Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Heaters and Speech Contest

What a busy few days! I doubt that comment will end for another month when I get some breathing room in December :D Here's some exciting news on the home front!

The weather is cooling down here. I have noticed I am much more acclimated this year than last. Last year at this time I was miserable, coming to school every day thinking they *might* turn on the heater. I have heard a lot of the new people complaining already, which is why I noticed that I must be used to life here. I just finally took out my heater at home and used it last night. I've been using my kotatsu table and blanket for a little while, but that was more out of fun and comfort because I bought a new table. It's been enough to keep me warm recently.

Last night I was tired after a long three days and decided it was much cold enough with the rain that I could use my kerosene heater. At school, I just know they won't turn on the heat. Today I'm wearing my thermal underwear and socks, and two shirts (and will probably put my fleece on soon!) and also have adopted the Japanese "lap blanket" when at work. So, I'm sitting here at my desk with a blanket over my lap. And yes, the windows are open and I'm not complaining (though I closed a few when no one was around thinking the Japanese are crazy).

On Sunday there was a speech contest in Numazu. It's mostly past speech contest season, but my student for some reason entered this one that was so late. In the end it was a good thing, because I doubt she would have been ready for it earlier. I have been working with her after school for several weeks now, and it's been tiring to get home after dark every day (though it gets dark early, I haven't been staying THAT late). She's worked really hard at memorizing her speech and I was really proud of her! I don't think she really likes school or other subjects all that much, but she is passionate about learning English because her brother is studying at a university in America and she wants to do the same. She ended up getting second place in the contest! She won a big trophy and certificate, as well as a gift certificate for some department store I think.

The winners and the judges

My student in the middle with her prizes

The other contestants had really good pronunciation and speaking skills, I was impressed with the contest. Though my student's pronunciation wasn't perfect, she worked really hard and several people in the contest had been to English speaking countries, so she had a hard battle to fight! I think she mostly did so well because she had memorized her speech. After the contest we were invited to a little celebration with cookies and drinks, where she had to then give a short speech in Japanese, a formality that often occurs in Japan. They presented her with flowers and she had to give a small thank you speech to the people who put on the speech contest and things like that. She also said thank you to me during the speech for helping her, which was nice.

Accepting her flowers and giving her impromptu thank you speech

Just before that, I was talking to some of the judges (other ALTs) about how in Japan you always have to be ready to give an impromptu speech. Japanese are always interested in our impression of things, in addition to the fact that it's just normal to ask anyone, Japanese or foreign, to give their impression as a formality. So of course, just after that discussion, I was asked to give a speech, despite the fact that I was in no way a part of the speech contest planning or judging. Why I had to give a speech and not the other teachers who were actually being paid to be there, I have no explanation for except that maybe she mentioned me in her speech. So, I sucked it up as I've become accustomed to doing, and I think it was probably one of my better impromptu speeches. And my student thought it was funny and was taking pictures of me on her cell phone.

Happy it's over and glad she did well!

Overall, it was a good experience for both of us I think. I enjoy working one on one with my students, and we got to know each other a little better and could ask each other questions about our culture and lifestyles. So despite working an extra day with no pay or compensation, I'm glad I did it and proud of how hard she worked to succeed.

After a long Sunday at the contest, I had to go to our prefectural mid-year seminar on Monday and Tuesday. So my Monday morning started off driving 2 hours to Kakegawa, the middle of no where, to an educational facility that has many conference rooms and then also dorms for us to stay overnight. Everyone who has been on the JET program for more than a year has to give a presentation. So, a teacher from my school and I had to give a 50 minute presentation. Our audience was relatively small compared to some of the other presentations with only 16 people. It was a presentation on "Communicating with your ALT" and it was for JTE (ALT = Assistant Language Teacher and JTE = Japanese Teacher of English). The presentation went alright, I hope that the teachers felt it was somewhat useful. It honestly didn't go as well as I'd hoped, but I'm really just glad it's over with. I dreaded it for a long time to be honest.

In addition to giving a presentation, I of course went to several other seminars that other ALTs were presenting. I went to one on "Understanding English Education in Japan" that was especially helpful, as well as one on Teaching Global Issues. I got a few ideas from several other presentations as well. I also got a lot of time to talk to my supervisor. Japanese teachers are really busy, partly because all Japanese appear to be busy. But in reality, my supervisor really is quite busy. She has two kids and has to prepare their lunches early in the morning and drive to school, where she is a homeroom teacher and in charge of the "student uniform committee". Homeroom teachers are like surrogate parents. If students get into trouble outside of school, they are often called even before the parents. They have to worry about the students health, morals and well-being as well. So that means lots of phone calls to students' parents. For uniforms, she has to come to school early some days and stand at the entrance of the school, scolding students who roll their skirts up, don't have their ties straight, don't tuck in their shirts, etc. Also, she has a full load of classes and I'm sure many other things that I don't even know about really. But anyway, back to the original point, I got basically two days of her undivided attention. It was good time to ask questions and just get to know each other better. Overall, though I was dreading the seminar, it ended up being much more useful than I remember last year being.

The JET program that I came to Japan with is being cut in several prefectures. With the economy the way it is and continuing budget cuts to education (I'm sure much the same as in the United States), people are trying to find ways to save money. As some of you know and others don't, JET is pretty much the best program there is for teaching ESL in Japan, and arguably the world. It pays well, comes with great benefits, has good training, and also great support and networking opportunities. That being said, it's also the most expensive for the people who host it in Japan. So as budgets are being cut, more and more schools are going with private companies who pay their teachers less, but also don't make them work during summer and school vacations. I definitely see the reasoning behind going with the private companies, there are positives on both sides. So there were rumors of this happening my my prefecture, as it was being discussed by the board of education to change to private ALTs. Now since I'm planning to leave, you would think it wouldn't matter so much to me, but if they were to change over the system starting this year, it would probably mean that I had to empty my apartment before leaving Japan. That would be especially difficult if I couldn't sell or give my things to other ALTs and would cost me money to throw things like furniture, appliances and electronics away. That is just one more stress that I wouldn't want to deal with when having to leave Japan. It was announced on Monday at the seminar, that Shizuoka has decided to continue on with JET for at least another year until the decision comes up again next year. That was a great relief to hear and start off the week with!

I guess that's all for today. It ended up being a long post about the boring happenings of life lately, but I'll end that on a positive note saying that life in Japan is just that for me -- the same old. Feeling comfortable in life and adjusted to living in a foreign country. I suppose that means a big adjustment when I come back home! Take care everyone!


k8inorbit said...

Very interesting to hear about the decision to stay on with JET. It's sad to think of the program being cut, but at the same time, when I think of our workload compared to the Interac kids, I can kind of understand it. Still. Hopefully they'll hang on a bit longer.

ash said...

Yeah, as official decision time gets closer, it's getting harder to stick with that decision! I'm afraid of trying to come back and find a job!!!!

k8inorbit said...

yeah, i hear you. would you want to just try teaching in a different country?

tough call. :(