Of the many reasons I love my placement on JET, one of the most practical stems from the proximity of my school to my apartment. While a lot of other JETs have to take the bus, drive, or bike to their schools, my morning commute clocks in at a quick four minutes on foot. (And if I’m particularly in a hurry, I just duck through one of the chain-link fenced gaps near the back of school grounds and shave that down to two minutes.)
Anytime one of my students asks me where I live, I just point out the window of the classroom. From my apartment’s balcony to the school’s baseball field, it is a literal stone’s throw. It’s incredibly convenient and has made my life pretty stress-free when it comes to getting to work…
As I mentioned in a previous post, my school’s summer culture festival actually has two parts, the second of which is a dance/performance competition held off-campus at one of the exhibition halls in the city. While the first two and a half days of festival are centered more around selling food and opening up the school to students’ friends and families, the last day, referred to as DISC, is all about showing off.
Several more performance-based clubs – like drama club, brass band, and koto club – get a chance to display their chops for the rest of the school. Lots and lots of dancing, though, takes up the majority of the day.
Each of the homerooms in the second and third grades puts together their own dance routine, complete with choreography and costumes. That might seem like a pretty easy feat, but these kids practice for months and months before DISC, on top of their schoolwork and regular club activities. And you can definitely see all of that hard work in the results.
Just like the rest of school festival, it’s amazing to see just how happy my students are when they’re dancing. (And they dance like fiends. Something about being Japanese must mean that you’re automatically an amazing dancer, because most of my students make my jaw drop.)
One of the things that I love most about DISC is that it lets the kids showcase talents that otherwise might stay hidden normally. I have one student, now a senior, who was one of the quietest in my English lessons. At kendo practice, though, he’s deafening and scary as hell. At DISC, though? He sounds like someone who should be taking the stage of American Idol finals. The kid can sing like an angel, and I’ve never known it – or would have guessed it – until DISC.
Similarly, you get kids from every grouping working together. This might just be my experience in American high school speaking, but I feel like cliques are still pretty prevalent. Naturally, that exists here; dance club kids hang out with each other, baseball players stick together, etc. But because each homeroom takes almost every class together, they’re with each other eight hours a day, five days a week, forty-two weeks a year. And that kind of camaraderie definitely affects something like DISC, because you can tell that they’re totally comfortable together, no matter how different their personalities or interests are.
Some of the routines are pretty linear and understandable. One homeroom had a Toy Story-inspired storyline; another went with something akin to Alice in Wonderland. Some, though, a bit more bizarre. I generally don’t even try to figure out what’s going on in those ones.
And there is a healthy amount of cross-dressing, too. My kids have no shame when it comes to stuff like this. And for some reason there are also a whole lot of High School Musical songs used in the routines. In Aomori High School, at least, “We’re All in This Together” is still a popular choice.
Of all the out-of-nowhere signs of America that I’ve seen in Japan, this might be the one that took me most by surprise. One of my eleventh graders came to class wearing a Mercyhurst shirt today. Mercyhurst and Duquesne are both in western Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh, where I grew up. (Pedants will point out that Mercyhurst is too close to Erie, in northwestern PA, to count…in my book, it’s still close enough to Pittsburgh for me to say it’s close to home.) Where my kid got a t-shirt that hails to my home – not even my country or state, but the very city I call my hometown – remains a mystery. It was definitely one of those “Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world…” moments. Serendipitous things like this make me realize all over again that, even when the planet is vast, the world is small.
As you may have gathered from a few mentions in my other recent posts, I returned to America in late May to fulfill maid of honor duty in my best friend’s wedding. I didn’t really inform anyone in Pittsburgh that I’d be coming back home, because I’d only be in town for five days, the wedding was going to take up most of my time, and any spare moment would be spent with my family, celebrating my sister’s nineteenth birthday, my grandparents’ fifty-second anniversary, and Memorial Day. Continue reading Priorities: Or, “Yes, I Do Have Six Pounds of Almonds in My Checked Baggage”→
The sounds of Aomori winter elicit extremely specific reactions from me. For example, the clatter made by a gigantic, fifty-pound chunk of frozen snow falling from my apartment building’s roof and caroming off of the metal railings of my balcony garners a mini-heart attack. The howling symphony of the wind at two in the morning, accompanied by the constant rattle of my rickety windows and creaking of the walls themselves, gets a resigned groan and further burrowing underneath my thick, doubles-as-a-soundproof-barrier duvet. The steady dripping of water from the roof gets a grin, because it means that the snow is starting to melt. (This might be my favorite sound, and thankfully it’s starting to become more prevalent.) Continue reading A Dreaded Sound and a Welcome Sight→
I hadn’t planned on posting today, but when I got this gem in one of my lessons today, I couldn’t resist. How do you know when a student understands what you’re teaching? That’s an obstacle a lot of ALTs – regardless of whether we’re teaching first year elementary students or kids in an academic high school – fight to overcome in the classroom. For me, I know it’s a struggle to tell when my students really grasp a new concept, since I never know if the synchronized “Yes, Alex-sensei”s are actually honest, or if they’re just Pavlovian responses to the question, “Do you understand?”
Thankfully, there are some pretty good signifiers. This week I was teaching my eleventh graders about common body idioms that we use in English. This lesson had an added bonus because whenever the kids had to write their own sentences using the idioms, I got plenty of “Alex-sensei is such a beautiful/nice/great teacher, so she makes me weak in the knees.” It was all I could do to just blush sheepishly and brush them aside. (And naysayers, I don’t care if they were lying, it’s still nice to hear.)
Casual English, I think, is one of the most difficult areas to learn, so I was pretty impressed with how quickly and firmly the majority of the kids grasped the meanings. One of them – in my absolute favorite 組 (“kumi,” or class), no less – really stood out to me. As soon I saw the doodles that one of my favorite (and brightest) students had drawn in the margins of the handout, I knew that she’d completely understood what the idioms had meant. She usually draws me pictures on her homework; I’ve gotten everything from scenes from Night at the Museum to depictions of her family being seasick on the ferry up to Hokkaido to detailed pictures of her family making homemade miso. This little masterpiece, however, is definitely my favorite.
Plus, seeing little drawings like this make my job an absolute blast; I find them both hilarious and cute. I’ve gotten dozens and dozens of them on homework assignments, but I’m still not tired of them. (And after a year and a half living here, I still have yet to figure out if all Japanese kids are born with the artistic gene or if Aomori High School kids are just great artists along with being mini geniuses.)
And thus concludes another cheesy “I absolutely adore my students and wouldn’t trade them for anything” post.