Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Students and Teachers

Today I missed my bus. Both buses, actually. Going to work and coming back from work. When I miss my bus going to work, I have to take a cab, which comes out to about $25. I hate taking a cab to work. It's so Devil Wears Prada. This morning I was running really late but the cab driver lady got me there on time and I said she must have been a race car driver in a previous life and I was actually quite scared during the trip but I gave her a Soy Joy as a thank you present.

Leaving work I missed my bus because I was talking to my students. We were walking along the sidewalk, and I didn't know their names (I only know about 1/3 of the kids' names) and they asked me if I was married (I hate that question!) and then what I thought of one of the English teachers. I really try to avoid talking about my superiors on here, but I've come to the realization that although, yes, there is a slim chance that someone that shouldn't find this blog will, and I may get in trouble, that chance is very very slim, considering this is in English and they probably wouldn't bother reading it.

So I'm having a problem with one of my teachers. I have been ever since I got to my new school, but I still have no idea how to handle it really.

At my last school, the teacher was so strict, it was shocking. I'll call him Mr. Loud Voice. I remember one day in the beginning of class two boys had traded seats that were right next to each other and the teacher went off on them for what seemed like a few minutes, about how class time is serious, and you have to respect your learning, and what are you doing playing around like that? There was also a hard of hearing girl that had private English classes with the two of us, three total, and when she didn't know the answer or couldn't understand what he was saying he would get so animated and shove her hand away and point to the textbook and bark at her so loudly my own desk would vibrate. It was very uncomfortable.

This teacher at my new school is the complete opposite. He'll be Mr. Spiky Field. My first day, he was unclear as to what my job was going to be, and he thought that he would be my assistant! And he looks 40!

The only thing he ever does to discipline the kids is to say either, "Please by quiet," or "Be quiet!" usually in Japanese, but he never backs it up with anything.

He talks in polite form to the students, and in super polite form to me.

He slouches so much if you were to draw lines extending from his mouth and his shoulders, the mouth line would be below his shoulders.

He hardly looks at me in the eyes, and when he needs to talk to me about something he sometimes runs away before I have a chance to ask him a question about what he just said.

The warm-ups that go over really well in the other grades are hated by this class (the first years, which makes this all even worse, because last year in elementary school they got used to super happy fun English time) so I feel that any idea I have won't be warmly received by the students, because they will see it not as a fun game but as another hard class assignment to force them to learn something they have no idea how to use. The other grades are much more enthusiastic about English, and because this year uses almost no reinforcement, they see the warm ups not as learning time but as impossible tasks.

The class time is simply the teacher translating the conversations from the books into Japanese, and the kids writing it down, and then he explains how the grammar works, and they write that down, and they only practice the conversations about 4 times total. Much of the classtime is spent with him looking at his notes or the textbook, thinking about what to write or do next, while the kids have already finished writing and are waiting for him to continue but then get bored and start talking to their friends. And more than half of the chalkboard on any given day is in Japanese.

The worksheets with funny faces I have tried to use have mostly been met with failure, because the kids are completely overwhelmed by how much English they don't know, and they don't take classtime seriously so instead of doing a conversation to gather information from their partner's paper, they just compare side by side and write the answers down. The teacher does nothing to stop this.

He also (still!) writes the Japanese pronunciation of words the flashcards, on the chalkboard, and stands next to a kid saying each word slowly so that they can write it down in their books. At my last school, another teacher (Mrs. Rocky Tortoise), even from day 1, would make them erase whenever they tried to do that, so they actually learned to read. Then Mr. Spiky Field criticizes them when their pronunciation is too Japanese, even if it's a kid that has just answered his first question all year because he was too shy.

Last week two boys were throwing an eraser back and forth across the room.

On a test once there was an entire page of problems that looked like this:
I (day / study / every / English).
But if a kid didn't put a period on their final sentence, even though the period is on the outside of the parenthesis and thus isn't explicitly necessary, the entire problem was wrong.

When I first got to the school, there were kids that couldn't write their own name. There are still kids that don't know the difference between capital and lowercase letters.

Some of the kids actually have an interest in English. Despite the fact that on a recent test, when they had to make an "I don't like ___" sentence, and incredible number of them put English as their answer, there are a couple of students that I'm always telling to be quiet and listen, even though I don't want to because they aren't getting anything out of the lessons anyways, and they're trying to have an English conversation with me, even if they're asking me to breakfast, which is completely hilarious especially when I tell them the meaning of the sentence that just came out of their mouth. But they're so bored with the lessons they make up ridiculous stuff, and say it to me, or ask what things mean, or ask how to say something, and I really really want to talk with them like that but doing so would interrupt the rest of the class.

I could make it better. But the kids know that I'm an assistant, and not the main teacher, and the amount of clout I get in the classroom is n-1, although I do try a lot more than Mr. Spiky Field. Although the English has gotten so much better since I came, and they don't all seem to hate this new person that came into their school and made them do awful warm ups.

ANYWAYS, back to missing the bus. Today I was walking outside of the school, and the third year boys saw me and stopped and said goodbye very enthusiastically, and I ran into two first year girls, and they asked me about the teacher. First they asked me what I thought of him. I replied that he was very nice, which is true. Then they asked what my first impression was. I said that I forgot, that it was a long time ago and there was a lot going on that day, which is also true. Then I asked them what they thought of him. They said he was tayorinai. I had no idea what word meant, so I pulled out my phone and looked it up with my handy cell phone dictionary.

Oh, dear. I looked it up on another dictionary and it was even worse.

I think what I really got out of it though is that the kids, within five minutes of walking with the evil disciplinarian, managed to a) ask me what I thought of him which means that they were really really curious and b) let me know that they didn't like him which means that they really either trusted me or wanted me to know so I could fix it.

They also asked me what my reaction would be if he proposed to me.

Why can't I do something about it? Welcome to Japan. I do, however, have a meeting with my supervisor on Friday, and I'm going to bring this up in the meeting if I can, which I surely intend to do, since she's seen the teacher in action and didn't seem pleased and I've told her I needed her help already.

This wasn't really intended to be such a long ranty post, sorry. But I really needed to get it out. This was supposed to be about the ridiculous of carrying your gym shoes with you all day because you have to wear inside shoes when you go, but oh well.

If you work for the Board of Education and somehow have managed to read this, I like my job as a whole! Really! Please don't fire me!


Elizabeth said...

Here's my western and biased reaction as your sister but from reading your email I can tell you really care about the kids learning and want to do a good job at your job! I hope you do have a productive conversation and get some support from your upcoming meeting. It should come across how much you care if you let her know what you're dealing with and a good teacher will want to support you and the kids :) love you!

Anonymous said...

Wow, that's a big deal.. I'm sure you will handle it correctly, but it is a difficult situation, to say the least.
love you...

Vanessa Rogers said...

the joys of teaching English hey?!