Monthly Archives: September 2015

Working on the Weekend

One of the reasons I don’t mind teaching the kinds of classes I taught today on what’s supposed to be a day off are that it’s fun to teach students who actually want to learn English.

The students are part of a program that is preparing them to study in the USA, the UK or Australia. Rather than participate in the full time version of the course, they’ve taken on extra homework–in theory anyway, if not always in practice–and opted to give up their Sundays while they stay in their regular high schools.

Every now and then university students join the program, but that’s less common. This is good because the age difference often leads to creepy situations where a guy is flirting with a woman and talking about how his plans are to go to graduate school and she’s like “Grandpa, can I like graduate high school first? I’m like 17 or something.” (I saw this happen and then encouraged the heartbroken guy to 1) be more aware of his surroundings; 2) lead with the age check; and 3) recognize that going to graduate school isn’t sexy.)

The school itself has an English Only rule that applies to the entire floor, even during breaks. The Japanese staff also conduct business in English. If Japanese is required, they take the student to a different room.

The students try to sneak in some Japanese yet don’t realize how loud their sudden silence sounds. They also use the Japanese skill of communicating without talking, a skill that involves expressions, frowns, lip reading and possible proof of ESP. I’ve seen Japanese have five minute conversations like that. The problem is, I was the only one who can’t understand it; everyone else in the room could making it less secret than it could have been.

I’ll teach the class at least one more time, possible two, and then try to lobby for a few more. I may lose a Sunday but it’s easy work and pays well. It’s also fun to chat with students in English.



Silver Week is Here

Thanks to Japanese law, I have lots of time to be lazy this week.

Monday is Respect for the Aged day. This is the day when everyone is expected to call their grandparents and/or parents and wish them love and respect. It used to move around, but now, thanks to a Happy Monday system designed to increase the number of national holidays, it takes place on the third Monday in September. Wednesday is Autumnal Equinox when everyone is expected to, well, be happy it’s Autumn and not August.

That leaves Tuesday.

Luckily, Japanese law says that when two holidays are separated by only one work day, that work day becomes a “People’s Day” to honor the people who were going to take the day off anyway. That means we are now enjoying a very rare five day weekend in September. This configuration occurs every five to six to 11 years or so. The last one last occurred in 2009 and the next one will occur in 2020.

This configuration is dubbed “Silver Week” in honor of/contrast to Golden Week when four national holidays occur in the same week.

Golden Week is traditionally the time when Japanese sneak away for short trips. If the holidays fall right, they can use a couple paid holidays to get eight days off to party and do some travelling. Because they’ve already done that, it’s hard to sneak away from the office for another week in September. Silver Week thus becomes more of a shopping time.

Oddly, both She Who Must Be Obeyed and I are working this week. She’ll be on her regular schedule and I will work tomorrow as a substitute teacher for a six hour English intensive class.

Starting Monday, I’ll end up babysitting for a few days, but since the weather is suddenly cool and dry, I may take the girls (or perhaps just our youngest depending on our oldest’s schedule) to a movie. Or, we’ll just sit around and do nothing.

Slowly or All at Once or the Devil’s Workshop

Every now and then I remind the department head at the school where I work that I’d gladly work extra hours if I could have them all in the morning.

This is because I prefer having my classes in one lump without any long breaks between them. For example, on Friday’s I have three classes in a row, lunch and then a fourth class. It’s intense, but it’s less exhausting than having a lighter schedule with lots of breaks. If you have a bad class there’s no time to fret over it as you have to get to the next one. You can even warn the next class about the bad class you just had and explain what bad things will happen if they don’t stay in line.

One of the quirks of my schedule, though, is that on other days it provides frequent and long breaks between actual working hours. The problem with this is that there’s not always enough time to actually leave the school and do things like go to the bank and pay bills. Instead, I’m stuck in the school doing “planning”.

Usually, this isn’t a problem, but every now and then I have only first period and sixth period classes. That means I have five hours to fill (four periods and lunch). This seems like a consummation devoutly to be wished: I can do whatever I want and that’s awesome, but the actual progression is more like:

1st Hour: Hard working, diligent, lots accomplished.
2nd Hour: Still working, some lag, maybe I need to get up and stretch. I’ll eat lunch early.
3rd Hour: There is no God so I’ll just surf the internet.
4th Hour: I wonder what that person there would look like if I killed them and ate their skin.
5th Hour: I am the God of Hellfire and I bring you: fire.

Then I go teach a class and go home.

The five hour cycle could be avoided if I was more able to work in the office or if I had an actual cubicle to call my own. If I can get away from people, it’s easier for me to focus and to work and I only go through the stages for hours 1-3.

Now though, I just sit and wait and let my idle hands become the Devil’s Workshop or I become a God. Something like that.

Losing Track of Days by Day

I sent a text today that I soon regretted but it wasn’t technically my fault.

My schedule sent me home at an unusual time and because it was raining I wasn’t in a good mood. I got home and was surprised to see She Who Must Be Obeyed was not at home as it was her day off. I figured she was out getting groceries and I immediately, and diligently, set about to wasting time and accomplishing little.

Around lunch time, it dawned on me she hadn’t yet returned from where ever it was that she was. I quickly texted her and asked if she was at work as sometimes she will pick up an extra day, especially if our girls are going to be at school late.

About a half hour after sending the text it suddenly dawned on me what the problem was. It was Thursday, not Wednesday as I thought it was or Friday as I hoped it was. Thursday is one of her usual work days.

This phenomenon happens at certain times of year at the school where I work when the schedule is full of gaps caused by exams and sporting events. In January and February during entrance exam time, not only do we have a number of odd days off, but we also have different grades finishing at different times. At one point we’re passing back exams for one grade whilst we are still teaching another and waiting for their exams to begin.

During those months a typical response is to wake up and suddenly doubt yourself. You think “Holy crap! Am I really off today?” and you check and recheck your schedule–the paper and the electronic version–several times. It’s also common to get an email from another teacher along the lines of “Holy crap! Are we really off today?” In the past more than one teacher has missed a final class by losing track of the days.

What worries me is that the real crazy times don’t start until October. If I’m already having trouble, I’d better keep good notes about my schedule and start tattooing key information on my body so that I don’t forget where I’m supposed to be.

Show Your Work Means Show Your Mistakes

One of the things I always hated about algebra class at university, besides the fact that it was algebra class, was the notion of “showing your work”. On a couple occasions I got the correct answer on an exam only to lose points because during my “reasoning” process I’d made off-setting mistakes that somehow produced the correct answer.

I thought this was absurd until I realized I actually had to do the same thing in history and English classes.

In history and English classes we had to provide our own exam booklets, aka blue books, which we would use for the longest and most complicated essay questions. We were also required to write in pen which, in theory, made our handwriting slightly more legible, but also left our mistakes and second thoughts visible as glorious scribbled-out wounds on the page.

I vaguely remember crossing out most of a page after I realized I was heading in the wrong direction (i.e. suddenly remembered what we’d actually studied). My blue books were usually marred with lots of crossed out sections and several arrows and useful annotations to provide guidance to the professor and/or teaching assistant attempting to navigate the scrawl.

The only pens that were banned, unfortunately, were Erasermate pens that, although they could be erased, also tended to smear and seemed to be universally hated by lefties. (My attitude always was “I’m not a lefty so I don’t give a crap about their problems.” Remind me again, why don’t I get invited to parties?)

I always wondered if it wouldn’t be better to allow us to write in pencil as we could erase our mistakes and produce a much neater package. The only issues would be badly erased sections, crumbled sections and randomly torn pages, which, I suddenly realize would have been about as sloppy as what I produced in pen. Then there was that broken pencil problem.

After becoming a teacher and reading hundreds of essays written in pencil, I suddenly realize why professors were willing to live with the pen scribbles. More on that in another post.




Speeches Come With Problems

Thanks to a student, I didn’t have a lunch date today but I might have one tomorrow and on Friday.

I’ve mentioned before how the start of the autumn term involves speech contest speeches. For junior high school the topics, like the high school ones, have been set in stone for over a decade. The 1st year (7th grade) junior high students do a self-introduction, the 2nd year (8th graders) do show-and-tell and the 3rd year (9th graders) do a comparison/contrast/occasionally persuasive speech.

This year I have 2nd year junior high and the speech contest has a couple unique problems. First, because they’ve been through one speech contest, everyone already has a good idea who is going to win. In my lower level classes, they know that they are unlikely to win so they plan accordingly by doing very little work on their speeches. The first couple classes are spent wrangling students and speeches. If students don’t finish, they get to meet me during lunch time and finish while I watch and sigh. (Today, a student finished at the last minute cancelling our lunch date.)

Second, because the topic is show-and-tell it requires that they actually have an item to show. I also have several rules about that, the main one being “no pens, pencils, erasers or, for that matter, anything in your desk or pencil case”. There are exceptions made, but only if the students see me first.  Inevitably, though, one student will choose eraser because, out of all the things in the world, his dollar store eraser is the most important thing in the world. (Two students actually did have interesting “my eraser is my treasure” speeches and I gave them permission to continue.) One student this year, though, started with eraser and I sent him back to rewrite it. He returned with a speech about his mechanical pencil.

He has until Friday to finish rewriting it.

Third, because the show part of show-and-tell is kind of important, the students are expected to actually bring something to show. Usually, half the class forgets which means half the class has to do their speeches twice. In the past I’ve had students change the description of their tennis rackets so they could use their friend’s racket. I don’t mind this as much–even when three people have the same treasure–but it depends on what mood I’m in.

Tomorrow I have a class where only three students out of 14 turned in a speech. Luckily, their class meets right before lunch and I have time to eat before class.

I may be watching and sighing, but at least I’ll be fed.

Where Laziness Meets Work

One of the things that happens in Autumn at the school where I work is that the first few classes are filled with speeches and summer vacation.

Students in junior high have to finish their speech contest speeches. This involves a day of finishing and checking; a day of last minute finishes and practice; and a day of actual performances. The performance day is then followed by weeks of chasing down speeches from the winners and, in some cases weeks of fielding long explanations of why the winner totally cannot go the speech contest. There are usually no good excuses for not going, but every now and then the student recruits the homeroom teacher and comes up with a good explanation. I then tell them it’s their job to tell the next person in line they have to go.

High school students spend the first few classes doing some variation of “What I did on my summer vacation.” Some do a speech, others have to make a conversation. They hate it but it lets us see how well they do at past tense before we enter the actual lessons. It also lets us see if they remember any English and any class rules from the previous term.

These early days serve as a kind of transition period for both us and the students. The students arrive with a “why the hell are we doing this again?” attitude and we arrive with a “how the hell do we do this again?” attitude. A couple weeks of being lazy and making the students do all the work lets us stall until we get our legs back under us and gives us a chance to remember how to do this teaching thing.

Unfortunately, this term, we have a classes with huge differences in total lessons. This means we have to start teaching a lot sooner. I’m not sure we’re actually ready for that.

One Day to Recover or Not

Today three of the four of us took the day off and did nothing. The one who probably needed the rest, though, was busy.

After sports day yesterday, She Who Must Be Obeyed, our youngest and I took our sunburns and sore legs (from all the standing/and or sitting on low brick walls) and did nothing that was useful. Our oldest, who actually participated in sports day, didn’t get to rest as she planned to attend the festival of one of the high schools she is considering.

I managed to make myself breakfast (long story) and clean my computer and work space (this involves compressed air and vacuum cleaners) and now my computer doesn’t sound like an idling truck.

Some time after that I played a game and watched other people play the same game because I realized I was too lazy to actually play the game. Instead, I caught up on some actual work which involved opening a file I plan to use tomorrow in order to prepare it for tomorrow and discovering I’d already prepared it. I changed the font of one word and saved it and that counts as doing actual work today.

Because I had done actual work, I felt it was no longer necessary to do anything useful and/or feel guilty about not doing it.

She Who Must Be Obeyed did laundry and went shopping leaving me with the instructions to rescue the laundry if it started raining. I promised to attempt to remember and to attempt to notice if anything unusual was happening outdoors. After SWMBO returned I made my lunch (well, part of it; again, long story) and heated some leftovers for the rest.

Somewhere in there I started playing the game again and SWMBO decided to argue with a 10 year old for over an hour (long, long story) and then argue with our oldest when our oldest came home.  (Our oldest fell asleep on her desk and then woke up and argued about the wifi being down.)

(Note to teenagers: snapping at your parents over technical difficulties beyond their control neither inspires nor persuades them to fix the problems.)

Eventually, that fight ended and SWMBO asked what I was having for supper. I asked her what she was preparing so I could decide if it was something I could eat and she said “nothing” The three of us (our oldest, our youngest and I) were on our own because she was tired and/or because three of us (her, our youngest and I) had done nothing all day it wasn’t healthy to eat supper (Something like that; I’m not making that up).

This means, if I understand it, that her arguing with a teenager and a 10 year old for over 2 1/2 hours had worn her out and that it was somehow my fault. (The longest story yet.)

I made my own supper, which I’d probably have had to do anyway (I will tell this story some day) and the girls cobbled together some sandwiches. We’re still not sure if She Who Must Be Obeyed ate.

The Older She Gets The Less it Matters

Today was our oldest’s final junior high sports day. I managed to avoid half of it and wanted to avoid more.

I’ve written before about school sports days in Japan and the types of people who attend, but it occurs to me as I write this that I don’t think I’ve ever written about our oldest’s sports days.

This is partly because it is, if I’m doing the math correctly, our oldest’s 12th sports day (3 kindergarten, 6 elementary school, and 3 junior high school). This means that by now we’re pretty much sick of seeing lots of people dance and do sports. We’re interested in seeing how our oldest does, but have little interest in the spectacle.

That said, we arrived dutifully at 8:20 a.m. and watched the opening ceremony. I then discovered, to my horror, that our oldest’s first event wouldn’t take place until 10:20 or so. I considered going home, but stayed around taking pictures–I even manged to get a few good ones that I will post somewhere else (long story).

Luckily the crowd at the sports day has traditionally been very laid back. There’s little fighting to get tarp space as most people stand. Today’s crowd seemed larger than usual but they were polite. Even the precious places in the shade were not fought over.

After lunch–which we had at home and not at the sports field–I conferred with She Who Must Be Obeyed and discovered that there’d be nothing to photograph until after 3:00 p.m. I volunteered to stay home and process pictures whilst she went back to the junior high and filmed the dance routines. (These can be interesting, but you have to have exactly the right spot to take pictures of your child and they are usually only in that spot for a few seconds.)

Even after I came back to see the “Giant Jump Rope Competition” our oldest and the rest of the girls were facing away from me. I got a couple good pictures but nothing with our oldest.

I’ll be interested to see what the high school sports days are like. I’ll try to find out how seriously the school and the parents take the sports day. If it’s too serious, our oldest won’t be able to attend that school.

Edison Glenmont 2014 Limited Edition Ebonite–Long Term Review

in 2014, after much hemming and hawing, I bought a pen that was, at the time, most expensive pen I’d ever bought. I bought it even though I’d never tried a pen from the company that made it. When the pen arrived a few months later I was immediately upset.

Every year the Edison Pen Company produces a limited edition fountain pen that comes in a couple flavors: a limited production run of 150 or so made up of rare materials or a group buy with a couple material choices where the only limit is the number of people in the group. Since 2011 Edison’s limited edition pens had won retailer Goldspot‘s Pen of the Year awards.

I liked the look of the ebonite (hard rubber) version and decided to make it my birthday/Christmas present for 2014.

When the pen finally arrived, I started to ink it up and was surprised when no ink was drawn up into the converter. After several failed attempts at cleaning and retrying, I filled the converter and tried to force ink down through the nib. That attempt left ink all over my hands.

I immediately went into a cycle of anger, denial, embarrassment, fear, anger, sense of stupidity, murderous rage,  what have I done, anger. I calmed down and emailed Brian Gray at Edison Pens about the issue. He blamed a faulty converter and/or user error in attaching the converter. That sent me into another fit of rage as it’s a bit like telling someone with car trouble “Did you try turning it on with the key they gave you?”

About this time I noticed a funny spot on the feed and took a macro photo of it.

That hole at the top should not be there.

That hole at the top should not be there.

Once Gray saw this picture he knew what the problem was: during production they’d accidentally given me the feed for a different filling system. He quickly shipped out a new nib and feed and included a complimentary second nib: a 1.1 mm stub nib (more on that in a different post).

Once I got the correct nib, the pen quickly became one of my favorites. It is light (10 grams without the cap; 17 grams with the cap) and about 5 3/16 inches (13 cm) long without the cap.  It’s made of Cumberland Ebonite which is a red and black swirl that looks enough like wood grain that people have asked me what kind of wood it is.

Ebonite has a warm feel to it, even in winter, that I like a lot and I should probably damn Edison Pens for getting me hooked on ebonite. The design of the grip section is perfectly machined and the pen has near perfect ergonomics.

The pen with the cap. (It's on top of a Nock Co. Lookout.)

The pen with the cap. (It’s on top of a Nock Co. Lookout.) You can see the top of the cap doesn’t quite match.

The pen uncapped.

The pen uncapped. That’s the 1.1 mm stub nib, which I finally installed after several months of use.

I’m not a huge fan of the two-tone nib style, but the gold “furniture” works with the Cumberland Ebonite. I also like the Edison engraving on the nib. The steel Jowo nib writes well (I believe Gray checks each nib before it goes out). It’s a machined pen and the fit and finish are near perfect. Nothing creaks and the clip feels solid. The threads on the cap where the body meets the section are so smooth I find my self screwing and unscrewing the cap when I’m thinking. The very top of the cap doesn’t quite match, but even I’m not that finicky.

After the initial troubles, the pen has worked perfectly. It is in my top five pens–which are the five pens I always look for an excuse to use. I passed on this year’s LE because it looked too much like this one. Some day I’d like to get another Edison pen, but I have couple others in mind first (and have a bunch I want to sell.) If I do get one, I’ll  ask Gray to double check the feed.

Close up of the nib.

Close up of the nib.

The inscription on the LE pen. LEE stands for "Limited Edition Ebonite"

The inscription on the LE pen. LEE stands for “Limited Edition Ebonite”