Archive for category Teaching English

August 6, 2006 – Moonlighting as a children’s entertainer

A few months ago I had a lot of fun being gaijin Santa Claus for Yamaha English School’s Christmas party. The teachers at Yamaha liked my work enough that they asked me to be a part of their summer party. When I moved to Japan I had no thoughts about being a children’s entertainer for hire, but I am trying to pay off student loans and save for a wedding so I happily accepted.

All of the English teachers at Yamaha are Japanese, so having an actual foreign English speaker show up is a rare treat for the students. The Penpal (a former Yamaha teacher) picked me up early and drove me to the small town of Izu Nagaoka, located in beautiful Izu Peninsula. In the morning I helped the Yamaha teachers entertain 47 children aged 2-3. In the afternoon I was the center of attention for 20 kids aged 5-9. I got to help the kids play games organized by the Yamaha teachers, and I got to act out “summer words” like campfire, jellyfish, and beach.

The kids all seemed to have fun, and unlike when I was Santa, nobody cried. I had some fun too, but being a fun, enthusiastic person for a room full of kids is hard work and very tiring. I have nothing but respect for full time children’s entertainers, and have no desire to attempt this as a full time job.

After everything was done, the Penpal and I returned to Numazu where we celebrated a successful day by watching The Blues Brothers, one of my all time favourite movies filled with very non-kid friendly language.

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August 2, 2006 – Friends

I worked an early shift today and got to spend my evening with The Penpal. We ordered pizza and watched Friends. Believe it or not, there is a lot of material to cover on both topics, so I’m breaking this up into two posts.

As an English teacher, students are often asking me what they can do to improve their English. One of the things I recommend is watching TV in English, and I specifically recommended watching Friends.

I was a fan of Friends back in Canada. It’s a fun show and it was always easy to find reruns on almost any channel. For those who have been living in a cave, Friends is a show about 6 friends who live in New York City. All of the action takes place in only a few main locations, and the stories mainly revolve around relationships, family, and jobs.

In addition to being a fun show, Friends is a great tool for learning conversational English. The characters speak the kind of English that many students want to learn when they go to a conversational English school. The language is casual without being overloaded by slang, the conversation is about things that people actually talk about (the aforementioned relationships, family, jobs), and there is a lot of movement and physical humour to help provide context to the spoken language.

English students in Japan can all find something to relate to in the characters in Friends. Overbearing parents? Check. Working an office job that your friends don’t understand? Check. Divorced parent? Check. Apartment life in a big city? Check. While not everyone has a pet duck or an evil twin sister, there still are at least a few things in the characters that everyone can identify with.

As one final advantage of the show, Friends is easy to find. Reruns are shown on TV and the DVDs are easily available to buy or rent. The DVDs come with audio and subtitles in both English and Japanese. I’ve been encouraging students to watch in English with English subtitles if possible, and only to use the Japanese subtitles if they had trouble understanding something.

What’s not to understand?

I know a few students have taken my advice so far, and I have been enjoying rewatching the show with The Penpal as a fun way to practice her English before she moves to Canada. That’s when we’re going to graduate to The Simpsons!

 

 

 

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July 22, 2006 – Teacher shortage

Due to the continuing shortage of teachers at work, we only had 4 teachers available on Saturday again. Numazu used to have 10-12 teachers in total, and at least 8 of them would be scheduled on Saturday, usually 6 working mornings / afternoons and 2 covering afternoons / evening.

Working at about half of our previous capacity was a challenge for staff and students. Some classes were guaranteed and had to be offered: group kids classes and voice always went on the schedule first. After that, any lesson slots were available on a first come first served basis. To complicate this, students had to be grouped by skill level.

As an example, let’s say that there are 4 teachers available at 5:00pm on a Saturday. There is a group kids class and voice offered at that time, which leaves 2 teachers available to teach lessons. If a level 5 student calls for a lesson, they turn one of the open slots into a level 5 lesson. Other level 5 students can join, and in rare cases a lower level student may challenge the lesson. If a level 3 student books the other open slot then all teachers are booked. Students of other levels who want a lesson at 5:00pm are out of luck.

Students usually buy bulk lesson packages in advance. Lesson tickets can expire, which really makes students upset when they can’t get lessons at their level to use up their tickets. It’s a major frustration that they frequently complain to teachers about.

If you are thinking about buying lessons from an English conversation school, make sure to ask about the numbers of teachers available: you may find yourself unable to get lessons and your tickets will expire.

2017 Update: Attracting teachers to smaller areas and retaining them was always a challenge for NOVA. What made the problem worse is that in 2006 NOVA was facing some serious financial problems. I don’t know the exact details, but this probably explained the cuts in overtime and hiring. It was a bad situation for students who wanted to use up their lessons!

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July 20, 2006 – Multimedia lessons

After fighting bravely for a few days, I finally gave in and called in sick to work. A full day of sleep had me feeling much better. I found out later that instead of calling in a teacher to replace me, NOVA had instead provided students with multimedia lessons taught by a teacher from another branch.

NOVA has their own video conference equipment available for multimedia lessons. This allows students to learn from home, or to get lessons at their branch in another language. There is a huge demand for English teachers in Japan, but a much smaller demand for French, German, and Italian. The most efficient way to provide this service throughout Japan is to have the non-English teachers based in Osaka (NOVA HQ) who can virtually commute around the country where they are needed.

When a teacher is not available in person, students generally prefer a MM lesson to rescheduling. However, they did tell me that it’s just not the same as physically being in the same room.

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July 19, 2006 – So tired

So tired. Very nauseous. No fun.

I was considering calling in sick, but there is a big shortage of teachers in the area at the moment and I am worried that lessons would be cancelled. I didn’t give any award winning English lessons, but I did teach some English.

 

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July 18, 2006 – Blargh

Feeling terrible. I have caught the cold / flu thing that is going around through the teaching community. Blargh.

Despite not feeling well, I still put in a decent day of teaching. Don’t teach = don’t get paid.

 

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July 15, 2006 – Mystery throat spray

Half way through the day my voice gave out, which is a pretty big problem for an English teacher. On my dinner break I went to a nearby convenience store looking for something to help.

Convenience stores in Japan are exactly that – convenient. Like convenience stores in Canada, they sell pretty much everything. Unlike Canada, you can’t walk down the street in Japan without tripping over at least two different convenience stores.

While browsing in the store, I found a mysterious looking coloured spray. What I could read on the bottle indicated that it was a throat spray. I couldn’t understand most anything else that was written on the bottle. I needed to try something, so I decided that it was probably safe if it was being sold over the counter.

I tried it out when I got back to work, and was pleasantly surprised to find that it helped! The pain went away, and I was able to speak at a normal volume again. The combination of mystery throat spray and doing my best to limit how much I spoke got me through the rest of my shift. I’m not going to press my luck by going out for karaoke.

** Note to readers – it’s probably not the best idea to take medicine that you don’t understand!!

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