Posts Tagged Kawasaki NOVA
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!!)
Another schedule update at work. This month I will be working Sundays at Keikyu Kawasaki NOVA. Sunday is one of the busiest days, so it’s fantastic to be at Keikyu which is more relaxing than Kawasaki NOVA.
After work, Archie came back to the Noborito area with me. I showed off Hello House and we went for beer with Lux. A good time was had by all!
Once of the recent additions to Kawasaki NOVA is a teacher named Andrew from Canada. Unfortunately for him, I am already Andrew from Canada, and I have been around for almost a year now.
Teachers are usually referred to by their first names by students and staff. In the event that there are similar names, the country of origin comes into play. For example, a branch could have a British Steven and an Australian Steven. Having two Andrews from Canada is guaranteed to cause confusion.
I asked the secondary Andrew what his middle name was, and he said “Archibald”. I asked him if he was okay with people calling him “Archie”. He said yes.
Before he could ask why, I quickly went to the front office and asked the Japanese staff to change other Andrew’s name to Archie in the schedule system. Apparently I now have some level of credibility, because they made the change without question and without confirming with any of the supervisors.
Once again, I am the only and original Andrew from Canada. Victory!
Today was the opposite of yesterday. My afternoon was busy, but my evening was INSANE. So many students!!
FYI – Nobody pays attention to Friday the 13th in Japan. That’s a truly western phenomenon.
A lot of Japanese people are on holidays right now, so I only had 3 of my 7 kids in class tonight. Also I got a free lesson at the end of the day, which is a very rare occurrence at Kawasaki NOVA. No complaints here.
Today was my first day back to work after my family left. I had 3 kids classes to welcome me back to the office, but they were all pretty good. I also learned that I am the new Voice co-ordinator at Kawasaki NOVA. The Voice room is a general conversation area for students of all levels. Occasionally the school will offer some specialized topics, including Club 7 (for low level students) or special topic Voice. The special topics are usually something related to one of the teacher’s countries, or teaching language for a particular task. My job as Voice co-ordinator will be to schedule the special Voice topics, and ensure that they are evenly distributed among all the teachers. I am pretty excited about it, even though there is no increase in my pay.
After work I went for Kiosk beers with Anzac. Usually we will get a can of Asahi or two and watch people in the station. Our highlight of the evening was a really drunk middle aged businessman in a suit who had peed his pants. When I say “peed his pants”, I don’t mean a few drops; he literally hosed down everything. I don’t envy the people next to him on the train.
I had to work today, leaving my visitors to their own devices. At work I had a one on one class with a kid known around Kawasaki NOVA as “Notorious”. I expected the worst and was pleasantly surprised.
When I returned home, I found the guys drunk and grumpy from a bad experience in Kabukicho during the day. Apparently they went out to see strippers. In the strip club they ended up having some drinks and singing karaoke with one of the dancers. When it came time to settle up the bill, there were charges for singing with the dancer on the bill. Some of the guys didn’t want to pay, as they were not told in advance that there would be any charge. To avoid an argument with the establishment, Flounder settled the bill and then tried to get the rest of the group to pay him back.
The money was the main reason why everyone was grumpy, however we were all at the point in our vacation where we had been spending entirely too much time together. Being with the same people 24 hours a day for two weeks is a whole lot of togetherness.
In the evening, Code Red and Hippie stayed at Hello House, while Flounder, Blue and I went out with Lux and some of the other Hello House residents to a nearby izakaya for beer and grilled mochi.
(2014 Update) I have heard a few different versions of what caused the money dispute at the strip club, but this version seems plausible. Since I was at work and all of the participants were drunk, it’s possible that I will never know for sure. Not surprisingly, there are no pictures from that day!
I paid back my shift swap by working at Hiyoshi school. Hiyoshi is an older school – the classrooms are 3 students maximum. It was a great relaxing day and a refreshing change of scenery.
2014 Update – It seems that I left out a lot of the detail on my original post. File this one under “don’t talk badly about your employer and coworkers”.
Hiyoshi NOVA was in fact an older school with a 3 student maximum in the classroom. Even if there were 4 students per classroom, the schedule still would have been a lot less busy and chaotic than Kawasaki NOVA. In addition to the lighter schedule, it’s always nice to see some new students in the classroom. Even in a huge school like Kawasaki, you end up teaching the same students regularly.
In my short time at Hiyoshi, I was surprised by a few things related to the teachers and students. The first issue I noticed was that the only female teacher was referred to as “bouncy” by her male coworkers. This nickname was an obvious reference to the ample size of her breasts, and happened to rhyme with her first name. “Bouncy” didn’t seem outwardly bothered by this, but that doesn’t mean that it was in any way appropriate for the workplace.
My other issue was with the way the teachers treated one particular student. This student, let’s call her Rika, was in one of the lowest levels. Before I taught the lesson, I was warned by the other teachers that Rika was not very good, and that she had been stuck in the same level for a long time. I went into the lesson fairly open minded, and found that Rika was easily good enough for the next level. She wasn’t the strongest student, but was far better than any of the teachers had given her credit for.
To move to the next level in NOVA, students require two consecutive level up recommendations from different teachers. At that point they have to pass a test to ensure they have learned all the necessary skills from their current level. If they pass, they are advanced to the next level.
Generally, visiting teachers are discouraged from giving level up recommendations outside of their home school. The reasons that were explained to me were that the visiting teacher is less familiar with the student’s overall performance, and the home teachers may take offense to an “outsider” disagreeing with their judgement. I could understand the opposition if only one recommendation was needed to promote a student, but the requirement for two consecutive teachers to agree provides a good check against prematurely promoting a student.
After the lesson I returned to the teachers room and informed the other teachers that I was giving a level up recommendation. They were surprised, and tried to dissuade me. I gave the recommendation anyway, relying on my judgement as a teacher.
In my 3 years of teaching experience at NOVA, I encountered a number of students who were “stuck in level” for a long period of time. In most cases it was due to the skills not being there. Taking one 40 minute lesson each week does not do a whole lot to improve English ability. However, in some rare cases (as with Rika), the teachers have made up their minds that the student will not advance, and only new supervisors or a new crop of teachers will change the situation.
Months later, I discussed Hiyoshi school with a former Kawasaki teacher who had been sent there as a supervisor to “clean things up”. The problems I described were not surprising to him, and were definitely not the only issues in the branch. As much as I didn’t like working at Kawasaki due to the schedule, I think I would have enjoyed Hiyoshi less.
Just before 10:00am this morning I woke up to the sound of my phone ringing. It was one of my supervisors calling, asking me if I knew that the work schedule had changed. I told him no, and asked what time I was scheduled to start. He told me that I was on the schedule from 10:00am. For the record – this is not a fun way to wake up.
I quickly shaved, threw on some clothes and RAN for the train. The train ride was 27 minutes long, and as soon as the doors opened I again RAN towards the NOVA school. I managed to arrive 3 minutes before my second lesson. Usually arriving late will get a monetary penalty, but I assume I will not have to pay since I was not informed of the schedule change.
Aside from the excitement, I had a great day. Working a 5 lesson early shift was great because my entire afternoon and evening were free. I used my free time to buy and watch a Pixies concert DVD with documentary. PIXIES RULE!
Everything screwy that could happen to a person’s schedule happened to mine today. I managed to survive, having to stay about 20 minutes after classes ended to finish all of my paperwork.
The one redeeming feature of my day was an excellent voice class. Inspired by a recent stupid argument with Phoala (I never have anything but stupid arguments with Phoala), I got the students to do a bunch of quick debates between trivial topics. First I gave the students a topic (baseball vs. soccer for example) then found out which side they supported. I then divided the students into teams based on their choice, adjusting the teams to make sure the numbers were fairly even.
The best debate of the day was “beef vs. fish”. Pro beef arguments included:
- Beef is yummy. If beef was yucky we wouldn’t eat it so much. Nobody likes to eat yucky foods.
- Everybody likes a big steak!
- Cows also make milk, and that’s great!
The fish side countered with:
- There are many types of fish, so fish has more variety.
- Beef doesn’t have a long history in Japan. It’s only popular because of a conspiracy from America (seriously)
NOVA does not allow us to discuss any potentially controversial topics (religion, politics, etc), and even if we were allowed, I assume many of the students would refrain from taking strong stands one way or the other in order to preserve the harmony of the classroom. Having quick debates about topics of little consequence was a great opportunity for the students to practice stating their opinions in English without worry. It was also a lot of fun for me, which is a big help in getting through a busy workday with most of my sanity intact.