Friday, 28 May 2010

My Schools - 私の学校!

I thought it was time that I told you about my schools, without giving away any identifying details of course...

So, I have TJHS on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. From the central bus station in Hamamatsu, it takes 15 minutes to get there. As you walk down by the river and the often-flooded fields, the school comes into view. Now, I always thought that my secondary school in Wales was small, with its 450-odd students, but these schools are TINY...
One reason for this is that Junior High schools in Japan only accomodate three grades (the equivalent of year 8, 9 and 10 in the UK, ages 12-15). Another is that each class (each year is divided into 3 groups) has their own room, in which they have all their lessons. Consequently, there are only 9 necessary classrooms, with a few extra rooms for art, science and perhaps music, a gym, a dojo... and no cafeteria, as they also eat lunch in their homerooms. As I walk past the gym and tennis court into the hallway, where each member of staff has an individual locker for keeping their shoes*, I am greeted by students shouting "Hello!" and "Good morning!", which wakes me up on those slow mornings.

*In Japan, it is customary to take off your shoes when you enter a building. This definitely still applies in people's houses, schools and some restaurants. While you never wear shoes on tatami mats, in other places you may be given "indoor" shoes to wear. At school you bring your own indoor shoes, so the lockers are where you change them over. Of course, being at two schools, until I get a second pair of indoor shoes, I have to carry them around with me in my bag every day!

My second school, KJHS (or my Tuesday/Thursday school) is 30-40 minutes away by bus, and involves walking past a lot of greenhouses (for want of a better word). It is currently undergoing a lot of construction, so I have to walk around the back to get in. There is something about this school that makes me slightly uncomfortable; perhaps the fact that my shoe locker says "ALT" while the other school bothered to write my name, perhaps the fact that the third graders look about 18 and smirk and laugh when I walk past, perhaps the fact that the teachers are always giggling and looking at me (maybe I'm paranoid). But the thing that makes this school so much less exciting than TJHS is the fact that I work with a teacher who really winds me up.

So, his students can recite entire pages from the Sunshine text books, but I'm not sure that going up to someone and saying "Hi, I'm Yuki, nice to meet you" is very helpful in real life, especially when you're asked "what's your name?" and look at the speaker as if they've just spoken Welsh at you! In fact, even after all the recitation from the textbooks, most of them can't spell. He hosts a "spelling battle" at the start of some lessons, and I found that one student claimed that he didn't know how to spell "I". Eek. I've also seen some interesting phonetic spelling going on, i.e. hello becomes "haru", nice becomes "nais". Now, the ichinensei (first grades) at this school are still pretty energetic... but ninensei (second graders) are dead inside. When I cheerily shout "Good morning!" at them, they mumble back to me.... "one more time... good morning!" I try again, trying to push aside the feelings of self-loathing than threaten to seep in, my mind whispering to me "What are you doing with your life? These kids hate you..."... but the show goes on. I try getting them to create new sentences, and the teacher says "oh, they have trouble creating new sentences", or another time "Oh, they have trouble speaking"... well, all I'll say is it's interesting how the classes taught by the other teacher, and the classes at TJHS have a lot less trouble doing those things.

The other thing that winds me up...
Him: Do you have any good ideas for teaching this?
Me: Well, I thought we could , or at the other school we ... what do you think?
Him: Hmmm. I'm afraid that we won't have time.
(Note: We apparently have time to wait 10 minutes in each lesson while he painstakingly creates blackboard presentations... stopping and erasing any letter which isn't perfect, making sure the boxes around key words have perfectly straight lines....)
Me: Well, do you want me to come up with an activity?
Him: (After long silence) Do you think you can come up with an activity?
Me: .....Yes. I'll think of something.
Him: Ok. Do you have any questions?
Me: I just want to make sure what it is you want me to do. So, you would like an activity for this grammar point next week, right?
Him: (Silence. Then...) Do you like Elton John?

...WHAT? I am starting to suspect that he has some kind of ADD, or just doesn't understand what I say, ever. He also asks me the same strange questions every few days, so I have started giving different responses every time, just for kicks. Ah, well... しょがない (shoganai)... "what can you do?"

The children at my other school make me happy, sometimes. It helps that I eat lunch with a different class every day, even if they often forget to come and get me from the teacher's room. Some of them even pull out chairs for me. Admittedly, most of the meal consists of a) children giggling and daring each other to speak to me, b) me trying to eat as quickly as possible because there is a LOT of food and very little time (and occasionally trying to smile while eating for example, what I can only describe as catfood - that was today!), c) attempts at broken conversation, where I try to ask them things using the language we just covered in the lessons. So for first years I will just point at food or their cute lunchboxes and ask "What's that?" or "Is that Naruto?" etc... third graders generally have a pretty good level of English, so last week, for example, I was asking them to translate Arashi song titles into English. There's nothing like making a kid get their dictionary out in the middle of lunch (but, as they eat at their desks, it isn't much of a stretch) to find the word "glory"!

Personally, my favourite thing is getting the children to use original language. It's all very well and good spouting dialogue from the textbook, but they won't care unless they can say what they want to say, right? So today I tried to get first years to perform skits using all the grammar that they have learnt so far. To my knowledge, that was basically "Hello, I am XX, nice to meet you", "that/this is X", "is that/this X?", "what's that/this?", "are you X?", "is she/he X?" and the appropriate yes/no responses. So, when I heard "where are you from? I'm from Japan", "what's your name?", "do you like X?" and "is that your favourite food?" being banded around, I was quite excited. Now, these kids HAVE been learning English since elementary school in reality... when they come to Junior High they start all over again (only this time with reading and writing), so it isn't surprising that they know a bit more than I give them credit for. Still, the teacher at the other school would probably say the task was too hard for them.

So, some of the skits were genius. They were using the Sunshine books for language, which is not always the best idea. For example, in Sunshine, Takeshi is showing his new friends (who I'm pretty sure he just met at a party... err!) his house. Upon entering his room, American Andy quips "nice room!"... this led to the following (using some photos of mine as props).
Super cute girl 1: "This is okonomiyaki."
Super cute girl 2: "Nice okonomiyaki!"
Secondly, Sunshine - like most Japanese children - is obsessed with sports. So, we encounter "I'm a baseball fan" and "are you a soccer fan?" before we encounter any knowledge of "liking"... therefore we get great questions like "are you a hamburger fan?". Sadly, the teacher corrected this beautiful question, but the remaining skit has to be my favourite:
Boy 1: Hello, I'm , nice to meet you.
Boy 2: Hello, I'm , nice to meet you too.

Boy 3: Hello, I am hamburger! Do you like hamburger?
Boy 1: Yes, I do!
Boy 3: Yeah!

Boy 2: No, I don't.
Boy 1 and 3: - Oh my God!

Yes, I am currently being paid to stand in the corner of the classroom, giggling at children. Even though I can't be held responsible for teaching them ANY of that language, really, I felt proud. Now I just need to somehow make the other school as much fun...!

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