September 13, 2000
now I'm feeling: tired, but good
now I'm listening to: Nanase Aikawa
Aikawa-- Sekai wa kono te no naka ni
Dropped out of school at 15 to pursue dreams of making
music, she's on her fourth album now. Fantastic singer.
Go on.. push that 'play' button...
you know you want to...
Harvesting Rice: Part I
pass by these fields every day on the way to the train
station from Isao JHS
ripened, the rice fields are beautiful. The wind flows
across the tops of the stalks, rippling the field
like the waves of an ocean. They smell quite nice,
keep birds away, farmers use mock-up scarecrows, ribbons
ready to harvest, maybe just a week or so...
of the Day: Radio
Wasabi. A fellow online journaller runs a mailing
list dedicated to J-Pop! Check it out. These people
are way more diehard about J-Pop than I am!
year the city holds a recitation contest for all the junior
high schools in the city (including the private schools;
this is a point of controversy. Many teachers think they
should be excluded because they have private ALTs who can
coach them every day and the other schools have limited
access to ALTs. The teachers are also invariably better
at private schools. And if they want to send their students
abroad, they can reach into their own deep pockets instead
of the city's coffers. They have too many advantages over
the students at the public schools).
choose one adequately sized selection from their texts and
read it for the judges. Since all the students have the
same texts, the contest judges usually end up hearing the
same story 100 times. It's unfortunate. The private schools
have their own texts and sometimes-ambitious public JHS
students will try their hand at one of their selections
that are a bit harder. I think that this year, the ban on
getting texts from other prefectures and using the stories
in those for the contest has been lifted, so we might hear
some variation this year.
winners are selected and sent abroad, to Wakayama's sister
city in the US or Canada (Bakersfield, California, or
Richmond, British Columbia. Yes, I know… what an unfortunate
choice of an American sister city, huh?)
go the following spring, taken by an English teacher who
speaks less English than the students. They see a few tourist
sites, hopefully speak a little English, and then come back.
They return dazed and confused after one week in the Promised
Land, bringing omiyage by the bundles and stories
about the perfect, enthusiastic American students and how
everything is twice the size that it is in Japan.
So a couple
of the ALTs and I coach some of our students when we're at
their schools on rotation to help them prepare for the contest.
Sometimes we end up spending quite a bit of time with the
students and the contest becomes a point of rivalry:
"My student is going to be kicking ass and taking names,
so you might as well stop coaching yours, Jeff."
J: "Yeah? Well, my kid's gonna eat your students for breakfast
and make you shine her shoes after the contest."
of my students won last year.
In the past,
they have always chosen one of the three judges from the four
city ALTs, but I think that was another point of controversy.
Last year Glen was a judge and one of his students won the
prized trip. Immediately after the contest, the student's
parents approached Glen in the contest room and showered him
with gifts of thanks. It looked a bit strange to just about
everyone. This year they chose the CIR (Coordinator of International
Relations) to judge at the recitation contest.
One of Glen's won, too.
probably better for everyone that they do it like this because
there's no bias. Last year he thought some of his students
were better than mine, and vice-versa. It's not good to
have that kind of competition among potential judges. The
struggle to remain impartial only extends so far into the
subconscious, you know.
been helping the two contest participants at Isao during
July and again this month (I also went back to school a
couple of days during summer). They're both second graders
(that's eight grade North American, 13-14 years old). They've
made amazing progress. I've also coached two students at
Seiwa twice this month. This is a bit unusual because our
schools are usually far apart from each other.
get to Seiwa from Isao I have to walk down the mountain,
then take a train, walk from the station to my apartment,
then ride my bike to Seiwa. Takes about an hour and a half.
And you know what? I really don't mind it.
thinks I'm crazy for doing this, but I think this is the
most rewarding thing about this job. Here I can personally
teach a limited number of highly motivated students and
watch their progress. It's really … nice. And it's something
that I've been largely missing out on. The students are
always thankful for my help and always alert (as opposed
to trying to keep them awake during classes) and being able
to see their progress is very rewarding. My usual routine
of seeing each class at a school once, maybe twice every
three months doesn't allow for a lot of personal interaction,
nor does it let me see that they're actually learning what
I'm teaching them. Coaching these students gives me all
we're asked to help the participants with their pronunciation,
the students end up pronouncing the words like we do (naturally).
Unfortunately, there are such things as accents.
The ALTs teaching at the junior high schools this year hail
from the US, Canada, England, and Northern Ireland. Quite
a spread of accented English, wouldn't you say? I have been
very deliberate in teaching my students strictly American
English pronunciation (which the Northern Irish ALT teases
us about mercilessly); I can't do it any other way.
Many of their words now are flawless pronunciation, in America.
Will the judges take off or award more points for that specificity?
Last year I didn't teach the students so specifically, but
then again, last year, they had more general problems. Well,
I did the best I could, and therein lies one of the problems.
I've been coaching these two girls at Isao (their names
are Kiyoko and Hitomi, by the way) four days a week
for about an hour each time. I think I've been working them
too hard. Not giving them enough time to improve between
sessions. And they're starting to slip.
afraid they're getting discouraged with me always finding
things wrong with their pronunciation, even though I tell
them that I'm nitpicking on purpose. The two students at
Seiwa (who are third graders) seem to be much more adaptable
and are able to correct their pronunciation much faster
than the two students at Isao. If I coach again for the
contest next July, sessions will be fewer and farther between
to avoid this kind of backtracking... I feel like I'm spinning
my wheels. I also have the feeling that if Kiyoko and Hitomi
don't get the coveted prize, they're going to be terribly
disappointed because they practiced so much and tried so
hard. I'm not looking forward to picking up the pieces after
that bomb hits.
a couple more weeks until the contest. September 30 has
a big red circle around it on the wall calendar.
what we'll see.