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Pictures of me being Santa Clause for kindergarten students! Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a Happy upcoming New Year to my friends, family, and students!
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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.
Note: A link to my Sister School Establishment Album
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.
Note: (Video link) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lV9litlfJOo
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.
Note: School and Work album – a complete look back..
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!