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Month: February 2010

First Contact

I’ve just arrived home from my first full week of observation at my new school.  I work Tuesday through Friday at a little school near Hitotsubashigakuen station in Kodaira.  This area is west of the metro Tokyo area, where I lived previously.  I now live near Musashi Koganei station, about two stops away from where I work.  Here’s a map, for anyone interested (you may need to zoom out a bit).  Metro Tokyo is just to the east of this map.

My office is a small place, and I’m one of two native English speaking teachers employed there.  My school is a family-owned place – it’s a franchise operated by the Shuku family.  And when I say it’s family operated, I mean it.  The owner, Mr. Shuku (or ShukuPapa, as he is called), employs his son-in-law, Hideki Shuku (who took the family name when he married Mr. Shuku’s daughter) as the director/manager/grammar teacher at the school.  Mrs. Shuku (ShukuMama) also comes to the school to keep us in line and make conversation with the mothers.  Hideki’s daughter, Sumika, is 6, and is one of my students.


It’s a very warm, welcoming environment.  The kids I met this week are all fantastic.  Some will be a little more challenging than others – especially the junior high kids.  I remember being that age and being sure I was waaaaay too cool to be participating too, but I got along well with them and I hope they’ll transition to my teaching well.

This is my new desk space.  The chip containers are a game that Hannah and Tristan (the other English teacher) play with their students – they’re not really chip junkies (like me).  This is where lesson planning takes place every day before the lessons begin.  I’ll show up at 3:00 PM and put together all my lessons for the day here.  My schedule is changing a bit from this week on – I’ll be working 3:00-9:00 Tuesday through Thursday, and 3:00-8:30 on Fridays, with Saturday, Sunday, and Monday off.  I’m still unreasonably excited by how much time this allows for sleep and TV watching and anything else I choose to do with my time.

This is the lone “hall” in our school – it shows the doors for the three classrooms we use for our instructions.  Hideki, Tristan, and I share these rooms and our schedules are strict about which rooms we are to use at what time for what students.  These are the only rooms we use for teaching.  There is a lobby area, which I don’t have a picture of, and a small kitchen/eating area for the staff to use.

I would have taken a photo, but Hideki looked at me a little funny after I took this one, so I’ll save those pictures for another time, heh.

I spent the last four days getting to know the majority of my students – some were absent this week, and the schedule is changing from next week, so Tristan and I are swapping a few students.  The vast majority of my kids are very young – eleven and under.  I have two four year olds, lots between 5 and 10, and several middle schoolers.  Most of the kids have a great attitude and are very enthusiastic about learning.  The junior high students are quiet, but still participate.  I have a few classes with returnee kids – these are students that lived in an English-speaking country for a period of time.  These kids have a pretty high level of English and are very relaxing to work with.  Most of the kids have a great sense of humor, and they already have had hilarious things to say in front of me.

Next week I’ll start teaching solo.  I teach between 4 and 5 classes a day, for a total of 17 classes a week.  I’ll also do demonstration classes for students interested in joining the school.  I’m really looking forward to getting started.  I already have a lot of ideas for what I want to do with these classes and I’m eager to integrate them.  I’m really hoping that the kids will feel comfortable with me after the next couple of weeks.  I’d love to make class something they’ll enjoy.  I think I can do it.

But, as Takuya (one of my returnee students) said yesterday as we were doing a fill-in-the-blank proverb crossword: “Don’t count your chickens before they’re cooked.”

I hear ya, man.

I am trained.

Today (Friday) concluded my training for my new teaching job.  The last week has been a barrage of paperwork, lectures, and practice with some games, ramen, and sleep thrown in.  I can honestly say I think I’ve eaten four bowls of ramen since I’ve been back in the country.  I’ve been here for a week.  I’m already planning out my next bowl for when I get back to Tokyo.  If there is a ramen threshold, I am going to find it and cross it.

I digress.

Training has been fantastic.  I went into the experience with few expectations (and virtually no teaching experience) but have come away very, very impressed.  Every single person I have encountered from ALS is warm, inviting, knowledgeable, kind, and passionate.  I have been absolutely blown away by the commitment these people have shown to their job and their company.  They’re extremely flexible regarding the way the teachers choose to work with the students, receptive to questions and concerns from everyone working for them, and encourage feedback.  I have an enormous stack of papers to review – we were given information regarding everything from how to teach children/adults/junior high kids to interesting bingo formats to a packet of information prepared by the outgoing teacher detailing the classes we’re taking over.  They say they only expect us to remember about 20% of the information.

I’d say that’s about how much I’ll retain.

Next week I spend observing the classes I’m taking over.  Hannah, the woman I’m replacing, teaches mostly very young children – elementary school aged kids and younger.  There are a couple junior high classes, and then a small number of private adult lessons.  I took a look at my schedule: most days I don’t start until 4 in the afternoon, and end at around 8:30 or 9:00.  This amazes me to no end and I’m still unreasonably excited by how much time this will allow for sleeping.

I do so like my sleeps.

I’m really looking forward to meeting all the kids next week.  I feel great about the situation now, but I know I won’t really have an idea of what I signed up for until I get into the swing of things and develop a routine regarding my classes.  Thankfully, my new employer has already shown some faith in my abilities; they’ve offered the possibility of teaching one more day a week (which means getting paid more), and I’ve also been asked to appear at a PR event in Narita tomorrow afternoon.  I’m not entirely sure why I was chosen to participate (there’s just one other established teacher attending), but I won’t argue – I’m glad to get some more experience under my belt (and the monetary compensation was a nice incentive too).

With this week, I am deemed prepared to go out and educate the youth of Japan.  A little scary, I guess, but I think the best way to get the hang of things is just to do it.  I’m very excited to take this next step.  I’m moving back to Tokyo early Monday morning, and from then on will be officially back in town.  I have a new phone number and mail address setup now, but I’m just using a crappy prepaid phone until I get my visa and other documents processed (and can then get a contract).  I plan on keeping the prepaid phone I have now for visitors to use (so when you visit, bro, you won’t have to worry about getting lost!) in the future.

I really can’t say enough good things about my experience thus far.  I’m eating tons of ramen, meeting great people, starting the process of catching up with friends I made last year, and am sure that this is going to be an interesting new adventure.

…though I will admit that when it comes to meal times, the thing that excites me the most about all of this really is the ramen.

Real update from the new (temporary) homefront

Hey everyone, sorry for the less-than-exciting posts I wrote while I was traveling.  It made it easier to let all family/friends know I was in transit/had arrived.

Right now I’m in Chiba prefecture, which is east of Tokyo.  I’m in Yotuskaido, about a 20 minute drive from Narita airport.  Myself and three other new teachers are currently housed in the ALS guesthouse for our training.  Two of the new teachers had training start today (poor guys, they arrived last night too), and me and the other new teacher start our training on Monday.

I crashed really, really early last night (about 8:00) and woke at around 4:30 to a freezing house!  It’s chilly!  We have managed to learn how best to transform the living room into a nest-like setting, and have sweaters on hand when we have to depart for a bedroom or the bathroom.

We’re armed with tea and snacks, too, which increases quality of life significantly.

My new roomie and I went for an adventure around the city this morning – we headed off in search of coffee and groceries, since we’ll be here for about a week.  Thankfully, there’s a giant everything-store a few minutes’ walk from our place, but we arrived about 20 minutes before it opened.  An older man came up to us and started staring and circling (literally).  My comrade got a wary look in his eye, and when the man asked me (in Japanese): “What country are you from?” he walked quickly away, thinking the guy was going to harass us and ask for money, or something.  I started laughing, but told the guy we were from America, and his next question was (pointing to my friend): “Does he not speak any Japanese?” I shook my head no.  The guy asked about what we were doing in town, and then launched into this ramble about how he has a 5 year old grandchild that he hopes will go to America or England for a more international education and then get a good job with a pharmaceutical company.  I had to relay all of this to my roomie after the conversation was over, but it was hilarious to think that the sight of us triggered this enormous thought process regarding life and learning from the guy.

Since our trip for coffee and food, we’ve holed up in the living room of the house on our laptops.  We have extensive entertainment options available:

One of the other guys brought his Xbox and 30-something games down before he left the house this morning, too…but we have yet to break that out.

It’s also my understanding that everything in the second photo is up for grabs, so, people in Japan, if you see anything you want, I’ll grab it for you!

I don’t start training until Monday, so it looks like I’m heading in to Tokyo tomorrow to get my cell phone and possibly to harass some friends, depending on peoples’ schedules.  I’m also looking to hit up my favorite ramen shop in Akihabara for a bowl of something I’ve been craving for three months.

Really looking forward to getting back into the swing of things here.  It may be cold outside, but I’m feeling pretty warm and fuzzy about things already.

Packing up…again.

Okay, so I’m not really packing up as I write this – I’m sitting in the Portland airport waiting to catch my next flight.

I read the post I wrote when I was heading to Japan for the first time last summer. I was anxious, full of excitement, extremely apprehensive, and ultimately, absolutely terrified of what I was going to find and what was going to happen to me when I got off that plane on the other side of the Pacific Ocean.

This time around, things are different. It’s a little bizarre to think that I’m taking less things even though I’m coming for a much longer period of time.  I packed two giant suitcases on my first trip over; this trip I’ve brought just one giant suitcase and a smaller carry-on-ish sized one.  There was no frantic packing.  If anything, I procrastinated.  I sat around on my computer finding more exciting things to do than pack and attempted to will my things to get into my bags (it didn’t work very well, for the record).

I arrived in PDX this morning to find my flight to SFO had been canceled – canceled yesterday, in fact.  Why I wasn’t notified I have no idea, but I headed to the ticket counter and stood there half-asleep while four equally stumped women tried to re-book me.  I just let them deal with it, enjoyed my standing nap, and walked away re-booked, bags re-routed…so now I’m waiting.  And debating whether I want a nap or a coffee.

Riveting action here, folks!

With any luck, sometime in the next few hours my luggage and I will be on a plane to Narita.  Let’s keep our fingers crossed!

This blog post has been brought to you by boredom, sleep deprivation, and PDX Wi-Fi.  I’ll try to be more coherent in the future.

Temporary relocation

Hey, hi, just wanted to write a quick “what’s up” to my readers.  I’m in Southern California frolicking in the sun and getting in some family time before I peace out to the other side of the Pacific.

I’ll be back at my home on Friday evening, then I head to Tokyo eeeeeeearly Wednesday morning (and arrive Thursday afternoon, Tokyo time).  Lots to look forward to over the next week and a half.  Stay tuned.  For…something.