Thursday, October 21, 2010

Getting Caught Up

The Teacher's Room From My Desk
            I teach at a high school called Oita Nishi Kou Kou, or Oita West High.  High schools here cover 3 years of education, and they call it 1st year, 2nd year, 3rd year.  Confusing at first what with the language barrier and the obscene levels of faith with which one must start their life as a JET.  It's equivalent to the sophomore, junior, and senior years in high school for us from the U.S.A.  They get their grades by taking exams given about once a month, as far as I can tell so far.  Teachers do not grade daily activities, and there doesn't seem to be any system of accountability for daily effort.  I think it leads to cramming and lots of students making no attempt to do daily assignments.  I never taught in the U.S. and I took honors classes that were populated with more studious kids, but there seems to be a lot of sleeping and full on ignoring of class here.  There is no motivation, especially for my assignments, since my classes are not geared directly toward an aspect of the test, though if they paid attention it would help them a lot.  I think my presence is valuable and does motivate them, since I give them a real reason to need to speak English, even if it’s just out at the drink machine or during cleaning every day.
            Speaking of cleaning, this is how we do it in Japan:  Every student and most teachers are assigned to an area which we spend 15 minutes cleaning everyday.  I am not assigned to an area, but I think it contributes to a good feeling between the other teachers and I that I do participate.  At the beginning of the term, after summer vacation, we spent an hour or so cleaning, and before an open school day we had last week, we did the same.  I think it's wonderful.  These students feel a sense of responsibility for their school and learn the habit of tidying and cleaning.  No one thinks about it, they just do it.  IMAGINE telling students in the United States that they were assigned to the bathrooms for the next 6 weeks.  I would be shocked if there wasn't a lawsuit brought up. 
             The teachers have a staff room and the students have homerooms that they have most of their classes in, so instead of the students moving around to, say, the Geography classroom and then to the English classroom, they stay in their room and the teachers go in when it's time for their class.  The staff room is completely open to the students who are in and out all day talking to teachers about various things.  I think that aspect of school here works really well.  The grading, not so much.  
              The other teachers are nice and many of them speak English very well.  It’s really interesting to talk all the time about how we do things in the USA and why we say certain things and such.  Like the other day I was playing this word game and I wrote a sentence on the board – “Whenever I see your face I want to jump up into the thin air and yell, ‘Red Bull!’”  It was just a bit of nonsense I made up for the game, but the teacher wanted to know what it meant, how you could say 'thin' before ‘air,’ what ‘Red Bull’ meant, etc.  It's fun.  
               I hardly ever see the principal - Kocho Sensei, but he has a phatty office with this long wooden table surrounded by 10 cushy armchairs.  I went in there one day to give him his omiyage - a present from the USA - and he was at the far end of the table with his socked feet propped on it, laid out in the armchair, reading the paper.  I get the impression that he has paid his dues and he chills a lot, but I could be totally wrong.  I see the vice principal a lot - Kyoto Sensei - and he is very nice.  Those are titles, not names, by the way.  He doesn’t speak much English, but we make it work.  どうにかしましょう. One day when my work day finished I went down to meet Peter and Knox and Kyoto Sensei was standing there with them.  We all seem to feel a great sense of happiness and accomplishment when we are taking 20 minutes to exchange the few words we each know in our respective languages. 
               It always scares me when I hear my name surrounded by a bunch of Japanese that I don’t understand.  I hear “waratagaguhi Tiffany hibanukiodesuka?”  I’m sitting at my desk thinking, “Oh, jeez, what did I do?  What are they going to ask me to do?  Am I going to have to face the school Samurai and fight for my honor?”  Yesterday, Kyoto Sensei said my name, then came over to the English teacher that sits across from me in the teacher room and I heard my name again, then she got up and the two of them came around the desk and walked toward me.  I had a moment of fear, but the little meetings are always innocent.  He asked me about honors and AP classes at my high school in the United States and this is how the conversation went after that:
Kyoto Sensei:  "Wasunitonagamestu C3PO tonistukyu R2D2."  (Blah blah C3PO blah blah R2D2.)
Tiffany:  “Star Wars?” 
Kyoto Sensei:  “Hai.  Arigatoo.”  (Yes.  Thank you.)

Then he went away.

From Japan,


KaiKinapela said...

Ah... The moment of "What did I do?" I only get that with one of the VPs. The other are really chill and I love talking with them.

I have the same problem with getting assignments from students. To be fair the high school doesnt require me to give grades...

Tiffany said...

I don't have to give grades, but I do sometimes to make myself feel better. ;-)