unallersimple: (lost)
While daily life at school is often frustrating, every once in a while something happens that's just downright ridiculous. This leaves you feeling like you're the only sane person in a world of crazy...but then if it's just you, maybe you're the only one with the problem? It also makes you want to have a temper tantrum so great you could outshine a two year old, but in Japan you have to keep face. Public displays of anger or upsetting the group harmony are not on. So after you politely point out something or make a suggestion on how to improve something, you're told that it won't change because "it's the Japanese way". (Hinting that as a foreigner and outsider, you couldn't possibly understand.) So you ignore it and push it away each time something like this happens...until one day it's been one time too many and you really do start to go crazy! Arghhhh!

For me that one time too many occurred at my junior high school the other day when the first graders were learning to write capital letters. The teacher asked me to write them one by one on the board so the students could copy and practice writing them. (Which again is not a great use of an assistant language teacher anyway.) So I wrote "A", the students copied. I wrote "B", the same way I've written it for well over a decade, and was stopped by the teacher. She told me I was writing it wrong. I was stunned. If anyone there knew how to write the alphabet it was me. She said it's because the line in the middle of my "B" has to touch the vertical line on the left and mine stopped half way. Aside from a little messiness with my handwriting in general, I can honestly say no one has ever had a problem with my "B". Seeing as we were in front of a class though, I could only smile, pretend I made a mistake and write the "B" as she requested. To do anything else at that point would be losing face and I would risk undermining her and us a team. As we progressed through the letters though, more problems arose. The middle of my "M" wasn't the same length as the two vertical lines. Neither was my "W". My C, R, P, N, G and a load of others were wrong too. So much so that she corrected them on the board afterward. She told me not to put a horizontal line on top on my "J". "J" usually has that horizontal line!

It was hard not to get so angry at the pettiness and pointlessness of it all. She could have simply pointed out that while my letters weren't exactly the same as the ones in the textbook, this simply showed variations in handwriting that exist. Nothing I did was incorrect. Besides, every single English speaker in the world doesn't write the same way. Neither does every Japanese person. The key thing is that the letter is recognisable. Learning to read the variations is a good skill to have. She could have also explained that she wanted the students to write the letters exactly the same as in the textbook for various reasons, so could I step to one side and let her do it instead? I would have understood and done what she asked no problem. Perhaps I should have offered to do that...but it's easier to think of solutions afterwards than at the time!

Why aren't Japanese schools more flexible? The other day I was told their way of writing was the best way because it had always been done that way (and of course it's the Japanese way). Well that's a lame attitude to have in my opinion. What's the point in having foreigners go into schools if everything they do that's different is said to be wrong and is not allowed? I can understand this happening in cases where there are huge differences in culture, but when it comes to writing a letter with a line that's a few millimetres different in length it's just absolutely ridiculous. I have adapted as much as possible to do things "the Japanese way", so it would be nice to have a little open-mindedness in return. Everything feels like such a fight sometimes.

I can only try to focus on the facts that can help me make sense of things (or have a temper-tantrum). Asking me to write letters on the board was probably a way of trying to include me in the class instead of having me just watching. A lot of teachers don't want someone else coming into their classes anyway. It makes life harder for them. They don't receive any training on how to work with an ALT so might not always know the best ways to incorporate them into the lesson in a useful and meaningful way. Things are made more difficult by the fact that it is a weekly visit. It takes more time to build up the working relationship and there is little chance to sit down and talk about what is and isn't working.

I can see how the teacher would be concerned that my slightly alternative way of writing letters would confuse the students, but I honestly think they would be ok. It was barely any different! I learned Arabic and Japanese at university so understand the importance of having a set standard to copy from when learning a new alphabet - but again my letters were hardly any different! I guess the Japanese culture also plays a part when it comes to learning to write. Every kanji has a set number of strokes and rules about which strokes come first and what direction they are drawn in, and I know it's important here for everyone to be exactly the same and this includes writing the same too. I understand and respect all of the above things. It just frustrates and upsets me no end when I'm constantly being told I'm wrong (especially when it's about something so petty like my 'B') rather than looking for a better way to work together and improve communication. I feel like I keep trying and trying and just hit a brick wall every time.

*steam releases from ears*

*and calm*

x
unallersimple: (onsen)


Yesterday I arrived at my junior high school and had the following surprise:




JTE: We only have two lessons today.
Moi: Oh, really?
JTE: Yes. The first grade students...their English lesson is canceled today.
Moi: Why?
JTE: They will plant rice in the afternoon.
Moi: Ah, I see. Erm, plant rice?!
JTE: Yes.
Moi: At school?
JTE: No, they will plant the rice at about one or two hundred meters along the road.
Moi: Well...should I go too?
JTE: Maybe.
Moi: Maybe?
JTE: If you want to watch, you can watch the students.
Moi: I'd like to, if that's ok?
JTE: Yes.
...
Moi: So when do we leave?
JTE: We will go in the afternoon.
Moi: After lunch?
JTE: No, after soji (school cleaning).
Moi: I see, thank you. Do I need to bring anything?
JTE: I think it's ok.
Moi: Ok.
...
Moi: So...do the students plant rice every year?
JTE: Yes.
Moi: All the students?
JTE: No, only first grade students.
Moi: I see.

Sometimes it's difficult not to get really frustrated. It can feel like some Japanese teachers of English strive to answer questions with as few words and as little information as possible sometimes. And why didn't anyone tell me the week before? If they had I could have joined in with them. As I had no clue until that day, I didn't have a towel or any appropriate clothing. I couldn't help feel a little sad; this chance probably won't happen again.

Communication frustrations aside though it was a jolly good afternoon. I'd never seen rice planting before. I had no idea how to do it and was able to learn not just from one person, but from 30 twelve year olds!

After cleaning time the students got changed and grabbed their towels and bottles of water. We walked a short way through the tiny village the school is in. It was a lovely chance to chat with the students. Topics such as gardening and our favorite Harry Potter characters were discussed. The students practised the phrases they had recently learned from the textbook.

Genki students: Are you from Americaaa?!
Moi (playing along): No, I'm not!
Genki students: Are you from Igirisu?! (They forgot how to say England, bless.)
Moi: Yes, I am! Are you from Japan?
Genki students: Yes!
Moi: Really?! No way! Oh my God! (For some reason all students, no matter how old or young, know "Oh my God!".)
Cute Little Genki students: *giggle for about 5 minutes*

We arrived at the rice field and were greeted by the local farmers. They had ploughed the field ready for the students to plant the rice. I saw that the field consisted of thick, squelchy mud about 30cm deep. I looked over at the students, then back at the mud, then back at the students. I had a feeling none of them would be clean for very long!

Thankfully I'd remembered to bring my mobile so I could grab a few snaps.


^As Bryan once said "You know it's spring when you see old ladies wearing bonnets!"

Before every one joined in, one of the students was able to try ploughing the field with a hand pulled wooden plough. This is done to make patterns of small squares in the mud to mark where each bit of rice should be placed in the soil. It's important that they're all evenly spaced from each other.


^ Rice before planting. The students had to tear off little stands of it to put in the mud.

After ploughing we watched the expert farmers at work. They told us what to do and gave a quick demonstration. They must have been doing this their whole lives. I think this is how the elderly here end up with backs so crooked they're permanently bent double.

It was hilarious to see the boys jump right in while the girls screamed and shrieked with every toe dipped in the mud. The boys were soon flinging mud at each other and then chucking it at the girls they fancied too. The girls were soon clinging on to each other and shrieking every time some mud was flung their way. By the end a lot of students were covered head to toe in mud, some had it all over their faces and hair too!

In the autumn the students will go back to harvest what they planted. It's a great way to reap the rewards of their hard work. It's also a great way to contribute to their own community. (And give the adults a chance to rest while they do some of the work!)

x
unallersimple: (lost)
What's good about keeping a blog is that it can provide a much needed outlet for some of the frustration and silliness I sometimes encounter whilst teaching in Japan.

At my junior high school there are only about 80 students so I usually only have 2 or 3 classes during the day when I'm there. The rest of the time I like to spend planning my lessons for my base school, but only when there is no other work I can do for the junior high of course. Sometimes though, I'm given some rather strange instructions. It's as if the teacher has so little need for me, she gives me these kinds of tasks out of sheer desperation so I'm not sat around with nothing to do. A favorite of hers is to get me to color something in or write some English phrase from the textbook on a big piece of card for class. I've asked her many times why she can't just write it on the chalkboard or better yet, tell the students to look in their textbooks! Despite the fact that I've made well over 30 signs, I've never seen her use any of them...

Anyway, during March the second year students were working on a mini play that's included in the back of their English textbook. Instead of getting the students to make their own masks, I was told to draw and color them in. When I get coloring-in jobs I find it hard not to rebel at the stupidity of it by taking double the time to finish it. (Yes, I'm aware that this is unprofessional and counter-productive!) As I have asked many times before, why not have me make an English related activity for class instead? My offers to do that are turned down nearly all of the time, yet coloring-in jobs seem like such a waste of time. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for coloring, cutting and pasting like a Blue Peter presenter when it's needed. I just get annoyed when I could be doing something more beneficial for the students.

The piss poor quality of the aforementioned play did nothing to ease my pain. It featured a girl who nearly decides to live forever with a bunch of puppets. In the end she chooses not to, but it doesn't really matter anyway because it all turned out to be a dream. (Who wrote this?) The names of the puppets included such delights of Ran and Chop, but then what can you expect from a textbook where the main characters are named Shin and Bin? (No really, who wrote this!?)

I was however cheered greatly up by my own creativity. I believe my puppet mask designs were delightful.
Below is a photo of one of them.



x
unallersimple: (boat)
Well today was hard. It was a junior high school day; the school I only visit on Wednesdays. We had four lessons in a row this morning. Unlike my high school where I am the main teacher, I am just the foreign classroom assistant at junior high. I don't think the teacher knows what to do with me. In three of the classes today I just stood at the front and read out one flashcard after another after another after another after another after another after another after another after another after another after another after another after another after another after another after another after another after...you get the idea! This went on for about 25 minutes each time. I felt close to brain death. This isn't really any different from any other lesson at junior high (and I know it's the same for many other JETs) but today, it just kept on going! There were so many words! In one of the classes four students were asleep and the others were so brain dead with boredom that hardly any were repeating the words after me or writing down the meaning in Japanese. I tried to keep us all entertained (and alive) by acting out the words I could. Strong was a fun one, as was dance. Leaf was a little bit more difficult. By the last class I was struggling to keep going and kept drifting off. The teacher kept having to tell me to say the next word a few times. I felt really stupid then because I had the easiest job possible and yet couldn't even stand and read out words properly! But it's just so boring. I could do so much more. Arghhh!
In the other class I had absolutely nothing to do. I'm supposed to help the students but their workbooks are in Japanese...I just sat and watched.


It's mum's birthday today too. Writing out the date at the start of every class did sting a little. I miss her. I wish I could give her a call and tell her about my life. It's been five years since she died this month.

Snow and ice have covered the ground for around a week now causing many bus and train delays. It has also made it impossible to cycle and very difficult to walk. It usually snows all day. At 2.55 my teacher said it might be difficult to get home and told me that if I want to, I can try to catch the bus early. I was out of there in seconds! In a very fortunate turn of events I managed to get the three o clock bus which was on time. I was free and home early! Hurah! :D

Poor Bryan was stuck on a train for three hours on Tuesday morning. It was a bit of a shock to be told this at school. I had no idea he'd gone anywhere and I had four classes to do alone with no planning time. Every day brings a new challenge!

Is is still really cold in the UK? I saw that the government was paying out emergency money because there had been so many days below zero in a row. Anna how about Iceland? Can you see your car or is it buried today? ;)

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