Archive for category Teaching English
The main themes running through my summer are teacher shortages at my branch and the insane humidity. Today I got to experience both of those things! Hooray!
Tuesday is usually a less busy day at NOVA, but today we only had 3 teachers on the evening shift, which is about 3-4 people short of fully staffed. This meant that during our dinner breaks only 2 teachers were available to teach lessons. I ended up doing Voice (the open conversation room) 4 times! Fortunately I had some chatty students, so the 160 minutes I spent in the room were not just an extended staring contest.
The humidity was so bad today that the 4km round trip bike ride to and from work actually made me feel crappy. Japanese summer humidity is NOT for Canadians.
Today is one of my scheduled days off. This morning I was woken up by my phone. I got a call from NOVA asking me to work an overtime shift in Fujinomiya.
I was totally caught off guard by the overtime request and still half asleep so I almost said yes. Somewhere in the back of my brain an alarm bell started ringing, reminding me that Fujinomiya was about a 40 minute train ride away and that the school was full of group kids classes. I like extra money, but I needed the day off more so I declined and went back to sleep for a few more hours. I found out later that the overtime shift came available due to a teacher calling in sick the day after a party.
One of the annoying things about being a conversational English teacher is that everyone has different days off. This allows the branch to be open 7 days a week, but guarantees that no matter which night of the week there is a party, someone is going to have to work the next day.
Drinking is part of the English teacher culture – many of the fun events after work involve alcohol in some way. In time you either learn how to moderate your intake on work nights or how to work through a hangover. Calling in sick the next day is universally considered to be bad form among teachers, and will make you very unpopular with managers and branch staff (as I learned first hand).
It should be noted that “not drinking” is always an option, but then you risk truly hearing how bad everyone is at karaoke. I don’t recommend this at all.
If you are teaching English overseas, always make sure you can get into the office the next day!
Today was a rare Sunday shift, working on a shift swap to help another teacher. I had forgotten how busy Sunday was!
In the voice class, I had yet another student asking questions about the state of NOVA and our branch. All of the schools in our area are seriously understaffed, short of both teachers and the Japanese branch staff. Students are finding it harder and harder to book lessons, and the staff are always extra busy.
As a teacher we are not supposed to talk about school business or policies. However, this is a topic that keeps coming up regularly. A few students have told me that I’m one of the few people who will actually have the conversation and they appreciate it. I sympathize with the students – they have all purchased large lesson packages that expire in time, but the shortage of teachers is preventing them from getting what they paid for.
I could be getting myself in trouble talking about the school, but at the same time I’m leaving in two months so I’m not as concerned as I would normally be.
(2017 Note) The financial situation for the company was MUCH worse than anyone knew at the time. The students were right to be concerned.
Realizing that Japan is hot and humid in the summer, the government introduced a new business dress code called “cool biz” this year. The idea is to reduce electricity use by setting air conditioners to 28 degrees C (that’s 82 F for my metrically challenged friends) and allowing people to not wear ties.
The private sector is slowly adopting the idea, but NOVA is still insisting that all male teachers must continue to wear ties in the office, even thought the air conditioner is now set to 28. Ironically we are now less comfortable than we were before.
Today, like other summer days, I got out of a cool shower, put on my shirt and tie, and then rode my bike to my branch through scorching sunlight and sauna-like humidity. My ride to work, combined with reduced air conditioning in the office and 3 group kids classes left me as a sweaty mess for much of the day. Hopefully my very professional looking tie distracted my students from the sweat stains on my shirt. Urgh.
A few days ago, my area manager came to my branch and asked very nicely for me and another teacher to work overtime today.
When I first started at NOVA, there were overtime shifts available regularly, especially in the bigger cities. In the past year, overtime has become rare in an effort to cut costs, resulting in cancelled lessons for students. I was asked to pick up an extra shift because there were only 2 teachers available, which wouldn’t cover the schedule at all.
I don’t like giving up my days off, but I do like making some extra money. Not only that, but my OT shift was an early shift which made for an easy day of teaching English. After work I got some food and played Mario Party with The Penpal. Best overtime day ever!
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.
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.
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!