Posts Tagged Nova

August 27, 2006 – State of the Union

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.

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August 21, 2006 – Working overtime

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!

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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 2006 – Busted (not me)

“No interacting with students outside of the classroom” is one of the cornerstones of NOVA employee policy. The idea is to prevent teachers from stealing students from the school for cheaper private lessons, and to reduce the risk of any unpleasant interactions that could cause the students to stop buying lessons.

** Please remember, when I say “students”, I am referring to conversation school students who are typically adults.

In Kawasaki I was aware that some teachers were seeing students outside of the classroom, but when I arrived in eastern Shizuoka I was surprised by how often it happened. Pretty much everyone other than supervisors had been to an “unofficial” farewell party with students in attendance. In addition, several of the teachers are or were dating students, and my friend Koalako shared an apartment with two teachers in Numazu.

Hanging out with students was an open secret in the area, with the understanding that everyone should keep it quiet and not let the supervisors or Japanese branch staff know. For the amount of times that teachers and students interacted outside of the classroom, it’s actually surprising how few people got caught. The good luck streak was broken in mid 2006 when teachers got caught red handed.

The two male teachers had invited two female Japanese students out for a drink, and for some reason decided to go to an izakaya near Fuji school that was popular with the Japanese branch staff. They were seated near the entrance, when coincidentally the branch staff came in for an after work drink as well. My understanding is that the teachers were called to a tense meeting with the area manager shortly after to remind them of NOVA’s policies.

I can understand NOVA’s point of view about the policy: they are a business and they need to protect their future profits. However, I think there is a lot of benefit from teachers and students interacting outside of the confines of the classroom. The best way to practice conversational English is to have a real conversation. Interacting outside of the classroom in a natural setting is also a great way to improve intercultural understanding. Other than good times at karaoke, I got a lot more out of my time in Japan by spending time with Japanese people instead of just teachers.

If you are teaching in Japan and decide to ignore company policy by hanging out with students, please be sensible, behave properly, and don’t ruin it for everyone else. Also, choose the venue carefully: you don’t want branch staff to crash the party!

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November 2005 – Vivian gets a cell phone

This is a post that didn’t originally appear on my blog in 2005.

Vivian was an English teacher from England who moved to Numazu in October 2005. She was one of those friendly, outgoing people who made every situation more fun and was nearly impossible to dislike.

Having a cell phone (mobile phone for my non North American friends) is critical to daily life in Japan. During new teacher orientation, NOVA had Vodafone sales reps on hand to provide phones to teachers. If the teacher wanted one of the few phones available, the Vodafone team would complete all of the paperwork and have the phones activated and ready to use by the end of the training session. Most teachers (including me) took this option out of convenience. Vivian decided that she didn’t like any of the phones available and decided to test her luck at the cell phone store.

Despite Vivian’s best efforts, the language barrier was simply too much to overcome at the Numazu station phone store. Choosing a phone, a plan, and signing a contract requires a fairly high level of language proficiency, and the store staff didn’t speak English. Vivian explained her difficulty to the other teachers at work and asked for advice.

One of the very cool things about expat culture is that the more experienced people generally do their best to help out new people. When I first moved to Japan, my roommates did their best to show me around and help me with everything from buying lunch to finding a barbershop. I knew that my Japanese wasn’t going to be good enough to help Vivian, but I did have a secret weapon up my sleeve: a Japanese speaking girlfriend. I texted The Penpal and she agreed to help.

Vivian and I met The Penpal after one of Vivian’s early shifts and went to the store all together. Vivian picked out a phone and The Penpal did the rest of the work necessary to get the contract filled out and the phone set up. Vivian was thankful and The Penpal felt good about being able to help.

Being far away from home can be a challenging experience for anyone; you really need to rely on other people to help. It’s rewarding to be able to return the favour for fellow travelers.

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October 15, 2005 – Only NOVA teachers can badmouth NOVA

In what seems to be a very regular occurrence, I went out after work AGAIN. As per usual, beer, sushi, and karaoke were on the agenda for the evening.

At karaoke we ran into a group of other foreigners, most of which were English teachers for other schools. When they heard we were working for NOVA, they started talking trash about how terrible NOVA was. For the record, only NOVA teachers are allowed to talk crap about NOVA. We alone have earned that right thank you very much.

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August 19, 2005 – Planning an emergency trip home

Last night around 1:00am I got a call from my mother with an update on my sister, who had been in the hospital for a few weeks with a mysterious illness.

My sister had been in the hospital for a few weeks now because of difficulty breathing. Despite a battery of tests, doctors were unable to determine what exactly was wrong. Just hours before the phone call, doctors had tried to remove a lump from my sister’s lung to perform a biopsy. During the procedure, one of her lungs partially collapsed. This was a scary experience for everyone involved, and my mom was obviously upset on the phone.

Its a terrible feeling being away from family when they are sick. I felt useless over the past few weeks getting all the updates on her condition. I told my mom that I wanted to come home to see my sister. She called me back a few minutes later and said that she would help me with the cost of a plane ticket home. Fortunately I had been saving up money in hopes of moving out of my NOVA apartment, so I had enough money to pay for a plane ticket without having to wait for money transfers.

I got a few hours of sleep, and then called the NOVA head office to explain the situation. I occasionally complain about the actual job of teaching English, but the support that the head office provides to teachers is fantastic! The staff told me that they would take care of my schedule for the next few weeks, and that if I needed more time to simply call them from Canada. They cancelled my request to move out of my NOVA apartment, told me where I could get a re-entry stamp for my work visa, and offered to help with the plane ticket if I needed it. Thank you NOVA for being so cool.

After I got off the phone with NOVA, I headed out for the nearest immigration office, which is located in Shizuoka City. It took me nearly an hour on Tokaido line to get to Shizuoka from Numazu. I easily found the immigration office, bought my stamp, and was headed back to Numazu within 30 minutes of arriving.

The next order of business was to buy a plane ticket. I wasn’t terribly confident about buying an open return ticket online, so I planned to go to the HIS travel agent office near my school in Numazu. For the whole train ride back to Numazu I had my dictionary and phrasebook out, practicing how to buy a plane ticket in Japanese. The last time I went home, The Penpal bought my ticket for me in Japanese. I have lots of experience buying train tickets in Japanese, but have never attempted to buy a plane ticket on my own before.

I nervously walked into the HIS office and was greeted in Japanese as I approached the counter. I asked in Japanese if the clerk could speak English, and she responded “yes, a little”. This was code for “of course I can speak English nearly fluently, but I am Japanese and would never brag about my abilities”. This made me feel a lot better.

I asked for an open return ticket leaving for Winnipeg as soon as possible. The clerk had never head of Winnipeg before (no surprise), but fortunately I knew that the airport code was YWG. This saved a lot of time and spelling. Know your airport codes people!

When you need to buy a plane ticket the next day, you are going to pay for it. My ticket cost me almost $1000 more than it would have if I booked in advance. The total cost was nearly 240,000 yen (about $2400). For some reason, credit cards are still not very popular in Japan. Most Japanese people would pay for the ticket using a bank transfer to the travel agent. I had never done a bank transfer before, and wasn’t terribly excited about testing my Japanese at the bank. I asked the HIS clerk if I could pay cash. She looked surprised, but answered yes. I told her that I would be back in 5 minutes. I walked down the street to a nearby bank machine, withdrew 24 x 10,000 yen notes, and returned to the travel agent while nervously looking over my shoulder. I counted out the money on the desk. This got some fun reactions from the staff.

I left HIS with the ticket in hand feeling relieved. No matter what else happened, I would be able to fly home tomorrow. Having the most important thing done, I returned home and started laundry and packing. After getting mostly packed, I called home to give an update, and then went to Seiyu to buy souvenirs. The Penpal came over for a quick visit after I returned home, and wished me luck on my travel. It was really great to see a friendly face before I left.

It was a busy and stressful day, but thanks to the help and great service from NOVA, HIS, and the Immigration Office, things went very smoothly and I was able to get everything done.

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April 25, 2005 – Office Space

Today I went to Shizuoka City to sign my new contract. I am officially NOVA property for another year.

Shizuoka City is the capital city of Shizuoka Prefecture. It located roughly in the middle of the prefecture, and is the second largest city. The population is around 700,000 plus, which puts it at a similar size to Winnipeg. However when compared to Winnipeg, Shizuoka is much more dense and much warmer.

Shizuoka Station is served by Tokaido line and the Shinkansen. From Numazu it took me just under an hour to get to the station. From the station, I followed a detailed map to navigate my way through a maze of underground malls before returning to the surface to find my way though a busy commercial area. Fortunately I was able to find the main NOVA branch without getting lost.

While signing my contract, I had a good conversation with the area manager, who is actually really easy to talk to and get along with. Unlike many of the teachers who pass through the conversation schools, the area manager was a lifer who had settled in with wife, kids, and a house. We discussed the area, the job, and living in Japan.

I returned to Numazu after signing my contract, and in the evening I watched “Office Space” with Azeroth and Palmer. Office Space was written and directed by Mike Judge, the creator of Beavis and Butthead. Being a huge fan of B&B, I saw it in theatres when it first came out. It was funny, but I didn’t really appreciate it at the time. To really understand the movie, you need to work for a large company at some point in your life.

After experiences working for some large companies in Canada and the largest English conversation school in Japan, I can now fully enjoy Office Space. Azeroth, Palmer and I laughed our asses off.


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April 14, 2005 – Expanded responsibilities

I have received a promotion of sorts at work. I am now the Voice co-ordinator at Mishima NOVA.

Voice is an open conversation classroom at NOVA that allows students of all levels to go and speak English. Most of the time the room is open to any type of conversation, but occasionally the branch will offer a special topic. I have done special topics on hockey, creating a resume, calling in sick, and some of the finer points of English grammar. Guess which of those I enjoyed the least…

As the Voice co-ordinator, it is my responsibility to make a plan for the next 6 months of special topics, and assign teachers to each of them. I had the same responsibilities when I worked at Kawasaki NOVA, but this time should be easier because I am now only scheduling 8 teachers instead of 23.

In other news: I somehow had another good kids class!?!?

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March 3, 2005 – Empty classrooms

I am not sure why, but almost nobody came for English lessons today. There were 6 teachers scheduled, but all of the lessons could have been covered by 3 people.

Unlike some other English schools, NOVA pays teachers for the amount of lessons they are available to teach, whether the lesson has students or not. For this reason, teachers are expected to find something productive to do around the branch if they have an empty lesson.

Full time teachers are scheduled for 8 lessons in a shift. I would have had a record tying 4 empty lessons if I hadn’t convinced the staff to get one of the students to stay for another lesson. At least I didn’t have to go hand out tissues at the nearby train station like I did before!

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