Monday, September 14, 2015

The Plan

              I don’t think it will come a shock to any of you when I say I recently graduated college. After all. I’m pretty sure I announced it. Didn’t I? Well. If not. Here is the official announcement.

Oh yeah. This is my AWESOME graduation photo. Robert, you know, the Dear World photographer, was a speaker at my graduation and also did a photo session there. I was soooooooo lucky to be able to meet him and have my photo taken by him.
Go find the place that's good for you.
              Okay. Now you can’t say I didn’t tell you.
              Coming back to Japan I had a couple of goals and this year I plan to knock quite a few of them out. Or, to try anyways. Listed in no particular order…

Goal number one:
Attain a driver’s license. While I miss my baby and being able to drive in general, I don’t particularly want to buy a car. I’m told there are quite a few costs associated with that. Rather, I want to have the OPTION of driving. If I need to go somewhere, or travel to somewhere, I’d like to be able to easily rent a car. Yes, I have an international driver’s permit, however, it expires in August. The number one reason I want one though? The street cred. When people ask for my identification I want to hand them a shiny driver’s license instead of my foreigner card. 

Goal number two:
              JLPT N2. It’s now been one year since I passed the N3 examination. It has also been approximately 6 months since graduation. I took time off from studying because, let’s face it, I’ve never had a REAL break from it. (Summer vacation doesn’t count). Not to mention, I had no summer vacation this past two years thanks to study abroad. Not that I regret it, but I missed out man! All that free time… just gone. *sigh*

             Back to the point. I have finally picked up my books so I can start studying. I’m most worried about two areas. Number one is kanji. Okay. So not EXTREMELY concerned about this one, but I have noticed that I’ve forgotten quiiiite a bit of kanji I should know. So I need to start hitting the books on those again. While I only basically need to know them when I see them for the test, I simply CANNOT remember kanji unless I’ve written it ten thousand times. Yep. I’m one of those. Flash cards and writing them out over and over and over and over and over until I’m dreaming about them again. I’m going to get carpal tunnel thanks to kanji someday.
              Number two is the most concerning. Reading comprehension. Listening I have very few problems with. Vocabulary and grammar come with practice and time. But reading comprehension leaves me totally lost and confused. In fact, I think I only passed this section by the skin of my teeth on the N3. So I need to start ramping it up. I’m not sure how to go about this yet. I am thinking about trying to pick up a middle school level book from my school library or public one (is there even one in my town???) and see how I fare. Fingers crossed.

Goal number three:
              TESOL. Ah TESOL. Just the thought of you makes me wish I’d majored in education or at least taken a few more classes in it. As I want to be a long term English teacher in Japan, the TESOL is the first step along my path. I’ve been told over and over again that no amount of accreditation is going to make people see me as a “real” teacher over here. And while TESOL isn’t exactly a teaching degree, it’s a start. It can help get my foot in the door at other jobs once my time on JET is over.

              Once I’ve attained this I’d eventually like to take education courses to become a full-fledged licensed teacher, but for the time being it’s looking a little difficult. For one, I would need to live close enough to a university to take the courses as no reputable program I know of will allow me to earn my certification online. I also am unsure as to whether I want to try and attain a Japanese license or an American license. If I ever plan on returning to the states, the American license is clearly going to be the better investment in the long run. On the other hand, if I do stay in Japan long term, the Japanese one would be better to go for, if not exceedingly difficult due to my level of Japanese ability.

              So there you have it. The plan. At least as far as certifications go. I’m currently debating taking the N2 in the summer and, if I get the grant, I will be completing my TEFL around next December or January. As for the license, I’d love to get it before August, but it’s the least pressing of my concerns.

              As always, if you have any pressing questions or topics you’d like to hear about, please let me know. I’d love for my blog to be more interactive and would love to talk about the things all of YOU want to hear about!

Until next time!

Monday, August 31, 2015

Home is where the heart is

Home is where the heart is.

It's a phrase we've all probably heard hundreds of times and shrugged off with a "yeah, yeah, I get it already." I think for those of us who have never really moved away from home, it is a phrase that still has the same answer as it did growing up.

Home is where the heart is? Oh, that's my house or the town where I grew up. At least, that's what I always thought. I always thought home was the place where I grew up. The place where I still got angry about that spot where I had a bicycle accident, about the place where I ate one a few too many birthday cakes. It was the place where I went to school, had my first car, but most importantly, it was the place where my family lived. Home was where mom and dad were and I didn't have to worry because I had my family there.

Moving away last year really started to kick into gear a shift. Where was home? I still longed for what I thought was home. I still longed for my bed in my parent's house (despite having been more or less out of their house during college), I wanted mom's food and to hear the noisiness of 5 other people as I tried to cuddle into a quiet corner and read a book.

When I moved back to the states last January and once more took up residence in my parent's house, I found myself ecstatic to be surrounded by all those things I had been longing for. Mom's food (which will never get old), my family, the noise, the energy, the place that was home. Or, was it?

You see, I had moved back home once before after a brief stint up at an art university in Portland that was way out of my price range. I had, to an extent, felt then that something just wasn't quite the same, but I didn't really understand it. Last January though, it didn't take long to come to terms with what was wrong. I didn't fit anymore. There wasn't really a place there for me. Not because they said so, but because I felt out of place.

I had grown, as a person. I had changed and the life that came with living there wasn't suited to me anymore. Being home just wasn't the same. I didn't know where the mixer was. Someone always had their music up too loud. Chores? Don't even get me started on that. More than that though, how I saw home wasn't the same. Let's just say in all my reminiscing I had used a pretty thick set of rose colored glasses. What I thought of as home wasn't the same. I didn't KNOW what home was anymore. It wasn't what I thought, what I remembered.

This wasn't home. I was lost. I didn't know what to do. I wasn't home.

In coming abroad and living in Japan, I had experienced so much. I had laughed, I had cried (like, a lot), I had pushed my limits and I had changed as a person. But, when I packed up to go home, I had forgotten something very important. My heart.

The reason home didn't feel like home anymore is because my heart wasn't there. Being there, in Oregon, in my hometown was boring, uninteresting. I was unhappy. Everything was both exactly the same and yet different in just such a way that I was out of place. It was like I was just a fraction of a second out of time with everyone and everything. It wasn't the place I longed for. It wasn't home.

As much as I want to explain this concept, home is where the heart is, it is difficult. As I see it now, home is not the place where you grew up (okay, maybe for some people it is), but it is the place that makes you happy. It is where, even on the worst days imaginable you can come home at the end of the day and know tomorrow will be okay. It is where you are happy, where you feel like you belong.

For some people that might be where you grew up, and that's fine, for other people it is being with a certain person or group of people, but for me, it is a place. Not so specific as to a single town (though I have my preference), but a whole country. I feel like as long as I am in Japan, that I will be okay. That I can succeed and that in the end, this is the best place for me because I am content every day of my life here.

Yes, there are homesick days, and sick days and days you just want to cry for no reason (or because they don't sell Butterfingers at the supermarket), but the good days and the good things outweigh the bad immensely. I have found, the longer I'm here, the less I miss back home. When I do miss something, it's usually being able to spend time with a person (or pizza, or Butterfingers, but we'll get to that later).

It's not that I dislike Oregon, I LOVE Oregon, but my heart has found a new home wedged here between the gazillion hidden shrines, the culture, the food and the people. I simply can't imagine moving back to Oregon or the U.S. That would mean giving up who I am and becoming only half of a person again. I love my family. I miss them a lot. But, they support me because this is where I am whole. Where I am one hundred percent my best and they want me to succeed.

So I'm going to go ahead and wrap up this whole long ramble by telling you that home is so much more than just a place or being with the right person. It is what makes you whole, no matter what life throws your way. Go out and find it.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Study Abroad Norway: Tsuru-Chan's Journey

This time last year, a now graduate of Serenity High School was preparing to go abroad for the first time. Where was she going? To Norway. With Tsuru-chan’s, as we’ll call her, parent’s permission I was able to interview her about her experience  so that I can share her story with all of you.

As a second year student, Tsuru-chan was ready for a change. She had been interested in going abroad since she had entered Serenity High and had often inquired study abroad programs. During the middle of her second year, she attended an informational meeting on studying abroad offered through the board of education and was quickly able to get her parent’s permission to go abroad. As for why she chose Norway as her study abroad destination, Tsuru-chan said “I didn’t want to go to a country that everybody knows,” she also loves nature, so she thought Norway would be a good fit.

Image from E Maps World
“What did you know about Norway before study abroad?” was one of the first questions she answered and, surprisingly, other than knowing it’s general location on the map, her answer was “I didn’t know almost anything.” Nothing about the food, the culture or so on because she had never studied it in Japan. Nevertheless, after passing the English test for the program, she had packed her bags and headed off for the start of a 10 month study abroad program in Norway.

Her third year of high school came and she found herself boarding a 12 hour plane ride befor she was off to finally able to meet her host family. As you know, host families come in many different shapes and sizes, but living in Norway, she had a very unique host family situation. First, there was her host family of 4, her host mother, father and two brothers, one of whom lived separately. Interestingly, both her host brother and father are current university students. Also in her home was 4 Ethiopian people, 5 Swedish people and a Chinese university exchange student. All under one roof that, despite what one might think, Tsuru-chan described as “not so so big.” Talk about an interesting homestay experience. However, She spent most of the time with her immediate host family and other than meals.

“I don’t like to live with so many people, so (at) first I was like noooooo, but finally (I got used to it),” she said. During the course of her stay, however, she became the closest to her host mother. She recounted that, despite being close with her host father, it was embarrassing for her to try to speak the Norwegian language and, in particular, he would speak English very quickly, making communication difficult. On the other hand, “my host mother would often talk to me and teach me many things,” she said, also mentioning that her host mother would speak at an easier to understand pace.
Ignoring the 4 Ethiopians, 5 Swedish people and the Chinese exchange student, I inquired about what  was different about living with her host family. “I spent a lot of time in my room,” she started, “There was nobody around my age, in their teens, so there wasn’t much to talk about with anyone.”  As to things that surprised her, “(We ate) dinner around 4 pm. It’s normal (there).” When asked why, she guessed it was because “Everyone goes home early there.” Their bedtimes, however, don’t differ much from the rest of the world despite that.  

Image from
There was a lot she enjoyed in Norway, however. Her favorite foods were brown cheese, especially on bread and Norwegian salmon. However, there wasn’t any food she disliked. “I liked everything because they used more spices than (in) Japan.” Her favorite thing about living in Norway was the amount of nature there. “There were mountains you could actually hike,” she said, “Japanese mountains have so many trees, but (in Norway) you could go for walks and climb them on a path or even without a path.” Her other favorite things to do were making bread and jams at home. At breakfast, “we put jam on the brown cheese. It’s very normal,” she explained.

The biggest shock that came with living in Norway? “I don’t think it’s just Norway, but foreign countries. (In Norway,) we used the same towel for a week at a time. I was like, ‘What? Nooo! I don’t want to use the same towel.’” Other things that surprised her were all of the shops being closed on Sundays or the fact that, on weekdays, many people didn’t go shopping or go out, but instead went for walks or other things like that.

The official Japanese opinion on reusing towels.
Even at school she found herself running into unforeseen cultural differences. Unlike Japan, where the two genders tend to stay very separate and rarely interact, she found that gender wasn’t as important abroad. People had friends of both genders and boys and girls would hold hands without a fuss being raised. Beyond that, her school, and many in her area, lacked clubs; unthinkable in Japan. Another unthinkable event was, among first year students, there was a lottery every year to see which 7 students would take the final exam at the end of the year. How everyone was graded though, still remained a mystery to her.

While class periods in Norway were twice the length of Japanese classes at an 1 hour, 30 minutes, she talked about how relaxed the atmosphere was at school. Every student had a laptop and many of them would use Facebook or play games during class. While some teachers frowned upon this, she said many didn’t try to prevent students from accessing such sites. Students, she said, would often put their feet on the desks. If they wanted their teacher’s attention, they’d snap their fingers as if to say “Hey, hey! Teacher! I have a question!” she remarked. Students even ate snacks and drank in class or would suddenly leave to take phone calls.

Living in another country, comes with the eventual feelings of homesickness and the longing for things back home. Almost before the question of what she missed the most about Japan was out of my mouth, she answered that thing  she missed most about Japan was “the food.” She said that she made Japanese food from time to time, but that it wasn’t “real” Japanese food because she couldn’t always find the right ingredients. “We can buy sushi in Norway,” she recalled, “but it’s not good.” She also missed her friends and family. She also lamented the lack of entertainment venues such as Disney land, theme parks, and karaoke. Instead, “…people enjoyed nature,” she stated.

Her closest friends in Norway were her fellow exchange students. These students ranged from being Spanish to Serbian, Hungarian and even Filipino. They were more energetic than her Japanese friends, she said. Their English pronunciation was different than what she was used to, so she spent a lot of time listening, she said. But overall, she loved her time with them. She also mentioned how they made her stronger. In her speech at Serenity High School, that even when she felt homesick, and wanted to go home, she would look at them and renew her resolve to continue her study abroad program. When asked if she wants to make more English speaking friends in the future, she said, “Maybe I’ll study more English first. Then I’ll try to make more friends.”

Tsuru-chan returned to Japan in early July, finishing off her 10 month program and graduating in a special ceremony nearly 3 months after her Japanese classmates. But her experience is not at an end. While happy to be home, found she picked up the habit of sighing and clicking her tongue from her Spanish friend. “My mother often tells me to knock it off.” She said. “This is Japan. That’s not okay here.” Is a comment she hears a lot lately and her friends are often surprised or irritated when she habitually sighs or clicks her tongue on the phone. 

Image from Travelling Vanilla Bean
 She has also found herself encountering reverse culture shock. “There’s no cool people here.” She said. She also mentioned the trouble readjusting to the fashion sense. In Norway, much like America or other western countries, you can wear what you want and showing skin is not an issue. But in a modest country, things like showing your shoulders or too much skin are huge no-no’s for people of any age. She described Japan’s currently popular fashion as, mendokusai, due to its strict limitations and  most everyone adhering to the same fashion sense.

Image from This Blog
Finally, she has found that people are simply busier than in Norway. For example, “My mother leaves home for work at 6 a.m. every day.” Another example, “In Norway I wrote a diary. But now, I don’t have time.” She said. Being home isn’t all bad though. She can eat the food she missed and see her friends and family. Also, “I can do the things I want to do by myself,” she said; something she had missed feeling like she was capable of in Norway.

As for what she would tell other students who are thinking about studying abroad, she said, “I wasn’t very energetic when it came to school, I wasn’t a serious student. I didn’t want to present in front of my classmates. However, I decided to try to study abroad. And I’m glad I did.”

“Don’t be afraid! Even if you’re wrong, it’s ok. You’re going to be embarrassed at first. Exchange students will make mistakes and even if you do make mistakes, it’s ok. Don’t think ‘it’s embarrassing’ and not say anything. Don’t be embarrassed.  Try.”

Image by ME!!! On Being An Extra

Thursday, July 9, 2015

What am I supposed to be doing? (ALT series - Part 1)

So, this is part one of that three part series I told you all I was going to do. Surprise, surprise! It’s taken me a while. Just a heads up, it will be out of order and Part three might trail considerably behind the other two as I’m still trying to collect information.

That said, if you or anyone you know is a Japanese teacher of English within Japan, please fill out/have them fill out my survey (found at the link below!) and send it back to me!

Please click here to access the survey!

This part of the series is from my point of view. This is not canon, nor information from your Board of Education. Though some of it may or may not overlap with the things you are told at orientation.

Your first days

So you’ve arrived, for better or worse in Japan. You’ve undergone, or are about to, Tokyo orientation followed by your prefectural orientation. This are very much hand held and scheduled. You’re told what to do, where to go and how to dress. My advice, listen to the dress code. If they tell you to where your business suit jacket (even though it’s 5 billion degrees), do it. Many people ignored the business formal dress code and all of us were treated to a lecture during our first days of orientation. Don’t make our mistakes.

After arriving at your board of education and, presumably, filling out those fabled contracts you’ve been wondering about, you’ll be taken to a welcome ceremony where each shiny new ALT will give a very brief self-introduction in Japanese. Want to practice before your bus, train or flight to your BOE? Here you go. Practice to your hearts content. Just remember. The “u” on the desu is silent generally.
こんにちは。(Konnichiwa.)                                                       - Hello.
私の名前は_です。(Watashi no namae wa __ desu.)              - My name is ______.
__から来ました。(___ kara kimashita.)                                - I’m from ______.
よろしくお願いします。(Yoroshiku onegai shimasu.)           - It’s nice to meet you./Please be kind to me.
(Country Cheats – America = America    England = Igirisu     Australia = Osutoraria)

During said ceremony your designated JTE (as you probably have more than one!) will stand up or wave or somehow let you know which one they are. At least that’s how it worked in Shizuoka. I was so nervous blundering through my “イローラと申します” (ß More polite way of saying my name is…) that I didn’t spot my JTE. Also nearly fell over my chair standing up. >.> Either way, at the end of the ceremony you’ll be whisked away by your JTE to you new home. If you’re close enough, like I was, they might take you straight to your school to meet your vice principal. So, word to the wise, keep your omiyage on hand and not buried in the bottom of a suitcase. Just in case.

Oh. The best part? As soon as you get home, this is where they inform you that they’ll see you bright and early the next morning for work. In my case and the case of a few others I know, we thought we’d be given at least a couple days to settle in, but nope. Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope. 8 am the next morning I was ready to start work.

The first weeks at work

Unless you’re really lucky, your first day of work will go something like this. You’ll arrive in your best work clothes (Even though it will be “Cool Biz” season, better safe than sorry! You can always dress down later!) and somebody will show you to your seat. At which point, the one, perhaps two familiar faces will probably disappear off into an unknown land never to be seen again so they can take care of their things. Which leaves you sitting. At a desk. In a completely bizarre room wondering to yourself, “what did I get into???” while the staff room, or preparation room depending on your school, remains largely empty.

Why? Oh. Right. Summer vacation.

Many teachers, including those fabled JTEs you’ve heard about, will be on vacation. Mine were all gone for the better part of August and only returned just prior to classes beginning.
Which leaves you with a whole lot of nothing to do. Now, in my case, if you’re a frequent reader you might recall, I sat and did absolutely nothing. Waiting, waiting, waiting, for someone to tell me what to do. And of course, no one ever did. I spent the better part of two days sitting at my desk at attention, waiting for direction that would never come. So. Don’t be me. Hop right to it. Here’s my list of things to do, in no particular order, during your first few days.

  •  Organize your desk – You have NO IDEA what’s in it or where anything is. Poke through it. They’re your things. Find out. Organize it. Don’t be afraid to throw things away. 
  •  Find your predecessor (and your predecessor’s predecessor's predecessor’s and so on’s) files. Now, if your predecessor was a god, these lessons might also come with lesson plans. If you’re my successor a few years down the road (sorry in advance!) You’ll find yourself with a pile of papers or a USB drive full of old lessons and maybe, maybe a calendar outlining what order and when they were used.
  • Get to know your Language Lab (LL Room) if you have one that will be used. Re-organize it and make it your own! I use mine religiously because I tend to run my classes in a very “western style” according to my JTEs. This can get noisy at times. I also feel that using the LL Room breaks the students off from their normal day and into an “English Environment.” As such, my LL Room is always seasonally decorated with English phrases, posters and other useful or fun things posted around the room. That’s the one advantage that those of us who have a dedicated Language Lab have is that we can use posters and be more fun and creative and decorate things that people who use regular classrooms don’t really get.

  • Ask about the textbooks. Your JTEs might not know what classes you’ll be teaching, “what the schedule is”, etc. just yet. But, you can ask what are the 1st, 2nd, 3rd year textbooks? Make a memo of what they have already studied. Chances are your JTEs haven’t made the lesson plans for the Fall term and have no idea what they will cover yet, but knowing what they have already covered can give you a leg up as well as an idea of your students level.
  • Ask for a school calendar. And ask again, and again and again until it’s finally available. Once you have it you can highlight any days with the kanji “”, or ceremony, in it. These days will be business formal days for the most part, so take note. You can also ask your JTEs to point out days with no classes or known schedule changes so that you can be prepared. (This is especially important for me as my students must always have the EXACT same lessons as there is always a TT materials test.)
  • Ask about your JTEs expectations. I’m strange. I made a survey so that, when they came back and had time, they could get back to me. What classes do they teach? Some will focus on certain grades while others are across the board. What are their expectations for you in class? Who will be the “head” teacher in class? Who will be the support role? Knowing your role early will help you to better prepare for classes.
  • Most importantly, ask who, in general, is in charge of lesson planning. Now, if you have multiple schools or if you will tend to be more of a support teacher in class, you might never have to worry about this. If you have only one school, like me, you might take on more of a leading role in your classrooms and thus wind up being in charge of the team teaching lesson planning. Which has advantages and disadvantages.
  • Prepare an introduction lesson. Your first lesson will more likely than not be a self-introduction lesson. Make a power point. Don’t know how to use power point? Well, you have ample time at the moment. Why not learn a new helpful skill? As you’re coming in mid-year, I don’t recommend getting to know you games at this stage as your students will already know each other fairly well. Depending on your school and JTEs, your introduction might be 15 minutes or it might be a whole 50 minute class period. Check in with your JTEs about this.
  • Decide if you’ll have a hanko system. If yes, how will you keep track of points? (My students have charts on the inside of their name tags.) What will be the prizes? How can students earn them? Etc. I have two systems actually. One is for personal hanko and the other is a “class race”. My school has no rules against it, so for the personal hanko prizes I give out Dum Dums. I go through about 200-400 dum dums per term as I teach 400 students. Bags of these run only about… 2,500 yen for 300 suckers on YoYo Market. For the class races, I try to stick to things that cost less money. Large amounts of hanko points, choosing the “Let’s Watch Lunch” movie, needing to write less words to get a passing grade on their final essay, I join their class for bunkasai and things like that.
  • Make decorations. I know, I know. Waste of time much? But if you have a dedicated room or if you have or are planning to start an English board, getting a jump on the seasonal bits and pieces while you have time will save you stress when you’re grading 400 notebooks and have 5 lessons to plan later on.
  • Probably among the most important, get to know your school! Where are the bathrooms? Where is the cafeteria (where they bread-lady sells delicious lunch time breads… mmm… bread)? Where are the first year classrooms? Where are the womens/mens staff changing rooms? Find that locker, store a spare blazer in there for those emergencies! Getting to know the layout of your school will help you feel more comfortable?
  • Visit the clubs! You’ll probably notice an inordinate number of students running around your school despite the fact that it’s summer vacation. If your JTEs aren’t around and/or you don’t feel confident enough in your Japanese abilities to ask the other teachers about clubs, just wander around. Poke your head in wherever you see students gathering for your clubs. Break the ice and introduce yourself! I find that using Japanese outside the classroom during those first weeks really helps you break the ice and start building a repertoire with the students. So, if you’re ready to try out that Japanese you’ve been studying, go for it! Just, try not to rely on it during class time as it’s frowned upon. (*cough, cough* Looking at you and your bad habits Illaura. >.> *cough, cough*)
  • Study Japanese. Don’t be afraid to break out those text books. Most teachers will think it’s great that you’re studying Japanese.

The real tests

During your first morning meeting where all the teachers will assemble sometime near the end of August, you’ll be expected to give a brief self-introduction. Once again, in Japanese. I was super nervous and ended up spilling out the super basics in the fastest Japanese I’ve ever spoken before sitting down all in a span of less than 30 seconds. Much to the vice-principals surprise. I think they expected something a little bit more. So, take a deep breath and prepare for this as much as possible.

Also, you will probably be expected to give a short self-introduction in front of the entire school. And you thought those college presentations were bad. For this, at least at my school, Japanese or English was okay. I opted for Japanese in an attempt to help the student body feel more at ease with me.  I should note here that Serenity High School is a low-level English school, so getting the students to be willing to open up to me before showering them in English was a high priority.

Around this time, if you’ve been begging your JTE long enough, you’ll have a class schedule and you’ll finally have been given your list of what classes you teach and when. At this point you can calculate how many times the classes will meet during the term (important if you have to give tests!) and you can figure out how many lesson plans you’ll need to come up with during the term.

This is also the time where your JTE will drop the “You need to prepare X number of lessons for next week” bomb. I’m personally not a fan of 自転車商業, or basically constantly working “without ever getting off the bicycle”, so having the calendar in advance allows me to prepare for things in advance and makes that bomb a little less last-minute crazy. That said, stuff happens, always be ready to cancel a class at a whim or to suddenly give the next week’s lesson because of schedule changes. (Always plan a week in advance… always…)

And then, the real, real test. Your first lesson. I can’t stress the nerves. But take a deep breath and remember, high schoolers can smell your fear. 

Just kidding. But, as long as you act like you know what you’re doing, they’ll think you know what you’re doing. Also, acting goofy helps. If your students are cracking a smile or giggling, they’ll probably remember your class better.

Wow, this turned out to be MUCH longer than intended. (Go me!) If you have any questions or anything else you’d like to hear about, please leave a comment! (Not that any of you ever do!! Q.Q ) I hope this was useful and, most importantly, welcome to the JET family.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

What do you expect?

Last week, I was taking a break and talking with my co-worker, let's call her Mary. We were discussing all of you! Well, kind of. I was talking to her about how I really want to get back into writing, but I wanted to write about useful or actually interesting topics. (Most of the time anyways.)

During this discussion I hit upon an idea that has been bugging me for months in one way or another. That idea is, "What do JTEs expect from ALTs?" This question really hits home for new ALTs, especially in their first days, or even weeks. We have absolutely no idea what they expect!

In fact, we have so little clue what people expect us to be doing that I'm willing to bet that many people spent their first day or even week as an ALT much the same as I did. That is to say, sitting rigid at our desk without a clue what we’re supposed to be doing as we go slowly insane watching the hours tick by. This lasted two days for me. The next step was, “Well, I guess this IS my desk. So, I’m going to find out what’s in it.”
Actually knowing what we are supposed to be doing didn’t come until a few weeks in when the teachers finally knew the fall schedule and left us with directions to come up with X number of lesson plans for the first week. Leaving many of us, once again, in the dark as we had no clue what planning a lesson entailed.

For most of the first month to two, these were the biggest questions.
1. What am I supposed to be doing?
2. What do my JTEs expect me to be doing?
3. How do I plan a lesson!?!

Well, I’m not going to be answering these questions now. (Had you fooled, didn’t I?) However, these are the questions I am going to attempt to answer in my following posts. While number 1 will be mostly advice from myself, I am currently attempting to gather data from JTEs around Japan so that I can tell you what the JTEs expect, in their words. This is no small feat and I am requesting the aid of ALTs around Japan at the moment. So, we’ll see how this goes. If nothing else, I’ll be able to give you all the advice from the JTEs at my own school. As for question three, well, there are many people who are much more educated than myself, but I’ll try to give you a few pointers for your first lessons as well as a few resources you can check out.

That’s all for now folks! See you around next time!

Monday, June 1, 2015

I'm aliiivvveee (sort of)

Hello again one and all. I bring you joyous news! I’M ALLIIIIVVVEEEEEEE.

Well. Sort of.

If you all could kindly recall, the day before my birthday (otherwise known as April 13th or “The day that shall not be mentioned”) I dislocated my knee during club activities here at Serenity. I then proceeded to two weeks in seclusion bed rest where I went entirely crazy and thought I’d never see the light again had cabin fever. 

A lot has happened since then and, at the same time, a lot has not. Just two days after bed rest ended, Golden Week began. Some of you might remember this from way back, but Golden Week is roughly a week long string of holidays near the beginning of May in Japan. Sometimes it’s less than a week, sometimes it’s a three day weekend followed by a 4 day weekend, and some, glorious, years it is a full week off. Why so different every year? Well, the dates aren’t fixed for these holidays.

What happens during those extra golden weeks is there’s usually a holiday, followed by a non-holiday, followed by a holiday. Sounds like a nightmare, right? Day on, day off, day on, day off… Japanese law states that any calendar day which has a holiday both leading and following it becomes a holiday in and of itself. Pretty cool, huh? Also, if a holiday falls on a Sunday then Monday becomes a holiday as well. I love Japan sometimes.

Anyways, enough education! Time for the fun stuff! I went to Tokyo!!! (Illaura, how did you go to Tokyo in that cast?) Well, I’ll tell you. Wheelchair fuunnnnnnnnn!! Well, not so much. I rented a wheelchair for my trip up. I was NOT missing out on my game group and, come hell or high water, I was NOT going to miss the Taylor Swift concert. So, with the help of my friend Cheeze (her nickname) and numerous passerby and train station staff, I went to Tokyo where I eventually made it to Tokyo Dome. Cool thing about going into the Tokyo Dome was I got to go in through the VIP entrance (because that’s where the elevator is). Not so cool thing was, due to the lighting setup, they moved the wheelchair area. Meaning I was wheeled up the STEEPEST RAMP EVER onto a box that was a good 3-3.5 feet tall. And then they took the ramp away until the very end.  Otherwise, the concert was a total BLAST and we all had cool lightup bracelets.

Golden Week over I came home, hunkered back down to work and my severely reduced workload (they cut 10 of my 15 teaching hours for now). You’d think this would have made things easier (and it did, IMMENSELY), but I was coming back into the game just two weeks before midterms. Schedules were behind (as happens when you teach) and I had NO IDEA what my students were struggling with, their abilities, etc. So it was one massive catch up game doubled with “You have nothing planned for after the midterm because you hurt yourself like a giant dork.”

So, I’ve been doing this thing called 自転車操業 (Jitensha Sougyou), or, basically, work, work, work, work, constant work. As it was explained to me, 自転車操業 is like your work is a bike that you hop on and never get off, you’re just CONSTANTLY working and trying to play catch up. So yeah. I hate that, and finally, I’ve finished the next 6 weeks or so worth of lesson plans. I’m going to give myself a week as a breather and start planning the fall term. I want to have (for the most part) my lessons charted out and my worksheets made for my conversation classes all the way up through April during this summer so I can get off that work bike and hop on my study bike.

Next comes the part where I’m ALLIIIVVVEEEE AT LAST!!!!

Two weeks I got out of the cast!! Yippeee!!!! But, still couldn’t really walk yet. Or really, anything. Last week I started going to rehabilitation and, by this past weekend, I was starting to walk again. WITH ONLY ONE CRUTCH. Yes. That did need capitals. Life is a lot more pleasant now, but I’ve still got a long road ahead of me. At least I’m not in the wheelchair anymore though! Graduated from it last week.

I even went to a festival last weekend. The (ほらい橋ぼんぼり祭り) Horai Bridge Lantern Festival in Shimada, Shizuoka. I was mostly just excited to be outside on a Saturday though. Outside AND not doing work stuff. Yippeee!! I even put up some of my pictures on my other blog ( On Being An Extra ).
So yes, I am alive. Sort of. For the time being. I’m sure to die again soon enough though as I’m planning on taking both a Japanese course (to review before I study for the N2) and a TEFL certification course beginning this fall.

I hope I can bring you guys more interesting updates (and have a more solid leg again) soon!