Category Archives: Teaching

Reconsidering the Play Room Again

Note: Another one that’s out of order because LAZY

Last week I gave the chance to be responsible for their own actions and seating. This week I’m rethinking that decision.

Because this is the final term of the school year, I give first year junior high school classes a chance to choose their own seats in the hope that they will be better classes. (Normally they have to sit in alphabetical order.) Two of my classes, including my worst JHS 1 class, chose to change seats.

The theory is that the class will be more manageable because the birds of bad feathers will sit together and this will calm the class. (Something like that.) If it doesn’t, I will sit them in a different order.

In my worst class, the worst students did flock together, but not completely. For reasons I don’t understand, the student who has literally not finished a single assignment in class all year, chose to sit near better students. This has resulted in bad students talking across the room to each other.

Next class, if the situation doesn’t improve (and it probably won’t) I’ll have a new seating chart with a “play room” where the worst students congregate and do nothing and a “study room” where students who aren’t quite as bad occasionally do work.

Luckily, there aren’t that many classes left, so to quote Miss Hoover in the Simpsons:  I have nothing left to say to any of you. So if nobody minds let’s just quietly run out the clock.


Not My Problem But My Problem

This week one of my colleagues has the flu and is banned from working for at least five days. As a result, the head of the English department at the school where I work is making demands of the rest of us. At one point she outlined a long list of steps the most senior of us was supposed to follow. I ended the list by adding “And make sure you send a bill to Random Other Dispatch Company.” (Note: not the company’s real name.)

This earned me funny looks.

A former colleague of mine used to mock my habit of saying “Not my company” when I was asked to cover for an absent colleague who worked for a company that wasn’t the company for which I work. (Long story.) He did this until a person who worked for the company for which I work started being absent regularly and he was asked to help. Suddenly his refrain was “Not my company.”

I understood his attitude.

Part of the problem is that although none of us actually work for the school where we work, the school likes to treat us as if we do. The other problem is that being a team player earns no tangible rewards therefore there’s no incentive, other than being seen as helpful, to help out. The next time there’s a problem no one will cut us any slack for having helped out the company for which we don’t work.

That said, I did help out the substitutes, both of whom I’ve met before, and was on my best behavior.

Hopefully, things will settle down next week.

Closing Out With Little to Do

Note: This one is out of sequence as Monday is supposed to be stationery, etc. day. However, work has dominated so today is actually a random Wednesday. Sort of.

If I’d had something for them to do they would have wanted to do what I expected them to do today but because I expected them to do it, they didn’t want to do it and expected me to have something to do.

That pretty much sums up test pass backs.

For reasons that are too complicated for me to understand (i.e. I asked once but have forgot the explanation), we are forced to keep our students a full 50 minutes during test pass backs even though there is actually only 10-20 minutes of actual schoolwork for them to do. (Note: There is apparently a way to get shorter classes, but I’ve yet to figure it out after 17 years at this school. i.e. I asked once but have forgot the explanation.)

Normally, students bring their winter homework to do during the December pass backs. If I try to get them to work on anything else, they slowly drift to homework. Today, though, my classes just stared at me as if to say “Here we are now; entertain us.”

Instead, I told them they were on their own and many of them invented violent games involving rock-scissors-paper and slaps to the head and/or back of a hand. (This actually kept me entertained.)

Oddly, even the homeroom classes didn’t bother digging out work even though they had easy access to it.

Tomorrow I’ll have something for my classes to do. I doubt they’ll do it, but at least I’ll be ready.

Little Problems Not My Problem

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and it’s not your fault,
You will feel awesome and relaxed. –Kipling, more or less.

The past couple days I’ve been involved in some odd crises that effected me but none were my fault and none were blamed on me.

The first happened with my listening exam. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’ve experienced crises that were blamed on me but which were not technically my fault. I was a bit worried because this was the first year I used distorted voices to add a little flavor to the proceedings. I envisioned scores of students complaining they couldn’t understand and it actually would be my fault.

Before the exam, i was informed that there would be student taking the exams in another room but that the listening would be piped in from central control. I wasn’t sure what to do as I was given information but not instruction.

A few minutes before the exam was scheduled to start, it turned out that the tech guy hadn’t been informed about the room. It took two people (not including me) to tell him to push one button. All was well and the listening went well.

Today, though, was the JHS 1 exam and we had questions that involved interpreting maps. The problem is, the students had to notice that most of what they needed to do the section was in pictures in other parts of the exam. Most didn’t and we had a lot of questions. One proctor got frustrated enough to call in a suit.

I do not know what the fall out will be. Most of the students appear to have done well, but with a suit being called in, I suspect there will be more to it.

It wasn’t my fault, though, so I feel better than I probably should.

Doing What They Wilt

As we approach the final days of classes for this term at the school where I work, we’ve entered a period that involves passing out review sheets, answering occasional questions, and doing our best to stay awake.

In my case, I become much more tolerant of bad behavior than normal. I don’t tolerate sleeping in class, especially students who can’t seem to wake up when the bell rings; however, once the review sheets are passed out, I stand back and watch what unfolds.

In every junior high school class, regardless of level, one third of students will work, with one or two actually completing the assignment. They, in theory, earn free study time that some of them mishear as “Free time! Let’s PARTY!”

The next third will keep the review sheet out and, perhaps, write one or two things, but for the most part they do very little. Many of them adhere to the “I don’t understand the first question therefore I am exempt from all questions” school of studying.

The final third ignore the review sheet completely in favor of chatting with their friends. Many turn their back on the review sheet and never bother getting their pencil cases from their lockers.

Because review time is their time (and exam time is my time) I do not care if they actually study. The only thing I will do for those who’ve written nothing is encourage them to do the same on the final exam. It’s easier for all of us if they write nothing and I have nothing to mark.

One Day in Four

Today was a work day which was kind of annoying as it interrupted a bunch of days off. All of us at the school where I work responded by running out the clock for this week.

Yesterday was Labor Thanksgiving Day in Japan which was a very nice day off. However, because it fell on Thursday this year, we found ourselves back at work today. This wouldn’t be so bad if tomorrow were also a school day. However, although it’s a school day for our students and many of our Japanese colleagues, it is not a school day for us.

This creates the unusual situation where the students are fairly active and we just don’t care. As far as we’re concerned, we’ve just been called in during a four day holiday to fill in for someone.

This means that a lot of what we did today was filler. My students got a dodgy spelling “quiz” that involved more time than they needed to write words under pictures and a “Scout’s Honor” answer check where they were supposed to look up the answers and score their own “quiz”. I made a show of recording their results, but most of what I did was only for show.

Next week is the final week and that means it’s review time. This is pretty easy. We don’t do much. We just pass out assignments and run out the clock.

Not Caring Enough to Care

My plan for my worst class was something along the lines of: assign textbook page and hand out worksheet. As long as no one started a fire or hurt anyone else, I wouldn’t care what anyone was doing.

I was not alone in this attitude.

This is the time of year where we stop caring as much as we used to care. Mind you, we probably didn’t care that much before, but now caring is right out. Worksheets are less fancy and concern for discipline is less of a concern.

This is partly because we’ve just come out of a period of holidays and special events and that has the students in a strange mood. Also, as we approach the last week before a longish holiday, students have either given up or decided they’re already safe.

Also, we are more focused on getting through all the material whilst simultaneously writing final exams. Teachers with third year high school students (12th graders) are also facing exams early to allow for early make up exams. (Third years are essentially done after this term except for some baby-sitting next term.)

We’ve also reached the end of most of the material. Next week will be review and/or final projects, which means the students are doing most of the work.

Next week I’ll talk about the final exams with the students. We’ll see how many of them actually care.


Never So Uncertain as When Facing Certainty

He seemed confident. Then he didn’t. He probably blames me. I blame my students.

As a follow up to my last post , the assistant home teacher–a fellow English teacher–for my worst JHS 1 class approached me to express student complaints.

I take such complaints seriously as such complaints in the past have resulted in my wearing suits and writing apology letters.

It seems that the students in the worst class were complaining that 1) the didn’t know they had homework; 2) they didn’t understand the homework they didn’t know they had; 3) they didn’t know what the homework was; and 4) didn’t understand why the hell they suddenly had even more homework.

I explained, with my voice slowly getting more and more angry as I spoke, that I’d not only written the homework on the board before the break, I’d also reminded them about it on Monday monring and had gone to their classroom during lunch time to watch them write the homework.

During that time, several of the complaining students had ignored me, gone to play baseball, or tried to play “let’s sneak past Mr. Lively without him seeing us” games. Each day after that, I’d posted “Doom Notes” that announced which students had to meet me at lunch time.

The assistant home room teacher seemed to get more and more glum and uncertain as he realized this was a student issue and not a crazy foreigner issue. (Note: with me, the two things are not necessarily exclusive.) I also pointed out that a handful of students had actually done the work which meant I must have explained it at least once at some point.

On Monday I’ll discover the aftermath of all this when the students either do or don’t pass in their homework. I’m hoping it’s a time to be nice and that we can play a quick warm up game and have a relaxed time.

I’m also prepared to not be nice, though, if necessary.

What Wednesday Wrought

Wednesdays, even the good ones, aren’t very good this year.

Although I have a late start, I open with an average class, then move to a decent class with a few bad students who have perfected the “Who? Me? What? Really? Why?” look in response to any disciplinary actions from me.

I then get to spend the next three hours planning and dreading the arrival of my worst class: a last period JHS 2 class that is made up of a large number of the students from worst JHS 1 class from last year.

Today, though, things got complicated.

First, I have a large number of students from this year’s worst JHS 1 who are supposed to turn in homework assigned over a long series of breaks. Chasing this homework down has required a bit of typing, some stair climbing, and a lot of waiting. The students seem to think that I will eventually give up on this when, in fact, I will merely assign more homework. (Note: All I do is make sure it’s been completed; I don’t actually read it.)

A few students turned in work, but a great many others are about to get a special homework: Spell all the Numbers from 1-100.

Second, I hadn’t seen my worst class for three weeks. This class’s attitude is slowly growing hostile but right now is in the “Not this crap again” phase. When the bell rings I almost literally have to drag some of them to their chairs and others I have to wake up. Eventually, they get into the book work and realize that they didn’t actually bother to get their books from their lockers. Time is wasted as they get their books. (Note: I now count “Damn, teach, I totally forgot my book” time toward the minute they are allowed to get settled before they get extra work and/or extra time after class.)

Today, they had the typical slow start, but more or less did the print I gave them. Then, when it was time to open the books, well, you can guess the rest.

I did surprise them by bringing them up one at a time to answer questions which got many of them to actually work in the book.

Next week they’ll have a long writing assignment. That will probably be funny to watch.

Suspiciously Non-Standard Speeches

Today I had to bring in the assistance of a homeroom teacher, which is not something I like to do.

I have a student who hasn’t had his speech paper on his person since school started. In fact, until today, I hadn’t seen a single word he’d written, although I’d seen a lot of attitude. He kept insisting he’d left his paper at home and that, because he’d already written a speech, he was exempt from doing anything at all. For three consecutive classes.

I suspect, base on his actions in the past, that he was planning on improvising as much as he could. What he couldn’t do, he planned to turn into a comedy routine.

However, for the speech contest, that’s unacceptable. Therefore, today, I wrote up a “Doom Note” (long story) and rather than delivering it to the student’s  classroom, I delivered it to his homeroom teacher.

At lunch, the student showed up with a speech scribbled on a random piece of notebook paper. This means he either didn’t actually do the summer homework or hadn’t bothered to bring it from his house.

This meant my “lunch date” lasted only a few minutes. But it was worth it.