Archive for category Teaching English
Today was my last day of work as an English teacher in Japan. It was both exciting and a bit sad.
When I put in my notice, the branch staff had specifically asked me not to tell students that I was leaving until near the end. They explained that I was one of the most popular teachers and were worried that my departure, combined with the teacher shortage, could lead to students not wanting to buy lesson packages.
One way or another the word had gotten out, and a few students gave me some presents during the day. One of my group kids students asked for a picture with me after my lesson. In addition, my coworkers got be a big bag of Toblerone chocolates, one of my favourite mid-shift treats. My departure will have a material effect on chocolate sales at the small store across from the branch.
I finished off the last two lessons of my shift as the only teacher in the building. At the end of my last lesson my students said some really nice farewells (in English no less), leaving me a bit emotional. After 3 years of teaching it felt strange to put away my files for the last time.
I am happy to be changing jobs, but I am really going to miss seeing my coworkers, staff, and students every day.
My kids students are starting to actually try to communicate in class!
Teaching English to kids usually involves a predictable routine of the kids repeating what I say (without always understanding) and variations on the same activities. At worst, the kids are checked out or disruptive. At best they usually go through the motions and might even have some fun. Kids actually attempting to communicate in English other than the course material is not at all common; it is a very welcome surprise and I’m going to do my best to keep this going.
Too bad I this happened right before I moved home and not a few years earlier!
Today during my last English lesson I was teaching some lower level students. During the lesson they had trouble understanding the noun “stuff”, meaning a variety of things.
When someone doesn’t understand a word, most people will try to explain the word using other words. This can create a problem for English students who might not understand the other words used in the explanation; instead of having to explain one word you now need to explain 5. Teachers can easily fall into a trap where they keep using more and more words, confusing the class and totally derailing the lesson.
I tried a few times to explain “stuff” using other words, and then realizing that I was digging myself a hole, I tried to think of another way to explain it to my class. Inspiration struck, I excused myself from the classroom, ran to the teachers room, and returned with my messenger bag that I use to carry things to and from work. I told the students that I had a lot of “stuff” in my bag as I started dumping the contents on the desk: some pens, homemade teaching materials, snacks, a book, my Ipod, and other things. After filling the desk, I told my students that maybe I had too much stuff in my bag.
One of the best parts about teaching is seeing the exact moment when a student understands something new. My demonstration worked, with all of my students looking happy and making lesson notes. After the lesson I had to repack my stuff and then explain to the branch staff why I had run out of a lesson – they were truly confused. Fortunately my explanation did not involve me once again dumping out my bag.
This morning, in a surprising turn of events, common sense defeated company bureaucracy.
When I woke up this morning my voice was still weak and squeaky. I had missed work yesterday which resulted in cancellations. The branch staff were in a bad situation – not wanting to cancel more lessons and not allowed to pay overtime for a replacement teacher. They asked if there was anything I could do to help.
I called Super Dave and asked him if he would be willing to trade shifts with me in order to help out the branch. He agreed to cover my shift today and I would work one of his on my next weekend. This deal would result in no cancelled lessons, no overtime payment, and Super Dave could get a 3 day weekend; it was a win for everyone involved.
I felt pretty good about myself until I called the NOVA head office in Osaka. I explained that I wasn’t going to be able to work my shift, but that I had arranged a replacement. They told me that I couldn’t do that. I further explained that the branch staff had asked me to find a replacement if possible. Head office wouldn’t budge, saying that if Super Dave showed up to work they would need to send him home. I understand the need for following usual procedures, but I was shocked that head office would rather cancel lessons than allow a last minute shift swap.
In the end, common sense prevailed; the staff left my name on the schedule and Super Dave worked my lessons. I’m pretty sure this happened without the knowledge of head office, but since the end result was good I don’t think anyone minded.
I spent the rest of my day resting and taking some intimidating Japanese medicine that The Penpal brought me. I should be good to go for tomorrow.
Today, by request from management, I worked a rare overtime shift. I really value my 2 day weekend, but this was an early shift and it’s hard to turn down extra money right before I’m move back to Canada.
Work was busy but not terribly difficult. I was fighting a bit of a cold, so my voice was starting to disappear by the end of the day.
After work I went out for dinner with The Penpal and one of her church friends, who is quite possibly the friendliest person in the whole world. Even though I gave up half of my weekend, my day didn’t turn out too badly!
My usual Saturday evening teaching partner Molly was on vacation. Due to the ongoing teacher shortages in the area, I was the only teacher in the building for the last 4 lessons of the evening. Each of my classes was at its 4 student capacity, making for a busy evening.
During the afternoon, right before my group kids class, one of the branch staff decided to replace the filters in the air conditioning units in each of the kids rooms. I’m not sure why they decided to start this right before a group class – usually the staff go out of their way to avoid disrupting lessons. When the lesson started, there was still a ladder in the middle of the room.
Realizing that a bunch of energetic children in a small room with a ladder was a disaster waiting to happen, I decided to improvise and moved my group into the unoccupied Voice room.
In branches that have dedicated NOVA kids classrooms, these rooms are specifically designed to teach children. There are teaching materials on the walls, high shelves for anything that the kids shouldn’t get at, and a total lack of furniture. The Voice room was designed with adults in mind – there was a giant movable white board, tables, chairs, maps, and all kinds of English books and magazines. The kids were so distracted by everything in the room that the 40 minute lesson flew by. It was one of my easier kids classes ever!
Today my experiences teaching English to children hit a new low: a 4 year old girl spat on me in the classroom.
Most kids that I have taught are pretty good, if uninterested. However, over the past few years I have been hit, kicked, kanchoed, and had a variety of objects thrown at me, most notably a marker which bounced off my face. I have also had kids call me terrible names in Japanese: I usually let this go for a few minutes before telling them in Japanese that I can understand everything they are saying. Today was the very first time I have ever had someone spit at me in class.
At first I was shocked, then disgusted, then occupied with trying to find something to wipe it off, then back to disgusted with a bit of angry.
Teaching English to children is a very effective form of birth control.
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.