Sunday, February 20, 2011

Chocolate Car.

I made a 2D car out of chocolate and icing for a co-worker. Let's just say I wanted to show my appreciation for his kindness. It was a follow-up to a card with a message in English that I should've known would be misunderstood: "Will you be my Valentine?"

So in response he said that he wanted to get to know me as a friend first. He was even nice enough to write a response to me in English accompanying his verbal reply, probably thinking that I can't read Japanese (or something along those lines).

So, leaving work, I felt really embarrassed about such a miscommunication that could have easily been avoided on my part. So while I was at my other school on Tuesday and Wednesday, I wrote a letter in Japanese clarifying that I know we don't know each other very well, that I appreciate him as a friend, and that if the car I made was too sweet, he didn't have to eat it.

I gave him the letter on Friday after his students' English lesson, and told him that, in America, "Valentine" doesn't necessarily mean "lover" or boyfriend," depending on the relationship, and that in some cases it means "special person" or even just a good friend. I asked him if he thought I meant "boyfriend," and he said he did, which is why he was so shocked. So I apologized and told him to read my letter whenever he had time. He was busy for the rest of the day, so I take it he'll have read it over the weekend, and maybe even write me a response (which I told him to write in Japanese if he was going to write anything at all).

Oh, the joys of intercultural miscommunication.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Students and Discipline (or Lack Thereof)

I could've cried today. My first 3rd grade class of the day...they are the reason why I do not want kids. I had to summon all my willpower to keep from exploding. Normally, if I shout once, that's all I need to keep any class quiet. No, not this time, especially because their teacher wasn't there...not even a substitute. I would say, "QUIET!" in English or Japanese, whichever came to mind and reached my lips first. I would hit the chalkboard with my pointing stick (which I smacked so hard that it got bent) and less than five minutes later they would start talking again. It did not help that my supervisor came in halfway through the class and criticized the game I was teaching them (which was my fault because I should've remembered that the class at my other school are actually very good kids and are capable of playing the game, and that this class doesn't have the discipline to do the same). But maybe, just maybe, if she had GIVEN me a lesson to teach them like she usually does every week, we wouldn't have had that problem. And even as I was telling her that it wasn't just the game, but the fact that these kids don't behave, she just kept talking about what I was doing wrong. I bit my tongue and bottom lip so hard that it could've started bleeding.

Fortunately...class ended 45 minutes after it started. And my other 3rd grade class (and their teacher) came in. And they're good kids...noisy when they get to play a game, but it's productive noise.

But I understand why teachers blow up and even throw things when they get frustrated. Because that's exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to throw a chair at the window. I wanted to take all the noisy kids out of the classroom and send them somewhere else, and just let the quiet kids stay.

I have all of the sympathy in my heart for Natalie Munroe and her frustration with her high school students. In my case, I know we're only talking about little 3rd graders, but I know how she feels when students don't want to cooperate, participate, and would rather do anything other than participate in class. I don't know who's to blame. Overall class behavior seems to be a reflection of the teacher's personality and level of strictness among other things. But are they like this all the time? Even at home with their parents?

So many parents spoil their kids too much, and they believe that teachers are supposed to be eternally patient angels, even if students disrespect them and try to treat them like doormats. Which, of course, students never disrespect anyone, because "my baby would neva do that; no, not MY child. MY child knows how to behave." Reality check: Your child is not perfect, and if you truly believe that it's always everyone else's fault and not the fault of your child, then you suck as a parent.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

JET Interviews: One Year Later.

I've read from Facebook statuses and tweets on Twitter that callbacks for 2011 JET Interviews have started. So far I've seen more people talking about rejection than being accepted, and then complaints from people who didn't make the cut.

Now I'm not part of the JET selection committee, but I think there might be a few misconceptions of how they choose people. Someone who didn't make it probably wouldn't want to hear anything from someone who DID make it and is in Japan right now, so if you happen to be one of those people and are easily offended or not in a good mood, don't continue reading this.

First off, I don't know the exact criteria for choosing people who get interviews, and then people who get in from there. This is only my opinion, based on who I've seen not accepted and my own experience going through the interview process.

1. I've heard of people who have lots of teaching experience (especially foreign language teaching experience), certified in some level of the JLPT, and have lived in Japan for X number of months/years who have gotten rejected. It's possible that those people are overqualified. Before coming here, I had zero teaching experience, no JLPT certification, and lived in Tokyo for 11 months. In my opinion, JET isn't looking for English teachers--they're looking for people to teach English. In middle school and high school, English teachers (called "Japanese Teachers of English," or JTE) already exist, and they're looking for a non-Japanese person to enrich the learning process. Not to say that people who don't get in aren't capable of enrichment. If you're overqualified, chances are you are capable of getting a job other than with JET. Also, if you stated in your application that you have applied to other jobs, that might be another contributing factor. At the time that I applied for JET--just like with college applications--I only had one. I was going to wait until I got rejected to start looking at other jobs, especially because I was still in school at the time so I knew I'd have a few more months to keep looking.

2. It's not true that JET only hires weeaboos and otaku and J-Pop fangirls. I'll be the first to admit that I DO watch anime from time to time and my library consists mostly of Japanese music, but I am FAR from the aforementioned categories. There are people who are interested in other Japanese things, and then there are people who don't know much about Japan at all and are looking for something new. Personally I wouldn't want to hire one of those foreigners who know ZERO Japanese, knows NOTHING about Japan, and just applied "'cuz they felt like it." I don't know if anyone like that has been hired, but I'm sure somewhere in the crowd of ALTs there is someone like that.

3. Maybe you weren't what they were looking for--literally. JET is no beauty contest of course, but I think they're looking for what they believe is the image of an ALT, not only as an instructor, but as a representative from overseas, a mentor, a neighbor, and a member of the community. One of the things that most people know about JET is that ALTs and CIRs end up doing things unrelated to their job, such as joining clubs, teaching extra classes in the community, and writing short columns in the community newsletter. I don't know how they determine who best fits that mold, gets an interview, and then nominated, but JET involves more than just teaching. I will say that looks are definitely not everything, as I once saw a REALLY tall and significantly heavy dude (sweat was visible in more places on his body than I wanted to see at Tokyo Orientation) who was nominated to be a high school ALT...I imagined Japanese kids snickering behind his back about his looks but maybe that's not actually the case.

4. Simply put, you might have done something wrong on your application, or it may have gotten there too late. JET says that any incomplete or late applications will not be considered, and that's that. With three copies pof the application and all the official documents in the world (okay, it's really like three or something like that), if you're not careful you may end up missing something that's supposed to be in that envelope to the Embassy. If I remember correctly, they aren't going to tell you that you're missing something, so you may not know for sure whether that really was the case. As for me, I checked millions of times (okay, maybe like ten times) to make sure I wasn't missing anything. Luckily, since I lived in the D.C. area, all I needed to do was take a train into Washington and hand deliver my application to the Embassy the day it was due. If you're not so lucky, I would suggest getting the necessary documents well in advance. The JET Program website always posts the list of required documents well before they post the actual application, to make sure you have a fair amount of time.

So that's what I can say about JET. The key point in my statement included with my application was that being a JET in Japan was not simply about teaching language, but about sharing culture with Japanese people. It is not just about you being the giver and the students being receivers; it's about cultural exchange. Living in Tokyo for about a year, I didn't think there was really much else for me to learn about living in Japan. And yet here I am, six months and a week after I got on the plane from Reagan National Airport, and I've learned so much already, from everyday life, from teachers, and even from my own students.

I'm sure not getting making it through the JET process is a learning experience as well. People whine and complain about getting in, and it's some of those same people who say things like, "Well I don't really like kids anyway," and, "But I ended up getting hired by [some other company]." JET is NOT the only way to go, so if you don't make it, it's not the end of the world, and if you were going to give up that easily, maybe your lack of perseverance was just another reason for you not to be chosen. On the opposite end of the spectrum, just because you didn't get into JET does not make JET "retarded" or "stupid." It's okay to be disappointed, but ego inflation is just making yourself look like a conceited jerk.

Am I doing too much?

The 5th grade teacher at my smaller school seems concerned with the lesson that the class is working on this month. The students are supposed to be working in pairs, interviewing each other using the questions we learned over the semester, and then presenting that person in a speech (basically a lesson on 3rd person). Sounds simple, and to me it seems like something a 5th grader can do, especially if I give them half of the speech already written down in a template.

And yet, the class seemed to have trouble understanding what to do. Their teacher was saying that it seems difficult for them and that they don't even learn that kind of grammar in middle school. But how hard is it to understand "he" and "she"? The 4th graders at my other school are going to introduce members of their family. My supervisor at this school, who is one of the 4th grade teachers, taught her class "he" and "she." I think it may be a challenge to pick up, but I'm sure they can do it. Even so, maybe I've done more than what I needed to do.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Interior Decorating

I've been wanting to decorate ever since I moved here, but never found the time to go shopping and buy stuff. Then recently my friend D showed me this decorating magazine with a lot of good ideas, and it's inspired me to start planning some looks for my apartment. It never even occurred to me that, since I can't paint the walls, I can tack fabric up instead.

What I've also decided to do is to really think outside of the box. I don't have to limit wall decorations to just posters, but instead hang up all kinds of items to create a really interesting look. So far I've put up a girugamesh muffler towel and a belt that I never wear. Needless to say, I'm going for a punk/visual kei design, using black, white and red.. My challenge is going to be finding the things that I've envisioned in my mind, like patterned fabrics that fit my style.

The living room is going to be first to be decorated. Next will probably be the bathroom, and then the bedroom. For the bathroom, I've considered a few options: Taking pages from J-Rock magazines and covering the walls with them; going to visit a host club or two and take a look at their bathrooms (it's been a while since I visited one); or going for ultra-kawaii with Hello Kitty. I'm leaning towards one of the first two...I think it would be very amusing to have pictures of hosts in the bathroom!

Hopefully I'll get to start shopping during Spring Break in March, and finish designing the living room by May.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Grading Papers

Last week at one of my schools (the one where my supervisor makes mediocre lessons), the 4th, 5th and 6th graders started writing practice worksheets for the first time since I got there in August. I had the 6th and 5th graders hold onto their worksheets, but when I told the 4th graders that what they didn't finish would be for homework, it seems that two of the three homeroom teachers wanted them to finish earlier than this coming Friday. I don't know if they just wanted them to be completed in a timely fashion, or if they wanted the students to get them out of the way so they could do more "important" stuff like math and social studies homework...or something.

Anyway, those two teachers gave me their students' completed papers. One teacher just put the stack on my desk, but the other teacher actually communicated with me a bit, and asked me how I was doing after about an hour of checking. We had a nice little talk about the writing differences among some of the students (some of them writing 'kujira' and some writing 'kuzira', which is Japanese for "whale"). I told him that I was going to take the papers home with me so I could have a closer look at them, but actually I'm going to use some of them as examples in my next video, so you can see what I'm talking about.

Lately I've been busy doing and thinking about a million things at once...making lessons, writing blogs, making videos, preparing to buy tickets for upcoming concerts, ideas for decorating my apartment, making chocolate for Valentine's Day...sometimes I wish I had a househusband to help me get all this done. Or a persocom.