Archive for category Kawasaki Nova

October 29, 2004 – Demo lessons

Today I had 3 demo lessons. A demo lesson is a free sample English lesson provided to prospective students. The lessons are half the usual length, and the idea is to show the students what a NOVA lesson would be like.

Since the demo lesson is a sales tool, the teacher has an important role in giving a fun, successful demonstration. This makes the sales staff’s job easier when they try to get the student to sign up for an expensive, long term lesson plan. Not all teachers are chosen to give demos. The fact that I got three in the same day is a bit of a compliment to my skills. In addition to the compliment, which is always appreciated, demo lessons have less preperation and paperwork which makes for an easier day for me. What’s not to like?

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October 27, 2004 – One last night with the good kids

Most of the teachers at Kawasaki NOVA are sick, so the schedule keeps changing. I ended up getting one more lesson with my former Wednesday kids class. They were all surprised to see me. It was a nice surprise for everyone.

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October 23, 2004 – Massive earthquake

What started off as a regular Saturday late shift turned a little more exciting. During one of my voice classes in the evening, the building started shaking. At first I was playing it off like a joke, standing and wobbling back and forth. My students asked me to sit down, which I did.

Then the shaking got stronger.

Most of the earthquakes I have experienced in my 13 months in Japan were over quickly. This one kept building in intensity and the shaking didn’t stop. One of my students, seeing that I was no longer enjoying myself, tried to reassure me.

“Don’t worry Andrew” he said. “This earthquake is… how do you say…” and then he moved his hands left and right.

“Side to side?” I responded.

“Yes, this earthquake is shaking side to side. Don’t worry.” he replied. “If it’s shaking…. how do you say…” and then he moved his hands up and down.

“Up and down?” I answered.

“Yes, if the earthquake is shaking up and down then we will all die” he explained in a very matter of fact manner. The other students sitting around nodded their agreement. It didn’t do much to make me feel better at all.

The building where Kawasaki NOVA is located is a tall, modern building near Kawasaki station. Like most modern buildings, it is built to flex during an earthquake. This helps keep the building from falling apart, but it provides a very unsettling feeling. The worst part for me was the sound of the window frames and door frames creaking as the building gently flexed back and forth.

During the rest of my shift, I felt no fewer than 5 aftershocks. Some of the aftershocks were the size of the normal earthquakes that I had previously experienced. I kept mentally reassuring myself that the aftershocks were side to side, so everything was fine.

After work I had several beers at Kiosk to calm my nerves. I took the train back to Noborito, and began a slow, slightly stumbly walk back to Hello House. About half way home my phone rang – it was my mom calling from Canada.

“Are you okay? I heard there was a big earthquake in Japan!” my mother exclaimed. Trying my best to sound sober and calm, I explained that the earthquake was in Niigata, which is about 300km north of where I was. I told her that I felt the earthquake, but was fine and there was nothing to worry about. After several reassurances, I managed to convince her that everything was okay and I didn’t need to move back to Canada immediately.

I learned later that the earthquake was actually much bigger and scarier than I had originally thought. 40 people died, and over 3000 were injured. One of the shinkansen trains derailed due to the shaking, fortunately with no injuries. When you are traveling over 200km/h, a derailment is not a pleasant thought.

Earthquakes are a part of life in Japan, but I don’t think I will ever get used to the ground moving. By the way – I am moving to one of the most earthquake prone areas of Japan. At least they will be the most prepared, right?

(2014 Update) The exchange with the student about side to side vs. up and down is still one of my favourite teaching stories in Japan. The conversation was so absurd compared to the terrifying earthquake that was happening. My original post had a lot less detail, mainly because I didn’t want anyone back home to worry.

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October 21, 2004 – Halloween Voice

Today I had yet another special topic voice session, this time at Keikyu Kawasaki school. The topic was Halloween. Japan doesn’t really “celebrate” Halloween (I don’t know if celebrate is the right word), but they know what it is. My personal highlight was getting the students to play pin the tail on the donkey.

(2014 Update) The NOVA Kids curriculum during October is usually Halloween related. One of the American teachers at Kawasaki NOVA went above and beyond with one of his kids lessons. He took the student (a 5 or 6 year old girl) to all of the other classrooms to go trick or treating. We all gave her flashcards with pictures of candy and other treats on them.

When both students and teachers are having fun in the classroom, it really helps a lot with learning English and job satisfaction.


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October 16, 2004 – Catching cold

There is a nasty cold making it’s way through the teachers at Kawasaki NOVA. In the morning I started feeling the cold. By the time I got through four lessons, I felt like I had been hit by a truck. I took some daytime cold medicine from Canada on my break, and made it through the rest of my shift with my brain swimming around somewhere above my body. This was actually less fun than it sounds.

When my shift ended, I immediately went home and directly to sleep.

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October 9, 2004 – Sideways rain

Today was my last big topic voice class. I woke up early to transfer my resume presentation files to a disk. I then went through my usual routine of eating, showering, visiting, hanging out, and getting to work. When I got to work I realized that I had left my disk at home, and didn’t have enough time to go back and get it. Time well wasted.

Fortunately, in the 3 hours of preparation time, I managed to remember the key points. Without my visual aids I pulled a 90 minute presentation out of my ass. Overall it was well received. Resume voice allowed the students to practice past tense sentences for their accomplishments, and there was a lot of work with adjectives. The students were really surprised to learn that in Canada, you aren’t supposed to put information like your age, height, weight, and marital status on a resume. I was surprised that such information was common to include in Japan.

The other notable event today was my first typhoon. My students were explaining that it was the worst typhoon to hit the area in about 10 years. It was raining and windy when I got to work, but I had no idea what a typhoon could do until my dinner break came. I went outside with my umbrella into crazy winds so strong that the rain was coming sideways. My umbrella was instantly turned inside out and nearly pulled from my hands. When I walked around some corners, the wind was so strong it almost knocked me over. I had never experienced a storm so intense before!

Due to the strong winds and rain, several train lines shut down. This had a positive effect on NOVA, as students couldn’t really go anywhere, so they booked into any lessons that had space or hung out in the Voice classroom. Fortunately for me, Nanbu line was not affected so I could go home on my regular train.

My experience with the typhoon was relatively mild compared to other parts of Japan. There was property damage across the country and reports that two people died. Nature can really be terrifying at times!

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October 6, 2004 – Last good kids class

Message from the kids

Today was the official last day of teaching my Wednesday kids class. Georgia will be taking over the class, so we did a team teach so she could get used to the kids. At the end of the class, I got them to pose for a group picture, and gave them all Canada pencils. I then told them in English (and basic Japanese) that today was my last day teaching them because I was moving to Shizuoka. They all looked really sad. This is the first group of kids that I actually connected with as a teacher, so it was sad for me too.

After my next class, one of the staff told me that some of the students from my class had left a message on the whiteboard for me. I went to the kids classroom and saw that they had filled the entire board with a goodbye message for me. (the picture is above)

For the first time in my year of teaching in Japan, I actually felt like a good kids teacher.


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October 1, 2004 – New textbook

I was not at my best after last evening’s festivities. Thankfully, my hangover headache went away just before my group kids class started.

Today was the first day of the new NOVA textbook. The new textbooks are currently only available for low level students, but we did receive a set of good lesson plans to use with the existing outdated textbook for mid and high level students. The new plans are a big improvement over some of the teacher created lessons that are currently being used. This should greatly cut down on lesson prep time and open up a lot of old lessons for students who are stuck in level.

So far there is a mixed reaction to the new textbooks and lesson plans. Students are not used to the new method, and don’t want to pay for new teaching material. Teachers who have created some of their own good lessons are not keen to follow a script in the classroom. Nobody likes change, but I think that when people get used to the new lessons they will like them.

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September 29, 2004 – New teaching method

I got training on the new teaching method today. NOVA is switching their system as of Friday. There will be a lot less preparation time with lessons, and also a lot less flexibility. This should ensure an even quality of lessons with different instructors, and a lot less thinking for us teachers. I am not sure how I feel about the change yet, but I am optimistic.

(2014 Update) The NOVA teaching method was long overdue for a change. The old method was based on an English textbook from the 1980’s used to teach English to immigrants in America. The pictures and dialogues were hilariously outdated. One lesson in particular was based around a letter written to a hotel to make a reservation in the future. Who makes hotel reservations by letter?

There were 40 lessons per level. Teachers were supposed to find some target language in the lesson material (usually grammar or vocabulary) and invent a situation where the student would use that language. The lesson often had little to do with the textbook material. Coming up with a situation and building a lesson around it was not always easy to do. Lesson quality and difficulty could vary wildly depending on the experience and creativity of the teacher.

The newer system was based on teaching a variety of language for a particular situation. The situations are usually common like choosing a restaurant, asking a friend for a favour, or hotel complaints. The lesson would introduce some vocabulary and sentences that could be used in the situation, and provided a chance to practice the new language. At the end, students were given different parts in a role play situation and had to use the new language.

The new lesson material was created by a team of experienced teachers, and provides templates and all needed material for better lessons. Since the lessons matched the textbook material, students could review outside of the classroom. It was a huge improvement for both teachers and students.

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September 10, 2004 – CAT training

Today I went to NOVA’s Shinjuku head office for CAT training. CAT is NOVA’s level check system. I assume that CAT stands for something like “conversation ability test”, but with this company it could be anything.

NOVA divides students into different levels of ability, with 7 being the lowest level and 2 being the highest. There is no level 1 for some reason. Nobody really knows why, but the most common reason I have heard is that level 1 is equivalent to a native English speaker. Also, there are three divisions in level 7; 7C, 7B and 7A.

CAT is used when a new student joins NOVA, or when an existing student has been recommended for a level up. The training is used to make sure that level classification is consistent across different NOVA branches. During training we listen to examples of students of different abilities, and follow through the level assessment decision tree.

The system is actually pretty interesting. For a new student, you start with a brief conversation. Based on how they do, the next steps are some tasks using English and a situational role play. After the tasks and role play, the decision tree will tell the instructor which level the student belongs in.

My favourite role play situation is for level 5 – the student is on vacation and their luggage did not arrive. The instructor plays the airline staff. To successfully complete the situation, the student must inquire what happened to their luggage, when their luggage will arrive, and if the airline can do anything to help them in the meantime. I enjoy being the unhelpful airline employee.

There was a test at the end of training, which I think I might have failed. For some reason, every teacher from Kawasaki NOVA who has taken the test recently has failed. I am not sure if this says something about the training or my branch. (Probably the branch!!)

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