Sunday, September 26, 2010

bfg on letters

I love writing letters.

Its the sound of the pen on paper that does it for me. I want to make sure I hear the scratch as the words flow out of me onto the page I secretly drown in the sound of the crunch the pen makes as it stresses the paper.

I am not sure why. Or rather, what it is about that sound that I adore. Maybe it is because for a moment I can imagine myself in an Emma-style dress and my name is Jane and I can write an amazing novel about a girl named Elizabeth and an amazing asshole of a boy named Darcy.

My two best friends since High School both live far away; twins, they found love outside of Montreal. One is in Yukon, the other in Austria... and it has been hard with all these years apart being able to keep that connection we had as girls; that understanding of really getting each other. So I started writing them letters and refusing to write any e-mails. The thing in the end was I loved imagining them reaching into their mailbox, pulling out my letter, being surprised, being happy!, and touching something that I did. Rose would sometimes write me a note saying, "I read your letter over breakfast and a bowl of oatmeal." That image of her made me feel like I was there with her, just like when I would board at Scanlon Palace, eating cereal and listening to Ben Harper.

And there is an intimacy to letter writing. Just something shared and special... its hard to loose an email you can easily retrieve. Letters require shoeboxes and closet space.

So today I was writing a long letter to my friend C. She had taken the time to actually write me about her teaching stage and her assignment via email. I was writing away fast as my two fingers can go on my iPhone and I was just frustrated that I couldn't be at my desk... with my MUJI pen. I wanted to write this to her and at the same time I wanted to write this to everyone.

She asked, "How are your troublesome students? Has talking with homeroom teachers helped? "

Oh, C (and world) I never spoke with the homeroom teachers. Most of them won't even talk to me. I understand! They are so busy! I went in this Saturday to pick up a computer wire I forgot and teachers were there, making photocopies, prepping lessons. I was so surprised. I knew they worked weekends but SEEING it in the flesh is a whole other animal. 

The past week has been hectic. No. It has been chaos. 

Speech contest students everyday added about 2 hrs of unpaid overtime to my weekly schedule. Four nights out of five I met with people who helped me with my Japanese sources for my thesis - which is welcome. The closer I get to the finish line the faster I get to party my ass off in this country. Lesson planning... honestly, I really suck at it. I over plan. Case in point last Friday. I decided I would give my kids a "fun" lesson. I taught them 12 vocabulary words - like "deck" and "shuffle". Then, I divided them into groups and admittedly I did it based on their English ability. So each team got an envelope with a deck of cards and directions on how to play a game; Crazy 8s, Pig!, and War. The point was to make it fair and cater to the students level... the kids with difficulty get an easier game the kids with a higher ability are able to be challenged... I mixed the levels between the four players in the group but kept it fair so that it was challenging but not overwhelming.

Or so I thought! 

Photocopies made. I stickered the envelopes... I like pretty things! I get a tap on my shoulder. "Vanessa sensei, can I look at the lesson one more time?"

"Sure." I hand the envelopes over to her again. Last Tuesday I had the lesson okayed, last Wednesday I had shown both my JTEs the sheets for approval. So everything was fine...

"This is too hard."


"Too hard. So sorry. The students can't do this."

"But my lesson is in two hours. It took me all weekend to prepare this stuff." Not to mention me needing to pay 1,000 YEN from my pocket for the deck of cards.

"We understand. This is why we will translate everything."

And off they both go. Translating. They asked me questions, not understanding some parts. I was so frustrated. With myself for again making a lesson that was too hard, at the JTEs because I had done this EARLY to avoid this, and the well... the JTEs. Fuck! Why couldn't they do this to me two days earlier?

They handed me the translated papers. "You can give this to them."

Shit, I must sound like a crybaby but (again) I was so close to tears. I looked at them. "I am going to cry."

"No, don't cry. We are sorry you worked hard."

"No. It is not that" Well, it was a little. "Now, this isn't a class about English. This is a class on learning a card game and that is not what I am supposed to be teaching here." And, probably because I was so fed up I did something I normally would not have the guts to do, "No, I won't do this. Sorry. They will have to play the game in English." Pause. "We can take keywords and translate but I refuse to give them something completely translated. Not in my class."

I think they may have been scared of me. They actually listened to me. They probably think I am a major bitch but I don't care. Tough luck - my students come first. 

The class was a success but even though I only taught for one hour I was FINISHED at the end of the day. 

And all this weekend, I have been having fun with my awesome True Blood party and having the Hamamatsu JETs over but right now I am worried about Fridays lesson. What can I do that won't be too hard, won't be boring but still be in English?!

 And how the fuck am I supposed to make a lesson based on Team Teaching? Because, ballsy as I may be there is no way I am making a lesson which tells someone else (read JTE here) what to do. That is not me. I hate explaining to them anyways, I get really bitchy. They overuse please all the time. Example.

Moi: "So to start off, as usual I like to tell them their hanko scores."

One JTE:"Oh. Can you please tell them the hanko scores at the beginning of the class?"

Okay... " Yes, exactly."

"And you counted the Hanko?"

No, I invented the number. "Yes."

"I am sorry for this. Please count the hanko."

"I already counted."

"Oh, thank you. And will you put this on your computer?" This translates into PowerPoint.

"Yes. It is exactly the same as in all my classes."

"Please do Power Point for this every class."

"Yes. I just said..." I am about to EXPLODE.

"I am sorry for this. Thank you."

That paired with bad breath and the bodily noises going on around me... I think I am going to get out of the teacher's room all too soon. I want to socialize but no one has invited me to anything so screw that - I can make my own party in the teacher's room. Serve some virgin Pina Coladas as I show the students my tattoos and scratch my belly but NOT fart, burb or slurp my noodles.

Did somebody say heaven?

No but in all honesty - I have made progress. And fallen in love.

My OCII class seems to really enjoy their journals. They love them! I bought the journals at MUJI a popular store here, and told them, "This is yours." The look on their faces was worth the 900 yen I paid for them. They coloured it, put pictures and all sorts of things. It was amazing! And my two weakest students in class wrote me amazing entries. I was really happy because I feel like in this class I am accurately assessing them: they have reading exercises every class (ten minutes first thing), a written exam every class (90 seconds at the end of class), speaking and participation grades (during class) and journal writing which is at home and they have 5 days to do one entry (about 10 lines). In this class, I am able, since there are only 8 students, to change my mind, revamp things, and change up my timing to cover what I need to do. If one person doesn't understand I catch them and try as a group to explain it. Its really great and I think though the kids think I am tough as nails and make them work way too much, I actually want them to learn and not just babysit. Its tough love but love none the less.

But my first graders... god, that is survival. On average, 35 students in the class. You have no idea... its a zoo. Its hell. I want to die. Any activity that involves them getting up is horrible. They understand little and well, remember the towel student? Or the boy in my class who looks me straight in the face and says "No. I won't do anything." He won't write a test. Won't make a hanko card. Nothing. I even sat down next to him and say in my best non-fake fake voice, "You can do it!"! But nothing. 

Discouraged, I wrote a letter to every single student. All 346 (I still have 34 left to write for Tuesdays class). It took me many the late night to get this done but yeah... I survived. I don't know... with some of them, the fact that I took the time to write the letter... omg! The look on their face, it was like I gave them an awesome gift. Others threw it on the floor. I just picked them up and taped it to their test. I felt bad throwing it away since I did work on it but I knew this wouldn't work on everyone.

I just don't get the people who say ALTing is easy. Its hard, man. I have to take time from my personal life right now to stay afloat. But if I don't invest this time now to make a firm impression (of a teacher that wants them to learn and believes they can do it even though society has given up on them) I won't be able to do it later.

Its the letters from C and others who take the time that are saving me. Her letter, though there was no ink and no paper, really reminded me that there are teachers out there who are just Awesome and can make it easy (or seemingly so). And that there are friends who understand my very fast though nicely accented English. I just need to get through this rocky stage I guess to get the flow. 

But, its true, I really am a hardass.

Okay more concrete updates tomorrow. Not to mention, I still need to write my True Blood post.

bfg is off to bed but leaving SKYPE on. Hoping I can open gifts with Antonio (its his birthday) :)

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