Category Archives: Japan

The Endless Week of Thursdays

Today felt like Thursday. So did yesterday. Tomorrow, when it is actually Thursday I suspect it will feel like Friday.

Part of the problem with this time of year is that we are mostly finished with all the planning we need to do. We have exams to finish and listening tests to record and edit, but none of that takes much time. That leaves us with lots of down time to fill during the day.

In class we are merely watching the students work on (or not work on) review assignments. We field a few questions, but mostly we react to every movement and every stretched arm. The conversation is usually:

–Student raises arm to stretch.–
Me–Do you need me?
Him–No, no, a thousand times no.
Me–Carry on then.

Because we have a lot of down time, the week begins to drag and I think that’s what makes it feel longer. The weather is also changing, which drains a lot of energy.

Then there’s the dread of how busy we will be next week when the exam papers arrive.

Long Day, With Videos and Ink

Just a short one today.

The day started with me filming videos and using my iPod Touch for the first time as a camera thanks to me leaving my phone at home. The videos are mostly to scare the students into taking it seriously and to torture them after with the sounds of their voices and the way they actually look on camera.

It will also show some of them how boring they were.

The two classes after the videos were second year junior high school classes. The higher level class was terrible and the lower level class was pretty good. All I did was explain the exam (or in the case of the higher level class, stop explaining the exam because no one was listening). I also handed out a review sheet. The problem with the lower level class is there were a few students who just talked and others who just smiled because they didn’t know what they were supposed to do.

After I got home, I packed three boxes of ink into a bag and walked them to the post office. This isn’t that far of a walk (2.2 km/1.4 miles round trip) but even though it was fairly cool it was muggy and I’d spent a lot of energy at work.

I did some minor work after that. Emphasis on minor.

Something Completely Different

I’ve now reached the point with my worst student where I might actually keep him in my class just to see what happens next. In the past he’s freaked out, flipped me off, hit me with a desk and torn up his textbook.

Today, though, was something completely different.

Because today is one week before the final exam, I dedicated the class to discussing the content of the exam and passing out a review sheet that included the actual long writing question.

As I explained things, though, I heard a rattling sound. He was alternating between throwing the metal cone of his mechanical pencil as if it was a die or attempting to spin it as if it was a top. This attracted the attention of other students. I explained that if students weren’t listening I’d stop talking and just turn them loose with the review sheet.

Although most students in his class worked hard and were better than my other classes, he set his review sheet sideways on his desk and surrounded it with pens to create a kind of top-spinning pitch. He then set up obstacles and spent the rest of the class spinning his pencil top.

Other students asked him what the hell he was doing (in so many words) and he just repeated his usual “I don’t understand therefore I don’t have to try” shtick (in so many words).

I was fascinated by the entire event and just let him not try. He’ll end up in the lower level class where I’m guessing he thinks things will be easier and the where he thinks the teacher will use more Japanese. Or, maybe he thinks he’ll get to sit at his own desk and play with his own stuff.

Whatever happens, I’ll be really surprised if he writes more than his name on the final exam. If he doesn’t even do that I won’t be surprised either. It makes it easier for me to mark, but guarantees he’ll drop to the lower level class.

(Note: Because of the latter, I’m torn about whether or not I want him to actually write something.)

I don’t want to make him someone else’s problem, but that seems to be his goal. I may not keep him around, but I suspect I’ll get interesting reports from his new teacher.

Last Week Adventures

Because tomorrow is the first day of the last week of classes, and because I was out all day yesterday, today I was surprisingly useless. A large portion of the day was spent watching TED talks about how to beat procrastination.

I did not intend to do that or be this way, but my brain was apparently warning me that the next couple weeks are going to be hectic right as the weather is getting hot and rainy.

Granted, there isn’t much actual work this week. Most of what I will do amounts to providing information about final exams, passing out review sheets, and answering questions/staying awake. What makes this tiring is how boring it all is and the fact the air conditioners at the school where I work are set for “sub-tropical”.

Sometime this week we will record the listening portions of the various exams and I’ll spend an evening editing mine into something that hopefully works and spares me the usual listening related stress. I then have to turn it all in on Friday.

I’ll then have another couple days to be useless before I get busy.

 

Day of the Doomed

It started badly but ended well and at least one person was ecstatic. Another has given up.

A fellow pen addict has returned to Japan and I got the chance to hang out with him. The plan was for me to meet him at a pen fair at Ito-Ya in Ginza where I planned to buy a new nib for my Nakaya or have the old one repaired.

However, just past the point when it would have been practical to turn around and go back, I realized I’d left the pen on the variety room desk.

That shortened the visit to the pen show as there was no real reason to be there. I met my friend and we then went to Euro-Box to look at vintage pens but has been the case in every previous trip, it was closed.

This means my friend has given up on ever seeing the place. Such is the nature of doom.

We then went on a wild goose chase–led by me–through the red light district of Shinjuku looking for a building that doesn’t exist. (Long story involving maps, identical names, and doom induced stupidity.)

Later, at Kingdom Note, whilst we were waiting for a spot at the counter to open up, we were approached by a Chinese woman who expressed that being at Kingdom Note and buying ink and pens was her dream come true. We were happy for her, but our problems were just beginning.

We went to the store in Shibuya that we thought we’d find in Shinjuku to buy a few trinkets. However, there was an odd delay involving a trinket with no price tag attached. That led us into Shibuya on a Saturday night trying to find a quiet place to have a drink.

Every place we found was closed or crowded. This led us to an izakaya called, in English, “the Stupid Son”. We chose it because it had empty chairs, It filled up quickly though.

It turned out that the food was pretty good and the beer reasonably priced. We suddenly felt less doomed.

Oddly Different and Oddly Silly

Today I had the chance to experiment on my students.

One of the things, after all these years of teaching, that I still have a hard time grasping is the way a lesson will work with one class and fail spectacularly with another. What typically happens, is the first class goes poorly as I work out the bugs and the second goes well.

It didn’t quite work out that way today.

My classes today both were junior high school first year classes and because of holidays, exams and sports tournaments, both had an extra day that I had to fill. Because of this I decided to try an activity where I gave them a scrambled conversation and then let them race to see who could put it in the correct order. They could work together, but couldn’t use their books or past worksheets.

My first class, which features my worst student, did surprisingly well. Three students finished and two others made a valiant effort. My worst student didn’t finish but he did write down the answers when I ended the race. He also participated in pair work during the extra time I had at the end.

My second class, though, did a lot worse. Only one student finished and several others decided that because they didn’t understand they deserved free time. I read the answer three times and then told them to pair up and practice the conversation.

However, only a few of them had bothered to write down the answers. Some hadn’t written anything at all. Others seem to think my English pronunciation is silly as they mocked my English whilst not actually transcribing what I was saying.

This means that the conversation will be featured in at least one of next week’s review classes.

Taunted Back by Sports

As promised, I taunted my junior high school students today.

First, I wore black and gray, and during the usual opening greetings, after the students say “I’m fine, and you?” I said that I was not happy. I explained that I wasn’t happy because I was at school. I was at school because they were bad at sports.

This actually went over pretty well, although the first year students pointed out that they were technically only  cheerleaders at that point. I said they didn’t cheer well enough to inspire the teams.

The joke, of course, was played on me when I got to my final class of the day. Five of fifteen students were absent. If that ratio had held in every class I wouldn’t have had junior high classes. (Note: I still had high school classes.) It left me secretly crying “why? why? why?” inside my heart. (Note: I’ve had the same reaction after relationships ended abruptly.)

The final joke, though, was that most of the students who were absent were good students and I was left with the worst. I guess that’s what I get for taunting my students. It made the black and gray seem more appropriate though.

The Failures of Youth

I have a full day of work tomorrow, and it kind of has me annoyed.

This week is sports tournament week for junior high school students at the school where I work. This means that enough students are absent for regular classes to be cancelled. I still have high school classes, but my work load is reduced. Sort of.

Monday and Tuesday were sure things: most of the students were gone and regular classes went with them.

Inexplicably, Wednesday (today) was a regular day.

The only question was Tomorrow (Thursday). If the majority of the teams do well, classes will be cancelled. If they suck, we have class.

They sucked. We have class. Actually, a hundred students or so will be gone, but that’s not enough to cancel regular classes.

Luckily we had enough notice that I was able to prepare some things for tomorrow.

However, it adds complications to ink sales and my plans to carry boxes to the post office.

The most important thing, though, is that I will taunt the students a bit by telling them that the only reason we are having class is they suck at sports. I’ll then threaten them with push-ups to get them in shape for next year.

 

Once Again, They Who Do Not Know

My students were better, but some things got worse. That’s a normal June.

Despite my worries, several of the groups in the class I was worried about stepped up and got most of their work done. The other class was in better shape and I’m not worried about them at all. Which kind of worries me. (That’s another symptom of June…)

The final symptom was a text from a fairly new guy at the company I work for telling me he wants to do observations next week.

This is problematic for a lot of reasons. 1) The head of the English department doesn’t want observers. 2) It’s the final week of classes. 3) Because it’s the final week of classes, almost every class will be doing either final projects or final reviews.

If he wants to see me teaching, next week is the worse possible week. Also, he won’t actually be allowed in the office because we’ll be working on final exams and the school where I work is rather paranoid about such things.

In the past we’d managed to break the office staff of coming in June. This involved pleading and then swearing if pleading failed. (That’s no joke. My greeting to my immediate supervisors, who showed up unannounced, on the last day of classes no less, was “what the hell are you guys doing here?”)

The person who sent the text, though, seems reasonable and all of this may be put off until the autumn. If not, I may have to start swearing.

The Blank Harbingers of Doom

It is final project time at the school where I work, at least among the high school second year students, and several blank papers may spell doom for several of my students.

I’ve talked about the final project before, but what makes it hard for the students is they generally aren’t keen on anything involving imagination and they have too much time and too many people working on the project. This creates a lot of down time for all but the most dedicated students and gives them a false sense that there’s plenty of time. I also suspect they think I won’t fail them.

Whatever their logic, this is the third day they’ve worked on the project and they should all have something resembling a script so that they can start the artwork/visual aid part of the project.

However, a third of the groups had nothing written at all and they reacted to my warnings in different ways. One was writing in Japanese whilst one student sketched something and the third pretended to be doing research on his phone. In another group two students stared at pieces of paper whilst the third had a chat with a different group. I surprised them all by saying I was glad to see they were finished and it was time to do the final performance.

Note: my rule is that if you are talking to someone who is not in your group you are announcing you are finished and ready to do the final project. 

They now have one more day of prep and practice before the final filming next Monday. I feel a great many of them are doomed and that a lot of low scores are about to be earned.