One Students Enters, Another Student Leaves

There was an accident in what’s emerging as my worst class today and that gave one of my worst students a chance to be bad.

The funny part is, the sleeper in that class stayed awake. (More on that in a minute.)

Early on in the class (which happens to be first period) I noticed a puddle on the floor. That puddle led to a bag which happened to belong to a bad student who used the opportunity to check his bag and clean up the mess as a chance to disrupt. He laid a chair down and used the back as a seat so that he didn’t have to sit on the floor. He made a couple trips to the restroom to rinse out the towel he was using to sop up the mess. He talked with the guy in his usual desk. (Note: I always move them to different chairs.)

I proceeded with the class without him and only lost a couple students to his distraction. He eventually got bored, finished and went back to his seat where he acted bored and annoyed at any requests that he actually speak/do work.

As for the sleeper, he surprised me by being a relatively decent student today. He not only didn’t try to sleep, but he actually did work and didn’t try to disrupt the class. Usually when sleepers are forced to stay awake they respond by being belligerent and doing nothing and doing to their best to make sure other students in the class do nothing.

The rest of the day went well, which is unusual for the day before a three day holiday. I had a few rowdy students and realized my planned schedule wasn’t going to work out exactly right (at least in one class).

Then it was home to enjoy doing very little for a few days.


What Day Through Yonder Window Breaks

It’s the time of year when I’m not sure what day it is. Even worse, I don’t actually trust myself to know where I’m supposed to be.

This week, starting with this past Friday, is Golden Week which four Japanese national holidays all occur in the same seven days. The 29th was Showa Day, which is named after the era of the Emperor the world new as Hirohito. The 3rd is Constitution Day, celebrating the 1947 constitution. The 4th is Green Day, which used to be on the 29th, while the 4th used to be a “bridge” holiday between the 3rd and 5th but that was all changed in 2007. (Confused? Now you’re beginning to understand my world). The 5th is Children’s Day which is actually in honor boys but, well, yeah.

The problem is that this big holiday season comes just a couple weeks after the start of the school year. Right about the time we get in a teaching rhythm, we have four days off (sometimes, unless the 4th is on a Saturday, then we don’t. Long story.)

Friday was a day off, but even She Who Must Be Obeyed said it felt like Saturday. Then we had Saturday which felt like Sunday, and today I woke up as if it were Monday (then went back to sleep when I remembered it wasn’t.

Even more confusing, we work tomorrow, but then we have three days off, and have to work Friday. It’s common at this time of year to wake up in a panic and check your calendar several times to make sure you are where you’re supposed to be. Luckily, because it’s a national holiday and not a random day off the schools tend to have, you quickly calm back down and go back to sleep, laziness, sloth, etc. On the random days, you no longer trust your calendar or any other ways of tracking time.

The trouble is, I actually have to be some place tomorrow. At least I think I do.

Variety Days in the Variety Room

I cheated, but it was worth a try. It worked reasonably well but it was still cheating.

Today was a day for random tasks as it turned out that our oldest had school (normal for some schools) and that She Who Must Be Obeyed was going to an open house at the school. That meant I was watching our youngest.

Because there was no way to make other plans I did a few things I’d been putting off. First, I finished cleaning pens and chose a couple that will be put up for sale. After the cleaning, of course, comes the reinking and that led to some rethinking and I thought about putting a couple more up for sale. Of course, I’ll have to clean them first, which adds complications. (In a future post I’ll talk about the criteria I’m using for keeping or selling.)

That process, of course, took a lot of time. I had to pull the pens apart, rinse them out and soak the nibs and feeds to flush out all the old ink. While the nibs were soaking, I took on a different task: sharpening knives. This is where I cheated.

I recently acquired a diamond sharpening stone and, just as an experiment, a guide for helping the lazy/unskilled keep a knife at a consistent angle for sharpening. I spent some time playing with that and the main problem was it was sharpening the knife at a much different angle than I usually use. This meant I had to spend a lot of time removing a lot of steel before I could actually form the apex and sharpen the knife. This meant I spent a lot longer sharpening the knife than I’d planned.

The guide worked well, but it doesn’t solve the problem of curved edges and a lack of skill. It also probably won’t solve the problem of the way we abuse our knives and manage to dull them rather quickly.

After the cheating, er, sharpening, I managed to get some writing done, but the sense that I’d cheated at sharpening distracted me. Tomorrow I’ll have to freehand sharpen something just to prove I can still do it.

I’ll also think about cleaning and selling those pens.

Thin Bits of Ruination

I bought a pen because I knew I wouldn’t be afraid to ruin it. Today I tried to ruin it.

The rabbit hole that is pen addiction consists of several steps that lead the addict from “Who the hell would ever use a fountain pen” to “why would anyone ever use anything but a handcrafted fountain pen made of gold harvested from asteroids”? (Something like that.)

One of the steps involves taking control of your pens by learning to do basic maintenance on them. This step usually comes after the step where you start using bottled ink and well after you learn what a good pen feels like. At this point you learn to straighten nibs and widen the gap between the tines and maybe even change nibs. You also remove the nib for cleaning.

In my case I’ve been interested in learning some basic nib care and to do so I bought a cheap fountain pen that I’m not afraid to ruin. My plan was to use a few tools I’ve acquired over time to tweak the pen and make it better and then change inks. That said, if it had been perfect I wouldn’t have messed with it, but it was kind of dry and didn’t like working on smooth paper.

I tried soaking it in pen flush but that didn’t work so I finally decided to try some brass sheets I acquired a while ago to clean out the tines and, hopefully, make the ink flow smoothly.

The problem is that poking around on your pen, even a cheap one, with bits of metal is not a natural act. (It’s kind of like a dentist scraping a metal hook around your teeth and gums in the name of “hygiene”: even though you know it’s supposed to be helpful, you’re kind of worried about long term damage because “metal hook”.)

I cleaned and flushed the pen and was surprised to see how easily it cleaned. I then had to poke around at it with the sheet of metal.

Whatever I did, it seems to have worked. The cheap pen is working well. Now I need to know if it was the cleaning or the ink change that made it work.

Frozen IPad and the High Tech Lessons

Something’s going on in my house and as near as I can tell it involves education and nearly frozen iPads.

As I’ve mentioned before that, despite her relative average scores in math, our oldest earned entrance into a high school with a science focus. (Note: She may have been recruited to play flute in the brass band club; more on that in a future post.) Because of this, we’ve entered her into a correspondence math course that involves doing assignments on an iPad that’s been sent by the education company. This apparently makes it easier for us and the company to enforce a level of immediate accountability.

However, when the iPad arrived, it was surprisingly cold, as if the courier was also delivering frozen pizzas and couldn’t be bothered to carry a separate box or bag for the iPad.

That’s one explanation, anyway.

I’ve always maintained that one of the Tokyo region’s dirty little tricks is that it always get’s cold one more time. However, even I didn’t expect it to drop into the 50’s (15 Celsius) at the end of April. I also don’t understand why the iPad was cold enough to get condensation and/or preserve raw meat.

Of course, once the iPad was extracted, wiped down and warmed, it fell upon me, apparently because I own an iPod touch and that makes me, by default, an Apple “Genius Bar” worker, to deal with all technical issues.

The problem with that is that Apple tends to deny that problems exist. This means that you are often on your own when dealing with an issue, which also means my main solution to all problems is “turn off then turn back on”.

This time, though, the problem was with the Apps store. My only solution in that case is “do something else for a while”. Sure enough, after a suitable delay, the app store started working again and our oldest was able to download the software and start studying.

One that began I was unable to help as her math level is already higher than mine. (She’s still doing math with numbers, but there’s a lot letters involved.)

I just hope she doesn’t need any help with that. If she does, I’ll just refer her to the iPad.

Hurry Up to Wait

I almost fell asleep, then I fell asleep, then I took a walk on my injured foot.

Today was the one week follow up  appointment for my broken toe. I had an appointment slip and my hospital card and that earned me a surprisingly quick check in using an ATM-style device. I was sent right to the waiting room where I turned in all my papers.

I was then surprised when I was called for my x-ray after only a few minutes’ wait. At that point I began to hope that I wouldn’t be there that long.

That’s when the wait began. Several people were ahead of me in line. The hospital has a white board that lists the doctors’ names and their rooms and has a couple inexplicable numbers on it that are occasionally changed. I think the numbers have to do with the waiting list but I’m not sure.

While I waited I tried reading but quickly began to drift as my brain began shutting down. I tried watching television, but someone had set it to an NHK documentary which is a bit like injecting barbiturates directly into someone’s bloodstream. Eventually I started dozing off and tried to find a position where I wouldn’t fall over and land on the floor, fall forward and smack my face on the chair in front of me, or drool on myself.

I finally had to stand up and pace a little, which is funny when you have an injured foot, but right after I sat back down my name was called.

The doctor asked me how my foot was (sore, but usable) and showed me the x-rays which seemed to show little improvement but no new damage, which the doctor seemed worried about. It also seemed to have set in a normal position and were healing normally.

I’m now scheduled to go back for another follow up in two weeks. I’ll probably go to that one, but avoid any appointments after that as Japanese doctors tend to try to bring you back as they make money per visit and want you to visit a lot.

A Little Less Conversation A Little More Food

I had a big lunch because history has taught me that there wouldn’t be much food at supper. I didn’t count on the drinks coming slowly. I also didn’t count on there being rules.

I also didn’t count on my food trying to kill me.

Tonight was the welcome party for new teachers at the school where l work which meant everyone assembled at a bar for drinks and food. However, I spent part of the afternoon hunting for bottles of ink. I also had a sneaking suspicion that there wouldn’t be much food so I had something called the Chicken Chicken Platter for lunch. This involved two pieces of what e’d call “chicken fried chicken” back home and some chicken nuggets, salad, soup and rice. Then I decided to have ice cream because Baskin-Robbins was having a sale.

A group of us met for pre-drinks and then went to the party. We were impressed by the live seafood we had to pass on our way to our room but dismayed when our welcome was an unusual rule. Although the restaurant was “all you can drink” they required that the first drink be beer. After we finished a glass of beer we could order other drinks.

I do not understand why this was so but I suspect it was a way to force us to do the Japanese tradition of everyone pouring everyone else’s drinks in the spirit of camaraderie.

Then the food started trickling in and we quickly discovered two problems: 1) the food was only trickling in and 2) the drinks were only trickling in as well. We quickly learned to order extra drinks, but the wait left us with little to do but converse. Those of us who’d gone to the pre-party were, of course, relaxed and brilliant, but everyone else was way behind and, quite frankly, struggling.

Eventually, even those of us who’d attended the pre-party found ourselves struggling to remain relaxed and brilliant without the distraction of food.

The food itself posed an interesting problem. We had to grill it ourselves and, at one point, we were served fresh clams. They went on the grill and sat there doing very little until a couple of them decided to explode and spray shell fragments around the room.

Luckily no one was injured. The truth is, though, if the drinks had come faster, we’d have probably laughed about it and done our best to make the rest of the clams explode. Instead, we just ended up talking about how dangerous it was.

Hurry Up To Wait and Wait To Work

The truth is, I’d be willing to pay money to make my work schedule a bit more difficult but that would actually make it easier.

To be more specific, one of the things I don’t like about my Monday schedule is I almost get it all over with and then have to wait. I teach first, second and third period with only the regular breaks and then all of a sudden it all comes screeching to a halt and I have little to do for the next three hours except some token planning and trying to keep myself entertained/awake.

This seems awesome, especially compared to the much more difficult schedule of teachers in the USA, but it has its drawbacks.


I personally would rather have all my classes in a row. In fact, I’ve volunteered to teach four hours in a row each school day if I could get them all done before lunch. This would allow me to be finished at lunch time and then all I’d need to do is take some time to plan the next day’s classes. I’d have more classes than I have now, but I wouldn’t be obligated to have to just sit around and get distracted by stuff in the office. (Or, in many cases, be the distraction.)

Note: We used to have a busier schedule at the school where I work but then the laws changed slightly and that caused our hours to be reduced to under 29.5 hours a week.

Note 2: This is a bit inside baseball/evil empire but, technically I am obligated to be at the school where I work for at least six hours each day for five days in a week which should add up to 30 hours. However, the five minutes of break I’m officially allotted do not count as part of the 30 hours which means I fall under the magical 29.5 hours “full time” voodoo level and am not eligible for full time benefits and salaries. 

Note 3: I was actually lucky to get some benefits the company I work for when I started at the school where I work. Confused? Welcome to Japan.

I suspect that once I settle in to the new schedule I’ll find ways to make my down time more productive. I’ll always wish, though, that I had more work and therefore more free time.

Anything That Could Be Wrong Is

We learned a lot today. It all started with a phone call and a few rejected button presses.

After we added our oldest to our cellphone plan we, as always, discovered a few charges that we are sure were totally an accident/and or, something we weren’t told we’d have to reject or we’d be paying for it. (It’s also possible that the store clerk tapped it in Morse code and we didn’t notice.) We also had to correct our oldest’s name as they’d misspelled her family name (despite our having repeatedly corrected them when they said it wrong).

She Who Must Be Obeyed started pressing buttons on our phone and sighing a lot and then pressing more buttons. After a few minutes she started speaking to someone and that led to a few interesting discoveries.

First, we learned that our cellphone company thinks our phone number is our old number that we haven’t had for over 15 years. That number was acquired via the company I work for but they abandoned that service a couple  years after we started on it and we’ve had a different phone number since then. (This is similar to what happened when I tried to get a new bank card.) That involved a long discussion that took a shocking twist when the lady on the other end of the line insisted on speaking to our oldest.

She Who Must Be Obeyed pointed out that our oldest is only 15 and there was no reason in hell for her to have to get involved with this. That led to our second discovery: apparently during the long process that resulted in a wrong name and “accidental” charges, our oldest’s phone number got listed as the official phone number, essentially making her head of household. This meant they needed her permission to make any changes.

After clearing up that mess, we then added her to a service that lets her use Wi-Fi hot spots provided by our phone provider because they totally require us to do that rather than making it default. That, however, required me to get on the phone and answer several questions to prove that I am who I am even though the person couldn’t see me and all I did was repeat information She Who Must Be Obeyed had already tried to give. (To paraphrase a friend of mine: Could someone please tell me how, HOW, Japan became a major economic power?)

In the end we think we got it all sorted out. We’re sure something else is wrong, but we’ll deal with that when we figure out what it is.

Deservedly Mindless Distraction Day

In the past, on days like today, I’ve pretended to care. Today I couldn’t be bothered. Today I put my butt in a chair and started playing.

Well, I did something resembling work, sort of. But I did it in a way that allows me to deal with it at another time.

Using the excuse of resting my injured foot, I decided to play a game for a good portion of the day, especially as it was the game’s Asian anniversary weekend and that meant there were lots of special rewards.

That, however, turned into a much longer gaming session than I’d planned, even though I was’t playing particularly well.

At some point, however, I managed to inventory all the ink I have in stock (exact amount: a lot) and then put off doing things that will get it off the floor in the variety room.

This, of course, was the real reason for all the gaming: avoid making decisions. However, I didn’t just play games to do that, also cleaned a pen, which took longer than I though as it had collected gunk from the past and from the ink I was cleaning out. In my defense, it’s one of the pens I plan to sell and I want it in the best shape possible.

At some point during the day I made lunch for myself and our youngest and then told the youngest to do dishes. (I consider this work as it’s my job to teach “self-reliance” and “responsibility” and lots of other polysyllabic words like those.)

Oh, and in keeping with my tradition of watching final episodes of television series, I watched the final episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. That seemed to be an important thing to do today.