Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Night and Day existence of an ALT

Hey Gang -

How are things? I thought I would do a good, old-fashioned text post - no pictures, no vids, just me babbling about something for a few paragraphs. ii desu ka? (OK?) OK, good.

Monday and Tuesday of this week pretty well illustrate the night and day nature of the job of an ALT.

Let me preface with a few facts about my job, in case you are new to my blog or just have forgotten -

I work at one Chugakko (Jr High School). Only one - this is somewhat rare, in that many ALTs are assigned to work at more than one Jr High. But I have the one base school - Taisha JH.
From there, I often leave during the day and go to one of my 5 shogakko (elementary schools). These shogakko visits are all scheduled in advance, and I usually know what lessons will be taught and what will be expected of me at least one day in advance.
There are 6 periods in a school day - most of the time. The Japanese school day starts at roughly 8:30am and goes until 4pm.
So if I have to visit a shogakko and teach two 4th grade classes 3rd and 4th period, then I go to my Jr High in the morning, possibly teach a class first or 2nd period, leave for my shogakko, teach there, and then come back to my Jr High to eat lunch, possibly teach 5th or 6th period, and finish the day.
There are all kinds of exceptions to the above, but you get the idea.
This approach to shogakko visits is also somewhat rare - many of my friends who are ALTs in nearby towns have to go to their elementary school for the entire day anytime they are scheduled to teach at one, regardless of how many classes they will teach that day. This is silly in my opinion, but I digress -so I will save that discussion for another blog.

OK - so now back to Monday the 21st and Tuesday the 22nd.

Monday I had no shoagkko visits planned - so it was a full day at my Jr High. I have a schedule board on my desk, where the 5 English teachers (JTEs) at my school can sign up to have me come to their class. Sitting at my desk on Monday morning at 8am, I noticed that the board was empty in the Monday column save for 5th period, where Moriyama sensei had written in 2-1, meaning that she wanted me to come to Class 1 of the Ni Nen Sei (8th grade) with her after lunch. And that was it.
So from 8:30am until lunch at 12:40, I was supposed to amuse myself. Luckily, I had a bunch of marking to do, let over from the pervious week.

I don't mind having the occasional low-impact day. It makes a nice change from all the days when I'm really busy. But I can see why some ALTs hate it, and if these type of days happen often, you can feel underused.

Friday was a day of big tests for all my Jr High kids -the chukan tests - kinda like mid-term exams back in the States. So all week they were busy studying and preparing, which meant that I didn't have that many classes at my Chugakko and no after school clubs all week, since the kids were supposed to go home and study.

But Tuesday was an exception. I was scheduled to visit my smallest shogakko - Usagi Sho. And by small, I mean the school has 9 students - nine in the whole school! It was my first visit there since the new school year started in April. It takes me about 25 minutes to drive from my chugakko up into the mountains to Usagi Sho. I was supposed to visit for just 2nd period - roughly 9:30am to 10:15am - but the kindergarten teacher wanted me to stop by her class during 3rd period and chat with the 3 kindergarten students for a few minutes. I taught all 9 students (ranging from 1st grade to 5th grade) in the gym during 2nd period - we worked on colors. So at my Jr High, I blocked off 1st thru 3rd periods, indicating that I would be gone those periods at Usagi Sho, factoring in the driving time. And before I left on Monday, periods 4, 5 and 6 for Tuesday were also blovked off by my Jr High teachers. So I taught ichi nen sei (7th graders) 4th period with Toma sensei, my optional English class of 9th graders 5th period and then a regular 9th grade class 6th period. Quite a full day, but it wasn't over.

Once a month I volunteer at the local library, and they have me read big, English picture books to really small kids, usually age 1-6. So I finished 6th period at about 3:30 (we were on a shorter schedule that day - where classes are only 45 minutes long instead of 50 minutes) and then went over to the library where I read books to a roomfull of little kids from 4 to 4:30.

And then a former teacher met me at the library and we chatted in the courtyard for about an hour.

Monday I was a sloth, not really moving that much, and Tuesday I was a cheetah, racing from place to place - doing something different at every new stop.

I'll try to post pics of the kids at Usagi soon. Oh, and Tuesday was also my friend, Ang's, birthday - so Happy Birthday ANG!!

Hope you have a good week - I have to go get some sleep now - tomorrow I'll be riding the bullet train to Kobe.

See ya,

PS - OK, I knda lied - here is one picture - my kids at Usagi Sho :)

Usagi Sho - first visit of 07-08 school year

Sunday, May 20, 2007

new display inside LL room

new display inside LL room - 1.jpg
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

As part of my upcoming presentation at the Kobe recontracting conference, I will talk to the ALTs about "surrounding their kids with English" - creating a stimulating enviroment for them to study and work in.
Some teachers might find this distracting, but I think giving the kids something to look at and/or read when they are walking down the halls or putting their indoor slippers on is a good thing.
This picture was taken inside my LL (Language Lab) classroom at my Jr High. I rotate the pictures and put up new displays about every two months as I have time. I had purchased some Japanese movie magazines that had supplements listing the top 50 movie stars of all time and another showing great movie posters. So I cut them up and created this movie display, with a small sign in Japanese that says "These are some of my favorite movies and actors - what is your favorite movie? Who is your favorite movie star?"
You can click on this pic and see some others - including the 2nd half of this wall and the outside wall, where I made a display all about Spider-Man 3, and I also displayed pictures I took of the kids in April. The kids love these displays.

It takes a little extra time and effort to maintain these displays, but we all have some down time as ALTs and I think it's worth the effort.


Presentation of clubs to shin ichi nen sei

Presentation of clubs to shin ichi nen sei - 15.jpg
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

during the first weeks of the new school year, all the clubs in the school have kind of an open-house, where the new 7th graders can stop by and watch them practice and see which after-school club/sports team they want to join. Before that they have an assembly in the gym where all the clubs give a short presentation extolling the virtures of their club, how often they practice, what tournaments they have coming up, etc.
Then they usually give a little demonstration - judo throws, volleyball spikes, tennis lobs, chorus singing, etc.

I uploaded some pics from this assembly and I have some video from that day too which I'll try to post to my YouTube site soon.

Me & Miki

Me & Miki
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

Miki is a great kid - an 8th grader on the Track & Field team. She almost never lets me take her picture - but this day she was all smiles. She is always smiling and is a very genki kid, she just always runs away when I have my camera out, so these pics are very rare. :)

TJH girls' Tennis

TJH girls' Tennis - 2_1.jpg
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

Hey Gang,

I just uploaded 84 pictures from April and the first week of May, a weeklong holiday here called Golden Week.

Pics from various school ceremonies and sporting events I attended. And just goofy pics from around school.

Hope you enjoy - I'll try to add names to all the pics as I have time.


Thursday, May 17, 2007

First Day of school & Nyuugakushiki

This picture makes me happy!
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

April 9th was the first day of the new school year here in Japan. On April 10th, we had a ceremony for the new Ichi Nen Sei (7th graders) called a "nyuugakushiki." It's an entrance ceremony with some speeches and music - nothing too exciting, but the 8th graders get to decorate the homeroom classrooms for their new kouhai (underclassmen).
So I walked around both days and snapped a bunch of pics - about 60 of which I just uploaded to my Flickr site.
I'll try to get around to individually labeling them soon - but they have a lot of good "before and after" type shots of the decorating, and a bunch of shots of my awesome kids running around the halls.
There are also some pics of the ceremony and the new kids filing into the gym.

I choose a few pics out of each batch to add to a file on my laptop that runs a slideshow on my desktop. Many computers can run your own pics as a screensaver, but Apple allows you to have your desktop change at the frequency you choose.
This pic of Hazuki and Nagisa makes me smile everytime it pops up on my desktop - I love the unguarded nature of it juxtaposed with Nagisa doing the perfect Japanese "peace" pose.

More pics from the first month of school soon.


Sunday, May 13, 2007

my own horn...

Hey Gang,

Here is one of those posts where I get to tell you all how cool I am. No, seriously - I am cool. Just ask my students. What? The opinion of 14 year olds who don't know any other foreigners don't count?? What's up with that?

OK - kidding aside. I'm off to Kobe for an ALT conference in two weeks. I got selected to be a presenter at the conference for 1st year ALTs who have decided to stay a 2nd year. I went and spoke at this same conference last year and had lots of positive feedback from my workshop, which is all about using your laptop and other tech toys in the classroom.

I never got any official feedback, from the conference surveys that the attendees fill out, and when I mentioned that to the guys coordinating this year's conference, they found my feedback from last year and forwarded it to me.

So, yeah, I'm gonna toot my own horn a bit...

Of the 200+ ALTs that attended my two workshops last year in Kobe, 187 gave me a rating, on a scale of 1 (being poor) to 4 (being excellent).
I got no "1"s, so that's cool. I got five "2"s - for "average." I got fifty-three "3"s - for "good," and I got 129 "4"s - for "excellent." Not bad.
People were also able to write in comments - here are a few:
"was excellently presented by someone who clearly loves being a teacher and is damn good at it. Practical, relevant and inspiring. Top Stuff!"
"Very good ideas and concrete advice."
"It was awesome."
"It was obvious that many of the presenters were simply going through the motions, uninterested in passing on anything useful. The exception was audio and visual aids, which was relevant, very well executed and energizing."
"Of all the workshops I thought that this one was the most thought provoking and creative. I will be most certainly be using many of the ideas presented, and building on them to create a more lively and communicative learning environment."
"Jason Harris’ workshop was more useful than the other workshops combined."

Ok - I'll stop now. :)

But comments like those from your colleagues really make my day. Because I did work hard on the presentation and I did try and pack it with useful ideas. So I'm really happy that many people, including others that emailed me, put comments on my blog here, or just caught me in the lobby of the hotel and said how much they enjoyed my workshop, got something out of my presentation, and I'm really looking forward to doing it again this year.

I really do enjoy this type of public speaking - where I know what I'm talking about - have a passion for what I'm talking about - and know that the people listening can really benefit from what I have to say.
I hope to bring this same kind of energy and excitement to my history classrooms back in the States when I eventually become a teacher.

Anyway - I'm gonna be busy in the next few weeks getting ready for this year's Kobe conference, but I still hope to get some posts up. I had a fun Sunday, watching my kids play kendo and last night I got to play cards with Eric, Chris and Susie, which I always enjoy.

It's Mother's Day in America today - so to my Mom - who now lives in America again - HAPPY MOM'S DAY!!! Wish I was there to give you my gift in person, but I hope you enjoy it anyway.

Thanks for indulging my horn playing... :)

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Aya, Minami & Kyoko

Aya, Minami & Kyoko
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

Click on this pic to see my 9th graders (San Nen Sei) enjoying their Beach BBQ. The kids cook all kinds of foods - mostly yakisoba and okonomiyaki, but also all kinds of other noodle dishes and BBQ beef and vegetables and then dessert. It's quite a production.

With these pics - I've passed 2000 pictures on my Flickr site. And I now have over 6000 in my iPhoto file on my laptop. I'm a photo-taking fool!
I realized recently that the new memory chip I have for my camera is a good thing and a bad thing. Just a year ago, I went to a band concert and was confined to taking just 30 pictures - the amount allowed by the internal camera memory I was using. But this year I snapped away, taking 96 pics that day. The memory card gives me the freedom to take as many as I want - but I'm terrible at deleting pics - I tend to keep them all. And maybe having to be more selective when I didn't have the card made me a somewhat better photographer - I had to choose my shots and only keep those that were good. I'm not sure - I just know that I took about 450 pics of my kids in April alone - crazy! :)


Yuki & Makiko

Yuki & Makiko
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

My desk is situated with the Ni Nen Sei (8th grade) teachers in the staff room, so when we had a recent school trip, I tagged along with the 8th graders most of the day.
Every year, the whole school gathers at nearby Inasa beach and then we hike about 5 kms up the coast to some rugged stretches of beach where the kids get to prepare and eat a BBQ lunch.
Click on this pic to see pics from this really fun day with my Ni Nen Sei kids. I got really sunburnt by the end of the day, despite it being cloudy most of the morning - it really was perfect weather for a Beach BBQ.

Tsukasa, Chiharu & Naoko

Tsukasa, Chiharu & Naoko
Originally uploaded by Jason In Japan.

click on this pic to get a look at the 7th graders enjoying their time on the beach

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Taisha Grad vids

Hey Gang,

I've uploaded 5 short vids I took last March at my Jr High during their farewell to the 9th graders and graduation ceremonies.

You can see how solem and somewhat boring Japanese Jr High graduations are - not much clapping or cheering. And see my awesome san nen sei from last year as they walk off into the sunset after it's all over.
And I've included two short clips of the san nen sei walking into our gym for their farewell ceremony, called a Yo Sen Kai. This is where I showed the short picture movie I made, which is also on my YouTube site.

I included this mostly because I know now that at least some of my kids are checking my blog and looking at the videos and pictures I post. Most of them couldn't read, or couldn't be bothered to read, my explanations and decriptions, put they can watch the vids and see the pics.

Anyway - enjoy the vids and I should have more new stuff up by the end of the week.

I'm tired tonight because I worked out with my kendo team after school, after taking about a week off for the Golden Week holidays, and I'm exhausted. It's also started to warm up here a bit, so I was sweating more today, and I'm a bit achy.
But I hope to combine these workouts with some walking I'm doing to hopefully lose some weight in the coming months. I recently went to the movies with my JET friends Trevor and Signe and they both look great, having lost a bunch of weight thru an e-diet and exercise. Kudos to them!