Category Archives: Teaching

Once There Was a Heart

I am perhaps less sympathetic than I should be, but sometimes I just don’t care.

If I really sit down with an idea, I can knock out a 1,000 word essay in an hour or so, and still have time for at least one revision. Because I can do this, I sometimes forget that others can’t. I do remember that days when writing 1,000 words was difficult and that sometimes makes my heart grows one size those days.

However, when it comes to students at the school where I work, I’m much less sympathetic. My heart gets fairly small.

For example, today one of my 9th grade students passed me the text of his speech contest speech. He’s had since July 14th to work on it, but he had written fewer than 50 words of a speech that’s supposed to last 90 seconds to two minutes long.

This means that if he’d only written one word each day since he’d received the assignment his speech would be longer than what he presented me today. I told him to make it longer and he genuinely didn’t seem to understand what was wrong, even after I underlined the pertinent section in the Japanese language instructions.

He didn’t even seem savvy enough to copy the included example and simply change a few words as most of his fellow students did.

Luckily for both of us he listened to my advice and made it long enough that I didn’t require him to come in at lunch.

I still have a few students to chase down though. They might ruin my lunch, which makes me very unsympathetic.

Jokes and Going Deaf

The day started with a joke that led to a suitable amount of panic.

Every now and then I like to start off the first class of summer by taking roll and then telling my students to turn in their homework. The reactions are a mix of confusion and panic and I can see my students replaying the events of the last class via whatever internal database they use for such things.

Today’s high school second year students bought the joke completely and some were looking around for people who would be could sources for homework copying. I then told them it was a joke, making me suddenly much more popular.

After that I had two first year junior high school classes in a row. By the time I emerged from those noisy messes I felt as if I’d just come from a night club where I was the designated driver and all I got from the evening was ringing ears and a voice that was too loud.

Tomorrow I’ve got higher grades, but I don’t think they’ll be less noisy.

The Dynamic of the Newly Defined

It’s always interesting to see, at the school where I work, what the new dynamic in a junior high school first year class will be once everyone has been defined.

For reasons I don’t fully understand, the school where I work splits first year junior high school students by name/number for the first term, and then assigns them to a higher or lower level class starting the second term. Once they are defined as higher or lower, though, there is no changing.

This means that the class that I got to know last term now has five new people who don’t know me and don’t know the rules. It’s almost as if it’s the start of the school year again. The new students start testing me and I start pushing back at them.

It hasn’t started yet, but it will.

I’m most interested to see what happens with my newly defined lower level class. I sent better students  up and received lower level students. Once students are defined as low level, they tend to behave badly especially as the class I teach doesn’t move students each term as other classes do. I’ve got a few activities I hope will keep them busy but I’m not optimistic.

So far, the students have been okay, but it’s only day one.

That Which Parents Do Not See

I got called out by some parents today. I quashed their complaints pretty quickly though, even though we’ve never actually met.

One of my colleagues brought me a student’s exam with an impressive score on it and explained that the student’s parents were complaining because, despite the high score, the student had received a score much lower than that as final mark. (Imagine earning on A on the final exam but earning a B for the entire course.)

Part of the issue is that final exams are only 50% of the final mark. (Which is too high, in my opinion, but that’s the way things are.) The other 50% is class participation and class projects. This often helps bad to average students. For example, it is possible to earn a 0 for class participation but still receive a passing score by doing well on the exam. (A 0 class mark plus a 62 on the final exam equals  a 31% final mark which is passing at the school where I work, albeit with a few unpleasant consequences such as not getting automatic promotion to the attached university if that kind of mark is normal for the student.)

I quickly determined that although the student had done well on the exam and on a couple projects, he’d generally not done well on the other projects and had done the bare minimum on day-to-day participation. He actually had a B+ and was just a little extra effort away from an A.

Luckily, my colleague understood and promised to notify the students and the parents. I expect that student will be much more active this term…


That of Which You Can be Certain

There are certain, um, certainties that accompany the first day back after summer at the school where I work, especially if you are teaching junior high school classes.

At least five students in the class will have lost the speech contest paper and you’ll have to give them a new copy. This happens even in higher level classes.

At least four students will do absolutely nothing during the “amnesty” class in which there is no penalty for not having finished your speech. (There is, however, a penalty for doing nothing.)

Of the students who actually present rough drafts, at least half will be unreadable computer translator gibberish. One quarter will have obviously been written by the students’ cram school teachers. One quarter will be good.

Also, at least one student will surprise you. (Note: not in each class; just one per day.) Today, one of my more difficult students presented an actual speech. It wasn’t good enough for him to have had anything resembling competent help and it wasn’t bad enough to have come out of translation software. He may have actually written it; or someone slightly more competent than him did.

He didn’t make the obligatory copy of it though, so perhaps he wasn’t all that surprising.

Night of the Last

It’s a the last day of summer vacation before actual work starts.

Although I’ve dropped in twice at the school where I work in the last couple days, I haven’t actually met any students. All that changes tomorrow and things could get badly rather quickly.

All my classes tomorrow are junior high school classes which means they will be working on their speech contest speeches which, in theory, were supposed to be completed as summer homework.

In reality, probably less than a third will have completed their speeches; another third will have their names on their papers and maybe one or two actual lines; and the final third will have lost the papers or claim they left them at home.

My job is to guide them through a couple days of writing and checking and then, if necessary, drag them at lunch and after school to complete their speeches. (My students know this is not a bluff.)

For two weeks there will be a lot of stress and annoyance, for both me and the students. Then we’ll try to get back to regular classes. That has its own problems. (But more on that in a future post.)

Shant Be Seeing You in September

It is the start of the time of good riddance.

Today and tomorrow morning first period are the last times I’ll see my first year junior high school classes in their current configurations. Starting next term they will be divided, sort of, by ability. What this means is that the best five of one class will join the “higher level” class and the worst five of the other class will drop to the “lower level” class.

Although it’s only a few students moving, the changes on class temperament can be profound. The new students are hearing a different voice and it takes time to get them used to the new voice and the new rules. This year I plan to have a kind of ice breaker/I must break you session where I get to know the new students and they get to know me. Last year I didn’t do this and I had trouble in almost every class. 

My worst student said his own goodbye by simply breaking out a book and ignoring everything I said or told him to do. I suspect he thinks that the lower level class will be land of Japanese and leisure, especially as he’ll be in his own homeroom near his own stuff.  He doesn’t seem to realize that the other teacher and I agreed early on not to use much Japanese. He will also be closer to the teacher’s room, where it will be easier to have him disciplined. (I’ll mostly be interested to see how tardy he is to a class in his homeroom as he’s always been late to my class.)

Or, maybe the two will hit it off and my bad student will be a decent student.

I’ll have to buy my colleague a beer someday because of this. I suspect he’ll probably need it after a couple weeks.

Decline and Fade

My colleague and I turned in our exam papers at the same time. The only mystery was if there were any kanji mistakes. Oddly, there were only number mistakes. Then we went back to the office with nothing productive to do. I sat down and said “I’m bored.”

It was almost kind of funny. It wasn’t, though.

Every one of the foreign staff at the school where I work was spent. Those of us who weren’t spent were done.

The last day of the summer term is the longest day of the year. Although the Autumn term is longer and we have more classes, the weather is getting cooler and drier.

Today, though, it was humid and we’d pretty much stopped caring. We did have to finalize our exams and check listening CDs. and that provided some much needed life purpose, but other than that we were done.

The students were also done and most of them chose not to study. I didn’t care, though. That’s part of the last day mentality. No one cares. Everyone is done, even if they’re not finished.

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.