Where’d the Oregonian go?

23 08 2010

This morning I woke up and it was grey outside. We’ve had a lot of grey days recently, so I assume it will warm up. At my junior high (where I was today), they are doing construction and rarely open the windows. I choose light clothes, to keep from overheating, while sitting in the stuffy staffroom. Once ready, I grab my bag, slip on my flip-flops and take off for school on my bike.

I have one class over the course of the day, so I spend my day trying to book a flight home, studying Japanese and chatting with friends.

As I walk to the second year room for lunch, I realize it’s pouring and decide my best course of action is to hope it will let up before 4:30, when I get to head home.

Slowly the minutes tick by. I am working on an email when 4:30 rolls around. I say goodbye to the friends I’m chatting with and the teachers who are actually in the staffroom at that time (many are out doing things with the students).

When I get to the genkan, where we change our shoes as we come in or out, I stand there for a minute, just stare at the rain, and laugh. I’m an Oregonian, I should have known better, right? Why did I think the rain would hold off as the weather forecast said? (Probably because it didn’t come at all this weekend).

As I’m standing there, Kanayama-san, our janitor walks up and asks if I have an umbrella. I shake my head no and mention that I have no jacket either, thinking still about how I should have known better. He smiles and hands me an umbrella. I ask if it’s ok and he says it is.

As I reach my hand into the box labeled with レベッカ (Rebecca), I remember that I wore flip-flops that morning. I slowly switch my shoes, thinking of how wet I’m about to get and head outside to realize this is going to be my first-ever umbrella bike ride.

By the time I get to the bike shelter across the parking lot, I’ve avoided a few puddles and watched a few students go running to or from the building in rain suits. “They were prepared,” I think.

The bike shelter surprises me, when I arrive, because it has a good inch of water or so on the ground that I have to wade through to get to my bike. Getting a bike out with one hand on an umbrella is much more complicated than I expect, but I get the bike out with minimal water on the seat and only slightly wet toes.

As I ride across the parking lot, I realize that it’s not as hard as I thought it would have been (especially considering I was trying to text and bike ride the other day). Holding the umbrella out in the wind, so that I can still see is the most difficult part.

Very quickly, I realize that hurrying home on my bike with the wind in my face and an umbrella in hand is a bad idea and will likely cause a gaijin-bicycle scramble (gaijin = foreigner). Thinking about how crazy this is and that I’d never have attempted it at home, I spend the whole ride home laughing. I begin laughing even harder when I realize that the umbrella helped me avoid a shower that included my head, but very much didn’t prevent the rest of my body from being soaked.


What will happen next year?

12 07 2010

Interestingly enough, with all the cutbacks being made world-wide, JET is rumored to now on the chopping block as well. The only real article about it is here, and it doesn’t even to have any real, solid facts.

Regardless, it makes me wonder what will happen if they just up and drop JET. I’ll have some notice, because they wouldn’t be able to do it until the end of a contract year (a year from August, at the soonest).

In my town, it would mean they don’t have to “deal” with having someone who can’t speak the language around. At the same time, they’d miss out on realizing that not everyone speaks Japanese, that my culture has me thinking about things entirely different sometimes.

In general, it would mean there would be less of us causing a ruckus whenever we end up in a giant group (which isn’t too often). There will be way less foreigners to practice English with on the trains, sneakily snap photos of and be generally confused by.

Less foreigners would be able to come over knowing that they have this amazing support system that JET provides for us.

For me, it would mean I’ll be thrown into a crazy dash to find jobs in Japan (should I want to stay) or the insanity of teaching jobs being cut at home.

I know that God will lead and provide wherever he leads, but it has me very curious to see what the future looks like for both Japan (including these people I care about), my JET friends and myself.

The future, it’s a scary thing

6 04 2010

Today, in thinking about teaching and having random thoughts floating around in my head, I realized that I had been out of school for a year and a half before coming to Japan. No big deal. Until I put that next to my future hope of teaching and the way Oregon teaching licenses work currently. They are good for 3 years, then you have to renew.

Simple, right? Well, I’m currently working on a master’s course so I’ll be able to renew my license and not lose it while I’m in Japan. My thinking with this was I would arrive home, have another year on the license I’m working toward and then have to renew again. But that didn’t account for the fact that I worked before I came to Japan.

Oops. That’s an easy solution though, if I stay here and the only requirement is that I have done more masters work, then I do that and easily renew my teaching license. All well and good. Except, I only get to renew three times before I am required to get my masters (with the possibility of renewing one more time for 1 year to finish).

So where does that leave my future thoughts? Well, if I do end up staying here for 5 years (though who knows what God’s plans are), maybe I’ll spend my first year back in a master’s course or taking classes to go towards it while subbing. Hmm, that means I should probably be thinking about what options there are for getting a masters and decide what type of master’s degree I’d like to work toward. Wow. That means when I thought I finally got to escape from school, I need to be thinking about it again.

More English learning laughs!

9 03 2010

My first year high school students are currently working on skits. Today, they were working on them during class. I was helping a group of four girls. We were chatting a bit (with very limited Japanese/English). All of a sudden one of the girls reaches into her pocket (she’s wearing a skirt). I tell them I’ve never had a skirt with pockets (might be a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s been a VERY long time if I have). This is one of the reasons I hate dressing up, is the lack of pockets. The girls were amazed and one asked the others (in Japanese, so this is my understanding of the conversation – mostly from gestures) where you carry your handkerchief. She considers the pocket in their jacket, but can see that I’m obviously not wearing a jacket (and rarely do). Then they think of the bathrooms that have automatic hand dryers (not at school). They continue with this line of thinking to decide I must blow on my hands to dry them. When I showed them that I just dry my hands on my pants, they were utterly confused.

After school, I was invited to practice with the badminton club. When I arrived, they were stretching. One of the girls started pushing on her friend (apparently to help him stretch). He started screaming, “Ahhhh! Ahhhh! Ahhhh! Scream! Ahhhh! Ahhhh! Ahhhh!” I’m sure they thought I was the worst ALT ever, laughing while a kid is screaming, but I could tell he was not seriously hurting. He then wanted to know if he had used the wrong word and I had to explain that we don’t usually stop screaming to say “Scream.”

Gender Identity In Japanese and Western Culture: The Definitive Something or Other*

25 11 2009

Today I spent another day with my Junior High School students. It was a good day. But as I stand there often not involved in classes except to read for the students to repeat (human tape recorder, we call it), I get to observe my students. This is always an interesting way to keep my mind occupied.

As I stand there, I frequently notice that the boys in the class have some very “girly” school supplies. Minnie Mouse Folders, pink pencils and plenty of other things. Why is it that guys in the US think that these types of things would make them less “manly”? Why is it that American society deems these things “girly?” Why do we have to separate things and jobs as feminine or masculine?

The differences continue outside the classroom. Construction equipment here is often cute. Elephants, frogs and monkeys hold up bars to keep people seeing the edge of the road. The lifter things that help people reach power lines, painted like giraffes.Why is it that construction equipment at home is never painted in pastel colors? Or pinks? Or any of the colors we deem “feminine?” Or is it because animals are “childish?” If that’s the case, who quit liking animals after they were an adult?

In the states, we also seem to classify jobs this way. How many male elementary teachers have you met? There are usually one or two at any school, clearly outnumbered. How many women do you know going into computer science? I know a handful, but I know way more men. Why is this? Didn’t God give us each unique talents and abilities? Why would women not be able to do some jobs and men not be able to do others?

I may be crazy to share all of these thoughts, but at home I get annoyed when the boys in the classroom think they can’t be good at reading or writing because they’re “girl subjects” (or sometimes even school at all), or when a girl thinks she can’t be good at math or science because they’re “boy subjects.” Students seem to choose this way of thinking all the time (or did when I was subbing).

I’m not trying to say that women should be better than men at everything or vice versa. I just get annoyed with the way we box things into gender. Why are school supplies, colors, school subjects and professions categorized into genders? They have no gender. They’re inanimate objects.

Will we ever be able to disconnect these things from gender? Would lifting these boxes that we have put ourselves and those around us in change anything? I’m not sure. I would hope that it would make everyone help to be themselves. Help them to dress in the colors they want to. Help them to do a job they love rather than shying away from it because it’s not something they should be doing.

*Title thanks to: Elizabeth, author of Futons, Fish, and Ferries and one of my regular blog editors

English Class today

13 11 2009

Today I got to visit what is probably my favorite school, mostly because when I go, I get to spend the entire day at the school and really get to know the kids (which is incredible). The students are one sixth-grade boy, two third graders (girl and boy), three third graders (2 boys and one girl), two second grade girls, and two first-grade girls. They are an insanely fun group.

I was informed about the English lesson moments before going into the classroom. The teacher wanted me to pronounce the cards with the animals on them and then read the story. That got my brain going. If I was going to read this story, which the students weren’t likely to understand all the words to, how was I going to keep them engaged? (Keeping students engaged is always a big question for me, because it cuts down on management problems).

We got into the classroom and I asked, “How are you?”, “How’s the weather?”, “What’s the date today?” (the regular set of questions). As usual, most of the students do not know the month to be able to say the date. I have one third grader who seems to be particularly gifted in English who can almost always answer the question (maybe he studies at home?).

Then we pronounced the words, kids repeated (pretty standard way to start). After some questioning of students on the words, we moved on and played karuta. Karuta is a game I was introduced to in my high school Japanese class. The teacher calls a word and the first kid to slap the flash card wins it. The kid with the most cards at the end wins. We played a few rounds, with me being silly at the end and calling random non-animals (like carrot) when there was only one card left, to see if they were really listening.

After Karuta, came the story. It was about animal noises. To solve my earlier problem, I decided to pass out the cards with the animals. Each student was responsible to hold up her/his card when she/he heard the animal’s noise.

Please remember that as they were being asked to do this, most of the animal noises that we use in English are different than the ones that Japanese people use for animal noises. So as we went through the story, a few of the students held their animal up for every noise, until they got it right, and a few actually tried hard. They stayed engaged the whole time though. That was the best part; I didn’t lose any students while reading a story which most students didn’t understand.

Morning light
My view a couple of mornings ago.

Confessions of a Junken player

12 11 2009

“You’re a strong Junken player” is what one of my students said about me (as translated by the English teacher). The funny thing is I have learned how to win or lose at Junken in Japan on purpose.

Junken, for those of you not in Japan, is Rock, Paper Scissors. Japanese people have an incredible chant that goes with it, I don’t completely have it down and I’m pretty sure I’m mis-pronouncing the words when I do say them.

Different from home though, is the fact that EVERYTHING can be decided by Junken here. Which team are you on for a sports game? Junken. Who just won the card in the game we’re playing as a class? Junken. I’ve even heard rumors that it’s used in Japanese business meetings (obviously I’m not present, so I’m not so sure).

Anyways, I figured out that I can decide whether to win or lose when I was first playing with students shortly after arriving. It was about a week after school started and all the elementary students from my four small schools came together at Shimokanayama Elementary, for a grand total of 29 students.

On this day, we had a big tournament where each time you won, people hooked onto your back and you kept going with this train of people behind you. Well the first few times I didn’t really have the chant down and I didn’t know when to show my symbol. So somehow, I ended up with paper. Then I realized I was winning each time. My elementary students were always playing rock first.

I thought, there’s no way, someone has to play something different. But can I win the whole thing only playing paper? Sure enough, who was the winner? Me. So in a battle against teachers and students, the foreigner who was playing for the first time in Japan won. Awesome!

Today, we played a game that used it as well. It was a game where we had flash cards laid out and the two teams were starting at either end of the line, when they met they had to say “Dom!” then Junken (used as a verb here). The loser went back, their team started from the beginning, and the other team continued. The goal was to get to the other end.

I based what I played on where we were in the line. If I was less than half way through, I would play paper and win, if more than that, I would play scissors and lose, giving the students who aren’t native English speakers a fair chance. Most of the time this theory worked. My team never did get to the other end, but I did find a few students who played something else and won or lost when I wasn’t expecting to.

At the end of class, students share their impressions. One girl commented that I am a “strong Junken player.” I had to laugh on the inside because she must have just met me each time when I was “winning” rather than “losing.”