Category Archives: Teaching

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.

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.


At a Loss for Explanations

I’ve had bad classes but I don’t think I’ve ever had a class that made me go: “What just happened?”

My fifth period class today was a lower level third year junior high school class. I gave them an assignment to 1) fill out a questionnaire about the school trip they took a few weeks ago and 2) copy the answers of that questionnaire into something resembling an essay.

What should have made this assignment easy was that they had done something similar for their regular English class. In fact, students in my other low level third year class had copied parts of their writing assignment with my blessing.

Today, however, they just sort of stopped. At least some of them did. They seemed to have decided that if nobody did the assignment than the assignment wouldn’t count.

Although I kept chasing after them and helping them, many only did the questionnaire but never turned the paper over to work on the essay. Several approached me claiming they were finished, but when I flipped the page they kind of frowned, went back to their desks, and did nothing.

At the end of the class I collected the worksheets, which surprised a lot of the students, even though I’d reminded them several times that I would.

Next week there may or may not be a class and the week after that will be the last class before the exam. This means my dilemma is to give them homework via their homeroom teacher or to drop the issue and score them badly.

I’ll probably do the latter as it’s June.

June is Always June

It’s been unseasonably cool the past couple days in a June that’s been surprisingly merciful thus far. However, despite this taste of mercy, the students at the school where I work are in June mode and that means mercy is not being shown.

Because they are in the sweet spot between midterms and final exams, and because the class I teach didn’t have a midterm, the students have begun causing more trouble. They haven’t had an exam and don’t take our classes that seriously. This creates a period of what might best be described as “rediscovery” where they’ve begun to retest limits and discover what the consequences will be.

With classes that are held in the students’ homeroom, you see the phenomenon where it takes students a couple minutes after the bell to 1) realize I’m in the class even though I’m telling them to hurry; 2) remember why I’m there; and 3) get their books and stuff and get to their assigned seats. It’s no exaggeration to say that students from the same homeroom can get to a class in a different building and get sat down faster than students in the homeroom can get sat down.

Usually at two minutes there are consequences. Today, though, a student took four minutes to get sat down whilst maintaining a “Whadda ya gonna doaboudit?” look on his face as other students enjoyed the show.

What I did about it was extend class five minutes and give everyone homework as a present from him. (Note: I realize that collective punishment is technically a violation of the Geneva Conventions; however, in my defense, those rules were written by people who’ve never taught eighth grade boys.)

Because the class was sixth period I had a lot of time. As promised, class ran long and then I tried to get them stood up and quiet for the official goodbye. I had to chase students from another group out and the student who’d caused all the trouble escaped.

Doubling down on my Geneva Conventions violations, I told the rest of the class they’d stay until he came back and then we’d start the extra time. Luckily, their homeroom teacher is an English teacher and he was very patient. He also got a good look at them cutting up and trying to make a joke out of it. Also, once they saw he wasn’t coming in the room, they realized the joke was on them and got quiet.

Eventually the prodigal student returned and class was finally able to end. About ten minutes after the bell.

Failure to Connect

They don’t get it.

For the past half decade or so, at the school where I work, I’ve more or less been in charge of the curriculum for second grade high school. I make the lessons and write the final exam, with input from my colleagues. Although the curriculum has the same basic outline, I’ve tried to tweak it to make things easier for both the students and my colleagues.

This doesn’t always work out.

The course is called English Expression and the emphasis is supposed to be on getting the students speaking by any means necessary. Since I’ve been in charge I’ve tried to emphasize creative learning by having the students invent both new products and new superheroes. The entire curriculum of this term culminates in the students making a TV commercial for a product they’ve invented.

To make this easier, I modified the curriculum to give them a chance to write the bulk of their final project during the next to last project. If they “invented” an original product for their Inventions presentation all they have to do is use the same product and make the script a little longer.

However, most of them have not connected the last project with this one. As a result, I spent today watching groups of students stare blankly at pieces of paper as they tried to come up with ideas.

Eventually, I forced them to find their Inventions print and convinced them that they could and should use the same invention. All they had to do was make a visual aid or two, a slogan and a logo and then add a few more lines and some acting.

I think some of them got it. But others, even the group that had the best invention, insist on creating new items.

They could be in for a long couple weeks.

Finally Seeing the Light

Rumor has it that even the Japanese teachers are having issues with this year’s first year junior high school students.

With a few exceptions, I’ve not found them particularly bad, although they seem to already have an attitude that isn’t usually developed until they are second graders. The attitude manifests as 1) not getting seated quickly after the bell rings; 2) talking when I’m talking, getting quiet, and then talking about how they don’t understand me as soon as I start talking again; 3) listening quietly and nodding and smiling as I speak in a way that’s supposed to mock me because they don’t understand and that makes me stupid (remember, they are almost teenagers); and 4) quickly turning every class into play time.

Today all four things happened in one class, the latter three as I tried to explain an assignment that would take a couple days to do. The result was that the option to memorize became mandatory and several students have already failed because they were playing and not working.

Every time students are talking or playing with people who are not in their group, I assume they are finished and bring them up to the front to their final performance. Because they are not ready, and it is not memorized, they have already failed but have to go again.

One student would start a wrestling match every time my back was turned and one time I caught him kicking his favorite target. I explained to his partner that both of them had just earned zeroes for the day. This led to a discussion where I explained that both partners get the same score and that the better student either needs to choose a better partner or get control of the partner he has. Eventually I saw it click in his eyes and they worked more quietly after that.

Next class will be the final performance day. My rule is that “if you are noisy, you are next”, even if you’ve already finished your performance.

The record is one performance plus three do-overs. I suspect we’ll break that next time.