Category Archives: schools

School fest

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October 29, 2011

Jr. High School Festival

Taking the simple stuff and making it fantastic

This is a post that’s been sittin’ on the burners a while, sorry. There’s been so much going on these last few months. The second I can relax, I usually fall asleep. As of right now, I’m going through the last few weeks of classes and it’s wearing me down. I said my last “See you” to one of my elementary schools the other day and I was this close to crying in front of everyone. Giving me goodbye letters was hard enough but then one class actually read them all aloud to me… now that I can actually understand basic Japanese it was like a lovely kind of torture. My junior high kids are going to kill me, figuratively.

Let’s time travel back to the end of October. Also a busy time but full of awesome. My JHS was prepping for this festival. I kept hearing about it but didn’t understand exactly what it was or how it worked. All I knew was that I would be at the school the day before and the day of the event.

Next thing I know, I’m wandering the halls after my classes were finished just looking for trouble. I ended up making paper flowers, connecting paper chain links, giving painting advice, and generally being a huge distraction for the kids. They spent days getting materials together and making all sorts of artsy decorations.

All the stairwells in use for the day had these strips across them. I thought it was really smart way to get an interesting perspective effect.

And of course there were advertisements for the different ‘corners’ around the school. There were areas for snacks and all manner of games. One was a Japanese game show style, another was a gesture comedy show like Who’s Line Is It Anyway.

The opening ceremony had the best banner I’d ever seen come out of JHS.

Next there were a few speech contest winners who presented in Japanese.

One student, a first year, gave her English speech that one speech contests here and also nationwide. Rather impressive.

Next came the singing competition. Each class had to sing a song and there were trophies for the winners of each grade (in Japan, JHS has 3 grades – 7, 8, and 9 but call them 1, 2, 3 years). The trophies weren’t awarded until the end of the day… a few of the 3rd year girls cried because they were upset about not winning. It was little competition, unfortunately. The girls were all evenly matched but the boys were a bit more obvious in their weaknesses.

All in all, it was a lovely day. I felt honored to be a part of it. It gave me a chance to connect more with the students outside of a classroom setting. Some of them open up amazingly when not confronted with a blackboard.

The real surprise is their level of dedication. They aren’t even in high school and they’re more focused and organized than half the folks I knew in college. It blew my mind at first. After a while, I became less jaded and saw some the possible problems that cause and are caused by this high level of dedication. To name one, the conformity dilemma. Nothing wrong with it out right but the suppression of independent thought is a bit of an issue for me. I’ll have to devote a whole post to this topic, however.

Next, I’ll try to get Hiroshima and a couple other posts done before I leave Japan. Now I’m off to add (or distract) my JHS kids during their prep for graduation. I hear we’ll be drawing on blackboards and decorating the whole school for the 3rd years. Why is it so sad!

With love – M

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A duck in a chicken coop

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Making sense of a Japanese Teacher’s Room

For those not on the East Coast of the States, let me paint a quick picture of what I am used to concerning public school teacher’s rooms. In all of my schools, there were no single rooms where all the teachers had desks. Each teacher had a desk in his or her respective room and that is their office for all intensive purposes. The only time teachers could be seen conversing together would be in the faculty lunch room. In college, this was slightly different but not by much. The teachers still had separate offices but at least were together in their respective major’s hallways.

In Japan, I have found a different system. There is one central Teacher’s Room (shokuinshitsu) in which every single teacher (including the office assistants and principal/vice principal) has a desk. At my Jr High school, some teachers also have separate rooms closer to their classrooms. Still, every teacher of that subject has a desk there. The only person who sort of has an office of their own is the Principal but I don’t see them in there very often. Typically, they sit at a desk out in the open with everyone else.

I know, thrilling stuff, right? Well hold your horses. What I find so fascinating about this setup is the difference in group harmony that happens. I agree with many of my fellow ALT’s who say that this would never fly in the States. But being an idealist, I would like to believe that there are certain parts that we could certainly profit by taking into consideration. Firstly, there’s the matter of conversations and questions being more easily brought up because you don’t even have to leave the room to get someone. In many cases the Japanese teachers don’t even get out of their seats. Also, it’s easier for parents and visitors to find the teachers they need. Very heavy on efficiency.

Then there’s the whole “Wa” thing. Click it, I don’t wanna post all that here. In a way, it curbs gossip and helps promote group relationships rather than one on one. Not to say they don’t gossip. It just seems like there’s a lot more open honesty and understanding going on than what I’ve seen in schools back home. As in most Japanese situations, these folks seem to be pretty good at biting their tongues… unlike me. I have let to see an open argument or heavy disagreement anywhere, school or otherwise. It’s amazing when I remember how often I see people getting upset with each other back home. Here, everything is done with delicate inferences or behind closed doors. I couldn’t be more grateful at how forgiving they are of my brash American behavior

Yet again, it’s the little things that stick out as most important to me. Like the principal tending the school grounds, planting and pruning in his spare time. Or the staff member who’s sole responsibility seems to play Mom to everyone (she makes tea at several key points in the day for all the faculty, does janitorial type duties, and keeps everyone informed on the social happenings of the day/week). And even the benign neglect that happens from time to time, at some schools more than others. What do I mean by benign neglect?

Well, I don’t think I’ve coined the phrase, but to me it’s like someone goes away and needs you to look after their dog. But you don’t know anything about dogs and have never met this dog before. You may attempt at communicating with it on some basic level but unless you spend lots of your freetime working with it, you end up just sort of ignoring it unless it needs something. I don’t mean to say that they treat me like an animal. It’s just the feeling that happens here. They mean no harm by it. Many of them honestly don’t have the time or interest in learning enough English to even have a broken conversation. I believe there’s also a level of intimidation that I imbue, as do most foreigners here. Sometimes it gets a bit frustrating because I really want to get better at my Japanese language skills and I’m sure some them want to practice their English as well. The hardest part is taking that first step and making sure it’s understood on both sides that mistakes are not only acceptable but also welcomed.

Why a duck in a chicken coop? I think you already know who’s the duck.

With love – M

The Oops and Recovery

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Man oh man. There’s been a bit of back and forth on things so I was trying to wait for the dust to settle before I did another update. To be clear, not ‘bad’ back and forth, just… lots of decisions to be made. Some rearranging of my schools and also where I’ll be living. I will update with maps as soon as I have a more final answer/decision. The worst part is waiting for a reply. Gotta love that 14 hour time difference.

I had my not-so-official last day in the office this past Friday. Fortunately and unfortunately, since this isn’t really my job and I’ve pretty much taken on my bosses duties out of the goodness of my heart, I can drop the reigns at any point. But I won’t. I’m seeing all these loose ends through as far as I can see them. The last thing I want is for this program to suffer any just because I got tired and let some things slide. It’s not in my nature. But, come to an end it shall. I can’t really help anyone while on the other side of the world… well, maybe just some emails here and there… and some powerpoint presentations… and maybe some website stuff… GAH.

On to heavier things.

The Oops: The day I was going to mail my visa, I discovered my passport was missing from our family safe. On the night before I was going in to get my replacement passport, I discover my birth certificate is also missing. I officially have thieving gnomes that follow me around. Panic ensued.

And Recovery: After a few tears, I gathered my wits and sent off for my birth certificate. I wasn’t born here, in Delaware, so I had to request it from Orange County, Florida. I know, right? Just my luck. Surprisingly, I got it less than 3 business days after I ordered it using the credit card expedited method they recommended. Then I was off to get my passport replacement, which went off without a hitch. (Make sure you have all your paperwork in order BEFORE you go! Several people were having fits due to their own unpreparedness.) And today I picked up my passport, again just under 3 business day wait, and mailed it off to the Consulate in New York.

When I hold that visa in my hand, then I shall dance and scream SUCCESS.

For those of you out there who fear this scenario, and fear it you should, don’t be like me and wait to make sure that passport is where you think it is. Caress it each week until you send it off for your visa. But at least, in this sort of worst case event, all is not lost. Well, it was… but I made it reappear. Stay sharp, stay calm. As Tim Gunn says, make it work!

And now for some awesome.

With love – M

Destination Confusion

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After a little hiatus from blogging, I have returned. There have been quite a few variables floating around and a few have been pinned down recently so I can finally chat about them in confidence. From where I would like to live to where my schools actually are, it’s been a little turbulent.

There tends to be some frustration involved when dealing with people over long distance primarily via email. It has little to do with the people on either end and more to do with the fact that we have to wait till the following day sometimes to get a response. Thankfully, my contacts at Interac have been plugging away at making sure my needs are satisfied as can be. I ask a question, I get an answer. It may not be the answer I was looking for but hey, it could be worse. I’ll do my best to keep the next bits brief.

Shika is my city. Period. I believe my accommodation contact was trying to place me in Nanao (noted on the right side of the map) simply because that’s where they’ve had all the other ALTs previously. It is 45 minutes drive from Shika so you can imagine how far a drive that would be to  the 5 schools noted on the map. My dude is going to look into  finding a Leopalace in the Shika area but I’m not holding my breath. I did my own searching and found nothing. The closet building was in Hakui, about 30 minutes south. Unfortunately, google maps no longer lets me search for アパート which is just weird. Before I could pull up every apartment in Japan that was listed.

Click on the “View Larger Map” to see the actual addresses and such.

What happened originally was my dude gave me a call and we chatted about possibly having me move into one of the apartments that are currently occupied by ALTs that are leaving in April. This was a good idea in theory but like I said, they were all in Nanao and were way more expensive than the Hakui or Shika. Now it looks more and more like if I would like to get a place I actually want, it’s going to have to be on my own. A mightly daunting task, for sure, but a feasible one.

As you can see on the map, my schools are a little scattered. Three are well within acceptable distances (10 min, 17 min, and 23 min) but the two up north in Togi… a bit far. The saving grace is that I can take the cliff/sea-side highway and it’s about 45 minute drive to both schools. That will be just beautiful. The ugly icing on the cake? My base school is the Togi Jr. High. Of course, I mean why wouldn’t it be? It’s okay, I’m not really that bitter about it. It would have been too much of a dream to get the Shika Jr and Sr High schools like my placement guy thought I might.

Oh – and for anyone curious, I was originally just told I had 4 schools. That was it. I had to specifically ask for addresses. I assume they do this because things tend to change sometimes and it’s easier to give you all the information during orientation. But since I’m renting a place on my own, I want to have it reserved BEFORE my butt lands in Japan. In fact I may look at a couple apartments since they’re all so close to each other in the town. And then I sent another email asking that I please be notified should any of my schools change so that I can plan accordingly. Osaka Branch got back to me lightening quick to let me know I had another school (the 23 minute one). I guess it’s a compliment. They must think I’m pretty hot stuff.

The biggest issue now is how to go about getting a guarantor. For those that don’t know, this is something that most all apartment real estate agents require for any foreigner: a native Japanese to co-sign, essentially saying that you aren’t going to take off at a moments notice and are at least somewhat trustworthy. Though I could whip up more glowing recommendations than threads in a shirt… I don’t think it would get me anywhere. This seems to be one of those things in Japan that is simply unbending. Right now, my feelers are out with a friend who works in the state government of Delaware and with a friend in Japan who has recently discovered a fellow JET ALT who found a guarantor through her board of education of her prefecture. Hmmm…

That’s enough for now. I’ll do another blog soon about packing struggles. Since I’m a girl, I’m sure it’ll be unendingly entertaining.

With love – M