a trip to the zoo

Coming to you live and direct from my desk at Asakura Agricultural High School. I am teaching here for the first time today, doing a new and improved version of the "self-introduction" act that I performed at my base school. I was warned that the students were rowdy, disobedient, and bad, and i gotta say, it's all true and i love it.

In Japan, students go through a universal public school system up until Junior high. Education in Junior high school means, much like in America, you see a cross-section of students at all levels. Future businessmen, farmers, politicians and truck drivers all share the classroom. Then they graduate from junior high and take high school entrance exams. Thus their lives of assessment and rank-ordering will begin.

There are a few different tiers of high schools in Japan. My every-day school, Asakura High School, is an upper-level academic variety. It's somewhat analogous to American prep schools; over 90% of the graduates will go on to universities, so that means that the students are very hard workers, but the curriculum is focused on testing and memorization, which ain't exactly how most ALT's wish to conduct their conversationally based classes. My students are brilliant and kind, but also frustratingly shy and unwilling to generate content or participate in english dialog even when they know how. they are conditioned to fear failure. Failure means not passing the test. Not passing the test means not getting into that prep school or college. not getting into that college means no bright future. So when the ALT comes to visit and asks them to "Practice these phrases with your partner!" the reaction isn't exactly warm and exuberant. The one part of my class that does factor into their grades are the textbook activities and the vocabulary there-of that they have to memorize. My least favorite part of the class. The kids who really participate and seem to be much smarter as a result are actually the special ed students. because they arent afraid to TRY.

THIS school on the other hand-- Asakura Agricultural School, is a little different. This is an occupational school. Not many of the kids are gonna go to college, and those who do aren't aiming for the most competetive ones. So that means that, yes they are not gonna work so hard, especially in English class, but there is an overall higher proportion of those wanting to give it a shot. They try to sound things out! My god, They ask questions! I'm in heaven. TIme to go teach class number 3

Update: 9PM
Okay the third class was a doozy. It was the largest and rowdiest of the bunch, and the students were chotto....

Yeah they were loud and yelling the whole time. texting on their phones and whatnot. It was exhausting. But still there were glimmers where a few students had that promising look of simultaneous interest and understanding on their faces, and that is so redeeming. And as I mentioned above. these students are not afraid to ask questions or come right and and say what they're thinking. I really enjoyed the change of pace today.

Oh yeah and this one kid who had no uniform (which is like a BIG nono)... actually he was wearing a CANIBIS jumpter... He kept running into the room SCREAMING and sliding around the floor on his knees. The teacher kept shooing him out and he came back like at least three times. It was hilarious. I couldnt stop laughing. And apparently some of the students that were supposed to be in my class, straight up went to a math class instead. Others were half undressed. Or half wearing gym clothes. It was ridiculous and i totally loved it.

I recovered by watching medical dramas all night. I should explain. This week and last week in my regular classes, we have been learning English of "Going to the Doctor." Last week i explained to them about my job working in a pediatrics clinic, and this week i figured it would be a good follow up to play a game where they have to use english phrases (i.e. what's wrong? i have a sore throat) in a format i have dubbed HUMAN BINGO. (I can explain if you're curious about how to play human bingo).

Anyway that will be for the first half of my 50 minute class, and during the second half i wanted to show them House MD or Scrubs.

But i quickly realized that showing them a whole episode of a show is pretty usepess without the Japanese subtitles, and soon found that i couldnt download a subtitled version of either show anywhere. So I had to settle for what was available in Best Denki's foreign DVD section: ER or Grey's Anatomy. (Best Denki is just like Best Buy).

So i previewed all the episodes tonight and found the *almost* perfect episode of Grey's Anatomy to show. It uses a lot of the words and phrases we used last week, and there is even a bit about a patient who can't speak english, and the miscommunication is touching and inspirational, etc. Seriously i almost cried because i live in Japan and I know how it can be SO hard to communicate when something is really important.

Anyway, so i have to show them this episode, but there's one problem: a part of the episode's story arc revolves around a SEVERED PENIS. When it came up at the beginning i figured i could just skip past it and save a few minutes, but they keep coming back to it OVER and OVER again throughout the episode. So ive decided to just be honest and direct because i really think the good outweighs the inappropriateness. I'll let my JTE's know what's up and give it my best! my students are too shy to laugh uproriously anyway. ha.

So yeah i just spent the rest of the night watching videos like this: http://jp.youtube.com/watch?v=QIr2oEpyCoQ&feature=related

Oh yeah, additionally i took the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) for the first time yesterday. I attempted yon-kyuu (level 4) which is the lowest of the 4 levels, working their way towards 1.

It was a really good experience and I am more motivated than ever to study Japanese. My conversation is pretty acceptable, and it has gotten to the point where I am often superficially complemented on my "masterful Japanese" (this is a common complaint of any foreigner in Japan who has taken a college class, and only means that they notice you have SOME ability to talk)

but i basically have learned everything i know by conversation with Japanese friends. So while I am getting pretty skilled at communicating my general ideas in broken Japanese/easy English, I rarely crack an actual resource such as a textbook, and have therefore made little progress in the way of really learning the rules, verb conjugations, and so on. Now, having taken (and probably failed) the test now, i am more inspired to get serious about learning the textbook stuff. I have one Japanese friend who is a qualified tutor who may start meeting every week me for private lessons. Also, I am thinking that if i did indeed fail the JLPT, i may drop out of my Wednesday class downtown and search for a more academic, possibly closer one.

The advantages of the Wednesday class, such as having an excuse to go downtown and meet with other ALTs) have been gradually outweighed by a now constant flow of invitations and plans with friendsas well as the expenses in time and money of going downtown and coming home at 11 in the middle of the week. Now it's getting colder and colder, So spending 18 bucks to go downtown for two hours, only to come home and not have enough time to get sufficient rest, is getting less and less fun. Speaking of winter, i may be high on kerosene fumes from my heater right now.

Anyway, one funny thing about the JLPT was that you can see Japanese society in the test questions. Unfortunately i couldnt photograph it because it is an extremely official beaurocratic test issued perhaps by a part of the government (everyone in the country starts the test at exactly the same time, etc. it's very official and you can put it on your resume). So for example, the males in the test are always doing something like studying or going someplace important, while the females in the examples and diagrams are always gardenning, washing dishes, making bread, or occasionally going somewhere important attached to a man. Very interesting.

Well there goes another night in Amagi. Time for a hot bath and a nice pre-warmed bed (thank you electric blanket)!