I’ve been working for almost a month and my routine is very well established. I teach at four different schools from Thursday to Sunday, on Monday I have my CSD mission at the kindergarten and private company, and Tuesday and Wednesday are days off. In fact, at the end of June I have a whole week off (bar Monday) as the schools are all closed.
Thursday: Shin Urayasu
This is the school that is in the big Aeon shopping mall, one of the schools I visited for an observation lesson. It has a food court on the ground floor and a branch of Kaldi – the shop that sells foreign goods, including (to my delight) salt and vinegar flavoured Pringles, and Old El Paso Mexican food products.
One week I visited, the supermarket had a huge area set aside just for kiwi fruit. Thousands of the things. Fruit seems to be very seasonal here, at the start of June there were strawberries in all the supermarkets, now I can’t find them for love nor money.
A couple of weeks ago I was at Shin Urayasu with a cold, I had a couple of hours between lessons so I went to sit outside in the fresh air and sunlight. A man sitting on the same bench offered me tissues (I already had a box with me) and we got into a conversation. He was Japanese but spent most of his life in Canada and had only recently come back when his father became ill. He told me that kanji (the Chinese written alphabet where symbols represent whole words) is very difficult even for native Japanese and he had forgotton a lot of kanji while he was living in Canada. He also taught me some easy ways to remember the Japanese simple number system (itchy knee sun yawn go rock(u) nana hatch(i), cue, jew).
I have a senior teacher looking over my shoulder at Shin Urayasu – Will – which puts a bit more pressure on when I have lessons with very small children, where I am still finding my feet. He is very quick to tell me if the parents aren’t completely happy with the lessons. Little things like knowing how the air-conditioning works and making sure the room is the right temperature, and using different tables (and other spaces) for different activities. Keeping track of everything like that and remembering your lesson plan too, sometimes when you don’t have much time at all to prepare – it takes a lot of skill and attention to detail.
My teaching room is one of four – two don’t have windows so I’m quite lucky in that respect, although the view isn’t particularly inspiring. There’s another teacher, Arthur, who works in one of the windowless rooms. Disconcertingly, both he and Will are taller than me – I’m used to being the tallest person in the room (especially in Japan!) but there seem to be a spate of giants in this school!
Shin Urayasu means “New Urayasu” and I understand the area is reclaimed land from Tokyo Bay. Technically it is in the Chiba prefecture rather than Tokyo, but Urayasu is only a couple of stations from my Nishi-Kasai, and to get to Shin Urayasu from there I have to take a bus – I could do a long round trip by train but it seems a senseless waste of time and money! On these buses there is a different system again – you have to get on at the front, tell the driver your destination, and swipe your travel card, he changes the setting depending on how far you travel.
Monzen-Nakacho is a pretty central district – it’s where the Tozai and Oedo lines meet. In fact on Saturdays I have to change here to get to Kachidoki. The school is on a main street with covered pavements – handy for both rain and extreme sunshine, both of which there have been a lot of.
Walking around in my time between lessons, I found a department store, and a whole bunch of temples. It is interesting to observe that when mostly older Japanese pass by the door of a temple – or even a street leading to the door of a temple, they will pause, turn, and respectfully nod, before continuing on their way.
The school itself is quite small, and on Fridays I’m more or less the only teacher there – another Japanese teacher sometimes comes in for an hour or two. The schedule is pretty light compared to other days – mostly adults, a couple of pairs of schoolgirls, and nobody under the age of 8, it’s definitely the easiest day to get through.
I have already written about my first day at Kachidoki, Pepper the Robot was not there on subsequent weeks, presumably touring other offices. Nick, the tall English guy, has been very helpful and the counsellor and other teacher are very friendly. I got some invaluable advice on counselling – a special review lesson which all adult students are supposed to go through during June, and I also had my first successful taiken – a 20-minute demonstration lesson, this one with a 4-year old girl and her parents. Every taiken student that signs up for further lessons earns the teacher 1000 yen, so that was a nice bonus!
This is the toughest day for me, mainly because there are 3 back-to-back lessons with very young learners from 10:00, for which I have only 30 minutes to prepare – and often just finding the right materials, toys and flashcards can take up most of that time. I end up doing a lot of improvising and filling-time in those lessons, because sometimes the children just aren’t interested in the prepared exercise, and sometimes they complete it more quickly than I anticipated. Fortunately with very young children repetition is a significant part of the lesson anyway, so it’s not a huge problem if we do the same song or the same exercise two or three lessons in a row.
Kachidoki is a rather dull, anonymous business district. It has big towers, a few banks and convenience stores, and not much else. I usually don’t have any free time between lessons, but I don’t think there is much there to explore anyway.
Sunday: Nishi Kasai
My “home” school is very snug and friendly, on the third floor (second floor in English money) of a building above a coffee shop. My room has windows but apart from a narrow strip at the bottom you can’t see out of them because the school’s logo is plastered all over them.
The schedule for the first two weeks was super-light, but last week I had a couple of afternoon lessons with adults. They were very straightforward (40 minutes each), didn’t take much preparation and I was still finished by about 3pm. The morning lessons seem to have a rotating cast of kids, as many who miss lessons during the week will come in on Sunday for “make-up” lessons. So while I have classes listed as having 2 students I could end up teaching 4. It can be difficult in terms of remembering everyone’s names – Japanese names are hard enough to remember, and sometimes pronounce anyway. “Hira” and “Hiro” are different names, “Ema” is pronounced like an English “Emma” rather than “eema”, there are names with almost indiscernible extra syllables in the middle (like Yusu-uke) and anything that begins with Ryu, I always mess up. Sometimes you can get away with mumbling a name or using indistinct vowels – but it is something I will need to work on.
Because I only work one day at any given school, I generally don’t get to see most of the other teachers, including the senior teacher (except at Shin Urayasu). So it was nice that the guys at Nishi-Kasai organised a meal at a Chinese restaurant for all the new people starting, such as myself, and people moving on to different branches.
I got to meet Blindi, the senior teacher, who is from Essex, and Laura, who has just gone to another office but was my predecessor doing the Monday kindergarten lessons. I also met Casper, who arrived last summer – he has Japanese heritage but this is his first time living here – and Miguel, from Mexico, who is settled here with a family. I met the other counsellors too, the ones that don’t work on Sundays.
I learned a lot of useful information (including the gem that “chinchin” is the Japanese name for a boy’s private areas, so when telling the story of the Three Little Pigs it is probably better to miss out the line about “not by the hairs on my chinny chin chin”).
The food was quite good – I skipped the tofu but tried the fried noodles, and there were a couple of chicken dishes and a plate of fries and ketchup to keep me alive. My contribution came to about 800 yen, which was very reasonable for the portions (cheaper than KFC anyway!).
Monday: Ichikawa and Inage
My second week at Ichikawa kindergarten was much more successful than the first, and I think the kids enjoyed it, the head lady was nowhere to be seen. The third week she came in and watched parts of some of my lessons but didn’t give me any indication whether they were positively or negatively received. By now I am quite happy that I can translate the instruction manual and syllabus into three workable lessons including lots of movement, at least one song, and vocabulary practice, and I’m starting to enjoy the lessons. In the last one, I even had an English speaking kid in one of the groups – he said he didn’t understand much Japanese so I think my lessons were a bit of a relief to him!
The lessons in the private company on Monday evenings have also mostly gone well, but on the second week I had an absolute nightmare. It was pouring with rain all day, I ran into rush hour, I got to the bus station and realised I would be late so I tried to notify the school – using all the incorrect channels – eventually I was on the bus and about 15 minutes out from the site when I got the call that the lesson had been cancelled. So I had to travel all the way back – over an hour. To make things worse I lost my travel card which had 3000 yen of credit. And of course, I won’t be able to reclaim travel expenses because it was my fault I was late.
On the plus side I did see an awesome monorail system, but I’ll have to try and get a photo of that another week for you, when it isn’t raining so hard.
Needless to say, the following week I arrived an hour early and made copious use of the free wi-fi from the convenience store across the road from the site while I waited.