Spreading Halloween Cheer

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There are several loose ends from my time as an ALT that I had yet to tie up. One of them was the drawing I had promised the underclassmen of the English club. I had drawn the upperclassmen for a poster for the culture festival this past June but hadn’t had time to do a picture for the underclassmen. So I set Halloween as a deadline for myself and spent about two weeks making an original, full-color drawing of the 7 members in costumes.

It had been a long time since I sat down to ink and color by hand instead of just doing it on the computer.

It had been a long time since I sat down to ink and color by hand instead of just doing it on the computer.

I unfortunately hadn’t gotten to know the freshmen members well enough to draw them in costumes that would have meaning for them, so save for the student whom I knew loved High School Musical I just picked popular costumes. They ended up being a Wildcats cheerleader, a witch, Princess Leia, a pirate, Dracula (after the one in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night), a black cat, and Michael Jackson in “Smooth Criminal.”

Love how a moon ended up framing a face by chance.

Adorable Halloween wrapping paper: love how a moon ended up framing a face by chance.

I sent the drawing to the school via Global Express to ensure it arrives by Halloween. The airway bill included the question “purpose of shipment” and I wrote in “To spread happiness. ^o^” I hope that doesn’t make Customs think the envelope contains flat shrooms or something like that, ahaha…

Happy Halloween, O World!

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What’s In A Name?

I’ve been home for little over a week now after ending 4 years on JET. As I try to find my next step, I’ve been thinking about the reasons why I decided to leave in the first place. Despite my original intention when joining JET of getting good enough at Japanese to teach it, I ended up so dissatisfied at work that I would say to anyone who asked me if I’d consider continuing in education, “I don’t want to teach anybody anything.”

My stance on that has softened somewhat as I remember what the draw of teaching Japanese had originally been. And I realized that hands down, what I came to hate about work was that I felt like I wasn’t getting even the bare minimum of respect that someone at the bottom of the school totem pole should get. Not consistently anyway.

Right now new ALTs are probably thinking about things such as “What should I have the students call me?” I’m a big proponent of Mr./Ms.+Last Name, especially if that is the way teachers are addressed in the ALT’s home country. It’s also a matter of respect and establishing yourself as being above the students. Maybe that sounds a bit high and mighty, but in a society as hierarchical as Japan’s, and in regions that still often treat foreigners as curiosities rather than human beings, it’s important to establish who’s who.

People who are at least vaguely familiar with Japanese culture might have some ideas about the sempai-kouhai relationship. While I was aware from the start that sempai, one’s “senior” be it at work or in life, were regarded with respect by their kouhai (juniors), I never realized how deep and important this relationship was until I’d been working in Japan for a couple of years. Students actually bow to their sempai. For example, 10th graders bow to 11th and 12th graders, and the 11th graders bow to the seniors. In my school’s English club, all the students went by cutsie nicknames, but the underclassmen never addressed the upperclassmen without an honorific, even if it meant saying somewhat silly sounding things like nickname-chan-san. When referring to the one junior in the club, the sophomores, talking amongst themselves, would always call him Last Name-sempai. When talking about him to me sometimes they’d use his first name, I don’t exactly know why, but they never called him his first name to his face.

If students show that much respect to each other, what kind of sense does it make to have them call ALTs by their first names?

The majority of ALTs might not have teaching certification, but they’re still adults. What’s more, they get put into schools, in name if nothing else, as “assistant language teachers.” When school faculty and staff address the ALT by the ALT’s first name, especially without the -sensei honorific, they are destroying what shred of credibility the ALT might have had with the students. When students don’t take the ALT seriously, they don’t take the class seriously, and the class becomes a pointless waste of everyone’s time. In contrast, the two (out of 10) homerooms that did address me as Ms. Last Name, as I had explained at the beginning of the school year, were much more open to participating in the class, and performed better on tests. Could it be because they took that extra step of actually understanding and using a basic part of American culture?

I’ve had at least two ALTs tell me that they were uncomfortable with being called Mr./Ms. Last Name because to them, that signified their father or their mother. I found that a bit strange. I can understand their sentiment but at the same time I don’t understand why they don’t also just see it as “adults are addressed this way and I’m an adult.” My mother was a school teacher but it doesn’t bother me to be addressed the same way; I just take it as “I’m an adult being addressed as adults are.”

Ultimately, and perhaps unfortunately, it is up to each individual ALT to set the rules for how students and coworkers address them. I hope this made anyone thinking of letting students address them by first name alone think more deeply about their position.

Banzai Piñata

Hitting a piñata with a shinai (=bamboo sword)

Hitting a piñata with a shinai (=bamboo sword)

A moment from the party ESS threw for the Seniors, and also as a Farewell for me.

There’s so much going on right now in terms of getting ready to make the move back to the States, so I probably won’t be writing any posts until I get back home.

Until then…stay cool eh? ^o^

Glee, Eat Your Heart Out

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I’ve been pretty busy helping English Speaking Society (=ESS, or English club) get ready for the school festival. Well, it’s all stuff I volunteered to do. The members are doing the heavy lifting, I’m just adding a bit of technological sparkle.

For the school festival, ESS will sing and dance 14 songs in two sets. I think they were introduced to most of the songs through the show Glee, as they asked me to find instrumentals of the Glee versions of such hits as Justin Beiber’s “Baby,” Bruno Mars’ “Marry You,” and Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide.”

I don’t particularly like Glee, but I gotta give the show props for the a cappella version of Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream.” ESS members weren’t planning on doing it a cappella, but with only one boy in the club the girls in charge put him on backing vocals, and when freshmen students joined in late April (=too late to really learn the songs) they got backing vocals too. Their voices alone ended up sounding so rich that I told them to ditch the instrumental track. I can’t believe how good they sound! I know they’re gonna blow everyone away with the a cappella greatness.

The final setlist was decided only a few weeks ago, but most of the songs had been decided for a couple of months. The club members had suggested writing the songs’ lyrics on poster boards and putting them up around the classroom we’d use for the festival, but I told them that probably no one would read them. I proposed timing the lyrics to the music, making subtitles in essence, and projecting them behind the dancers. They agreed to the idea and I’ve been working on that whenever I got a spare moment. Luckily pop songs have pretty simple timing so it’s only been taking me about an hour to do each track.

I love having a Mac.

I love having a Mac.

It turned out that many other clubs and classes ended up wanting to do things with video, which means that there aren’t enough projectors to go around. Luckily, I have a friend who has a projector, so I’ve borrowed hers. I haven’t tested it out yet so I’m not sure 100% certain that we’ll do this, but I’m ready for it!

Interestingly, one of the senior classes asked me to be in their film that they’re making for the festival. They said they thought it would be funny to have me in their video speaking Osaka dialect. Ahahaha…I don’t know if one of the students in the class is from Osaka or they just think Osaka dialect is funny. I probably won’t get to see the finished movie until the school festival this Saturday, but I’m looking forward to that as well.

Well, I should get cracking on the subtitles for the remaining tracks. I think I’ll do “Landslide” next.

Measuring Student Growth (Literally)

One of the things that was stressed to JET ALTs at the various orientations was that we need to find ways to become “a part of the school.” We were encouraged to join clubs and sit in on classes. Do these things actually work?

In my experience, it worked best when I was invited to things, such as the cooking class. Whenever I tried to just volunteer to help, such as by asking if I should go out on the community clean up day, or if I could be designated a spot to clean with the students during the daily cleaning time, I was always met with “uh” or “you don’t have to do that.” I never really felt like I was an integrated part of my current school because I wasn’t involved with anything other than the one class I taught, and the old ESS neglected to tell me many things about how the club was running. This contributed to my feeling that I wasn’t being taken as a member of the school.

To my surprise I was asked to help with the students’ physicals that they had last week. This year, there’s two teachers who are pulling double duty as sub-homeroom teacher for two homerooms each, so I figured we were simply understaffed. (Later I was told that there were many teachers out on business trips that day, and that’s why I had been recruited to help.) Even so, I was genuinely happy that I had been given this responsibility that had nothing to do with my regular ALT duties.

In one day all students get basic tests such as having their weight and height measured, and taking vision and hearing tests. Exams requiring specialized knowledge or tools are handled by doctors and nurses, but the height and weight stations are manned by teams of teachers and students; the teachers taking turns measuring and relaying the information to the student in charge of writing this down on students’ results cards. I was asked to handle one of the stations for measuring sitting height (座高).  The teacher I was supposed to have been taking turns with hadn’t gotten a chance to eat lunch, so we decided that I would just go for the first hour and she would go for the second hour.

It went pretty smoothly; after all I only had to read numbers off the ruler in the vicinity of 75-100. There were some students who ended up shorter than they had been the previous year, but when I asked the boy writing down the results if this was possible or if I was messing up, he simply said “It’s alright” like it was nothing to worry about. Interestingly enough, the boys were more likely than the girls to try to cheat the test by slouching or putting their heads into their shoulders like turtles, though all were terrified of getting a high number for this measurement (e.g. they were scared of having most of their height be in their torso rather than in their legs).

As entertaining as all of that was, what I found interesting was that I felt more like a member of the school in that one hour of taking students’ height than I ever had before.

Take Out the Cannons and You’ve Got What It’s Like To Be an ALT

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I was peacefully painting my nails pink and green to take the place of the already fallen sakura petals for the upcoming Entrance Ceremony while watching The Tourist on TV when I saw the most awesomest commercial ever. Yes, its level of epicness requires the use of incorrectly formed superlatives and nouns.

出陣

The full 60-second spot isn’t on YouTube so I can’t embed it, but here it is on Nisshin’s website.

While I can’t catch all of the dialogue, I did my best to do a a transcription and translation.

[Globalization]

President: From today, our company’s official language will be English!
Employees: Whaaa?
(The army sallies forth)
Cavalryman 1: What’s the President thinking?
Cavalryman 2: I got 300 on the TOEIC*…guess I have to change jobs huh.
Cavalryman 1: I’m only Eiken level 3.** I couldn’t possibly use English now…
Cavalryman 2: If it were Japanese (??????)
Cavalryman 1: Is that the new boss?
Boss: Hi!
Vanguard: (While charging) Hi!!
Boss: Nice to meet you!
(The Japanese vanguard is hit by the cannonade)

Vanguard: What great pronunciation!***
Vanguard: It’s no good!
Vanguard: (???) the dictionary, the dictionary!
Vanguard: It’s no use!
Commander: (Orders archers to fire)
Archers: Howatto iz yoa neemu?!!!! (Fire arrows)
(The volley falls short of the Western army)

Boss: Pardon?
(The second wave of the vanguard gets hit by cannon fire)
(Someone): He didn’t understand!
(Someone): His pronunciation…it’s too good!
(Someone): Good score!
Cavalryman 1: (Brandishing sword) Don’t take Eiken Level 3 lightly!!!
Cavalry: (Charging) Good morning!
Boss: (Aims gun) How are you?
Cavalry: Fine, thank you! And youuuuuu?!?!!
Caption: You can’t fight on an empty stomach.
Cavalryman 1: (Jumps from his horse, bringing his sword down on the soldiers in the midst of the Western army)
Voiceover: Survive. Cup Noodle. Nisshin.

Notes
*TOEIC = Test of English for International Communication. A composite score of 300 would indicate extremely low English competency; a good score would be 855 to the max of 990. Well, so says Wikipedia.

**Eiken = The EIKEN Test in Practical English Proficiency, also known as the STEP Test. It has 7 total levels, level 3 corresponding to the level expected of Japanese students after completing junior high school.

***While it seems strange at first to say that the native speakers have great pronunciation, it stems from the idea that Japanese are so used to hearing katakana English that they are surprised by how different natural English as spoken by native speakers sounds, sometimes to the point of not being able to understand it even if they would have understood the katakana version.

~~~

Ahahaha…so there it is. Judging by the sound effect at the end, it seems Cavalryman 1 was able to land a direct hit on one of the Western soldiers, though in the video it looked like they all cleared out of the way.

In case Nisshin takes the CM off their site after a while, here’s the 30-second edit on YouTube.

My favorite lines:

英検3級なめるな!!!

英検3級なめるな!!!

How are you?

How are you?

XDDDD

I think I’m gonna have to buy a cup of Cup Noodles to thank Nisshin for entertaining me, while not thinking about Cavalryman 1 potentially having killed a native speaker of English with English as his weapon. >o<;;;

Momohiro

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This probably amuses me more than it should.

The final assignment before finals that I gave the students was to research any world mythology and share one story or episode from it. My plan had been to put the best speeches on display, but alas, too few students seem to understand the concept of using folders/clear files to not let papers get raggedy, and that of writing neatly. So I hit upon the idea of having them turn their speeches into illustrated mini-books. Ever since an ALT used mini-books made from a single piece of paper in their presentation at one of the ALT meetings I had been looking for a project to use these in.

I made three sample mini-books using the stories we had read in class together, namely that of Orion and the Scorpion, Echo the Nymph, and a modified version of Momotarou. I called it “Momohiro.” >o<;

When giving students writing assignments, if you don’t explicitly say “Don’t use Momotarou!” you will get several Momotarous, often with no variation on the most well-known version. I actually needed an easy story to demonstrate how to divide text into paragraphs, so I choose Momotarou since then understanding the words themselves wouldn’t get in the way of understanding how paragraphs are used to create flow. But I just can’t bring myself to tell that story as it is. I’ve heard it and read it ten trillion times. When I had to write that story in the Japanese class I go to here, I made Momotarou talk like a Sengoku era warlord. This time I figured I could at least change the details.

Of the different suffixes for boys’ names (e.g. tarou, hiko, suke, etc) I like the ring of “hiro” the best. Hence, “Momohiro.” Ahahaha…

Without further ado, here are photos of the sample book. My camera’s been acting up lately so it looks like the paper is canvas what with those lines, but it’s just a regular sheet of A3 paper. Enjoy!

Momohiro Cover

Momohiro 1

Momohiro 2

Momohiro 3

The Beginning of the End

Happy New Year?

Ahahaha…it has now been over two months since the Arashi concert in Osaka. I think it’s fair to say at this point that I will never write a post about it. It was great, it was fun, don’t get me wrong, but I just don’t have it in me right now.

Lately I’ve been feeling like I’ve worked really hard to do the things JET tells us to do: become a part of the school and engage in “cultural exchange.” I’ve gone to clubs besides ESS, participated in classes other than English classes, cleaned in the shokuinshitsu…and it feels like it was mostly for nothing. I now feel like less a part of the school and like I’m having less of an impact than ever. A huge part of this may simply be because I’m comparing my situation now with my previous school, which matched my background and experience (and therefore ability to fit in) much better.

That’s what I’ve been feeling for the past several months anyway.

Even though I had made up my mind not to seek reappointment while I was resting in the States, I wanted to discuss it with my supervisor and vice principal first. I was caught off guard when on my first day back in Fukuoka, still messed up from jet lag and not in the best of moods, my supervisor asked me if I was staying or not. The part of my brain that was awake and rational was saying, “Don’t answer that! Don’t answer that right now!” But my Autopilot said, “I think I should go home,” to which my supervisor replied with an “Oh” and ran off somewhere. I was confused, as I assumed my inclusion of “I think” would’ve shown I wasn’t 100% sure. Well, maybe we’ll discuss it later, I thought.

Was I wrong. Even though the prefecture sent me a letter offering an extension of my contract, from that point on my supervisor moved forward with the paperwork for my leaving at a dizzying speed. I was like, “what’s going on here?!”

I remembered reading somewhere, maybe it was the CLAIR newsletter, that while contracting organizations may push their ALTs for early answers, that ALTs should remember that they have until February to decide whether to recontract or not. I was thinking, “Why are they pushing this on me in such a hurry?” At least as far as the prefecture was concerned, the offered extension was proof of satisfactory performance, as 4th and 5th years are not freebies like the 2nd and 3rd years can sometimes be.

The way that whole business with the recontracting papers was handled left a bad taste in my mouth, but what could be done? Anyway things were starting to get better. I got over my jet lag induced insomnia (the opposite of when I go to the States; there I become narcoleptic), the atmosphere at work seemed better…then there was today’s ALT meeting that left me fuming.

Lately we’ve been having guest speakers at these ALT meetings, which is a great thing. But I was blown away by what today’s guest speaker, a JTE, had to say.The topic of his seminar was the New Course of Study for English Education. He told us that no matter what, English education, as taught by teachers (not as envisioned by the Ministry of Education) focused on getting students ready for the university entrance exam. No big surprise there. This is something that’s been openly acknowledged for a while now. What blew me away was the teacher’s suggestion of what ALTs’ role within the New Course of Study would be.

“What can ALTs do?” said the PowerPoint slide.

The speaker’s answer: “Pronounce words.”

Pronounce words? Pronounce…words? ………really?

So…basically you’re saying the Japanese government spends how much money on getting flesh and blood employees over to Japan so that they can…pronounce words? Something that CD players and electronic dictionaries can do just as well?

Then he added that by having ALTs in the room it creates a situation where students HAVE to speak English.

So yeah. We’re here to pronounce words and force students to do something they otherwise have zero motivation and reason to do. Man, was I angry after that!

At moments like those, I feel like I made the right choice. I’m going to miss the English Club students, I’m going to miss seeing the senior members take leading roles in the Sports Festival, I’m going to miss their graduations. I’m going to miss the freedom to move around by bicycle and train, to go where I want when I want. I’m going to miss being a member of GACKT’s official fanclub and going to his concerts. But I can’t say that I’m going to miss being this ill-defined and ever more ambiguous thing called an ALT. I’m not going to miss people who don’t give me papers because they assume I can’t read them, or people who give me papers and say, “Oh, but you can’t read it, it’ll be good study then. Hahaha.” I’m not going to miss having 40 pairs of eyes looking blankly through me.

Well, 39 pairs of eyes. There’s usually one in each homeroom who’s listening, and I don’t know what I’d do without them.

Osaka Concert Weekend: Before the Storm

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Before getting to the post about ARASHI’s show…

In the early afternoon, before the show, I went to look around the city with one of my friends. It would be the last chance for me to sightsee in Osaka this weekend.

We walked to Tsuutenkaku in the Shinsekai District.

We walked to the Shinsekai District to see the tower Tsuutenkaku.

There was a one hour wait to go up into the tower, so we gave up on that.

There was a one hour wait to go up into the tower, so we gave up on that.

Then we came across Imamiya Ebisu Shrine (今宮戎神社).

Then we came across Imamiya Ebisu Shrine (今宮戎神社).

A view from the rear of the main hall.

A view from the rear of the main hall.

We noticed that there were only women at the shrine and figured that maybe this was a shrine for wishing for good marriage or childbirth. While I still don’t know why they were there, after looking around on the shrine website I wonder if they were women who were applying to be “fukumusume” (福娘), special shrine maidens for the Tooka Ebisu Festival in January. I came across this interesting blog post by an international student at Ritsumeikan University who actually got to be a fukumusume.

After that my friend and I hurried back to the Namba area to meet up with three other friends–one who had come in from Singapore, and another from California, to see the ARASHI show. Once everyone was gathered, we went for lunch at a kamameshi restaurant. In brief, “kamameshi” is a style of cooking that involves using a metal pot called a “kama.” Now, you can go to restaurants and have your own individual-serving pot.

"Tori San Shoku Kamameshi," or "Tri-Colored Chicken Kamameshi."

“Tori San Shoku Kamameshi,” or “Tri-Colored Chicken Kamameshi.”

After lunch it was pretty much time to head over to the Kyocera Dome for the show. Since there was a Dolce & Gabana store nearby, I did suggest we go there just to see if GACKT was there shopping before his show. >o<; Not having found him, we headed for the Dome.

I don't know if it's fair to say that these sculptures on store signs are characteristic of Osaka. Maybe it's just the Namba/Doutonburi area?

I don’t know if it’s fair to say that these sculptures on store signs are characteristic of Osaka. Maybe it’s just the Namba/Doutonburi area?

次回!Okay, for real this time. We make storm!