Friday, April 14, 2006


I am becoming very good at negotiating new classrooms. Today I moved the other afternoon one, so from next week I will teaching two consecutive classes in the same classroom. I'll be in heaven. I'll only have to cross that horrible road to the other campus twice, once each way, instead of four times, and I'll be in three different buildings instead of four.

The class I moved was one for a department that usually refuses to change classrooms, I was told, but today my room was unbearable. Not only is it too small, it is one of two rooms that used to be one larger room, and the wall they put up to divide them does not reach all the way across. There is a gap at each end. This means that everything that goes on in either classroom is clearly audible in the other.

There is another English language class going on next door. I don't know where it was last week, because I don't remember hearing anything, but it was definitely there this week. Either the teacher was very, very quiet last week (unlikely on a first day) or he was absent or in another classroom.

I discovered today that this teacher says,


Because I am an obedient person, every time he said, "LISTEN CAREFULLY!" I did. My whole class did. We heard, "LISTEN CAREFULLY!" and we all got listening expressions on our faces and went very quiet, stopping whatever we were doing. This meant we got through about half what I had planned because we spent so much of our time LISTENING CAREFULLY.

One time he said,

"THIS is important and THIS is important and THOSE are important," and was obviously pointing at something on the board, but my students looked baffled so I pointed silently at THE TEXTBOOK and ME and THE STUDENTS and mouthed his words, and my students all started laughing. Then the teacher next door went very quiet for a while, and I felt bad about it. I decided on the spot that there was too much potential for bad feeling and disturbed classes (on both sides), and at the end of a long week I am apparently not capable of reining in my worst impulses, so I would stay after work AS LONG AS IT TOOK and get something done about it. I've only met this teacher a couple of times - we used to work on different days - and I can't remember his name but he seems like a very nice man, and it wouldn't do for me to be sabotaging his class.

Or vice versa, for that matter. I think he got some revenge. At one point I had my students doing some pronunciation work repeating after me, and when I said,

"REPEAT AFTER ME!" I'm fairly sure that my students were not the only ones repeating after me. After the first couple of times they suddenly got a lot louder, and the students in the back row kept glancing back nervously and giggling. I would have asked him about it after class but he gave up before I did, finishing early, and was gone by the time I left. I will apologize next week, and tell him I won't be undermining his classes in the future.

I had spoken to my boss about the classroom situation earlier, and he said that the reason the faculties give for having the language classes in their faculty buildings instead of in the languages building is that it means the students aren't having to move around campus all the time. Instead of, say,10 teachers moving around, you would have 300 students moving around if it were the other way around, he said, and it was hard to argue with that (even though that is how it used to be, and there didn't seem to be any major problems). So I asked the students, to find out where their previous and next classes were, and discovered that only nine (out of thirty) had any classes at all in the periods before and after mine, and six of those were IN THE LANGUAGES BUILDING. (The other three were in a completely different building.)

Armed with that information, and with my entertaining but educationally distressing stories of what it was like trying to teach effectively with two teachers shouting competing instructions through the wall at each others' classes (unintentionally, for the most part), getting the class moved was a piece of cake. It still took almost an hour, though, because I had to go back to the main campus to find an empty classroom and get permission to use it, and then return to the other campus to get permission to move, repeating my story both times. I feel as though I have spent the entire day hiking, and mangling the Japanese language.

The other reason I will be happy not to use that classroom is that it is so cramped that I was squashed between the teacher's podium and the chalkboard, which means that I was forced to lean against the chalk ledge. This left chalk marks on my clothes. There is a chair for the teacher, but if I sat on it I disappeared from sight completely because the podium is so enormously high. (Not to mention wide - it blocks the lower half of the chalkboard and is totally immovable. WHO DESIGNS CLASSROOMS LIKE THIS?) So when I was standing up front I kept putting my hands back to hold myself away from the chalk ledge, and getting more and more chalk dust on my hands. At one point I moved down the narrow aisle to answer a student's question, stood for a while with my hands on my bum leaning over to talk with him, and when I walked back to the front caused great merriment because I'd left two white hand prints on my black skirt. I looked like I'd been groped. It was pretty funny, and I had to turn around slowly so the rest of the class could get a good look, but I'm glad it won't be happening every week.

There were several other things that happened today in classes that I was going to write about, but I can't remember what they were, now. I'm too tired. I do remember, however, an interesting thing that happened on the train platform this morning just before the train arrived. It was about 6.20, and the platform was not very crowded. It is quiet at that time, and I was in that sort of trance-like half-awake state that you get into when you're waiting for a train. I was standing at one of the boarding points, behind and to the side of a mild-looking man, when suddenly he sneezed so violently that his arms flung out, one leg flew up, and he kneed himself on the chin. I jumped so high I nearly went into orbit.

I have never seen anybody do that before. That guy sneezed WITH HIS ENTIRE BEING. Then he went back to looking mild and harmless, but I moved a couple of steps away. I was afraid if he did it again it would be my chin, next time.


Artistic Soul said...

Oh! I understand your frustration! Classroom space makes such a huge difference on student learning. I have complained on multiple occassions so that I have larger rooms with the technology I need. Once I got stuck with a 30 person class in a room that barely fit everyone and no technology. The students in the front row were practically on top of me as I tried to write everything on the chalkboard. No more for me!

Bill C said...

"WHO DESIGNS CLASSROOMS" with enormous, immovable podiums that make teachers disappear?
Hannibal Lectern.

And I'm going to have to try that sneeze-move. Sounds like something from the Karate Kid movie.

wendy said...

Oh man - I will NEVER complain about my teaching biggest class is 8 people - how do you manage to have an effect on 30? There must be such a difference in level in a class that size.

The only noise I sometimes hear is factory machines clattering and rumbling in the distance - or someones tummy whining and rumbling...but usually it's quiet - too quiet - I could fall asleep...and my voice droning on and on definitely puts the students to sleep...

But I'd love not to hare around in my car from one side of the region to the other...did 250km today...3 hours driving for 6 hours teaching. *bleugh*..crossing a road would be heaven...sorry - I just think "Ooh - lucky woman".

kimananda said... I know why I ended up teaching in Europe, not in Japan (well, it was because I was offered work teaching in Europe, not in Japan...but let's pretend it's because of the better classroom set-ups).

I can't remember how I got here, but I'm sure I'll be back.

Badaunt said...

Wikkachicky: Having good classroom space was one of the points of renovating the languages building. That got done - and then all the faculties moved their students to their OWN buildings. They're idiots.

RaJ: Thank you. I will use that. You will probably be able to hear the groans from there.

Wendy: But... but... the thing about teaching 8 students instead of 20 or 30 or 40 (or 80, one memorable year) is that you get to SIT DOWN. So walking for ten minutes between classes might not seem like much of a burden, but more of a chance to stretch your legs. On the other hand when you are on your feet for 90 minutes per class, running around the classroom being a dictionary/question-answerer/guide to far too many students, by the time your 10 minute break comes along sitting down has become something of an obsession, and whether or not you have to spend your break walking (or running) between classrooms across campus becomes an issue. This is especially true when you don't have time to get to the teachers' room to pick up/leave behind stuff, so have to carry all your different texts/homework/papers with you. Oh, and let's not forget that most of these classrooms do not have equipment, so if you want to use a tape recorder, say, you have to lug that as well. (The languages building has equipment built in.)

When I wore a step counter last year (when my classes weren't all over the place) I discovered I was doing 25,000 steps on Fridays. I don't want to think what it is now.

I have two hours of commuting for six hours of teaching on Fridays, and for that I wouldn't get to sit down either if I wasn't getting up at 5am in order to get a train that is not crowded. I made a mistake on Thursday (I have a new starting time, and was experimenting) and was not just standing, I was crammed into the train BY A PUSHER (the first time that has happened to me). I won't be doing that again. Three hours in a car, SITTING DOWN? Pfft! (Although I have to admit I wouldn't want to do that, either...)

Kimananda: Hello and welcome! I think I might have just decided to move to Denmark.

kenju said...

All very funny, including the comments. The sneezer is a classic. Too bad you didn't get a video!

wendy said...

Ok Ok - you're right - that sounds horribly tiring. I sit all day (in the car and in the training room) and would have an enormous butt if it weren't for the fact that I'm too stressed getting from one place to another to have time to eat.

I often write up unnecessary stuff on the board just to get a chance to stand!

You win the sympathy vote..handsdown!