School Update: Week 2

As usual, things are not going as expected. I was able to hold the attention of my smaller classes of 20 yesterday with a lesson about Bob Marley and Jamaican history, and I even got the students to sing along. I don’t think I can do this the same way in a larger class, but I will give it a shot tomorrow.
Classes are very challenging to plan here. The teachers want me to make “interesting” lesson plans for kids that have a very low proficiency and an even lower level of interest in English. Their idea of fun are “worksheets that the kids can do by themselves” because “they don’t listen and can’t work in groups”. They also have no set curriculum, which is good for creative license but drastically increases my workload, and the teachers have no time or interest to co-plan lessons. I’m going to try some games in the classes in which the kids seem to be paying attention, and I guess try and find a good set of worksheets to pass out when it is impossible to make myself heard. Any suggestions for pre-made materials that I can use?
As for the “worst class”- they seem to be a pretty cool class. Sure, the kids may not like English at all, but I seem to have connected with them pretty well. The “worst kids” are the ones who say hello and even kind of pay attention. It is going to be challenging to hold their interest, but at least I have the momentum to start with. Make no mistake- many of the kids in this class are reading comics or magazines, checking their mobile phones, drawing, sleeping, and talking, but they are relatively good kids. If I could have taught them from shogakko, I think these same kids would have turned out a lot different, as to their negative views toward English.
I think I found a way to make the time pass by more quickly. Every time I give the class a worksheet to fill out, I’m going to be playing music. Maybe I’ll take five minutes each class to introduce an artist that they’ve never heard before, and teach them the genre, country, or any other interesting materials. If nothing else, the music will make the time go by more quickly.
So that’s it. There will be no team teaching here, just my one man show. Hopefully I can step up to the challenge. At the end of the year, if the students show an interest in foreign cultures and people, and if they develop a wider interest in music because of what I play in class I will be content.

Let Sleeping Students Lie

It looks like I’m going to have to adjust my teaching style to a lower level. Most of the kids are at a lower level than the elementary school students I taught, so that means that some of the activities that I already have made up are too advanced. That being said, the kids are not all psychotic as I had feared.
I got some advice from the cool jaded Japanese teacher today. She said that if I see students sleeping in class, just let them sleep. If they’re reading manga, let them read manga. If that’s the way that the teachers at my high school (who don’t have huge burning ulcers) run their classes, then that’s the way I will teach as well.
Maybe I’ll just call it English class, but turn it into something different. With this group I think the emphasis on the lessons should be on cultural matters, and follow what the students are interested in, with English playing a secondary role.
Just out of curiosity, I asked that cool teacher “Why should I let the students sleep?”. She said “They will start being rude, cause interuptions, and may become violent!”. Kids these days need their sleep anyways. Hell, maybe I’ll designate 30 minutes of each class for “Special English Nap/Study Time” and join in the fun.

A New School: Prologue

Here are a few gems, picked out from a meeting with the English teachers at the high school where I will be teaching. Ah, where to start… How about:
“The kids here don’t like English so much. They have a hard time paying attention in all of their subjects”
“I didn’t want to be an English teacher. It just sort of happened”
“We have problems with violent students at this school”
“You should be gentle with the students”
“The last TNET (Temporary Native English Teacher, basically the same as a JET ALT, except with generally more experience and less pay) was very strict, but we think she was a good teacher. We want you to be different. Last year, she started to cry in the middle of a lesson, and had to leave the classroom”
“The kids here have ended up in this school, not because they are interested in agriculture or gardening, but because they have nowhere else to go”
“The food at the school cafeteria is horrible. We never eat it. Don’t forget to bring a bento on Monday!
“There are many bad students at this school. Try to look at the faces of the students to find the good kids.”
I feel as if I am about to embark on a perilous adventure like a character in the movie “Battle Royale”, but I’m not worried. I’ll do my best, but I know that it’s going to be a challenge to reach through to these kids. Of course it would make me really happy if I could teach like the teachers in “Stand and Deliver”, “Dangerous Minds”, or “Renaissance Man”. I’m going to set my goals low to match my expectations, starting with “I will not let the students make me cry and then run out of class”. The hurdles are all lined up in front of me, and now it’s time to run full speed ahead. To be continued…

Fresh Art

Taro and Megumi took me out to Digmeout Cafe in Osaka, where they were, up until yesterday, exhibiting up and coming artists in Japan. Its a pretty cool place to check out anyways, and the food they serve looks really cool. If you can get your hands on a copy, I highly recommend their books. Perhaps the GR store on Sawtelle stocks them. You can check out the artists and their works here.