Category Archives: Teaching

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.

Either Effective or Cruel

It’s not important for them to know. It’s only important for me to know. —Patton (film)

I assigned my first year junior high school students their first big conversation, but I didn’t give them many details.

I did, however, give them an example. The example, though, was too short. This means that even if they copy most of the example and change a few names they will still have to come up with a few original lines.

Some of them asked me if they were supposed to copy the conversation. I gave them examples that didn’t. Some just crossed out names on the example and wrote in their own names.

I told them that was a bad idea because they might have to read the example and a few scribbles on a typed conversation were hard to read.

Eventually, some figured out they’d get more points if they wrote something original.

We’ll find on Monday if they did it well or not.


Once in a Lifetime Chance

Today I finally got to use one of the more obscure parts of my university education. At least as much of it as I could remember.

When I was at university, partly because of my background in a fundamentalist Baptist church, I maintained an interest in religion and the history of religion. This led me to a couple classes on religion, history of religion, civil religion, and politics and religion. The only use this ever got me was discussions like this:

Them: I can’t believe they are removing Christ from Christmas by calling it Xmas.
Me: Well, the X is actually a historical abbreviation for Christ.
Them: So f@#king what?

(Irrelevant But Interesting Side Note: in Japanese English textbooks, “Xmas” is offered as an example of a word that begins with “X”. This bothers many foreign teachers, especially if I’m around.)

For reasons I don’t understand, high school English club wanted me to talk about religion in the USA. They asked questions and I tried to answer them (with periodic trips to the internet).

What was fascinating about this was the school where I work is an Xian (er Christian) school–Anglican, to more specific–and students are required to take Bible classes and attend chapel. However, most of the students are not Christians. Therefore the interest in religion is understandably low.

Along the way, I got the chance to talk about my religious beliefs and how they’ve evolved. I also got to explain how I liked Sunday school when I was a kid but hated Sunday church service which was several announcements, one seemingly endless speech, lots of singing, and at least one TURPF.

Somewhere in there we talked about other religions. I’m not sure it was particularly productive, but it was kind of fun, at least for me. The students probably were hoping for Sunday school; I’m afraid they may have gone to church instead.


Once More, With Drift and Noise

This week at the school where I work we find ourselves in another one of those drifty, gray areas between a weekend and a major event.

The major event is mid-term exams and because our particular classes don’t have mid-terms (we test at the end of the term and via frequent in-class projects) the students will not take our classes seriously this week.

This is especially true of my junior high first year students. They are approaching their first exam and that has them excited and nervous. As such, they are making a lot more noise than usual and spending a great deal of time merely chatting rather than working.

In one class, which got homework last week for being noisy and noisier, many students spent the day doing the homework they were supposed to have done. Others, who felt that forgetting their notebook somehow granted them free time, talked or worked on a worksheet, but will get a chance to finish next Monday at lunch time.

It’s funny how many of them thought this was a joke.

The Worst of the Best

Today was one of those days where I was right about being wrong.

As the week drew to a close I had problems in all my first year junior high school classes. Yesterday’s was bad enough that they got homework. One student, who took one minute to move 15 feet to his desk, got double homework as a “delay of class” penalty.

This morning, though, was special.

My worst student, who was actually fairly good last class, has a bad case of wakarimasen dekimasen. If he doesn’t understand something, he feels he is entitled to free time. He didn’t understand the listening activity and put his head down on his desk, which I don’t allow. He even used his textbook as a pillow. When I tried to get him to sit up, he went full stubborn and kept his head down, which resulted in me puling his chair out from under him as I’d done in class before. He wrestled back spilling his desk.

He then stood up and gave me the finger. I laughed and he sat back down.

Eventually, his head went back down and I started bumping his desk to get him to sit up. He jumped up, picked up his desk and shoved it at me. At that point I threw him out of class.

Keep in mind, this is not technically legal, so I merely escorted him right outside the door and showed him where to stand, which was a place where he could still hear the lesson. He raged a bit, kicked the door a few times, sat down out of sight, and then stormed away (to the restroom it turned out).

At the end of class I went to see if he’d left anything behind and found his textbook torn up and scattered across the hallway.

A meeting with the homeroom teacher, the student, and a translator ensued. He’d mentioned the first part of the story, but left out 1) flipping the bird, 2) hitting me with a desk, and 3) me telling him where to stand when I put him in the hall.

(Note: the translator was there to protect me by 1) guaranteeing my point got across and 2) keeping secret how much Japanese I can actually understand. Long story.)

The meeting was interesting as he made a statement which the homeroom teacher wrote down. I made my statement via the translator (a fellow English teacher) and that was read to the student, who suddenly remembered parts of the story he’d forgot to mention.

By the end he’d claimed he didn’t understand what “flipping the bird” meant, although he couldn’t explain whey he’d done it. He claimed that even though his head was down he wasn’t sleeping so that made it okay. (I said it didn’t.) He also complained about my English Immersion style. I praised the times he was good and pointed out that he always rejected help, in Japanese no less, from fellow students. I also said that I wouldn’t punish him for today if he came back to class and started working.

Also by the end of the meeting, when he started getting good advice from the homeroom teacher, he went into pouty dramatic mode. He put his face in hands and leaned forward and whined. I pointed out to the translator that the student behaved exactly the same way in class when I tried to help him.

Eventually, I suspect, he’ll be moved down to the lower level class and become someone else’s problem.

Until then, I also need to take some positive news to the homeroom teacher. I may also have to take some sweets. And buy the translator a beer.

Less Than Expected But Louder

My classes today were worse than my classes the last two days, but it was mostly a matter of noise.

My schedule is fairly light on Wednesdays with only three classes, but two of them are low level and the other contains two obnoxious students.

The low level classes started out noisy and distracted but once I got them herded like cats and chickens into an assignment, they all did the assignment. They were even quiet during the listening exercises. However, as they finished the various assignments at different times, the ones who finished early took the opportunity to make more noise. I then had to herd them again.

I was most worried about my sixth period class. They are low level and second grade (US 8th grade) which means they’ve figured out the scam (Hey! He can’t actually fail us!) and that makes them more difficult than other classes. (Note: they are not my worst, although the class has a few of my worst students from last year.)

Fortunately, the students who had me before know that although I cannot fail them, I can and will make their lives rather unpleasant–this is especially true because their class is last period–and they warn the others to straighten up for at least a little while.

I’d like to think the worst is over, but I’m usually wrong about that.


Oddly Another Good Day

One of the biggest shocks this week is that my classes have been good. This is not the way things are supposed to be.

Because last week was school trips this week should have been full of lethargy and badness (and that’s just from me).

High school second year (11th grade) students have just come back from a week of travel and find such mundane things as “school work” and “listening” to be well beneath their station as world travelers.

Junior high school first year (7th grade) students have just come from some sort of mysterious camp (to this day I don’t know where they go and what happens when they get there) and they have long forgot my name and what is supposed to happen in class.

Junior high school second year (8th grade) students are naturally bad and had a couple days off last week.

Junior high school third year (9th grade) students have also come back from some sort of trip.

All this means that this week is usually bad. However, although my HS 2 students have been quiet, they’ve done their work. The JHS 1s have been noisy, but are also doing work. Even my bad student did something resembling classwork yesterday.

The big shock was that my JHS 2 students not only remembered their role play papers, but actually practiced them rather than wasting time until I called on them. Some even attempted it memorized to get bonus points.

This means with half my classes for this week complete, I’ve actually been having a pretty good week. However, tomorrow I have my first JHS 3 classes, which means there’s still a chance for things to turn back to normal.

Better Than You Might Expect

This time of year, when most of our classes are on outings of various kinds, we often end up with a couple days off because all our classes are somewhere else.

In my case, I’ve got a surprising amount of time off (as does another teacher) and we spend a lot of time making jokes about how our classes are so terrible we’ve decided to take the day off or, in my case, the rest of the week.

Today, I had to modify the joke/form of rubbing it in.

My first class was noisy which had me worried as they are usually one of my better classes. This had me dreading my second class as they are my worst junior high school second year class. I was especially dreading that they were going to have to write an original conversation, albeit, with a lot of examples they could copy, as explanations of such things usually prod blank stares and fits of wakarimasen dekimasen.

Instead, although they were a bit noisy, my bad class actually started working right away and a couple groups were actually finished with the writing, but chicken out at the chance for bonus points by going early.

I came out of the class feeling positive which meant I had to change the joke/form of rubbing it in. Because the class was so good I didn’t want to ruin the happy feeling so I decided to take the next three days off.

These days off will come back to haunt me at the end of the year. Until then, I have some time to myself.


The Worst and the Best

Today was better than I expected but there were some issues. Tomorrow, I suspect, will have lots of issues.

Because this is a week with lots of absent students and lots of school trips, my students were mostly worthless today. By an odd scheduling quirk all my classes were junior high school first year students who, as they are getting ready to head to an orientation camp, weren’t that interested in speaking English. They were interested, though, in complaining how they didn’t understand what I was saying.

Tomorrow I have junior high school second year students. JHS 2 classes are traditionally considered the worst classes because they’ve figured out the scam (can’t fail) and are smack dab in the midst of teenage boy puberty.

I have a writing assignment for them, but I’m not expecting much, at least from my afternoon class. After that things get better. More on all that in a future post.