A while ago I had an opportunity to film the interior of one of my schools. Enjoy!
I have been rather reluctant to update this blog because I haven’t really gone on any big adventures. I did go traveling with a friend over Christmas break, and a blog post about that adventure is forthcoming. In the meantime, I found a bunch of pictures on my phone, so here’s some of those!
I follow quite a few Japan-related blogs and Youtube channels about foreigners living in Japan or teaching English in Japan, and yet I’ve never really seen a proper discussion about this subject, which, if you’re an ALT for long enough, you will eventually encounter. That is jugyou sankan, 授業参観or class visitation.
Jugyou sankan is like a rite of passage for Japanese schools. It’s a day when the parents are invited to come to the school and watch the classes. They stand in the back of the classroom and support their child (although a lot of teachers also are under the impression that the parents are judging the teacher rather than the child, which I agree with). Today I went to one of my visit schools and we happened to have jugyou sankan today.
This school gave me a schedule at the beginning of the semester showing which days I would be going to that school, which classes I would be teaching, and special events that were taking place on that day, so I already knew that today would be jugyou sankan. At first, I was mistaken in that I thought it was an all-day event, and I got rather excited that there might be parents watching my class. At this specific school, the sixth graders are doing skits of the classic story A Christmas Carol and the fifth graders are learning how to talk about school schedules (like describing their school schedule, learning the names of subjects, etc. This culminates in a final project of creating an “Ideal School Schedule” where the kids get to design their own schedule for school.) I’m very proud of the materials I’ve made for this lesson. I have 8.5 x 11″ laminated pictures that I downloaded off of Google to represent each subject. For example, this is the one I use for English:
And this is the one I used for Japanese:
Can you guess what these other subjects are?
I also created very eye-catching A4-sized cards for the days of the week:
The pictures included with the text are representations of the native Japanese writing. For example, Monday is 月曜日 in Japanese. 月 is the character for “moon.” Since they can’t read very well, they can’t tell what day it is just by reading the text, so I have to include visual clues, as well. When they construct sentences, I can move the cards around to change the order of things on the board, so I was very excited for the parents to see the materials I was making for class and to see that I had a very different way of doing things than my predecessor did.
But, as it turns out, jugyou sankan was only during fifth period, and I didn’t have fifth period class today to teach. Since the sixth graders were essentially presenting their skit, I asked the teacher if we could move class to fifth period so the parents could watch, but he declined, saying that the kids probably would feel very self-conscious of speaking English while their parents were watching. This took a while for me to accept–back when I was in school, that was a thing. I loved having my mom come to school and watch school plays or performances, because it showed that she was really proud of me and she was taking an interest in what I liked. But here in Japan, they seem to take performances really seriously. Every year all Japanese schools have an event called a happyoukai, which is essentially a talent show where each grade creates a skit or performance of some sort and the parents come to watch, and they take it so seriously. So even though this was just a casual little skit for English class to have fun and take a break from textbook learning, they still seemed to take it way too seriously in that they didn’t want their parents to watch since they didn’t feel like it was “perfect.”
I had kind of a rough morning today because I made several kids cry. During my first class of the day, a sixth grade class, one kid started crying because his team was losing the game that we were playing. And then during the next period, I had a fifth grade class and two separate kids cried on two separate occasions, and while no one cried during my fourth period sixth grade class, I still was really shaken up by the time lunch came around. And while I felt a little better after lunch because I ate lunch with the first graders and they were sooooooo adorable, I still didn’t feel like I was doing a good enough job. Essentially, the school pays for me to be there every day–they pay the Board of Education in order to “rent” me for the day, and then the Board of Education uses that money to pay my salary. So I always feel kind of bad about myself if my classes aren’t successful, like the school is wasting its money on a clueless foreigner who has no idea what she’s doing and who can’t even do the basic duties of her job. And while several other ALTs have all told me on various occasions that if a kid starts crying during class, it’s not necessarily my fault, I’m still trying to find the right balance between “my classes are too easy” and “I’m pushing them too hard and they’ll start to hate English,” so if a kid starts crying during class, I’m always on high alert, thinking that what I’m trying to get them to do is too hard and they’re scared of getting something wrong and messing up. Despite the fact that the fifth grade lesson I taught today has been kid-tested by ten other fifth grade classes at various other schools and the other fifth grade class at this school. The game I was using for the class is a really popular one among fifth graders, and the format is simple: the students are all standing at their desks, I ask a question, first person to raise their hand and answer it correctly can “shoot” energy in one of several directions to make other people sit down or stand up. It’s kind of like a real-life version of a mixture of Bingo and Othello. Since these kids all have the same daily schedule as each other, there wouldn’t be enough variety to be able to practice the sentence structure I wanted to use, so instead, I give them a sentence using a subject card and a day of the week card and they have to say the sentence in English: “I study Japanese on Monday.” Then they have to provide the meaning in Japanese.
Anyway, enough ranting about Japanese schoolkids being bloody perfectionists. During fifth period, I decided to go walk around and show my face a bit to the parents. When I don’t have actual classes to teach, I can sit in the staff room and just hang out, but I’m not required to stay in the staff room all the time if I don’t want to, and since it was a day for the parents to come and visit, I thought I should show my face a bit so they could see that I don’t just come there to teach English but I’m actually interested in the students’ lives outside of English class and I want to be a part of the school community. Although this is one of my farthest schools that takes 25 minutes to get to by car, which basically means that I don’t get to school until about ten minutes into first period, and the taxi that comes to get me to take me back home comes so early that I can never have a sixth period class, either.
So I popped out of the staff room during fifth period and went for a walk. I then happened upon the Special Ed class at that school, comprised of six boys, including one sixth-grader I recognized from my English classes. In order to protect his privacy, I’ll refer to him simply as “R-kun.” I hadn’t realized that R-kun was a mainstream Special Ed student like I had been way back in the day. He’s always incredibly excited to see me and he waves to me whenever he sees me in the hallways or whenever I go into the classroom for English class. I knew that having the English teacher watch the class would be a distraction for the kids, so I stayed by the door, ready to leave at the first sign of “These kids can’t concentrate on their studies while I’m here.” But they were already plenty distracted by their parents being there, so me being there didn’t make one lick of a difference in that regard.
Today’s class was about how to make phone calls and use the telephone. The teacher had prepared two play telephones that actually connected to each other and could transmit sounds so you could use them as you would a real telephone. And she also got the mothers (and me) involved in the lesson, as well. The first activity was “how to call someone else’s house and the person you’re trying to reach is at home but isn’t the one who answers the phone.” So she had one student “make” the phone call and then the mothers answered. The student making the call had to practice saying things (in Japanese) like “My name is _____. I’m calling for ______. Can I please speak to him?” One of the boys’ parents wasn’t there during this activity, so I wound up being his substitute “mom.”
Then the next activity was “how to receive a phone call.” They all took turns making phone calls to each other and practicing proper phone etiquette. And then they practiced “how to receive a phone call asking for your parents, who aren’t at home.” The kids had a blast using the fake phones for the activity, and it was a really fun interactive lesson. I wound up getting into “teacher mode” when it wasn’t my turn to actually pretend to use the phone. The teacher had posted sample dialogues along one wall so the students could read along with the lines if they weren’t sure what to say, so I stood next to the posters she’d made of these dialogues and pointed at each line with my finger so the students could follow along more easily.
Then at the very end of class, she had a short quiz for them, like “What do you say when you bump into someone by accident?” and “What do you say within three seconds of receiving a present?” It was a really interesting experience getting to observe a Special Ed class, because usually I don’t get to teach the Special Ed classes.
After the class, the teacher actually thanked me for helping out during class–she’s the only teacher for the class, and she doesn’t have any aides or anything. In America, Special Ed teachers usually get at least a few aides–teacher’s helpers who have various certifications who help during class and who also accompany the students to their mainstream classes to offer support, but there’s no such thing here in Japan. In fact, most of the time, Special Ed teachers here in Japan don’t even need to have a certification to teach special ed. They’re usually just regular teachers who are assigned to be in charge of the special ed class.
After the class, R-kun gave me an origami wheel that he had made himself. It was such a sweet gesture, and I was really touched. I can’t keep it at the desk I use at that specific visit school, simply because the desk I use isn’t really mine. Since I go to this school rather infrequently, when I’m not there, it’s used by two other staff members, so I can’t keep very many personal items at that desk. But I keep it at the desk at my base school. It’s a really nice little decoration and it makes me smile to look at it. On Monday when I go back to my base school, I’ll take a picture of it at my desk and put it into this post.
The month of August has been a complete write-off. So I’m just going to stick a bunch of photos and stuff on here and talk about the month of August as a whole.
From August first to August third, I stayed in Tokyo at the Keio Plaza hotel for orientation. Some of the workshops were informative, some were repetitive, and some were just plain boring. We had to wear business formal the entire time, so that was fun.
There was a pool at the hotel but we weren’t allowed to use it because someone a few years ago had sex in the pool and now the hotel doesn’t want JETs using the pool anymore. Suffice to say, that was my very first rude awakening to Japanese racism.
On August third, we woke up early and took a bus to Koriyama city, where we met representatives from our individual cities and got taken to our placements. The following pictures are various shots I took during the drive from Koriyama to Iwaki.
We finally arrived at the Iwaki-shi Bunka Center, where there was a branch of the Board of Education and where Steph, one of the new JETs, was going to work.
Then we arrived at our placements. Turns out that I am to live in a second-floor apartment owned by the Board of Education, in a neighborhood called Kashima, although it is more commonly known as Chuodai. The apartment has two Japanese-style bedrooms, a combined dining room and kitchen, and a bathroom unit with a shower, toilet, and washing machine. It also comes fully furnished, including a bed, a fridge, a set of futons, some shelves and things, a coat rack, and an assortment of dishware. Unfortunately, my apartment didn’t have any towels, and it was hot and humid the day we arrived, so I couldn’t take a shower. And I met my downstairs neighbor in the most awkward way possible: by having him come into my apartment (I hadn’t locked my door) and scold me for “walking too loudly.” I was in a rush to get ready to meet Felicity, one of the veteran JETs, who was going to take us out to dinner and then show us the grocery store and help us shop, so I thought that perhaps I had been making a lot of noise. I do that sometimes. It wasn’t until we got to the restaurant and I met my predecessor in-person (the girl who lived in my apartment before me and who used to work at my schools) that I was able to relax a bit. According to my predecessor, the downstairs neighbor is kind of a jerk. He liked to blame her for being too noisy even when she hadn’t even done anything. And I learned this for myself a few weeks later; I was sitting in my apartment using my computer and watching a movie at a very reasonable volume, and he came up to my apartment and rang my doorbell, ostensibly to scold me for “making too much noise.” I decided not to answer the door, because this time I for sure hadn’t done anything wrong.
Garuda, the mascot of “Baby Face Planets,” the restaurant Felicity took us to the first night.
We went shopping later that night and I finally got some towels. The closest supermarket to my apartment is called Donkihote, which is actually a huge superstore with groceries and household goods and all sorts of different things. Think Wal-mart or Target, but with better prices and higher-quality stuff, not to mention better customer service and cleaner.
For the first few weeks in Iwaki, we spent our time learning how to use the bus (which was a very interesting experience–when you take a bus in Japan, the fare is calculated based on how far you go, which is very different from American buses where you pay a flat fee no matter how long you’ll ride.) We also spent our time going to the downtown education center receiving seminars from veteran JETs and various instructional activities. But the highlight of August was definitely our beach trip to Nakoso.
Various shenanigans at the beach
Look forward to more entries from me, including a tour of my apartment and posts talking about what it’s like working at elementary school in Japan.乙女
I’ve arrived in Tokyo!
With only a few days before departure, I’ve started thinking about what kinds of things I need to do before departure, including packing my stuff.
More videos to come!
Today we received our placement information for the JET program.
Earlier this morning, our JET program coordinator posted on the Facebook group that we should all have our placements at the latest by 1 PM. At 1 PM, an e-mail arrived in my inbox.
For the next year or so of my life, I will be living in Iwaki-shi, Fukushima prefecture. Here’s a handy map provided by Google Maps.:)
Fukushima was actually my first choice of prefectures when I applied, which sounds crazy – after all, isn’t the area dangerous because of all the radiation contamination from the Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant?
Not exactly. Iwaki City is just outside of the danger zone. If you look at the map above, you’ll notice a town called Hirono directly north of Iwaki. Hirono marks the southernmost point of the 30km “no entry” zone around the power plant.
Frankly, I am thrilled to death about this. Two years ago, I visited Fukushima prefecture, including Iwaki, to investigate the aftereffects of the Great East Japan Earthquake. While there, I met some wonderful people, including my host family – they live up the coast a bit in Minamisoma – and I fell in love with the area. And then, the year after that, I was an R.A. for the Tomodachi Softbank program, an initiative to bring Japanese high school students from the Tohoku region to America for cultural exchange activities, and it will also be nice to go back there and see all my students again, since it’s been a while since I’ve seen them and I miss them all so much. And also the peaches.
Fukushima is famous for its peaches, and you can bet I ate some while I was there. But after I came home, all other peaches felt sub-par. They weren’t as juicy, they weren’t as sweet, and they definitely did not satisfy in the way Fukushima peaches did.
I still don’t know what grade levels I’ll be teaching. Later on, I’ll be receiving an e-mail from the Iwaki Board of Education with the schools I’ll be working at, contact information for my supervisor and my predecessor (so that I can ask them questions if I need to), etc. And now there’s so much to do – now I have to turn in my visa application, my insurance paperwork, my IRS form 8802 to request my verification of US residency (for tax purposes), take another passport photo for my visa application (I’ve had to take something like four photos already), etc. And I’m still waiting on my FBI background check that I submitted a month ago, although the JET program also announced that the deadline for those has been extended.
Now it’s just a matter of submitting the right forms at the right time and then waiting.
Today’s question is: If you were to spend a year living in Japan, where would you want to be sent and why? Comment below.:)
That’s all for today. See you next time! 乙女