In the spirit of Culture Day (文化の日, Bunka no Hi), a Japanese national holiday held annually on November 3rd celebrated for the purpose of promoting culture, the arts, and academic endeavour; the kindergarten I teach at put on an English play entitled “The Big Pumpkin.” The Big Pumpkin is our Halloween version of the “The Giant Turnip” or “The Enormous Turnip,” a children’s fairy tale of Russian or Slavic origin. The story was first published in 1863 in the collection Russian Folk Tales, edited and published by Aleksandr Afanas’ev. It is a progressive story, in which a grandfather plants a turnip, which grows so large that he cannot pull it up himself. He then asks the grandmother for help, and they together still cannot pull it up. Successively more people are recruited to help, until they finally pull the turnip, or in our adaptation the pumpkin up from under the ground. Sit back, relax, and press play to watch our off-Broadway, I guess way off-Broadway and way-overseas showing of The Big Turnip, with a special appearance by U.S. President Barack Obama! Please don’t mind the early heckling by the younger 4-year old students, we were able to quiet them down eventually!.. haha!
In 2012, I established Tokushima’s first ever kindergarten sister school with the city of Seattle, whereby 5-6 year old students are engaged in a friendship program focused on developing an early cultural understanding between children from Japan and the United States.
Last Saturday morning was the graduation ceremony at Tomida Kindergarten and it marked my third year of teaching at the school. As I’ve written before, teaching English at the kindergarten is a very rewarding feeling knowing I’m probably their first English teacher and what they carry onto elementary school is from our lessons together. Tomida Kindergarten is a unique private school which incorporates regular English classes for its students, an important skill necessary earlier than ever before. Recently in Japan, the government has finally taken measures in order to adopt English language education more formally at the elementary school level. Beginning officially in April of 2011 and in Tokushima City this year, English will be officially recognized as a subject for 5th and 6th grade students, requiring schools to administer 35 periods a year. Previously, English was often incorporated into Integrated Studies periods as a component of “International Understanding,” but this relaxed education policy will soon change. The focus of the new English curriculum guidelines will focus on speaking and listening only, in order to ease the burden on junior high school teachers who previously had to teach all four components of the foreign language from a beginning foundation.
Recently I received news that Hiroaki, my student attending Bunri High School in Tokushima passed Kyoto University’s entrance examination! Kyoto University is the second oldest university in Japan and is ranked among the top 25 universities in the world and is considered the Yale of Japan, it follows only Tokyo University as the most prestigious university in the country. Tokyo and Kyoto University were once imperial universities, which trained Japan’s leaders before the war. The competition to enter the top public universities in Japan is cut-throat, tests results mean everything. Students applying to national public universities take two entrance examinations, first a nationally administered standardized achievement test and then an examination administered by the university that the student hopes to enter – not easy. Some national public schools have so many applicants that they use the first test as a screening device for qualification to take their own admissions test. Such intense competition means that many bright students fail for admission to the college of their choice. An unsuccessful student can either accept admission elsewhere, forego a college education, or wait until the following spring to take the test again. A large number of students choose the last option. These students are called ronin, meaning a masterless samurai – then spend an entire year, and sometimes longer, cramming for another shot at their dream university. A painstaking, life holding decision in which every day is in preparation for another chance to start their lives.
This past Saturday was the graduation ceremony at the kindergarten I teach at. In previous years, I’ve attended elementary school and junior high school graduations, however, this was my first full year of experience at the kindergarten level. Teaching the same 47 students each week, as opposed to twice a month or sometimes less as Assistant Language Teacher(ALT) has been a more rewarding experience. To educate kindergarten students and see the growth in their learning each week was truly amazing. It’s hard to explain the difference, other than I felt more responsible for their education. As an ALT on the JET Program, I taught at an elementary school once a week, while team-teaching at the junior high school level was my primary responsibility. These past weekly elementary school visits usually required teaching three classes a day from first to sixth graders. This past infrequency of not being able to teach the same students each week made educating challenging. As I’ve previously written about, English is not a formal subject at the elementary school level. ALTs are often teaching different lessons without the aid of a formal curriculum. While some good teachers are thinking progressively about each lesson they teach, others are simply teaching with no method, or don’t see the need for a system due to the infrequency of their visits. Having no formal guidelines has its benefits though, it means complete control in what you think should be taught… With this level of freedom to teach and the regularity of my visits to the same students each week, made this graduation an extra special day.
Beginning in April of this year, I started teaching at Tomida Kindergarten. Unlike many parts of Japan, Tomida students are introduced to English at the kindergarten level and the reason why the school is a popular choice for parents in Tokushima. Having taught for over 2-years at elementary schools and junior high schools in Japan, this experience was a refreshing challenge. Teaching at the kindergarten is not much different than teaching at elementary schools I think, at both levels the kids are extremely excited to see you and can be a lot of fun. Recently at Tomida, we had our first Halloween party together. As I have in the past, I dressed up in a costume and provided a cultural exchange lesson about the popular American holiday, followed by a party. Check out the video below!
This week I said sayonara to my elementary and junior high schools. After nearly 3-years at Hachiman Junior High, 2-years at Shinmachi Elementary and 1-year at Kamihachiman Junior High, it was time to say good-bye to all my schools. As I’ve written before, the end of March marks the end of the school year in Japan. This is also the time when Japanese teachers are transferred to different schools by a central Board of Education, which oversees the entire profession. This week I gave three good-bye speeches in Japanese, which was a little nerve-racking. Due to the fact, I teach at Shinmachi Elementary School once a week on Thursdays, I was given my own personal send-off prior to the rest of the leaving staff. All the elementary school students gathered in the gym Thursday morning for a short, but sweet farewell ceremony. At my junior high schools, my departure was announced with all the other leaving teachers at the closing ceremony. Although most teachers are aware whether they will be transferred or not, the announcements are kept a secret until the last school day. At the junior high schools, departing teachers are lined up in front of the entire student body and presented flowers and gifts. Last Friday night was also the sayonara enkai at all three of my schools. A small challenge trying to make an appearance at all three of my school’s parties, but definitely a lot of fun. This was truly an unforgettable week that words can hardly describe. Pictures may help complete the story.
Last Saturday, I attended my third JHS graduation in Japan and also my most memorable to date. Having taught this year’s graduating 9th grade class since their first year in JHS and my first year in Japan, Saturday was an extra special day for all of us. Working in the city as opposed to working deep in the country can be a very unique experience, as the kids are often much more stronger and confident – necessary social skills in order to survive in a student body exceeding 800 students. Although Hachiman JHS has had a reputation of being a rough and tumble school, this year’s graduating class has made dramatic improvements in prefecture wide standardized test scores. Having taught this graduating class for almost 3-years, I believe I was able to make some great connections with the students and it was sad to see them move on – even the bad boys and bad girls. Very similar to graduations back home, there can be rebellions against school authority on the last day. Tipped over garbage cans, toilet papering the school, and spray-painting walls are not uncommon ways of saying “thanks for the memories” in the US; however, the way students express similar sentiments in Japan is different. At every JHS graduation I’ve been to, there are always some students that dress up in these unusual costumes, which I’ve been told symbolizes being in a gang and/or a show of power. Immediately following the formal ceremony, these students change their clothes and dye their hair to rebel against 3-years of school authority. These rebellious acts are harmless and amusing in what can be an otherwise very conservative graduation ceremony.
This past Saturday morning was Shinmachi Elementary School’s English Day, an annual event which brings 12 foreign teachers to the school to take part in a variety of English activities with the students. As the ALT at Shinmachi Elementary since April 2004, this is the second time I have been involved in the planning and coordinating of guest English teachers visiting the school for the event. However, my first experience was as a volunteer in my first year in Japan. Shinmachi Elementary is a unique public school, in terms of English education. English became a part of the formal curriculum at the school in 1996, when the government selected it as an elmentary test school in Tokushima. The national program which was intended to determine the benefits of elementary school English education ran for three years and ended with great success. After which, the school decided to make English a permanent part of their curriculum. Unlike most elmentary schools in Japan, Shinmachi has had an ALT visiting their school weekly for nearly 10-years.In previous years, Shinmachi Elementary School’s English Day was shortly after the summer, however, the past two years its been a December event and a Christmas theme has been added. The action packed day includes, guest introductions to students, teachers and parents in the gym. Followed by lessons by foreign teachers in pairs to each grade in the school. Next, everyone gathers back in the gym for more English games and student cultural performances. Each year, I’ve been trying to add a few new twists to keep things fresh. Last year, we introduced a guest appearance by Santa, followed by Christmas songs by Santa and the guest teachers. This year, I convinced the school to borrow a spotlight. The spotlight was used when the guest teachers first entered the gym for introductions and Santa’s entrance. Adding to our grand entrance, I replaced last year’s children’s song, Hello, how are you? with Beyonce and Jay-Z’s Crazy in Love, which had the house rocking at 9:00 in the morning!
Today, I’m at my secondary JHS on the outskirts of Tokushima City, I usually spend 4-5 weeks here over the course of a term. I love to come to this school as a nice change of pace from my primary JHS, where I spend most of my time and the student body is twice as big. As my last visit before the winter break quickly approaches, the exchanging of “Tashi Dollars” officially began today. As I’ve previously written, students in the 7th grade that show outstanding participation in my English class are rewarded with “Tashi Dollars,” which can be exchanged for small gifts twice a year. The top “Tashi Dollar” recipient of each class is also rewarded a certificate of achievement. Below are the first term Class of 2005 “Tashi Dollar” Hall of Fame student inductees.
Yesterday, I went on another school field trip, but this one was with my elementary school. Having been given a choice, I decided to travel with the 4th, 5th and 6th grade half of the school on a trip to Tokushima’s newspaper and Shikoku’s broadcasting companies. Before visiting both media outlets, we stopped at Naruto Park for some fun and lunch. I decided to spend my time at the park with the some of the 6th graders as they began setting up for baseball with a plastic bat and rubber ball. Similar to wiffle-ball, which I played growing up, I showed the kids how I used to do it back-in-the-day by changing the direction of the field. When playing this sort of baseball, it’s absolutely necessary to find some form of a homerun boundary to hit towards. Growing up, I used to play wiffle-ball in the streets hitting towards my house as the homerun fence. The rules were simple, usually consisting of no bases and ghost-runners. Anything on the roof and back was a double, hits over the house were homeruns. Our field at Naruto Park was a bit different than in the streets growing up, but the rules we applied were the same and as fun. We found a wall that was perfect for hitting over and our high scoring homerun derby style game began. Teaching English in Japan is a rewarding experience, but if I can also teach the importance of having a homerun fence in a game of wiffle-ball to kids in Japan, well…. that just makes it all the better.
Yesterday, my elementary school played host to a conference of Tokushima elementary school teachers. These types of conferences are common at every level of teaching and usually aims to provide an opportunity to discuss various teaching methods used across the prefecture. At these conferences, teachers are able to watch live class lessons and discuss effective teaching ideas with each other. Yesterday, I was involved in a teaching demonstration class with the 4th grade. The focus of this class was not about English, but more about internationalization and foreign cultural understanding through food. Although a teacher at the school, I acted as a guest along with three other guest teachers, two from Africa and one from Venezuela. With the students, we made simple dishes from our respective countries. On my menu, we made my now World famous, Cheese Omelet! With years of culinary level practice in my own kitchen, I was happy to share my experiences with the kids. As a graduate of the Food Cooking Network, I overwhelmed the other guest teachers as I waltzed around the kitchen preparing my secret recipe. Having mastered the art of adding just enough cheese, while understanding when to flip the eggs over at the precise moment, we walked through the steps slowly so each student could clearly understand the science involved in this delicate art. Lastly, I demonstrated how to finish any dish, by adding a slow pinch of salt, followed by a loud fast “B A M !” and whalla, a masterpiece, even Emeril himself would have been proud of.
Today is Halloween in Japan – and as I have the past two years I dressed up at my schools as a cultural exchange experience for students and to spread the fun of the holiday. This past few weeks, I’ve been incorporating Halloween activities into my English lessons. After establishing a foundation to what the holiday is about, it’s time to put the kids into a fun shock as I don a costume bringing the holiday to life. At my elementary school, we do a Halloween party for the 3rd grade class each year. This year, the students made their own witch costumes in a previous lesson for the party. On the day of the event last week, each student took a turn on the catwalk, followed by a class vote for best costumes. Pandemonium ran wild on this day as I dressed up as a Samurai Warrior and passed out candy around the school. Today, I’m at my JHS. Information about Halloween and an activity sheet is available outside the entrance to the teacher’s room for those students interested in my after school Halloween Raffle.
Note: See School and Work album for more pictures.
After my long weekend in Kyoto, where I returned home at nearly midnight – I woke up early Monday morning preparing for a day field trip to Okayama with the 9th grade class at my JHS. Similar to anywhere else in the World, Japanese students also take part in field trips. However, unlike any trips I remember taking growing up, in the 8th grade Japanese students travel to far-off destinations often by air for national cultural studies. Based on my experience, the popular choice in Tokushima is a 2-3 night trip to Okinawa or Hokkaido. Typically, 7th grade students take short field trips within their prefecture and in the 9th grade its the fun day field trip to an amusement park – which I went on this past Monday. With over 100 students traveling in two charter buses, we set off for a Brazilian amusement park called Washuzan Highland in Okayama. After crossing the famous Seto-o-hashi bridge which connects Shikoku to Honshu, Washuzan Highland’s ferris wheel and roller coaster can be seen high in the distance. Located on top of a hill overlooking the Japan Inland Sea, the location of the park is unique from any amusement park I’ve ever been to. What made this visit even more unique is that Washuzan Highland is a Brazilian theme park. How did a Brazilian theme park come to be in this part of Japan, you ask? The answer, I have no idea. But it was fun! Although not a big fan of rides or heights, I sucked it up for the students. If a ferris wheel wasn’t already high enough, placed on top a hill takes Fear Factor to another level. Highlights on the day included samba dancing and watching two of my students take nearly 10-minutes to eat one Brazilian hamburger and finish a Brazilian drink in a food eating contest – while the Brazilians screamed a bit frustrated… “faster, faster!”
When you ask first year junior high school students (7th graders) in Hachiman what they want for their birthday, you may not get your typical response. Sure you would expect most students to ask for a new PlayStation or an Xbox, or maybe even an I-Pod, but for the 7 graders in Hachiman, it’s all about the “Tashi Dollar!” That’s right! The “Tashi Dollar” is a copy of a US dollar bill featuring yours truly. These dollars are presented to first year jr. high school students for their outstanding classroom participation in my English class. For 7th graders in Japan, it’s the first year of formal English classes. Although some students have been fortunate enough to learn some English before entering jr. high school – for the majority – it’s an exciting new subject. Walking to the 7 grade section of the school can be experience likening to a rock star maneuvering through his biggest fans. Being the only foreigner in the school can be very flattering at times. Screams of “Tashi Dollars please!” can be heard as I make my way to the classroom. Twice a year, in December and March, students are given an opportunity to exchange their hard-earned “Tashi Dollars.” Small prizes, from stickers and school supplies to larger prizes such as Seattle souvenirs to authentic autographed Tashi baseballs are traded for. For the students with the most “Tashi Dollars” in the class, a certificate of achievement is presented. For the most part, the goal of “Tashi Dollars” is meant to motivate students in English class, which works. However, the plug on “Tashi Dollars” is pulled after the 7th grade, as students mature quickly and before the novelty wears off – hoping to avoid seeing my face on the ground with footprints and “English sucks!” written across it…
Every year in Tokushima City, over 20 junior high school students gather to compete in the cities English Speech Competition. Today is the big event, where two of my students will give a 5 minute memorizedspeech in English for a crowd of teachers, students, and judges. This nerving experience takes months of practice. The process usually begins before the summer where two students are selected from each school, followed by the students themselves writing the first draft of their speech. After which, the ALT will make many revisions with the assistance of the Japanese Teacher of English (JTE). As in all speeches, the topic is extremely important. The most successful students are able to combine a good topic with their own personal experiences, while ultimately conveying a compelling message to the audience. Having worked with the students many times in preparation and having the speech near memorized also, the presentation can be nerving for an ALT just to watch. A city winner is selected along with other runner-ups who will then compete at a later date in a prefectural competition. The winner of the prefectural competition will then go on to compete at a more prestigious national competition.
Post-competition update: 26 students in total competed. Plaques were presented to students for first, second and third place. Although both of my students did extremely well, only one of my students placed in the top 7. The top 7 students this year are invited to the Prefectural competition. Which means, I’m going to the big dance this year!
Every September or in October, students across Japan at all levels take part in a school Cultural Festival. Known as the bunkasai at the junior high schools and undoukai at the elementary schools, the Cultural Festival is an opportunity for personal expression and also fosters school pride. Similar to Open House night in the United States, parents in Japan also visit their children’s schools to chat with the teacher, but more importantly to see what their children have been learning. However, the Cultural Festival is much more of a festive event than an Open House night and takes place all-day. At my junior high schools, the event was held indoors in the gym. My elementary school held their event outside, creating a more relaxing atmosphere where families set up picnics during the lunch break. The highlight of the Cultural Festivals are the performances, which include concerts and plays. These are performed by individual volunteers or by various school “clubs,” such as the dance club, the brass-band club, and the drama club to name a few.
The summer for students in Japan and for myself has officially come to an end. School started this week with little fan fare due the change from a 3 semester system to a 2 semester system this year. While before, the end of the summer marked the beginning of the second term, this year the summer was viewed as just another short holiday. As I’ve previously written, unlike in the United States, students in Japan move to the next grade in the Spring. Thus, their return after the summer is less eventful than in other countries. The end of the first term will be in October, when Homeroom teachers put in long hours correcting each test manually. Without the aid of the popular mechanical scan-trons used in the United States, where a machine spits out scores – teachers in Japan are required to correct each test by hand. Next week is the ever-popular school cultural festival (bunkasai), more on that to follow.
The days of having no work in the Summer as a Tokushima City ALT are all over. When I first arrived in Tokushima in 2003, I was somewhat spoiled by a lose policy which allowed ALTs to have their Summer breaks primarily free. This free time was once a great opportunity to see many parts of Tokushima and other parts of Japan, however, due to a tightening budget and a shift to include weekly classes at the Elementary schools, this Summer has been unusually busy. As of 1 of 8 ALTs working directly for the Tokushima City Board of Education (BOE), we created the first ever Tokushima City Elementary School English curriculum with the help of various consultants back in the Spring. With this new curriculum, which serves more as a guideline to what should be taught at each grade level, a structure for teaching is now in place. Although this curriculum has been in place for many months now, this Summer serves as an opportunity to introduce the curriculum formally to elementary school teachers around the city. Because there has been no formal English curriculum at the elementary school level, we’ve been conducting workshops on topics from: understanding the new curriculum; learning how to lesson plan with the ALT; to basic adult English conversation classes.
At the elementary, jr. high, and high school level there is an annual Spring event known as the “taiikusai,” translated as the School Sports Festival. This event usually takes place in the end of May at most schools across Japan and consists of a range of challenging sports competitions. Many common events such as the tug-of-war and relay races are featured, but what makes this day fun are the unique thought-up games masterminded by the P.E. teachers. At my JHS, a championship trophy was awarded to the best class from each grade. Because many of the events require the involvement of the entire class, team work is of the utmost importance. Class homeroom teachers are heavily involved in the day’s events and take great pride in their classes’ success. The School Sports Festival usually draws many family members to the event, as parents and teachers participate in a few showcase events for laughs.
This past weekend I attended the Tokushima prefectural JHS basketball tournament, where my school’s boys team competed in the semi-finals. Hachiman JHS is a local powerhouse when it comes to JHS basketball in Tokushima. Last year, the boys team were the prefectural champions.
Unlike in the US where there are seasonal sports, students in Japan often devote the better part of their youth to one sport. It’s commonly known back home that football is a fall sport, basketball is played in the winter and baseball in the spring. However for Japanese students, only one sport is participated in all year round, or one after school activity for that matter. In Japan, almost all students belong to an after school club activity, which include not only sports, but martial arts and music. These after school activities take place year round and the practices are taken quite seriously.
As for this year’s Hachiman boy’s basketball team, they lost their semi-final match up and finished third in the tournament. Not to worry though, because this is only one of the many city and prefectural tournaments played during the course of the school year. For third year JHS students on the basketball team, this tournament is only preparation for June and July. In June, the Tokushima City tournament is played where the top 3 teams go on to play in the Tokushima prefectural tournament (State tournament of sort) in July. The Tokushima prefectural champions are then invited to the Japan national JHS championships. Soon after the national championships, the second year students take over the reigns, while the third year students focus on their high school entrance examinations.
Spring Break is now officially over and today was the Opening Ceremony at my JHS. At today’s Opening Ceremony, the new teachers were introduced to the 8th and 9th graders. Also, the homeroom teachers, and all of the 8th and 9th teachers were introduced as well. On Monday there will be a separate Opening Ceremony for just the new wide-eyed 7th graders and their teachers. Looking forward to that, because I’ll be introduced with the 7th grade teachers. Looking around today, there’s a lot of changes in the teachers’ office. Certain teachers are now teaching different grades, new teachers in the mix, and also a new vice-principal… cool time for me, because I kinda feel like a veteran who knows the ropes around the office, but this feeling will soon pass as the new teachers catch on and I move back into my role as the lost foreigner…
The new school year also rings in some big changes in my schedule. My small country JHS has now been replaced with another larger JHS closer to the city. Fine by me because I prefer to teach at larger schools, but its kinda sad to say bye to that small school with only 50 students – however, a new ALT will provide some much needed energy and excitement there I think. My new JHS has about 400 students, which is about half than at my primary JHS I visit most regularly. Also, I have one less elementary school to visit. My new grand total is 3 schools I now visit, a nice clean and easy schedule to manage. Tonight there are more enkais to welcome in the new teachers, each grade will do it separately – followed by a school enkai next week. Gonna pass on the invite and make my appearance at the full staff enkai next week… Big weekend coming up! Basketball game vs a HS team and Hanami – aka – “partying under a Cherry Blossom tree” (Japanese tradition). More on those to follow… stay- tuned.
Still on Spring Break here… and finally its beginning to feel like Spring. The past couple days the weather has been beautiful. Today is a lovely Friday morning in Tokushima, however, I’m working inside at the BOE. As I previously mentioned, I’m now required to work during these periods of no school… To add to my frustration, my conference call with Prime Minister didn’t go very well. Mr. Koizumi gave me the good-ol’ run-around and told me that he was looking into the matter, but couldn’t provide me an exact date when I could return to sleeping-in during the breaks…
Ohhh well… Since I must be here, might as well create an Elementary School English curriculum. This Spring Break the city ALTs (those of us that are not taking vacation) have been assigned the task of creating an Elementary School English curriculum. Beginning in April, all the city ALTs will be visiting elementary schools once a week. Therefore, creating some form of guideline is necessary to prevent some ALTs from teaching Poker jargon as an English lesson idea… In my opinion, I think this is a pretty big project, because teaching English elementary schools is a relatively new trend in the Japanese educational system. Sending ALTs to elementary schools on a weekly basis is a huge change in a system that has no present guidelines for this, other than the one we are now creating. The future of Tokushima’s Japanese Elementary School English education is in our hands…
Well, it’s spring break! However, this no longer involves a break for me and the other JETs working for the Tokushima City Board of Education (BOE). Unlike previous years, ALTs are now required to work during these periods of no school. This is a pretty drastic change, so there’s been talk of non-violent protests, but I’m for a more peaceful resolution. I’ll be talking to the Prime Minister later over the phone, hopefully we can get this resolved so I can get back to sitting around my apartment and relaxing over the breaks again. More to follow…
Today and tomorrow, myself and 4 other ALTs are attending a high school English camp of sort. The camp involves teaching English workshops to high school students that are interested in advancing their English skills. Each ALT is to focus their lesson of choice on a specific theme, ie: listening, reading, writing, speaking. This was my first experience teaching high school students and for the most part things are going well….
Today was the JHS closing ceremony. The closing ceremony marks that last day of the academic school year. Although the 9th graders have graduated and no longer attend school, 7th and 8th graders prepare to move onto the next grade. March is an unusual time to end the school year, but the reasoning can vary depending on who you ask. From my understanding, the end of March to early April marks the beginning of spring. This is a very important time of the year in Japan as beautiful cherry blossoms trees are in full bloom symbolizing a chance to start fresh. However, a chance to relish a fresh start is short lived as the next school year begins on April 8th.
The closing ceremony is also an opportunity to say sayonara to many teachers. As previously mentioned in an earlier blog, Japanese teachers often move from school to school after a few years. The final decision regarding changes is made by a central board of education, which oversees all teachers in their respective prefectures. Sadly, a number of great teachers will be leaving after today, including Nakasono-sensei, a Japanese English Teacher (JTE) that I’ve taught a lot of classes together with. Tonight is the final enkai (party) of the school year. The sayonara enkai is usually one of the better parties in the year, so I’m looking forward to it. Heavy drinking to commence in under 7 hours and countdown…
Yesterday I played a little Dodge Ball in the gym with the 8th graders. This was no ordinary day in PE class though, this was the annual 8th grade championships! Dodge Ball is huge among elementary and JHS kids in Japan! It’s also played a little different than my days growing up. Using the techniques I’ve learned from my days dominating the US JHS circuit; while picking up on the differences in rules in Japan – I’ve now become an international Dodge Ball killing machine! For yesterday’s tournament, I was placed on one of the weaker classes. This was OK, as my only focus was to use my size and strength to push every person in my way to the side as I attempted to take over the game on my team’s behalf. Using my cat-like reflexes, I was able to dodge balls that would have hit any average player. Every opportunity I got the ball, I unleashed a Randy Johnson fastball in the direction of a JHS’s students head with heat-seeking precision. I desperately attempted to go it alone, running over every person on my team, pleading with my teammates to “let the Unit throw it!” In the end, all my effort was for nothing as class 2-2 lost in the first-round! After the game, I gathered my team together in an effort to console the players and told them what any sympathizing teacher on a mission to win would have said, “you guys need to hit the weight room!”
Today I attended my first elementary school graduation in Japan! Unique from the junior high schools, elementary school graduations are a much more intimate event. Depending on the size of the school, most students are not recognized individualy at the JHS level. However, at today’s elementary school graduation, each 6th grader received their diploma personally from the school principal. After which, every attempt to make teachers, students and their parents cry was made. Each 6th grader had a part in a class speech thanking everyone in attendance, including the school cooks. Then the teachers thanked the students, followed by the PTA thanking teachers, then the 5th graders thanked the 6th graders, and then songs were sung in every direction. If there wasn’t anyone crying at this point, a slide show was added for good measure, as the students left the gym to instruments played by the entire 4th and 5th grade. In the end, mission accomplished – everyone left the ceremony wiping away tears.
Today was the Jr. High School graduation ceremony! This is the second Jr. High School graduation I’ve attended. Japanese Jr. High School graduations are somewhat different from those back home, but the reason for celebrating is universal. Graduations are an opportunity for teachers to say bye and vis versa for students. In Japan, students are lead by a selected homeroom teacher throughout the school year. This teacher provides students important daily announcements, as well discipline when needed amongst a myriad of other responsibilities. Almost a father or mother figure at times, this teacher proudly leads his or her class into the gym on graduation day. Special graduation guests are introduced, speeches are given by the principal and student leaders, songs are sung and in the end – most girls and their mothers can be seen crying. A parade of sort is made through the school gates, which marks the end of the ceremony.
Every Friday I visit an elementary school where I teach 3-4 classes per day. For the time being, there is no formal English curriculum at the elementary school level in Japan. However, there appear to be slow changes on the horizon. Visiting elementary schools are a lot of fun, but also require a lot more planning than teaching at Jr. High Schools. Because there is no set curriculum, JETs are usually free to teach what ever they wish.
This past Friday was an exciting day! The first grade elementary school students and I have been working on a play, “The Big Turnip” and today was show-time! If you don’t know the story of “The Big Turnip,” you need to read more. It’s a NY Times Best Selling story about a grandfather who grows a turnip and then the turnip grows so big he needs other people to help him pull the turnip out from under the ground, including the strength of the town mouse to complete the task. Our audience consisted of kindergarteners, next year’s first graders. Here’s a few lines from the award winning play!..
Every year, the Board of Education selects a different Jr. High School in Tokushima City to present a English team teaching demonstration. Yesterday, the lesson was at my school. After a lot of preparation between myself and the Japanese Teacher of English (JTE), it was finally show time! About 20 people showed up to watch our demonstration, which was followed by a meeting to evaluate our pros and cons. All in all, the day was a success I think! Mostly kudos, with some minor constructive criticism. In the evening, we had a small enkai.
Recently I was asked by the teachers at the junior high school I teach at to be a guest speaker on the topic of human rights. This was a great opportunity to share with students in Japan about the struggle that Tibetans face every day at the hands of Chinese communism oppression.