Archive for October, 2016

April 22, 2006 – Zenbu wakatta yo

The month of April has been a busy one for group kids classes. After two and a half years as an English teacher in Japan I would consider myself to be a “good” or “very good” teacher for adults. I enjoy most of my lessons and feel like the students are both enjoying themselves and learning something.

I can’t say the same things about my kids classes; they are the hardest and least enjoyable part of my job.

Today in one of my group kids classes, I had a young girl who decided it would be fun to throw a marker at my face. I wish I could say that I made a matrix-like dodge, impressing the class into respecting my teaching authority. Instead they laughed as the marker bounced off my face while making a smacking sound.

The same little girl decided to up her game later in the class (after I had hidden the markers) by calling me a bunch of nasty words in Japanese. One of the big selling features of NOVA is that the classroom environment is supposed to be English immersion. Even if teachers can understand Japanese, we are supposed to use English at all times. However, after about a full minute of her using every awful word she knew I was getting tired of the abuse. I smiled, leaned in, and told her quietly but firmly “zenbu wakatta yo” (I understand everything). She was shocked, turned red, and immediately stopped the name calling.

English immersion or not, everyone living in a foreign country should make efforts to learn the local language. It might come in handy one day!

Author’s note: I recognized most of the names she was calling me because the “bad” words in a new language seem to be the most fun to learn. This backfired on me a few years earlier which you can read here.

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April 21, 2006 – Good day

Today was a rare easy day at work – light schedules for all teachers and fun lessons. This is a nice surprise in an otherwise overloaded and challenging month at Numazu NOVA. I wish every day could be like this!

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April 20, 2006 – Trailer Park Boys

I am proud to say that I have hooked an Australian and an American on a Canadian TV show that we all watched while living in Japan.

Trailer Park Boys is just that funny!

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April 2006 – Don’t start a fight with someone twice your size

This is a post that didn’t originally appear on my blog in 2006, but it was a memorable experience so I thought I would share.

At Numazu NOVA, I had several group kids classes. One of my classes was the senior group – ages 9-12. Like other NOVA kids classes, the students were grouped by age and not ability. This left me with a class featuring several average students, one really bright and outgoing student, and one student who had a harder time with English than the other kids. For the sake of storytelling, let’s call the slower student Gian and the bright student Nobita. The Doraemon reference is fitting – Gian was about twice the size of the shorter, slimmer Nobita.

Nobita usually gave Gian a hard time, but on one day in particular he was especially rude; mocking Gian for reading slowly, for making mistakes speaking, and generally anything else he tried to do in English. Gian was honestly trying is best; he just wasn’t picking up English as quickly as the other students and Nobita wouldn’t let him forget it. I don’t usually have this kind of problem in other classes, so I wasn’t really sure the best way to deal with it. I tried my best to discourage Nobita from being a jerk, but he was enjoying the reaction that he was getting from his classmates too much.

Near the end of the class, Nobita took things a bit too far, deciding to move from verbally making fun of Gian to actually poking him in the chest.

That was a mistake.

nobitagian

If you have never seen judo before, it is surprising how quickly one human being can launch another through the air. Within milliseconds of Nobita’s poke, Gian had executed an effortless throw, launching Nobita gracefully through the air. Although Nobita’s takeoff was smooth, the landing was not; he came down on the top of his head and crumpled in a heap on the floor. I don’t at all condone real life violence, especially in the classroom, but this was incredibly impressive to watch up close!

Nobita looked up at me from the floor and make the universal shrugging gesture for “are you going to do anything”. I told him in English “you shouldn’t poke him, he’s way bigger than you! Don’t do it again”. I think he got the message, and he toned down his abuse of Gian afterwards.

I’m about 170cm (5 foot 7 for my non metric friends) and I was always the small kid in school. At a young age I learned that starting a fight with someone twice my size was never a good idea. I’m not sure how much English Nobita learned in my English class, but I hope he will at least remember the lesson he learned by trying to physically bully someone twice his size.

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April 2006 – The perils of not wearing a watch

As a conversational English teacher, one of the most important things I brought into the classroom was my watch. It allowed me to pace my lesson properly and make sure that I had enough time to get ready for my next lesson.

Lessons at NOVA are 40 minutes long. In that time the teacher needs to cover:

  • Student intros
  • Warm up exercise
  • Intro to the lesson
  • Introduce new language
  • Drills / language practice
  • Activity (situation / role play)
  • Feedback and wrap up

After lessons teachers have 10 minutes to fill out the student evaluations, put away the files or hand them off to the next teacher, then get files for the next lesson. This time is also used to check for schedule changes or take bathroom breaks. There is a bell that rings to signal the start and end of the class time, but depending on the branch and the students it may be difficult to hear.

At Numazu NOVA, it’s nearly impossible to hear the end of class bell from the kids classrooms. The kids rooms also have no visibility to the other classrooms, so you can’t see when the other teachers are going back to the teacher’s room at the end of the lesson. This caused problems for a few people in my time as a teacher, but the funniest example happened to my friend Super Dave.

One day I was in the teachers room between lessons and noticed that Super Dave had not yet returned from his kids class. As the time ticked on we started to wonder if he had missed the bell, or if the classroom required extra cleanup. After a few more minutes I decided to go check on him.

The door to the kids classroom has a window; I looked through and saw him still teaching the class, completely oblivious to the time. I knocked on the glass to get his attention and pointed at my watch. He came over and saw that he was now 7 minutes over and only had 3 minutes until his next class. This prompted him to do what many of us would do:

He yelled “OH SHIT” very loudly.

In the middle of a kids class.

Super Dave immediately covered his mouth, just like a scene from a cartoon. I felt bad for him, but couldn’t help laughing at the situation. He rushed the kids out of the class and flew down the stairs to the teachers room where his wonderful coworkers had his next lesson material ready to go with about a minute to spare.

There are two important things to learn from this story: the first is to always wear a watch when teaching conversational English. The second is that if you say a bad word in a kids class, it’s guaranteed to be the one English word that the kids will remember.

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April 2006 – The benefits of drinking with students

This is a post that did not originally appear on my blog in 2006. NOVA had a strict policy against teachers interacting with students outside of the classroom, so posting this at the time would have been a very bad idea.

NOVA kids was one of my least favourite parts of being a conversational English teacher. NOVA organizes their classes by age group – Kinder is 3-6 years old, Junior is 6-9 years old, and Senior is 9-12 years old. The makeup of a class is determined by demand and availability, which occasionally leads to situations like I had in one of my Kinder groups – a very bright 6 year old in with a bunch of 3 and 4 year olds.

The 6 year old girl, lets call her Momoko, couldn’t move up to the Junior group until the next time the classes were reassigned. The work that she was doing was too easy for her, and she was obviously not enjoying her 40 minutes of English lessons with a bunch of younger kids. She decided to enjoy her class time by getting the other kids to do things like hiding my teaching material, playing with the light switch, throwing around anything that wasn’t bolted to the floor, and generally making my class difficult. She didn’t do any of these things herself, she just influenced the other kids and enjoyed the chaos. I did sympathize with Momoko being stuck in a classroom full of little kids, but as a teacher I was very frustrated.

Momoko was usually picked up by her mother, but on one particular Saturday her father showed up instead. The father (let’s call him Takuya) was a high level student at Mishima NOVA, and was one of the people who would often go out for drinks and karaoke with other teachers. I’ve had a few very fun late nights out with Takuya and others, but I had been unaware that he was Momoko’s father.

Takuya greeted me in English and asked how Momoko was doing in the class. Employing the tried and tested “sandwich method”, I told him that Momoko was the strongest student in the class, she was often causing problems because the work was too easy for her, and I thought she was ready to move up to the next age group. I gave a few examples of Momoko’s behaviour, watching her curious reaction as she saw the teacher and her father speaking English in front of her. This was obviously something she had never considered before.

Takuya had never heard this kind of feedback about his daughter before. He thanked me for sharing, kneeled down to her height, then proceeded to talk to her very sternly in Japanese for a few minutes. She went pale and looked like she wanted to crawl under a rock. At the end he told me in English that Momoko’s behaviour would improve.

The next time I saw Momoko, she had turned from a troublemaker into a model student! My Kinder class suddenly became a lot easier and more productive. A few weeks later when the classes were reassigned, she joined by Junior class and continued to be the best behaved student in the class.

NOVA’s policy prohibiting teachers from associating with students outside the classroom makes sense; they want to avoid any situations that could cause lawsuits, damage to the school’s reputation, and especially loss of repeat business. Companies needs to take measures to protect their business, but at the same time, allowing sensible interaction between teachers and students or teachers and parents can be a huge benefit.

In this case, my relationship with Momoko’s father was a big help in improving the classroom situation for both Momoko and the other kids in the class. Could this have been achieved without hours of izakaya time and karaoke? Probably, but my way was a lot more fun!

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