Monthly Archives: July 2015

You Can Stay But You Must Go Now

Well, the devil over my right shoulder won the day and I did a good job in my demo classes today. Well, at least I did in one of them.

The first thing that surprised me, and actually put my mind at ease, was that the parents visiting the open campus were dressed as if they were going to a picnic. So were a lot of the students. On parents days during the year the parents dress up and I very often have to avert my eyes as the mothers seem to get younger and younger each year whilst I stay the same age. (Something like that. I’ve been 24 or 25 for at least five years.)

I also noticed that the turn out for high school classes like mine were much smaller than for junior high classes. This is because 1) it’s easier to get into the junior high school (requirements: Japanese and breathing) and 2) once you’re in the junior high it’s easier to get into high school.

Because there wasn’t much pressure, I relaxed. However, me being me, I immediately started changing the plan while I was standing in front of the class. This involved drawing a picture that represented fear of heights on the board and adding the words “collecting pens” to indicate my hobby (at least for today; I also told them I was 24) and added “#1 Fear”.

For the first class, when everyone, myself included, was fresh and energetic, I was able to sell all those and get a reaction when I pointed out the number one fear was “giving speeches” and that’s exactly what they were about to do. I then got a series of good speeches that ended about 10 minutes before I expected them to, which was 15 minutes before the end of class. I then went into actor improv mode and pointed out that the back of the speech paper was blank and, as a teacher, “I hate blank pages” and had them make pairs and write short conversation based on the speech.

I also noticed that one of my students was also a pen and pencil collector. He had, based on my quick observations a Pilot S20 mechanical pencil; a Lime Green Lamy Safari, a black Rotring Rapid Pro mechanical pencil and several other pens all tightly packed in a Lihit Lab Teffa pen case.

(Note: this means he’s not allowed to attend school where I work. He’s not allowed to have cooler pens and pencils than I do.)

The class went so well I knew the second class, the one after lunch, would be bad.

It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great. The vibe was a lot different and the students weren’t as energetic. Once again it finished early and I assigned a conversation. Although some students asked for help, others just sat there staring at each other wondering what to do. I authorized my Japanese assistant (long story) to act as a human electronic dictionary and answer their questions.

No one had any cool pens though. I even had to loan one guy my Rotring 600 mechanical pencil because he hadn’t thought to bring any pens or pencils.

Unfortunately for him he gave it back rather than trying to steal it. That means he can’t come to the school either.

Over and Not Done and Not Rewarded Except in Spirit

Today I prepared for tomorrow’s classes at school which is kind of odd since school ended two days ago. Sort of.

Tomorrow I’m teaching a class for the open campus at the school where I work and I have to admit my heart isn’t fully in it. When I was asked to participate it was with the understanding that the company I work for would, in some way, compensate me for it by giving me an extra day off on a day when I wasn’t actually working (long, long story and not an exaggeration).

Instead there ensued bureaucratic rock-pissing where the company I work for told the school where I work that it would have to give up one of its “We Got Dwayne Days” even though Dwayne was actually working those days and therefore they couldn’t be given up because Dwayne had already been got. (Something like that.)

Imagine a bunch of toddlers saying “I know you are but what am I” and “You’re not the boss of me” and that’s pretty much how I imagine the discussion going.

Also imagine a rag doll of me being tossed back and forth with no one actually interested in catching it.

Also keep in mind that at no time was I actually involved in the discussion which is why I probably still have a job.

In the end I am now “volunteering” to do the class mostly because by the time I realized I was volunteering it was too late to back out of doing it. (I suspect this is a feature in the system, not a bug.) Granted, if I thought this would help me in the long run–like, say, inspiring the school where I work to become the school I work for–it would be awesome, but that’s very unlikely to happen.

That would all be fine except that, because classes are over until September, my brain has already entered summer mode. I stop shaving; I have whiskey more often; I start working on personal projects; and I start playing games more often.

And that was only yesterday.

(Imagine a slightly tipsy, slightly smelly bear working on a computer or writing with a pen and that’s pretty much what summer looks like around here. If it weren’t for She Who Must Be Obeyed being around, I might go full bear.)

In the end, I suspect I’ll do my best. I’ll also probably never do it again unless it ceases to be voluntary.



Easing the Pain With Purple

Several hundred years ago (more or less) when I started teaching I got the strange idea to mark my students’ papers and exams with purple ink rather than red.

My idea, at the time, was to lessen the blow of any marks I made on a student composition by writing in purple ink rather than red ink. My theory was that although red generally serves as a warning color and a sign to stop, I felt it overwhelmed the comments themselves. The students saw red and that’s all they saw. A few red marks weren’t that impressive, too many overwhelmed. Students would say the paper was bleeding and since it was possible to bleed to death, it meant the paper was dead.

A comparison: Blue is too cool; red too harsh; green to approving; and pink too damned cute.

A comparison: Blue is too cool; red too harsh; green to approving; and pink too damned cute to be taken seriously.

I told my students that I marked in purple. This meant, as I think I phrased it, that the paper “wasn’t bleeding to death; it had only been roughed up a little” and could be saved with a little treatment. I don’t know if it worked, and I never did a counter test with red (mostly because I’d bought a pack of purple pens and wanted to use them) but several students later commented that they’d “checked the bruises” so my plan at least left that impression.

I’ve recently gone back to using purple ink, albeit for different reasons than before.

After a decade and a half of marking with red ink, I decided to switch back to marking in purple. My reasons weren’t psychological. I’m not a big fan of the red pens made available at the school where I work and used that dislike as an excuse to start using fountain pens when I marked. I used to use a red Pilot Vanishing Point, but I got tired of having to stop and refill it during marking because the converter didn’t hold much ink.

For this marking session, I chose my TWSBI Classic Mini. It holds more ink than the PIlot VP and has a medium nib that writes relatively thin for a medium. For ink I chose Pilot Iroshizuku Murosaki-Shikibu (or Japanese Beauty Berry). I could use red ink, but I’ve found red inks are harder to clean when it comes time to clean the pen and some of them look too pink to be taken seriously.

(Note: I had fewer students question my marks this time, but that may be attributed to a sudden burst of competence on my part. Yes, after all these years, I’ve finally learned how to do this job.)

Next term I may switch back to red just to see what happens, but I’d like to use up that Iroshizuku ink first. Until I switch, the TWSBI is now the Purple Pen of Pain.

The Purple Pen of Pain

The Purple Pen of Pain


Dilemmas of a Moral and Selfish Nature

I have a unique chance to influence my future and the futures of many potential students and that has created a moral dilemma for me.

First a little history: Several years ago the school where I work had elective classes for junior high school second and third year students (8th and 9th graders). The classes alternated between being fun if we had students sign up who were interested in English and being tedious if the students had little interest in English but wanted to hang out with their cool friend whose parents made him take the course.

The courses were pitched, along with electives offered by Japanese teachers, in a large sales pitch meeting. My chance to do the sales pitch came after I’d spent a year teaching a particularly bad group of students who, despite being in an English elective they chose to be in, didn’t understand why I spoke English the entire time.

When I gave my sales pitch, I spoke English, reasonably slowly, and told them if they couldn’t understand me, they shouldn’t sign up. After I finished I got lots of “wow, are you F@#king serious?” looks from several teachers. Only one student signed up for the course but to this day I remain unrepentant about that pitch. (It helped that he was an awesome student.)

My current dilemma is that I’m teaching a pair of demo classes for the open campus at the school where I work. I therefore have the chance to influence potential future high school students before they become actual high school students.

The devil over my right shoulder is telling me to put on a great pitch because “more students equals more money for the company you work for and you will get, well, not much actually but you will have the satisfaction of having done your best. Etcetera”. The devil over my left shoulder is telling me to “drive the f@#kers away; drive the obnoxious little f@#kers away. Keep them out of the school. Make them someone else’s problem. Don’t let them become your problem. Do it to Julia! Do it to Julia!

In the end I suspect I’ll be kind and courteous and put on a decent class, especially as parents will also be in the room and others will be staring in the windows. Even I believe in making a good first impression sometimes.

I will make the students do a short speech, though. That ought to drive some of them away. In the nicest possible way, of course.


A Row of Mistakes Makes You Wear a Suit

Several years ago I made the mistake of filling out my OCR forms by using the spreadsheet provided by the school where I work. This was not something I usually did and, after what happened, I never did it again.

For various complicated reasons we have to turn in marks before we turn in marks. This allows the homeroom teachers to counsel students and parents and, in some cases, lobby us to “enhance” the marks (more on that in another post). To turn in the marks before the marks we have to enter the marks into a spreadsheet. I’ve always found the spread sheet kind of clunky and prefer to use my own spreadsheet.

In the year in question, out of haste, I used the school’s spreadsheet and, because of haste, I read the wrong row for several of the student’s marks giving them their “end of year mark” long before the end of the year.

This led to a badly timed “meeting”–note: the Japanese have a tendency to want to have meetings “right now” even if “right now” is not a good time for you and you don’t have all the facts you need to provide the information they want–where the then department head asked me about the scores and I, who’d been worried I’d messed up all the marks, was pleased to discover I’d only messed up five or six.

Because I was relieved, the then department head determined that my level of humility and self-torture was not appropriate and he called my company to complain.

My company then called me and meetings in Tokyo and apology letters ensued. I also agreed to meet the then department head in the presence of representatives from my company to do a formal bow and apology. Keep in mind, at no point did I feel any of this was necessary because I felt I’d already apologized and part of me hoped the then department head would die in a fire (figuratively, of course) for running to my company, but I put on a suit and went to work to apologize.

A couple things happened. First, I ended up not having to apologize. I still don’t know why except that my explanation put the blame on their spread sheet as well as my inattention. Second, everyone saw the suit and wondered if I was heading to a job interview. I said that I hadn’t planned on doing so but event might have just made it necessary. Third, most of the women at the school seemed to like how I looked in a suit and encouraged me to wear them more often. (Note: Technically I think they liked the suit; not me in a suit.)

It all worked out in the end and for a while the running joke when someone thought they were in trouble was “Well, I guess I’d better get my suit ready”.

Luckily, I haven’t had a reason to wear one since then.


The Pencil Marks the Spot

The school where I work still enters final marks on optical character recognition sheets. This isn’t as old school as it gets (we could be using Hollerith code) but it is rather old school and it also requires a certain amount of penmanship. This is where a lot of people get in trouble.

First some background: The OCR process involves filling in the OCRs with pencil, turning them in at a specific time and then waiting whilst the secretive people in the secretive old school computer room scan the cards and make a print out. We then checked the scores (on continuous form dot matrix paper from a dot matrix printer) and, if there were any mistakes, we waited whilst the corrections were made and reprinted. My first year at the school we turned in the cards around one in the afternoon and didn’t see the results until around five-thirty. I even had to call She Who Must Be Obeyed and delay our night out.

This slow process apparently scared some people because a couple years later we had an intranet system and a program we could access from our desks. The problem was the program wasn’t particularly intuitive (it had complicated steps to get to the complicated steps) and there were lots of complaints. Then the company went bankrupt and we were back to OCR cards.

Apparently, though, a deal was struck to speed up the process and now the turnaround time is usually an hour. Mistakes are taken care of quickly, too. The biggest mistakes usually involve 8s and 7s which can look like 0s or Bs or 1s. (Well, there was also that year I entered marks from the wrong row but that’s another post.) It helps to keep your pencils as sharp as possible, even if you have to resharpen them during the writing process.

My biggest complaint about the current system, though, is that you can’t submit early. With the unintuitive program we could finish everything the night before final marks were due and run away early. With the OCRs we can submit at any time, but the secretive computer people won’t fire up the OCR machine and scan them early.

My other complaint is that the dot matrix paper isn’t the classic green and white style. If you’re going retro, go full retro.

A Nap is Not a Siesta

As the season of Humid enters it’s Hell phase, I find myself suddenly doing things I normally don’t do.

Although today was a light day of work, the heat from the suddenly awoken sun–we had a much cooler than normal June after a couple shots across the bow in early June–was made worse by a decision to pay for the new school building by causing suffering to those who go there. (Translation: the air conditioner is set to uncomfortable levels.)

After finishing work and doing some running, I arrived home to discover I had almost no energy. I’d gone to bed at a normal time and gotten up at my normal time but it hadn’t left me with much energy for the afternoon. After valiantly attempting to do some writing, I surrendered and went to take a nap on the couch.

Taking a nap in the afternoon is not something I normally do. The only time I ever took a regular afternoon nap was in Albania where I had little choice. The entire country shuts down in the late afternoon for a light snack and a long nap. It’s their version of a siesta. I was never a big fan of these–which is why I can’t remember the Albanian phrase for it–especially as there was no air conditioning. However, a little raki and a lot of food pretty much guaranteed I’d be taking a nap no matter how hot it was.

I also expected, as I lay me down to nap, that our youngest would arrive home and I’d have to abandon the couch which would alter the plan considerably. The couch is actually what separates the afternoon nap from the Albanian siesta. A nap on the couch is only comfortable if you’re sleepy. Also, it’s in a bright room and you just plop down in your regular clothes. For the siesta you actually change clothes and go to bed. Doing that would cause me to wake up at an odd hour and then never go back to sleep until an even odder hour.

After the nap (which lasted only a half hour, not the Albanian two hours) I could finally do some work without passing out in my chair.

I suspect this nap will become a part of my every day process whilst I’m still going to work. Once work is over, I doubt I’ll still be napping.

An Afternoon Off, With Popcorn and Accidents

Today was actually a happy accident, although I didn’t realize that at first.

After much hemming and hawing and complaining about the heat (summer finally arrived with a vengeance) I decided to go see Avengers: Age of Ultron. I was done marking exams and had finished all my final marks in the morning and needed to get out of the house. Because of the heat, She Who Must Be Obeyed offered to drive me but I pointed out I needed the exercise as I’d been inside for three days straight.

At the theater, which is only a couple train stops, a bit of a walk and quite a bit of sweat away, I was shocked to discover I was only being charged 1,100 yen (or $8.90 right now). The usual ticket price for a ticket is 1,800 yen ($14.58). When I glanced at the colorful board next to the register all I noticed was that there was a discount for people 55 years old and older.  At first I was surprised and a bit annoyed and then I was like, cool. My graying hair is coming in handy all of a sudden.

It turned out though, after careful inspection, that the theater has adopted a policy it calls “Happy Mondays” where all tickets are discounted. (There are already student discounts.) There are also discounts for having a store card and for coming early in the morning or late at night. I guess I’ll have to wait to exploit my graying hair.

These discounts are interesting because they mean, at long last, that the theaters are having to lower prices to sell tickets and concessions as streaming slowly becomes popular in Japan and most young people watch videos on their phones.  If these discounts last, it means I’ll probably go see more movies.

Today I did my part for the theater by ordering a couple hot dogs for lunch and then getting popcorn and an ice tea to enjoy during the movie. The popcorn was good (and fresh, which is not always true with that theater before noon). According to my scale, means the movie got an automatic three stars out of five.

The movie itself was good, although it was plagued by shaky camera nonsense and not enough Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. It was especially good to see Jeremy Renner get the chance to speak in more than grunts and knowing glares.

The next movies on the list don’t arrive until December (the new Star Wars and the new James Bond). I hope I can see them on a Monday or my gray hair fools the staff.



Getting Back the Whatever it Was Again

I’ve written before about the post-marking malaise but today’s was especially odd.

I tried spacing my marking out more this term. In the past I’ve usually done intense bursts of marking followed by burn out, malaise, denial, more marking and lots of British detective dramas. (And that’s just the first two days.) This term though I had a daily quota. I did a percentage of the tests each day and then stopped. The theory was the quota would leave me time to do other things which would eliminate the malaise.

It didn’t quite work that way.

Marking has a habit of stretching out to fit the time available. Even after all my years of teaching I can only take student writing in small bursts. Part of this is a result of reading dozens of different types of handwriting writing written in different shades of pencil grey.  I’d like to require my students to write in pen but I don’t have the patience for the memos and meetings that requirement would involve. (Also, the cross outs and rewrites would get sloppy and probably be even harder to read.)

Reading grey writing on average quality paper begins to hurt the eyes after a while. That and the bad English slowly ruins the brain and I have to do something else for a while. That slows the process down. Then, after I finished my quota, I find I’m too tired to do anything else.

Now that I’m finished with my marking, I’m trying to reorder my brain into doing other stuff. The problem is that involves organizing stacks of stuff that has been set off to the side to make space for exam papers. I’ve got notebooks and pens from the ISOT that I want to test. I have a list of people I met at the ISOT I want to contact. I have a list of products I want to review and I have no idea is some of them are actually for sale yet.

The problem with that is the initial inspiration for most of what’s in the piles has been lost. Also, they’ve been mixed as they’ve been moved and removed and moved again. The sorting takes time and doesn’t actually count as doing something productive.

Tomorrow is a light day–mostly double checking marks and getting ready for pass backs–and it’s a chance to do something productive.

That doesn’t mean I’ll do something productive, but at least I’ll have the chance.


The Not As Bad As We Thought Timing of Wishes

I mentioned before how we were expecting a lot of work to be done on our apartment at a time when it wasn’t particularly convenient. I was expecting the worst. Instead what we got wasn’t so bad. In fact, it was more than we expected.

While I was at the ISOT, She Who Must Be Obeyed had the day off. That was the day the repair teams arrived and attacked our apartment without mercy.

In one day they replaced the six tatami mats in our bedroom. They are still a bit green, meaning they are brand new, and She Who Must Be Obeyed assures me that they smelled great at first.

While they were in the bedroom they also replaced all the wallpaper, not just the parts that were peeling off because of humidity. While they were replacing the wallpaper, they also repaired a couple small holes our girls had created in the walls from practicing various dance moves and/or rough-housing.

(Note: according to our girls the holes were created by “I don’t know,” whoever that is, so we’ve punished both just to be safe. Once “I don’t know” is located, he/she will also be punished.)

(Note: Yes, I am aware that, officially, I Don’t Know is on third base.)

Unfortunately, they also removed the screw I’d installed to hold our air conditioner remote. This means the remote could end up anywhere and probably will.

In the variety room, they patched the ruined section of floor covering that had come loose because of humidity and then slowly been shredded by my chair. I’d covered with a blue plastic cover that had to be taped down to keep it from sliding. Now, there’s a brown spot that doesn’t exactly match the floor covering. They also gave me an extra bit to serve as a floor protector.

The old plastic cover now serves as a humidity shield in our closet.

Finally, they brought the newly screened screen doors meaning we could enjoy the unseasonably cool weather without sharing our apartment with random insects.

It all went so smoothly that I kind of wish I’d broken a couple other things just to see if they’d fix it. That said, I’m now waiting for the next thing to break. And something will break, I’m pretty sure of it.