Thursday, February 21, 2013

Nice to Meet You, Too - April 2012


After all the shuffling around that had occurred last year, it was a bit of a shock to walk into the staffroom on my first day back and find my desk in the exact same place as I left it.  There are very few new faces on the staff, and the only change in the seating plan is that the first-year teachers (who are now second-year teachers) have collectively swapped spots with the third-year teachers (now first-year teachers).  There’s a new principal, but as I didn’t spend much time talking to the last one, the change doesn’t affect me much.  All the English teachers are the same.

There is, however, one change that I’m taking hard: the loss of my tea lady.  I miss being greeted with a warm “Ohayo, Aisu-Tii!” every morning, her bright smile, the opportunity to wander into the accounting office and strike up a conversation with her whenever I feel bored.  I feel exactly like Bertie Wooster without Jeeves: a helpless baby who can barely tie his own necktie without assistance!  The new tea lady seems quite nice, and I plan to be as friendly with her as the language barrier allows.  But she lacks her predecessor’s linguistic adventurousness, and though we may get along, there’s no way we’ll ever have the same kind of relationship.

My consolation is the prospect of a new school year, with new students and a new curriculum.  You may recall from an earlier post how chuffed I was about some of my elementary school students last year.  Well, many of those elementary school students are now my first-years!  I’m looking forward to teaching them: they’re so smart and enthusiastic, and they already have a solid English foundation from last year.  I’m sure with proper instruction they’ll easily outstrip their sempais* in no time.

One change, or rather non-change, that’s disappointed me is that all the teachers are staying with the same classes.  Not the same grades; the same classes, i.e. the same groups of students.  This means that all the English teachers have moved up a grade with their students or, in the case of the third year teacher, seen off the graduates and taken on the new arrivals.  I find this system ludicrous for a couple of reasons.  One is that it just makes sense to me to rotate teachers among different students, since not all teachers are equally good, and not every teaching style is suited to every student.

The other is that I’m aware of my teachers’ particular strengths and weaknesses, and they seem ill-suited to the grades they are now teaching.  The new third-year teacher has a lot of experience and a good understanding of the grammar she has to teach, but she also has by far the weakest English of the bunch.  Her students have had her for two years already, meaning that they’ve never had an English teacher who can speak more than what’s necessary to teach the curriculum.  The new second-year teacher rarely brought me to class last year, and I don’t expect him to bring me to class this year either, meaning that his students will have precious little ALT time during their junior high school days.

The silver lining is that the strongest English-speaker will be taking on the new class.  To me, putting her with the weakest class seems like a waste, but it does mean yet another advantage to those fabulous newbies.  Since she’s also pretty good about using my ideas, I’m also looking forward to collaborating with her on this new group.

This year sees the introduction of new textbooks.  In junior high school, we have an updated edition of the same textbook that is slightly accelerated and more challenging.  I’m particularly pleased to see that the first-year book includes a few pages on phonics, something that’s been sadly lacking in previous years.  In elementary school, there is a brand new textbook, which I’m told is slightly more advanced, although it looks similar to the previous one.

Another change in one of my elementary schools is that there’s now a designated English room and teacher to whom the students all go for their English lessons.  In theory I really like this idea, as it associates English with a specific space and teacher, and allows the students to be taught by an expert rather than their usual teacher.  In practice, the “expert” speaks almost no English; indeed, one of the third-year teachers speaks much better English than he does!  The new set-up has also led to some confusion about teaching roles in the classroom.  The new guy seems to think that I should be delivering most of the content, and that his job is to act as a facilitator.  I, on the other hand, am used to the local teacher taking the lead, and to assisting only with technical matters like vocabulary and pronunciation.  I have no wish to change the system now, especially so close to my time for leaving, so I’m insisting that he run the class and give me specific instructions when he wants my participation.

I’ve decided I’m not going to try starting up the swing dancing club again this year.  The only person who’s come to classes at all of late is the mother of a student, and it seems farcical to keep the club running just for her.  A part of me is tempted to try it out just to see if some of my wonderful freshmen can be enticed to join.  But I’ve been too discouraged by previous years’ experiences, and anyway, I’m only going to be around for four more months.

The weather stayed fairly cold in April, but as the month drew to a close it became more springy, and the cherry blossoms have started to appear.  I was determined to enjoy them properly this year, so I and the Singaporean ALT went down to Ogawara, which we’d heard was a prime viewing location.  The river there was lined with cherry trees, and we took a leisurely late-afternoon stroll along the waterfront, admiring the blooms overhead and the petals which had carpeted the ground.  I was also able to see more at Nishigaoka park, where I went with some of the church youth and was able to take some better pictures.

For Golden Week I mostly stayed home and did spring cleaning, but I did also make it out to a nice yakiniku restaurant with the Singaporean ALT and my tea lady!  It’s nice to be able to spend time with her even thought I no longer see her every day.

In the news this month, Canada has decided to discontinue the penny.  This came as a slightly unpleasant shock to me, as it will mean the sudden worthlessness of my penny collection, and I’m rather fond of the penny, with its maple leaves and its bright coppery redness.  But in other respects I guess this seems like a sensible decision.  I asked my mom if she could mail some of my pennies to me, thinking that they’d make a nice collectible souvenir for my students.  But it turned out the cost would have been too much or the time too long for it to be practical.  I still plan to put some aside, though.  Perhaps they’ll be worth something later on.

Movies I’ve seen this month:

Cars – A cute premise realised in a formulaic and unoriginal story.  Not Disney’s best work.  (Two and a half stars)

* “sempai”: Japanese for “upperclassman”, a schoolmate in a higher grade.