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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Day Teaching English in Japan

I wake up at 6:45 am. My alarm is set for 7 o’clock, but I get out of bed anyway. I had purposefully set my alarm thirty minutes later than usual because I feel that waking up without the jolt is better. I turn off the electric blanket I put on my futon the week before and turn on my lap, rubbing my eyes and reaching over my head to find my glasses, nearly knocking a bottle of water on my head. I guess that would have been one way to wake up.

I drag myself out of bed, walking into my toasty living room that has spent the last twenty minutes warming up thanks to my timed heater. I plop myself down in front of my computer and pull a blanket over myself, putting on some high energy music and reading through some Reddit posts for thirty minutes before getting ready for my day, throwing on a tank top and sweater, pulling on the same slacks I wore yesterday to work, and tying my hair in a bun on the top of my head. After coating my face in moisturizer and brushing my teeth I am ready to go.

I walk to the convenience store, grabbing a bag of consommé flavored potato chips, before heading to the subway. The train comes at 7:50 and I step onto the platform at 7:48, a skill that only daily commuters have. Every day will be the same.

I look through my Twitter feed, read some messages friends had sent while I slept, and scan over Facebook for the ten minutes it takes me to get to the end of the line. This morning I was lucky enough to get a seat from stop one, so it’s a good start to the day. It’s the little things.

The walk to the bus terminal takes exactly four minutes. At 8:05 my bus pulls up and at 8:07 it will leave. I sit beside a disgruntled business man who is not pleased I sat on the edge of his jacket that was taking up the entire seat next to him. It isn’t until the bus pulls away that he accepts that I am not moving and scoots closer to the window. I check my phone again then look out the window. The ride to school is only ten minutes. I used to read on my commute and often find myself missing it, but there isn’t the time anymore, so I just sit silently and wait for my stop to come up.

I push my way past a young woman who is standing in the middle of the aisle way who looks shocked that she is inconveniencing anyone. The morning is cool but I don’t need a jacket, the school is only a minute away from the stop. Once the snow comes I know I’ll be very glad for this.

I walk into school to students leaning out the window saying various forms of greeting. Some in Japanese, others in English, most times just my name. I wave and head inside, slipping my shoes off and slipping on the indoor ones I keep at school, an old pair of black Vans slip-ons that are in need of replacement. The walk to the second floor is quiet, the teachers are in a meeting that I don’t have to go to, and the students are practicing for the chorus contest next week. The songs haunt me in my sleep and I have no idea what it is they are singing.

I quietly enter the teachers’ room and walk to my desk, the teachers are talking in small groups and I quietly mumble a few good mornings before taking my seat. A cup of warm green tea waits for me and I sip it down while reading my schedule for the day. First period is free and that’s my favorite way to start the day. Having that extra hour to prepare things just sets a nice carefree tone for the rest of the day. I do have a lot to plan, though, so I instantly get up and head to the communal computer as I am not granted use of a laptop like the rest of the teachers.

Second period I have to teach “which” and “whose” to seventh graders, and I am slack on any good activities that are the standard interview type of games. I search online for thirty minutes only to find that all of the ideas other teachers have had don’t have the kids using the vocabulary as much as I would like. I settle on a game for each word. There’s time left in first period so I begin looking for things to do during my fifth period lesson, where I am teaching “when” to seventh graders. My fourth period class with eighth graders thankfully requires no prep from me and my third period class with ninth graders was cancelled.

The bell rings and I grab my basket. Inside are my three textbooks, a pencil case with my stamps in side, a plethora of pens, my planning notebooks, and a magnetic stuffed rabbit. I get to class and the lesson starts. The Japanese teacher checks homework and goes over the answers to a test the students took while I sit to the side reviewing the activities I have planned. After ten minutes I am given control of the class and delve in without a warm-up. I grab two pencil cases that belong to the girls sitting before me and ask one of them which belongs to her. She coughs and says “That one,” meekly. I smile and ask the class whose pencil case I am holding, they answer quietly. Sometimes it takes energy to get energy.

I draw a goofy picture of myself on the board quickly, a practiced motion that takes a couple of seconds and two lines. I write the question, “Which pencil case is yours?” and draw a quick sketch of the girl who had answered to the approval of the class and write the answer beside her face, “That one is.” Then I draw myself again and write the second question next to my second face, “Whose pencil case is this?” I draw a few faces to represent the class and write, “It’s Aisu’s.” She has a nice name, I think to myself.

I begin going over the grammar, having students translate keywords and eventually sentences, they repeat after me and I break them into groups of 3 or 4 for an activity. I tell them to get out only their pen, pencil case, textbook and workbook. It takes some effort to get them to understand what I want, but everything works and the energy is much better than when we started. After everyone has the required items out I walk over to a group and make a mountain out of their items in the middle of their combined desks, the students laugh and begin creating their own Mt. Fujis.

The kids play a game where they ask the first question using “which” and grabbing their item in question. They enjoy it and after three rounds we’re finished. I instruct the kids to put their heads on their desks and grab random pencil cases from around the room, dumping the ten lucky bags on the teacher’s desk. When they raise their heads they exclaim in shock and I begin asking “whose pencil case is this?” and students raise their hands to answer. I hand out many stamps. If they collect five of them, they get to choose a sticker.

As I give out the last stamp the bell rings, it’s a satisfying feeling when a class ends at such a perfect time. I am pleased with myself as I head to the teachers’ room to spend my third period of the day. There’s a note on my desk with an adjusted schedule, a Japanese English teacher walks over and tells me he wasn’t able to teach as far as the schedule says, so I’ll be teaching the lesson before the one originally written. I have plenty of planning time so it’s not an issue. He wears a surgical mask which means he’s sick, that was me two weeks ago so all I have is empathy, it’s difficult to do this job when you’re sick, and he has way more responsibility than I do. The teachers’ room is full of masked teachers, so I send up a quick prayer that I don’t get sick again before looking at what I need to do.

There isn’t much, so I decide to do some blog planning, writing lists and ideas into a notebook. I also fish around for my bingo sheets as I’ll need them for fifth period. The time goes by quickly and the bell rings again, time for fourth period and my easiest class of the day.

I walk into the classroom and the students are surprised. The teacher had forgotten I was joining and puts away the CD player, a fitting analogy for my time working in this country. Today is the second lesson for the grammar of “I enjoy playing tennis” (gerunds) so it’s conversation day. I spend half of the lesson having a predetermined conversation with students, some of them painful, some of them annoying, most of them forgettable. The class ends and it’s time for lunch.

I’m to eat with the same seventh grade class I’ll be teaching fifth period, so I grab my tray of food that the lunch lady brought me and head to the classroom. I am underwhelmed today as it is seafood pilaf, corn salad, and weird fried tofu thing day. The seafood pilaf should really be called “Everything Kaley Hates From the Ocean Pilaf”. Manila clams, squid, and mini-shrimp. I pick around the seafood part of the pilaf but the clams’ dirty taste covers it all anyway. The tofu-thing is surprisingly good and I find myself wishing for seconds, and the corn salad is just what you would expect by corn drizzled in soy sauce. The class is loud, one boy tosses the tie of another across the room and the teacher wears it for the remainder of the period. The group I am sitting with is silent and doesn’t reply to my questions, thankfully Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s song playing overt the speakers provide enough entertainment that I’m not sitting there completely silent, and the excitement they express when they learn that I am coming to class fifth period leaves the lunch on a high note.

During the afternoon break I make copies, glad the machine is off of the strange setting it was on yesterday. I had spent ten minutes using the other copy machine the day before and wasted too much paper trying to figure it out. I go through the worksheets deeming some of them “lucky” and signing them, a little surprise for the students that really holds no extra meaning but they enjoy. Sometimes it’s the little things for them, too.

I get to class and a few mothers are there. The seventh graders are to practice in the gym during sixth period for the aforementioned chorus contest and parents were invited. The class is noisy and somewhat stressful, kids not listening and the teacher and I trying to keep them focused. The bingo game I play using Japanese holidays and the question “When is Kodomo No Hi (Children’s Day)?” is frantic but fun. We play it twice. The second activity is less so but the students practice the target language more so I count that as a plus. The bell rings before all but one pair finish. After the greeting I am surrounded by students who have collected five stamps and therefore get a choice of a sticker. Again, it’s the little things. After a girl walks up to me and says she enjoys my little drawings. In class I use “A-san”, “B-san” and “C-san” to demonstrate conversations, they each have little faces that I can draw in a second using one or two lines. The girl asks for a drawing and hands me a piece of paper. I quickly draw myself giving two thumbs up and “Let’s study English!” in a speech bubble. She clutches it to her chest as she walks of so pleased with it. The best part of my day, hands down.

I shove my way through students in the hallway, greeting the ninth grade boys goofing off outside of the bathroom. I sit down and look at my schedule again, deciding that for the day I have nothing else I need to prepare, there’s enough free time tomorrow. I sit down at the computer and type up this blog entry while the sounds of ninth graders practicing for the chorus contest echoes in the hallway. I still have no idea what they are singing but I know when I go to bed tonight it’ll echo in my ears.

Tomorrow I’ll wake up before 7.

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