Or else, what have you been doing all this time?
Summer Vacation Work
My first day of work was technically the second day I was in Japan—which means during Tokyo Orientation and the first week when Enoguchi was driving us around hunting wild cell phones. I think I was actually getting paid for that stuff. That’s why I got a full month’s pay on August 21st, my first pay day.
However, I did start to do real work pretty much right away. My first day at my middle school was Friday, August 3rd.
It was supposed to be our last day of running around getting cell phones and bank cards and the like, but we weren’t able to get everything because we didn’t have our residence cards, so we actually continued that into the next week. But on Friday, at around 1:00, Yoshimura and Enoguchi drove all the new ALTs to their schools.
I was the first one to be dropped off, and I was really nervous. We got to my school, and I was afraid that there would be no English speakers around anymore—so how could I communicate? I still barely knew what my job really was.
We drove up to the school, and Enoguchi got out with me to introduce me to some people—I can’t remember who was there that day—and then he turned to me.
He laughed a little and told me I would be fine, and then he left with everyone. I was led into the teacher’s room and shown my desk.
I think the first person I met was Kamada-sensei, and I think the first thing I did was speech contest practice.
Every year, middle schools (and high schools I think) have English speech contests. Students recite a pre-written skit or story, or they present a speech that they wrote (or that is written for them). The students put a lot of time and effort into the speeches, and it’s very competitive.
My job is to fix the students’ pronunciation so that it sounds like natural English pronunciation. This includes, like, the actual way to say English words—vowels and consonants—and intonation.
A lot of people say that sometimes ALTs end up just being a tape recorder, which is an underuse of our abilities, and I can understand why they might say that. A lot of the time, I was just sitting there and sometimes the JTE would ask me to say a sentence so they could hear what it was supposed to sound like. But really, the JTE would have just been doing the same thing… So maybe I’m unnecessary, but at the same time, they do need to hear natural English.
However, I feel like I contributed a little more than that.
The first students I worked with were Yusuke and Harukazu, who are first year students (12 years old, 7th graders in American schools). They are doing a skit about Tom and Jerry—and it’s super cute.
Almost every day since that Friday, I’ve worked with Kamada-sensei, Yusuke, and Harukazu for an hour a day. At first, Harukazu had some trouble with pronunciation and he’s rather shy, I think, so Kamada-sensei took him aside with her often to work with him alone, leaving me with Yusuke.
Since they are only first years, they don’t know much English… though it seems that Harukazu knows more than Yusuke. The first day I met them, Kamada-sensei left them with me and told me to talk to them. I asked them what sports they like—an easy question—and we talked a little about that, but only a little. Harukazu had to translate for Yusuke.
When I was working with Yusuke alone, there was only so much speech practice we both could handle before we got bored. And his pronunciation is pretty good, so by our third day, I initiated a Hangman game.
I love Hangman—I think it’s a fun game. I used to watch Wheel of Fortune a lot when I was a kid, so that’s probably why. I played a few times in college—one time in particular was the last day of my Intro to Creative Writing class. The teacher was late, and we didn’t know if we should leave or not. Some people wanted to leave, and others wanted to stay, but no one wanted to be bored. We workshopped a little, but no one was feeling very motivated (this was a great class—they actually bothered to workshop a little!). So I started a game of Hangman, which kept us entertained for a while until someone checked their phone. The teacher had sent us an e-mail—she was stuck in late afternoon San Francisco traffic (not unlike late afternoon LA traffic), and would be very, very late. So everyone left.
Yusuke and I used words that were from the Tom & Jerry skit script, so it would be easier for him, but later I started to use other easy words (I always told him when I wasn’t using a word from the script). He was always really excited when he got a word, and sometimes he even guessed right away. For example:
e_e_ _ _ _t
He guessed that right away, somehow! It was pretty amazing.
When it was his turn, sometimes he spelled words wrong (he just mixed up r’s and l’s), but he spelled very well otherwise! Even when he wasn’t using words from the script. It was pretty cool.
We also played that game… that is hard to describe. You hold out one finger on each hand and tap the other person’s finger, so they add a finger to that hand until all five fingers are out… and then you lose… I don’t know what it’s called.
Anyway, when Kamada-sensei finally brought everyone together, we worked on pronunciation some more, but also choreography. The judges don’t like too many gestures, but a few natural ones are okay, so Kamada-sensei asked me to come up with some. I kept them simple, while at the same time trying to bring the Tom & Jerry attitude to the skit. It was pretty fun to see it develop, and they are both great now! I think they sound very natural, but I’m also more tolerant of accents than most people, I think… Meaning, I can understand accents pretty well.
I know it’s different, but it’s like that one time when I was watching the UK version of The Office, and my sister came in, looked at the TV, and said, “What language are they speaking?”
Me: [face palm]
For two days, Kamada-sensei filled the practice time with some character-study. She wanted Yusuke to act like Jerry, so we watched an episode of Tom & Jerry, and she wanted Harukazu to be “stylish” like Sherlock Holmes. In, you know, Sherlock.
So we watched a few episodes of that.
I taught Harukazu a fancy bow—one with much hand-rolling—to go with the dandy feel Kamada-sensei wanted, but apparently Yusuke did it once, so it was officially his move. So now Harukazu isn’t going to do the fancy bow. XD Oh well. Kids are funny.
Their movements were still rather stiff, though. One practice, Harukazu was having trouble moving his arms naturally, and I think Kamada-sensei wasn’t sure how to get him to relax. I didn’t know if it was a good idea or not, but since he wasn’t getting any better, I just brought it up.
Me: “Maybe if they walked around while they spoke—just during practice, not actually on stage—it would make their movements more natural.”
Kamada-sensei: “Oh! Okay, let’s try that.”
I’ve never directed before, but after this, I think I’d make a fair director. I didn’t even know if that was a normal technique, really, but I thought it might work. Yusuke and Harukazu performed the skit while walking around the room, with the gestures added in and everything. Sometimes they had to turn around to face each other to complete the gesture correctly, and they remembered it all very well. We made them do that twice, and then when they stood in place again—voila!—the gestures were much more natural!
I worked with a few other students on their speeches, too. Asuka is reciting a story about a demon and a fox (it’s a cute story), Mirano is reciting The Princess and the Pea (one of my least favorite fairy tales, truth be told), and Minami is reciting a Japanese folk tale. I also worked a little with Naoto, who is telling one of my favorite Aesop stories (The Lion and the Mouse), but only twice.
When I was given the script to Minami’s speech, I almost had an aneurysm. It was a horrendous translation that they had gotten from the internet. The grammar was appalling and very unnatural. I typed up a new version and gave it to Saito-sensei, hoping that Minami hadn’t practiced the bad version yet. Luckily, when I met her for the first time, she hadn’t.
The other student I’m working with is Mei. She is going to recite a speech about when she met Aubrey, a girl from Wisconsin who visited Japan last year and stayed with Mei’s family. (They have an exchange program between a town in Wisconsin and Tomiura.) Komatsu-sensei gave me an outline (in Japanese) of what Mei wanted to talk about in her speech. After translating the outline a little, she asked me to write a speech for Mei.
Well! This is what I went to college for!
I wrote a draft of the speech, using what I knew from the outline and from talking to Mei, and when I gave it to Komatsu-sensei, she was very pleased. Kamada-sensei said told me that Komatsu-sensei was impressed and surprised by my writing.
Well, it had better be good! I didn’t pay almost $120,000 for an underwater basket weaving degree.
Since it was a first draft, it wasn’t perfect, and Komatsu-sensei gracefully asked me to change the beginning a little, because it wasn’t as powerful as the ending. I ended up altering the ending a little, too.
I still don’t think it’s perfect, but it’s okay, and I had to write it so that it would be relatively easy for Mei to remember and say, while at the same time being a high enough level that would impress the judges.
The rest of the summer passed in the exact same way. Here was my schedule for almost every day, except for a few days that varied:
9:00: Arrive. Occupy myself at my desk. (OCCUPY DESK.)
10:00: Work with Asuka, Mei, or Mirano.
11:00: Work with one of the three that I didn’t work with at 10.
1:00: Occupy desk.
13:30: Work with Yusuke and Harukazu.
14:30: Occupy desk.
15:00: Go home.
I did not have much to do. Some days, Asuka, Mei, and Mirano weren’t there, so I had nothing to do until 1:30 in the afternoon. I ended up reading every teaching guide I have, organizing my desk, and reading Hark! A Vagrant comics.
You guys: my desk is so organized right now. It looks like what maybe Adrian Monk’s desk would look like.
School Begins… Sort of.
The first week of school began on Monday, September 3rd, but there were no classes all week. Instead, students and faculty prepared for the Sports Festival (“undokai”).
Monday was pretty busy, even though I didn’t have any work to do—pretty much at all—but my contract says that I work from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM, so that’s when I was there.
At 8:00, the teachers had a little opening meeting, where a lot of people talked about stuff that I didn’t understand. I had to give my self-introduction, and I was a little very nervous. Kamada-sensei had told me on the Friday before to write up a script so that she could translate for me.
Me: “Actually… I want to try to say it in Japanese.”
Kamada-sensei: “Oh, okay! Good.”
I had Saito-sensei help me a little after I wrote it. I asked her to check the grammar, and she changed a few things, but not to anything I didn’t recognize. One of the others teachers asked what she was doing, and when she explained, the teacher looked impressed.
Teacher (can’t remember who): “FIGHT!”
We have a new student teacher this year. His name is Deguchi (that’s his last name), and he is a college student who is training to be a teacher. He is 21, so all the other teachers keep comparing my age to his. He gave his speech first, and then the principal introduced me.
It wasn’t too bad. I didn’t screw up too terribly. I had written a much longer speech, but I was really nervous, so I just cut it short. Instead of about 10 sentences, it was probably 4.
After the morning meeting, we went to an assembly in the gym, where all 157 students were waiting.
My God, this is a tiny school.
There were some more speeches that I didn’t understand, and then the principal called me up onto the stage with him (no one else had to go on the stage! No fair!). He introduced me with some stuff I had written down for him before—he was trying to figure out how to introduce me, so he had Saito-sensei pass on some questions the Friday before. It was mostly that I like to swim, that I taught swimming for 7 years, that I like to read, that I like Japan, etc. Then he had me introduce myself, but he pretty much said everything that I wanted to say about myself anyway. Haha! So I just did another short introduction, a bit longer than the one I gave to the teachers. When I was done, the principal wanted me to tell the students that Michael Phelps was my boyfriend.
Everyone keeps trying to get me to say that, actually. XD The elementary school teachers, the principal… Yeah, because I totally know Michael Phelps just because we both swim and are American. Also, like I think he’s attractive at all. (Not a big fan of swimmer bodies, truth be told. Except that one guy at the UCSC pool that one day…)
Anyway, once the public-speaking was done with, the day began. And… I had nothing to do.
Kamada-sensei and Komatsu-sensei encouraged me to watch the students prepare, and since this was my first Japanese school experience, I thought that was pretty much exactly what I should do.
So I followed Saito-sensei around, mostly, and observed. Sometimes I felt like I was just hovering, and I was afraid that I was annoying the JTEs. At first, I was a little uncomfortable if they weren’t around. After a while… I was still uncomfortable, but I got used to it.
The students practiced a lot—kind of non-stop. They were split into two teams—red and white—and each time had its own routine to practice, but the students also had different routines for their grades and their genders. So they had a lot of stuff to practice.
In the meantime, I had absolutely nothing to do. I was hot and bored and often tired, because—hey—not a morning person. Or a daytime person.
Kamada-sensei gave me the heads up that I could wear sportswear during the week, but I showed up every day in more work-like clothes anyway, with a change of clothes in my bag. I was afraid they might spring an assembly on me or something. Better to err on the side of formality, I think.
Also, the changing of shoes thing is getting really annoying. |D I understand taking off your shoes if you’re going into someone’s house, and maybe even when you’re going to the bathroom, but come on. Every time you enter school, you change into indoor shoes, and any time you leave the building, you change back into your outdoors shoes. This last week, because of the sports day practice, I was constantly going in and out of the building. I probably took off my shoes 600 times.
OMG, and we even take off our shoes to go into the computer lab. What is this shit.
Anyway, all week, I ate lunch with the other teachers and got my first peek at the infamous school lunch in Japan. Everyone talks about the school lunches. Everyone kept asking me, “Are you going to eat the school lunch?” And then they looked surprised when I said yes. I was expecting the absolute worst—is pizza a vegetable in this country, too?
…Okay, seriously, what’s the big deal with the school lunches? They seemed totally normal to me. The build-up was all very silly.
The teachers asked me if there was anything that I couldn’t eat, but I have no allergies, so the first time they asked me, I told them no. Then I was a little worried, so the second time they asked me, I told them the truth.
Me: “I don’t eat lamb or shark. The lamb probably won’t be a problem, but I don’t eat shark.”
I was tempted to also say that I wouldn’t eat whale… but I wasn’t sure how to approach that. I know more about the treatment of sharks than I do whale, and Kim (my predecessor) told me that they weren’t endangered. I still feel a little icky about eating whale, but for now, I’m going to let it slide until I figure out how I feel about it.
They didn’t seem too concerned about shark, but I thought it might be a good thing to mention. I am really, really, REALLY against eating shark—or at least shark-fin soup—because of the way they are fished. It’s awful, and I’m not going to add to the demand for shark by eating or ordering it.
Also during lunch, I did some speech contest practice with Yusuke and Harukazu. They are funny kids. They just ran through the skit twice, and then we were done.
I did some other work too. Komatsu-sensei approached me with a request. The students’ first assignment was to write in English about their summer vacation, so she asked me to format a worksheet for them. All that would require was a fancy border for the page.
GRAPHIC DESIGN? THAT’S WHAT I DO.
Well, now it’s what I do, apparently. I designed three books, and now I design… er… page borders.
The day after she asked me to do it, I brought in my laptop and made some on Photoshop, which I am so, so glad that I have. I’ve been using it a lot recently—as you can probably see from a lot of the illustrations that I’ve made for this blog. Since my InDesign trial is over, I can’t use that anymore to make pages.
I made two (from scratch! drew everything all by me onesie) and showed them to Komatsu-sensei. She liked the second one I made better—naturally; that happened with the book cover I designed for someone, too. I feel like Rachel Dratch. (I’m reading her book, and in it, she calls herself “Two Time Dratch” because she when she auditions for things, she always gets them the second time she tries.)
With the book covers and borders, I think it’s because I got the hang of making them by the second one, so I think that makes sense. I dunno what Dratch’s problem is.
Thursday was my first day at the elementary school. I was nervous, because I still didn’t know exactly where it was (I knew it was close; Enoguchi put it on a Google Map for me) and I didn’t know what the plan was. I had been faxed a schedule at the middle school that said this (translated for your ease):
9/6 | Thursday | 14:15 – 15:00 | 3-1 | Play with numbers (From 1 – 12 vocabulary, memory game, Go Fish game)
The rest of the page was like that, up to December 20th. The “3-1” means third grade, class 1.
Clear enough? Sort of. Was I supposed to do a self-introduction? Would I need to bring anything for the class? Who would I be working with? WHAT AM I DOING?
Since class began at 2:15, I figured I should get there maybe 30 to 45 minutes ahead of time to see what’s what, and if that was too early, I could just sit there for a while. However, at around 1:00, the elementary school called and asked me to head over. So I went to Google Maps and said, “Google Maps, how do I get to Tomiura Elementary School?”
Siri: “I didn’t quite catch that. Are you looking for Mordor?”
Just kidding, I didn’t ask Siri. But siri-ously (oh the Takei puns…), she is useless; she only understands jokes.
Me: “SIRI HOW DO I GET TO MORDOR?”
Siri: “One cannot simply walk into Mordor.”
Me: “SIRI WHERE IS THE NEAREST HOSPITAL?”
Siri: “I didn’t quite catch that. Did you mean Mordor?”
Anyway, I drove over there. The turn into the elementary school was sort of confusing, but I took a chance and turned at a random point and—it was the elementary school. Huzzah!
When I walked up, all of the students leaned out of the windows and screamed at me.
XD All white people look the same. I just laughed and waved at them.
Do you remember Hanawa-sensei? She visited my house a few weeks ago, and I mentioned her on the blog. Well, she greeted me right away!
I changed my shoes—haha—and sat down with Hanawa-sensei in the teachers room. We talked a little—her English is pretty good, and the Japanese she did use was simple enough for me to understand—and then we went into the classroom to set up my self-introduction. The plan was to introduce me and then practice numbers a little. Hanawa-sensei would be there with me—Yay! Gotta tell you—she is probably the sweetest person ever.
I brought my laptop, and we hooked it up to the projector they had very easily. It worked out nicely! I ran through it with her, and she had a lot of questions. About me, about California, about my life in Japan, about why I wanted to go to Japan—etc.
People are always very surprised when I tell them that there are a lot of Japanese Americans in, well, America. They also seem rather surprised that I like Japanese food or have eaten it at all. I explain that in California—or at least in Torrance—there are a lot of Japanese Americans, and many of my friends growing up had some sort of Japanese heritage (one of my best friends in elementary school was half, and a good friend in middle school really got me into Japanese manga). I wrote about all that in my application to the JET Program, so I pretty much had the reason to “Why do you like Japan? Why did you come here? Why are you interested in Japan?” ready to share.
When the students came in, they were so cute. There was actually one student that reminded me of Salvador, one of the students I taught in Alameda in July.
They were all very excited about the projector. They made some shadow puppets, and when I showed them my desktop background—which is a Pokemon/Legend of Zelda cross over featuring Bulbasaur—they thought it was funny.
I did my little presentation—which I’ll post in another entry, so you guys know what I talked about—and then they had some questions.
For the elementary school presentation, I made a shorter version, so I didn’t include a few things. One of the students asked me about my best friend. I pulled up the longer version and showed them the slides of my friends.
When a picture of Michelle came up, one of the students had the best reaction ever:
Student: “EHH? LADY GAGA?”
After my presentation, we practiced some numbers. While I was organizing my desk for three weeks, I found some number cards with magnets on them, and wouldn’t you know it, they were 1 – 12. So I brought them in for the day, along with some playing cards (which we didn’t use). I also brought one of my favorite books that just happened to be in my apartment—The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Awesome. I love Eric Carle’s art. I read that to them and quizzed them about the numbers in it. I was surprised by how good their memories were—it was pretty amazing. I couldn’t even remember that there were three plums. (Still not sure if that’s right.)
On Friday, I met the 5th and 6th grade students. We did pretty much the same routine, but we only did my presentation, because fuck doing work!
The older students’ questions were a lot harder, and really interesting. We took up the entire class period with my presentation and their questions. I can’t really remember what they asked, but some of the questions were tough.
Oh! Here’s one:
Student: [translated by Hanawa-sensei] “Japan and America played soccer against each other in the Olympics. Who would you cheer for?”
Sometimes it was hard to think of what to say, too, because I wanted them to understand or at least get the gist without Hanawa-sensei having to translate for them. After all, they’re supposed to be hearing English itself…
I have a slide in my presentation in which I say that I like anime and manga. One of the most popular anime right now is called “Fairy Tail.” I think it’s all right, but since I think the kids would get excited about it, I put a picture of it in my slideshow.
And they exploded. Kind of like when the kids in Alameda exploded when we first gave them candy.
After class, a bunch of girls came up to me to talk about Fairy Tail and other anime. One girl recommended an anime—I can’t remember the name now—and everyone wanted to know who my favorite character in Fairy Tail was. xD It was awesome.
As much as I love the middle school, I wish I could just teach at the elementary school. That’s actually what I really wanted when I applied for the job. I have more experience with younger kids.
Well, that’s all for now! I am writing a post about the undokai and the school enkai, but I think this entry is long enough.
So that’s the work I’ve been doing! On Tuesday, the real school stuff begins.
Cast of Characters
Asuka as… one of my students. She is reciting a Japanese folk tale for the speech contest.
Hanawa-sensei as… one of the teachers from Tomiura Elementary. She assists me in the classroom.
Harukazu as… one of my students. He is playing Tom in the Tom & Jerry skit for the speech contest.
Kamada-sensei as… a JTE for the 1st year students.
Komatsu-sensei as… a JTE for the 2nd and 3rd year students.
Mei as… one of my students. She is giving a speech that I wrote about her friend Aubrey.
Michelle as… Lady Gaga.
Minami as… one of my students. She is reciting a Japanese folk tale in the speech contest.
Mirano as… one of my students. She is reciting The Princess and the Pea for the speech contest.
Saito-sensei as… an English class helper. I’m not sure of her exact job description, but she speaks English better than she thinks she does, and she’s very helpful and nice.
Yusuke as… one of my students. He is playing Jerry in the Tom & Jerry skit for the speech contest.
Adobe Photoshop: A great program that I use to make art on the computer. Yay! It came with my pen tablet, so it was cheap, which is AWESOME, because usually it’s like $600. And as far as I know, my mom got my pen tablet for cheaper than that.
ALT: “Assistant Language Teacher.” My job.
Hark! A Vagrant: A webcomic that I read. It’s really funny—lots of history and literature comics. I want to use her comics for teaching English, like this guy did: http://harkavagrant.com/index.php?id=296
JTE: “Japanese Teacher of English.” Japanese teachers that teach English.
Undokai: “Sports Festival.” It’s an annual festival in Japanese schools where kids compete on two teams for a trophy. They do a lot of events and performances, and they all work very hard. It’s sort of like the Class Competitions and Pep Rallies that we had at my high school, only more intense.
And for your reference, my Google Map that Enoguchi made for me because he’s awesome like that:
P.S. I edited the previous entry, about Rurouni Kenshin, so please check out the edit! Thanks!
P.P.S. I think I’m going to have to cut down on the length of these posts. The WordPress entry-maker-thingy is having trouble with my posts… So that might be good news for you guys. Not so many overwhelming chapters of my life.
What can I say—I’m a novelist. Apparently.