I've always had a fascination with teaching. As far back as elementary school I remember wanting to design the curriculum, tests and homework assignments. The same stale format over and over creates a dull class with little incentive for learning, and I had ideas to fix that. I never really wanted to be a teacher, but I always wanted to control how things were taught. Naturally, because I was 10 or so, my ideas were silly. One idea was to give multiple choice tests with a hint that each answer a-e had an equal number of occurrences. What would this accomplish? It would boost the confidence of kids in the 95-100% range (that was me at the time) and it might make the test more interesting for other kids. In retrospect, it would probably do more harm than good for those with poor scores, but I still think that adding a little something different to things very routine is vital for learning.

In my 6 months teaching before moving to Tokyo, I learned a lot. I became quite confident. I learned to leave my pride at the door and become a shameless comedian. But in my short time in Tokyo I've learned something equally important. I've learned, by watching some truly great teachers, how to apply that confidence (and shamelessness) to really teach English well. I'm not a great teacher, but I can confidently say that I am very good in the right circumstances.

This week I've been putting my new found knowledge to the test. I am on a week long break from my usual schools and teaching at an elementary school in Saitama (up north a little). The first couple days went pretty well, but I think today was very good. I taught 5 classes and 4 different grade levels. My best class was 4th grade. Here's the gist of what happens in one class:

Greeting. In a low energy class (not 4th grade, but maybe 5th or 6th) I'll open with something like "STAND UP!" ... "SIT DOWN!!" ... "SIT DOWN!" and so on, changing my intonation trying to mess them up.

Self Introduction (I'm only here for a week and I teach each class once, so every class has a self introduction)

Numbers 1-50. 4th graders mostly know numbers, but they aren't solid. Having students repeat numbers with flash cards is boring, but this is how a lot of people teach. One of the Japanese teachers in Tokyo showed me some good ways to make it more interesting. I write the numbers as I say them and the class repeats. Then sometimes I write them really big or small and the class has to say "too big!" or "too small!" I throw in things like "too fast!" and "too slow!" and even "upside down!" and they get into it instead of mindlessly chanting from 1 to 50. Then I erase quite a few numbers in a row / column and such. I call on some kids to come up and write in the missing numbers I say out loud. This stresses how hard it is to hear the difference between 13/30, 14/40 and so on. It also introduces "one more time!" and "I don't know". After a few volunteers I switch to something completely different. The class is only 45 minutes so I don't want to waste too much time.

Colors/Fruits/whatever review. Today I did some color review. Just some color flash cards. 4th graders know the colors so it is easy, but sometimes I'll have the card upside down or something to refresh "upside down!" This whole thing only lasts like 2 minutes.

Head shoulders knees and toes. This is a fun song with any age group willing to be a little silly. 6th graders won't do it, but 4th grade is usually willing. 3rd grade loves it. We repeat all the words a couple times then just start into it because they all know it already. Then at the end I say one more time! and speed up faster and faster until it's basically impossible. In a good class I'll hear some "too fast!" but sometimes I have to be the one to say it. Then I'll start singing it reaaaaally slow until someone says "too slow."

Simon (Michael) says. This game is fun for any grade level. The higher the grade the more complex the game can get, such as me doing the wrong pose on purpose. With 4th grade I just say "touch your [insert body part from 'head shoulders knees and toes' song]" or simple things like "hands up" "jump" "clap" etc. After about 3 or 4 games the class is over!

"Stand up!" "Thank you very much!" "Goodbye!" "See you!" And I'm out.


Thank you Akihabara

I work about 5 minutes by train from one of the biggest and most famous places for electronics in the world: Akihabara, Tokyo. Today, I finished my quest for a new camera. I splurged a little and I saved a lot. Retail is 400 bucks. I got mine for 280, but the menus are all in Japanese. Luckily, there is a lot of Katakana, so it's pretty easy to read.

Behold, my new pet
The Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-T100

So you'll start seeing more pictures and maybe even videos soon.

Back to the previous entry on employment.. My friend just got back from France. She called me up and when telling me about her experience, she said she was shocked at how bad the service was everywhere she went. People didn't care about the customer, she said. They only care about their lunch break, or what they're going to do after work. They only work 35 hours a week and get two months of vacation! I tried to explain that it is probably just the service jobs and low paying dead end jobs that have such poor service, and that the US is not so different.

It seems to me that Japan and France are polar opposites on this issue. When I was talking to her it was 9:30 PM and she was still at work. Ouch.


Random Stuff

Here are some random facts you probably didn't know (about me). I had one revelation recently that inspired this list, and as I began to compile it I forgot the original thought. Enjoy the randomness:

I love browsing stationary stores.

Recently I've been playing Starcraft (PC) and Final Fantasy XII (DS Lite) quite a bit.

I played soccer on Friday with my old coworkers in Fujimino. Actually it was what they call futtosaru (foot-sal?), which is a combination of indoor and outdoor soccer. It's outside on a small turf field. Each team has 6 people and there is a big net around the field to catch the ball.

I planted rice with my friends Sho and Panda out in the country side on Sunday, literally getting knee deep in Japanese culture. My arms are sunburt.

I know pi to 35 digits. I'm not really proud of this. I was bored in 8th grade and had a competition with my friend. He won.

My last phone bill was 150 dollars because I send about 5-10 emails a day.

One of my schools has 2 really cool male teachers and 5 beautiful female teachers.

I play piano almost everyday before I come home.

Two of my four schools don't let me speak any Japanese in front of the kids.

I never ironed a single thing in my life before coming to Japan.

I can say the 50 states in alphabetical order in 20 seconds. (I'm not proud of this one either)

I'm worse at dodge ball than 6th grade elementary school students.

Major Differences - Employment

Japanese people take their jobs more seriously than Americans. Here, the job is the focus in life. It isn't just a way to make money, like it is to so many of us. Many people only have friends from work or college. People don't really go out trying to make new friends once they enter the workforce. Some of them will spend 10 hours a day at the office because it is shameful to leave first. I've heard from a guy who works at Sony, that people there will just stay at their desks even if they aren't really doing any work. People will come in on holidays to win points with the boss even though he isn't there. They come in hoping someone will notice and mention it later on.

On the positive side, people seem to take much more pride in their jobs and they become close with those they work with. For this reason, there aren't really low quality places to eat with employees who don't care. Mc Donalds, for example, is full of workers in clean uniforms who are very polite. The place is clean, and the food is decent. I actually eat at Mc Donalds here, but I wouldn't even set foot in one in the US.

It seems that the occasional drinking party with the staff is more or less mandatory. This is where people can let go and drink heavily. They can get things off their chest they wouldn't want to say in the office, such as grudges or romantic feelings. They can make fools of themselves and none of it will matter the next workday. What happens at the drinking party seems to stay there. This is true for teachers too. I've been to a few of these nomikai's (drink gatherings) and they're actually pretty fun. I feel kind of bad, though, for the staff that has family they want to get home to. I've never heard of anyone bringing family or a significant other to any drinking party or school function. It amazes me how they can dedicate so much time to work and keep it seperate from their personal lives.


Major Differences - Travel

This is a map of the JR EAST train system. This doesn't include Tokyo Metro or other trains.

Quite possibly my favorite thing about Japan is the train and subway system. A wise friend of a friend once said that when you get off a train in Tokyo, check the schedule and check your watch. If there is a discrepency, reset your watch.

Despite the prompt trains, I never use the schedule. Trains come often enough that just going to the station and waiting for the next one is good enough for me. During the winter, seats on the train are heated. During the summer the air conditioner is always on.

There is no rule against eating and drinking, but I've only seen it happen once or twice in all my time here. There is, however, a rule against talking on the phone . This is a rule I've only seen foreigners break, because they didn't know or they didn't care. In Korea there is no such rule, I'm told, which explains the occassional Korean chatting away on the train in Tokyo.

I almost never see people give up seats for the elderly. In my first couple months here I gave up my seat for many people, but usually the response is met with suprise and rejection. They think they are being polite by refusing the gesture, but it just makes the situation akward with us both standing by an empty seat. As a result, I don't really give up my seat anymore.

For those who plan on visiting Japan, I have some important advice: Do not rent a car. The roads are small and the traffic is heavy. The trains are significantly faster and cheaper. Everywhere I've ever been in Tokyo is within a short walk of a station. There is one major problem, though. The trains in Japan stop around 12 to 1. As a result, it is not uncommon to go out drinking as early as 6pm. The night starts and ends much earlier in Japan. I am very used to this now, but it took me quite some time to catch on.


First Post

Welcome to my new blog. I created this blog for a few reasons:
  1. I haven't posted on my old blog for about 6 months, so I figured I'd start fresh.
  2. My old blog had a stupid name. Apparently no one uses or even knows the word kokaku. Never get your names from a dictionary.
  3. I have moved since my last blog!
So here is the link to my previous blog for those who want to check it out.