Monthly Archives: February 2016

Do or Do Not but Doing So Requires Marking

Yes, I really am that kind of teacher, although I’m not sure if I’m supposed to be. I’m also not sure if I should bothered to try.

Because we are in the week before final exams at the school where I work, new rules suddenly apply. Clubs have been cancelled and students have adopted an air of invincibility as if there’s nothing that can happen to them if they misbehave.

Because after school activities have been cancelled (including, apparently, baseball practice which usually meets every day possible) students have assumed that means that they cannot be held after school. They also seem to assume that they cannot be given homework and, if they are, that there will be no consequences for not doing it.

Part of the problem is that they don’t seem to understand, or have forgotten, that they need a higher score in their English classes than they do in other classes in order to get automatic recommendation to university. In the past, when I’ve reminded students of this, they suddenly developed an interest in studying English.

However, there are a couple things they don’t understand. 1) I’m not afraid to assign homework during exams because they can finish on test pass back day when they think they will have some free time. 2) I’m not afraid to keep them after school because 3) I can always play the “I didn’t understand because I’m a foreigner card” 4) I really am that mean.

The only problem with being that mean is that if I keep them after school I have to stay after school, too.  If I assign homework I have to either actually mark it or go through the motions that it’s actually going to be marked. Neither of those possibilities interest me. The latter requires hypocrisy; the former requires actual effort.

In the end, I often err on the side of just letting the year end and moving on to the next year. I’ve taught them all they’re going to learn from me and there’s no point wasting any more time or energy on them.

That said, sometimes it’s fun to be mean though, even if it involves a little hypocrisy.


A Waste in Time Wastes Nine

My brain is rebelling against having nothing to do. Unfortunately it’s rebelling by doing nothing.

For various complicated reasons, I’m not teaching an evening class this term. This means my Tuesday and Thursday evenings are now free.

This gives me lots of extra time to do things I’ve been putting off doing. As Hamlet said, right before he changed his mind, “‘Tis a consummation / Devoutly to be wished”. Unfortunately, unlike Hamlet, my brain isn’t changing. It’s still in busy Tuesday and Thursday mode and it doesn’t seem to know what to do with all the free time.

I worked some yesterday, but today I couldn’t be bothered. The same thing happened on Tuesday.

I think part of it is the disruption of the rhythm I’d established during the course. Teach, wander down to Tokyo, drink coffee, write post, teach, travel, relax, go to bed at midnight.

Now, I’m home in the afternoon and I’m not used to all the down time. Rather than fill it, my brain is determined to waste it. I think we all have a natural tendency to enter denial mode when our usual excuses are no longer available. It’s easy not to do any writing or editing if we’re too busy with other things. However, when those other things go away, our brains start looking for new things.

I’ve even done the “just do it for two minutes and then you’ll catch fire and keep working.” And it’s true, that works for about 10 minutes, then something starts gnawing at the back of my brain and I decide to try something else. Usually something that involves a game.

Eventually, I’ll establish a new rhythm and start filling my evenings with things both productive and fun. Of course, soon after I do that, I’ll probably start the evening classes again. Even if I don’t, I’m pretty sure I can find a distraction.

Parachuted in to the Deep End

I thought was going to get to see a young man’s head explode today. Luckily, more or less, it didn’t happen, but I was pretty sure it might.

One of our number at the school where I work was sick and the company I work for sent a substitute teacher for him.

The problem is, the company I work for knows nothing about the school where I work–in fact, they seem to have a willful blindness and deafness about the school, but that’s another post–and that can lead to complications.

First, although I was informed of the young man’s name, the head of the English department hadn’t. It was also no known when he would arrive. Also, when I was informed of the young man’s name, the person giving me the information used the wrong name to describe the person he was replacing, which did not instill confidence in me.

I was also informed that he’d never taught either junior high school or high school.

Second, the young man arrived but had been given no instructions on what to do upon his arrival. I only found him when one of our number (from a different company no less) pointed out there a was a lost looking young lad down on the ground floor.

Third, this left us with 10 minutes to get him ready (we all had class at the same time) and he was in full panic mode. His voice was shaky; he was trembling; and we could tell that he was hearing what we were saying but not actually comprehending it. I was pretty sure he was either going to catch fire or his head was going to explode.

I escorted him to his junior high class and picked him up after. He looked slightly more relaxed and still in possession of all his limbs but he did not look very happy. It turns out he didn’t know, and we didn’t know that he didn’t know (see my earlier comment about willful blindness and deafness) that he’d be teaching the class solo. He said he’d waited for someone to arrive and then realized he was on his own. As students can smell fear about as well as animals, they hadn’t given him an easy time.

Right after that he had his second junior high class. Once again I dropped him off and picked him up. That class went better, though, and he seemed relaxed and ready to do more.

A few hours later I escorted him to his first high school class. When I picked him up the unhappy look had returned. It hadn’t been a good group of students and he’d been nervous.

Now, we don’t know if our colleague will be back tomorrow, but we do know the young man won’t. This means we may get the chance to see someone catch fire or explode after all.

Madness is as Madness

It is the time of year, at the school where I work, where everyone goes slightly mad.

I, of course, go fully mad.

In my first period class, I was the only one in the class when the bell rang. One student had been there before the bell but he asked if he could go to the restroom, and per a strange school policy, I allowed him to go. Several other students quickly arrived and by two minutes after the bell, I had a full class of students. A few minutes later, the restroom student returned and he was followed by a late student who announced he’d also been in the restroom. (The former was forgiven, the latter was counted tardy. Long story.)

After the warm up, I told them to take out their prints from the last class and the tardy student asked if he could go get his print because, if I understood him correctly, he’d either never been to my class before and/or had been dropped on his head as an infant and was still suffering from the brain damage.

Yes, that perfectly sums up my mood. That and the fact I gave him only a minute to get to his locker and back.

Then, third period, my worst class returned to bad form until I started making plans, complete with specific times, that they’d have to meet me during lunch time. When they mocked me about this by saying I’d never get them there, I reminded them that their homeroom teacher was 1) an English teacher and 2) a friend of mine and that I’d have little trouble getting them to the teacher’s room at lunch. Every day until exams.

Suddenly work got finished. Badly, but it got finished.

My fifth period class was actually okay and I came out of it feeling surprisingly positive. However, this was just a way to set me up for my sixth period class.

My sixth period class had, to a student, all apparently suffered some sort of madness inducing brain damage. They payed dumb and, in some cases, actually played and ended up getting homework per my “play now work later/work now play later” rule.

The fun happens next class when half of them don’t turn it in. What happens will depend on the level madness I’m feeling.

Snapping Back and Slowing Down

Mother nature has been slapping us around a bit and it’s got me feeling kind of bummed.

Or maybe that’s just work that’s doing that.

Yesterday the weather was 23 Celsius (73.4 Fahrenheit) and we were able to shed layers and everyone had that spring in their step and the hope in their eyes that the approach of Pleasant brings. People started thinking about swapping out their winter clothes for lighter clothes but dreading the thought of having to clean and press everything.

Today, though, started at 10 Celsius (50  Fahrenheit) and some cold rain and wind. By the evening it was 1 Celsius (33.8 Fahrenheit) and the lighter clothes went back in the closet or people used them to build fires for warmth. The spring in the step was gone and hope in the eyes had turned to darkness.

This bouncing weather left me with low energy and feeling as if I were merely going through the motions. I worked on my exam. I went to work. I ate lunch. I taught a class. I came home. I did very little. Some of it is the weather, but some of it is our odd work schedule.

February is the time when everything starts happening at different times. I’m working on an exam that’s due next week and will soon be teaching and marking at the same time. I realize this doesn’t seem that difficult, but it requires balancing two different mindsets at the same time: : “Hey, you guys, let me help you get ready for the exams!” and “Destroy. Destroy. Destroy.”

Then there’s a couple weeks of “time off” (ruined by the company I work for) and then we start again with a new schedule and new students as the weather turns from Pleasant to Humid.

I also know that I’ll have mostly junior high school next year. That also has me feeling kind of down.


Slow To Gather Quick to Fade

Went I entered class, I had two and a half students.

I spent the better part of today down in Tokyo teaching students who hope to go to the USA to study. I’ve done this off and on for several years and I especially like the workshop days because 1) the are longer so there’s some extra money and 2) I don’t have to do any of the planning or prep work.

However, when I arrived in class, I knew I’d have to do some quick improvising. Two young women were awake while a third had her head down on the desk. She was fast asleep. As I got ready to wake her up (with the scariest sounding alarm on my phone) a fourth student came in. That didn’t help me much, but talking to him woke up the third young woman.

The problem is that the course is designed for 18 people. Giving 18 students their work, checking their work and then having them present their work would take a good part of the day. With only four students, I’d have to improvise a lot because they’d finish in almost no time.

Even the opening activity “Find Someone Who” would go quickly with only four students. I quickly wormed my way into a larger class for the warm up and by then a couple more students had arrived.

Over the course of morning, a few more students arrived. One arrived during a writing assignment and did nothing because that was easier than having me explain (once again) what he was supposed to do.

Two young women who arrived late immediately started acting bored. Their English was pretty good but I had to threaten to send them out a couple times for speaking Japanese and for talking when I was talking.

Over time, they faded to a level below boredom and I’m sure the last half hour was brutal for them. They even wanted to play games and were annoyed when I said no because the games wouldn’t help them pass their TOEIC or TOEFL.

This argument did not impress them.

At the end of the day, we were all ready to get out. I’ll see them again in a month. At least I’ll be in the building. I don’t know if I’ll see the same students. If I do, I hope they arrive on time and bring some energy.

Almost Never Looking Down in the Mouth

I horrified a dentist and his English teacher today.

For the next four Saturday mornings, I’m taking over lessons for an acquaintance who’s going on a couple work-related trips. His student is a dentist whose goal is to start giving presentations in dentist conferences around the world.

Both the dentist and my acquaintance commented that my teeth looked very straight–which means they both need new glasses/contacts. They speculated that my straight teeth must be the result of frequent trips to the dentist.

The dentist asked me when the last time I’d been to the dentist was. I thought a bit, did some algebra and said “Around 1998.”

They both freaked out, then assumed I was joking, then freaked out again when I assured them that, no, I hadn’t been to the dentist in a millennium, er, in THIS millennium.

Because they were horrified to the point of being speechless, neither pursued my reasons for not going. The teacher, instead, encouraged me to get a check up and cleaning from the dentist/student because it was cheap.

I would have pointed out that it wasn’t a matter of money. It’s also not a matter of fear of dentists. (Remember, I’ve had needles stuck in my eye; I’m not that worried about my teeth.) My father hated dentists and his dream was to find a dental team that would knock him out and fix everything wrong with his teeth in one epic visit.

In my case it’s a more a matter of laziness. The last time I went was because I’d lost part of a filling and I wasn’t that impressed with the work done by the dentist. This hasn’t inspired me to rush off to the dentist. Also, having seen the dental troubles my father had at a young age and work he had to sit through, I’ve managed to take much better care of my teeth. I’ve also heard that dentists in Japan will sometimes clean a few teeth, then schedule another appointment to clean a few more before schedule a third appointment to clean a few more because national health insurance.

Now that I know an English speaking dentist, I may have to overcome my laziness and get my check up for this millennium.


Cashing Change and Begging Someone Else to Do It

I carried a lot of money around today. Woe to anyone who tried to steal it, though. It probably would have given them a hernia.

Today was the day I decided to drain the piggy bank (more on that here) and deposit the contents in a real bank. There were, of course, some complications.

When I first started doing this, my habit was to wait until the jars were full and then take them to the bank, hand them over to one of the nice clerks and then enjoy a book whilst waiting for them to count the change and give me bills, or deposit the money directly to my account and I could extract it at my leisure.

Unfortunately, one day 15 years ago, I handed the change over and the nice clerk suddenly sucked on her teeth and became apologetic (translation: you in trouble, foreign guy). Instead she sent me to the ATM where I was expected to enter the change by hand and let the ATM do the counting (note: Japanese ATMs can take coin deposits). I even tried to stack the coins on the counter and she just kept apologizing.

Unfortunately, the ATM could only take a few dozen coins at a time requiring me to make a few dozen deposits. A half hour and a few dozen swear words later, my account was full of cash and my bank book was full of a several dozen small deposits.

After that, I found a different bank. The only problem there was they charged a few dollars for handling all the coins.

Today actually had a few jobs: Deposit the change in my account; convince a nice clerk to do it rather than me; and take money out as today was also pay day. The problem is, as of Monday, I don’t have a bank card. This meant I needed a nice clerk’s  help.

The other problem was the coins were surprisingly heavy and I forgot there isn’t a branch of my bank in my town. This sent me the wrong way at first and then I got to carry the coins to the bank where I’d worked with Miss Patience about my name, address and bank card.

Luckily, after a little explaining, begging and playing dumb, a nice clerk took the change and deposited it for me and I was able to withdraw money for rent and food and taxes. I also have a little for more important things like pens and knives.

Watching And Praying And Wishing and Hoping

Even the non-believers at the school where I work are praying tonight. Well, at least those of us on the native speaker staff are.

If tomorrow is sunny and beautiful, the students will head to a nearby lake where they will run a 10 kilometer (6.3ish mile) “marathon”. While they are doing this, we, the native speakers, will be doing such useful, scholarly things as “going to the bank”, “playing World of Tanks” and “recovering from hangover”.

This is because there is nothing for us to do on marathon day. I’ll be working on my final exam/playing World of Tanks whilst my students run in the wind and the cold.

If, however, it is rainy and/or snowy, the marathon will be cancelled and classes will be reinstated and we’ll have to rush to school to teach.

The latter has happened quite a few times. My first year at the school where I work, it was a beautiful sunny day everywhere but the actual marathon site. As I went about wasting time and conspicuously consuming, I got a call telling me marathon had been cancelled and I had to go to work. Unfortunately, by the time I got to the school, my classes would have been finished.

I ended up getting the day off, but I felt bad about it all day.

A few years ago we got two major snow storms a week apart and that left the marathon site messy and dangerous  and we ended up having class.

Although we can guess, based on the weather predictions, if the marathon will be a go or not, we still have to be up early to monitor the school website to learn if there’s a change of schedule. If there is, we start working the phones and rush to school.

I’ll be up early waiting for the official notice. If nothing changes, I might go back to bed.


Miss Patience and the Long Journey to a New Card

All I wanted was a bank card issued in this millennium. After a while I was afraid it might take a millennium to get it.

On Monday I went to the bank to get a new bank card. My card had been issued in 1999 after I moved to Tokyo. It had held up reasonably well over 16-and-a-half years but it had a couple problems. 1) the magnetic strip, which had been hidden, had been exposed and begun to wear out. 2) Although the ATMs still recognized it, the bank that had issued it no longer existed.

I arrived at the bank before closing, explained what I wanted, and then was sent upstairs where I filled out a form, was given a number and waited until my number was called.

Once my number was called, a very nice clerk, lets call her Miss Patience, started to process my application. The first problem was with my address. I’d said that I didn’t want to change my address but Miss Patience pointed out that the address I’d written on the form didn’t match the address on my card. After she told me part of the address, I thought she was talking about the company I work for but she assured me the address was listed as my home address.

The problem was the address listed on my account no longer existed. In fact, it hadn’t existed for several years because the building had been torn down and new buildings put in its place.

I do not know if this means I’ve been breaking the law for several years–and it might explain why I was rejected for a credit card last week–but Miss Patience managed to get the address changed. That, however, led to the next problem: my signature didn’t match the signature on the account and since the card was older than my marriage I couldn’t remember how I’d signed it.

Every time I wrote my signature Miss Patience sighed, told me that was wrong and dropped a few hints.

Clearly I was pathetic enough that she didn’t believe I could be a con artist.

Eventually I figured out how I’d signed it (long story involving miscommunication) and everything was changed. I also managed to get my first and last names on the card rather than both my given names (another long story).

Along the way Miss Patience kept disappearing and reappearing with different forms and we both made mistakes requiring new forms. After an hour together, I was finally informed that my card would be mailed to me exactly “some time next week” and that if I needed money I should go to the counter.

Because the lower level of the bank had closed, I had to take an elevator to the ATM room in order to escape the bank.

As banking encounters in Japan go, it was surprisingly painless given how long it took. Now I’m just waiting to see if the card arrives to see if things actually worked out.