Wednesday, April 21, 2010

More Than Just April

Today at Higashiyama had it's own series of ups and downs. More downs than I would like (all in relationship to giving me the right information in order to plan an effective lesson!). On Monday, when I was totally unprepared, I spoke with the head English teacher and let her know that I needed some ide a of what to teach for my lessons, since I hadn't received said fax. She gave me some fairly specific information, stating that I was supposed to be teaching the same topic (and class) to the 5th and 6th grade classes today, pointing me to specific pages in the Eigo-note textbook and telling me exactly what exercises I should be doing. Seems simple enough, right?

Except that the fifth graders aren't using that book yet, and they aren't supposed to be learning dates so the “When's your birthday? My birthday is...” schema doesn't work, They barely know months of the year. Also, they can't really write well in English yet (something that my lesson assumed they could do, solely because the exercises that the head English teacher gave me required writing. So my first fifth grade class was a disaster (not as much of a disaster as my first Monday class, but still, quite painful). The kids didn't have the knowledge base to understand my lesson, and I kept having to shift things around and backtrack in order to get them to be able to participate at all. And so the kids and I were quite frustrated. I did my best not to let my frustration show (of course). This wasn't their fault!

This lesson and these concepts aren't even in the Eigo-Note curriculum for fifth graders, at least according to the teaching materials that my company gave me, which I looked up at the end of the day, after my last class, when I realized fully how little of my lesson the kids were actually understanding. (my last HRT was a real dream, but all of the teachers today were helpful. We were all just caught under the same bus of misinformation.)

Then, to put the cherry on the Sundae of disorganization and confusion, I found out when I apologized again to one of my fifth grade HRTs about the class (and told him that I didn't really know what the students here knew and didn't know, to which he responded that they hadn't really learned months yet (though we'd done some of that work in class) and that the birthday lesson (with ordinal numbers) was just too difficult for them. I walked him over to the calendar for me, posted on the wall) which included my topics for each day, and he squinted at it and said that the lessons were out of order.

The next lesson “what month is this,” should actually have come before the “when's your birthday?” lesson. Which makes a heck of a lot more sense! So now I'm in an awful position for the next class too. The lesson will be way too easy for the sixth graders, who already know what month it is and also know ordinal numbers (though I will review that), and it will also be a step back for the fifth graders, who also now know the months. I can make it work for the fifth graders (because they need the review considering how things were dumped on them), but the sixth graders are going to need some new material.

This week does not fill me with confidence in regards to my future lesson planning at this school, even if I do get this mythical fax with instructions about what I'm supposed to be doing. I'm trying to have some general, nonspecific conversations with my HRTs directly (as best as can be done within the context of our contract) about the general trend of the curriculum, so I can at least not be so wildly off base about what we're supposed to be doing, but, as I said, the results so far are not filling me with the happy. It's incredibly frustrating to try and construct lesson plans when you (a) don't know what the kids know and (b) aren't given accurate information about what the kids are supposed to be doing. I am grateful to the majority of my HRTs there, who today really did their best to have my back.

That said, there were some solid victories and fun moments for me today. First, it was 75 degrees today and sunny, so I decided to skip the bus and make the long bike ride to school again. What a great decision! The weather and exercise put me in a good mood for the morning, and after school I was able to bike around Toyota, get lost, and eventually reorient myself to find my way home...a huge accomplishment in Japan. Also in regards to life in school, there were some shining moments. First, I stopped at the convenience store before school and picked up some candies for all of the teachers (just on a whim). I gave these out after the students got home, and they were very well received. In fact, so well received that I was given permission to partake of the ice-cream bars that the principal had put in the freezer for the staff...wahoo!

Also, after school, there were two boys whose mom was coming to get them but who was running late. The boys came over and chatted with me. They barely spoke English, and I barely speak Japanese, but the younger one Naoshi (I think) wanted to show me his award (for something I didn't understand but I congratulated him profusely—he looked like he was about seven) and his older brother (whose name didn't catch) LOVED Michael Jackson. He started out just randomly chattering and then asked me if I liked Michael Jackson. When I said yes and started singing a little bit of Thriller with a poor attempt at a moonwalk in slippers, he got so excited, he started mimicking Michael Jackson moves and then did a really solid rendition of the chorus of “Billie Jean.” He looked to be about ten.

We had a great time! He asked if there were really blue eyed people in America, and I said yes we had blue eyed people, and green eyed people, but my eyes were brown. Then we had an in depth sharing of our various birthmarks) and some discussion about how there weren't any pink or purple eyed people in America, and that the only red eyed people I knew of were albinos (which I don't think made it across...that was a difficult concept).

I was sad to see them go. It was certainly my most productive conversation and teaching moment of the day. Also, this entire conversation was happening in the staff room, under the amused gazes of the other teachers; they kept thanking me and I kept saying it had been no problem and fun. I wish those two kids would come back and talk to me again. I had an hour and a half at the end of the day with, of course, nothing to do. Singing Michael Jackson with kids was a far more productive use of my time than banging my head against the “what month is it” lesson planning strategy.

After biking for an hour and a half around Toyota, taking the long way home, I found my way to VITS and did a couple of hours of Karaoke. The staff there all knows me, and the one guy was very excited that I'd bought a cell phone. I was able to chat with him for a bit. I'm not sure if they find me amusing or pathetic in my 1-3x/week Karaoke alone evenings, but it's fun for me and I'm happy to be remembered for whatever reason. I really love going through the menus, trying out new songs and old favorites and just generally singing. Karaoke with friends is GREAT! But there's also something to Karaoke by oneself. It's relaxing, low stress, and ultimately an act of discovery. Especially since my reading speed is at the point that I can try out new songs at random that seem interesting to me (provided they are not TOO fast).

I also tried making a new vegetable stir fry today: Chinese sprouts (the kind you throw on Pho), onions, these really cool thin and tiny Japanese mushrooms, pork with a special sauce I bought at the grocery store. It turned out great! So all in all, while there were some rocks in the road of my day, it was ultimately a good one.