September 13, 2000


Right now I'm feeling: tired, but good

Right now I'm listening to: Nanase Aikawa

Nanase 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

I pass by these fields every day on the way to the train station from Isao JHS

When 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, too!

To keep birds away, farmers use mock-up scarecrows, ribbons and streamers.

Almost ready to harvest, maybe just a week or so...


The harvesting begins!
--Continued tomorrow!--

Link 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!


Every 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).

Students 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.

Five 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?)

They 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:

G: "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."

One of my students won last year.
One of Glen's won, too.

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.

It's 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.

I've 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.

To 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.

Glen 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 that.

When 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.

I'm 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.

Only a couple more weeks until the contest. September 30 has a big red circle around it on the wall calendar.

We'll see what we'll see.

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