familiar with the student’s overall performance, and the home teachers may take offense to an “outsider” disagreeing with their judgement. I could understand the opposition if only one recommendation was needed to promote a student, but the requirement for two consecutive teachers to agree provides a good check against prematurely promoting a student.

After the lesson I returned to the teachers room and informed the other teachers that I was giving a level up recommendation. They were surprised, and tried to dissuade me. I gave the recommendation anyway, relying on my judgement as a teacher.

In my 3 years of teaching experience at NOVA, I encountered a number of students who were “stuck in level” for a long period of time. In most cases it was due to the skills not being there. Taking one 40 minute lesson each week does not do a whole lot to improve English ability. However, in some rare cases (as with Rika), the teachers have made up their minds that the student will not advance, and only new supervisors or a new crop of teachers will change the situation.

Months later, I discussed Hiyoshi school with a former Kawasaki teacher who had been sent there as a supervisor to “clean things up”. The problems I described were not surprising to him, and were definitely not the only issues in the branch. As much as I didn’t like working at Kawasaki due to the schedule, I think I would have enjoyed Hiyoshi less.

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