Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Shake hands

This morning I was trudging along on my way to work when I passed a bus stop. A woman and her child were waving goodbye to someone on the bus, and I saw that the child, who was about five or six years old, had Down Syndrome.

When the bus left they turned away and started walking towards me. The little boy, who was trailing behind his mother and holding onto her hand, stared at me with open curiosity. Then, as they passed me, he looked up into my face and held out his free hand to me.

I took his hand, and the happiness on his face, the feeling of that little warm hand in mine, and his mother's smile when she turned to see why her wee boy was holding back, made me feel that perhaps today was going to be a good day after all.

It was, too. It wasn't bad at all.

I think that that little boy should be hired out to people who are suffering from the blues and getting cranky. He was magic. That was better than any counseling session. It was like being given an intravenous injection of love and forgiveness for every sin ever committed, plus a bunch of misdemeanors, petty offenses, and ungenerous thoughts. When I let go of his hand and waved goodbye the world was fresh and new and hopeful, and I felt smiley all the way through, from the bottom of my boots to the top of my head.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Autumn, cat, beta Blogger

Autumn is here, and the leaves are just starting to change.

The other day I spotted a cat, sunning itself in the grass and weeds beside the river. It did not want to talk with me.

"I do not want to talk with you," it said when I introduced myself. "I am extremely busy."

"Busy doing what?" I asked.

"Pondering," said the cat.

"Pondering about what?" I asked.

"Everything," said the cat. "I like to ponder. I ponder a lot. Sometimes I get sleepy and need a nap, and then I wake up and ponder some more. Ponder, ponder, ponder. It's what I do. Pondering is my purpose in life. Except when I'm napping. Or eating. Sometimes I stop pondering to eat. But otherwise I just ponder. I love pondering. Ponder, ponder, ponder. I ponder when I'm washing, and I ponder when I'm walking by myself, and I ponder when I'm sitting in the sun. There is such a lot to ponder about."

I didn't know what to say. For some reason the word ponder had started to sound really, really strange.


At some point, I know, I will have to change over to beta Blogger. I have not done so yet because it seems like too much work. Also, it hasn't been so long since I changed my template completely to three columns, and that was a lot of hassle. Now I have to do it AGAIN?

In fact I have figured out how to do the three-column thing (Hackosphere!), but it seems I have to also add all my links and so on one by one. I cannot just cut and paste them in. There is probably some way of doing it easily, but I suspect using the beta Blogger system is best because then it will be easy to add and remove links later. It is just the first time that will be troublesome. I will also need to make a new header, or adjust the old one to fit the new template.

But I might try to make the switch very soon. I have a couple of days off this week, so have a four-day weekend. I also have piles of homework waiting to be marked, and the monster booksale to go to, and a lot of other things that urgently need doing, but that just means I have more to procrastinate. So if my blog goes all funny over the next week or so, you will know why. I will be experimenting with the new system, and getting it all wrong.

Incidentally, a picture of the seriously silly glasses has been added to the seriously silly glasses post.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Mid-semester blues

I have been suffering from the mid-semester blues , and it is not the middle of semester yet. SOMETHING'S GOT TO CHANGE AROUND HERE, I think, and then I realize that the problem is me. I have had this problem before, and searched my blog to see whether I'd written about it, and if I had, what made it go away.

I had. I found the entry on October 24th last year. How about that? It appears that I have become embarrassingly predictable. I got annoyed at my job and life in general at the same time last year. A couple of days later I obviously felt better, although somewhat constipated, and that particular post has given me an idea about what to do to make me feel better in my Tuesday classes, at least. (They have not been going well.)

What did I write at the end of October the year before that, I wondered? How long have I been this predictable without noticing?

I checked, and noticed that sure enough, around the middle of October 2004 I was complaining about having weird and paranoid work dreams. But by the end of the month I seemed to be feeling a bit better, or at least brave enough to attempt a conversation with a Japanese professor. In between those two entries, I got mad at the weatherman and the weatherman actually PAID ATTENTION and did something about it, so that probably helped to make me feel better. Also, I went to a flea market and I imagine that made a difference, too.

It's probably a bit late for a typhoon, but I wonder if I can find time for a flea market?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Seriously silly glasses

At the university today there was a Halloween parade at lunchtime. Last year I missed it, and heard it was rather good, so this year I decided to attend. I had forgotten to bring a costume again, but luckily had my special silly glasses. (I will add a photo of my seriously silly glasses tomorrow or the next day, after I bring them home. I will be using them again tomorrow and left them at work. I have another few classes to surprise.)

The costumes weren't as exciting as last year's, at least from what I'd heard about last year (no jiggling underpants), but there were some good ones and it was fun anyway. And there was some excitement. I got to see a cheerleader fall flat on her face as she jumped down from the human pyramid.

I also was given a plastic pumpkin bucket of sweets to hand out to students who had come to enjoy the event. The students thanked me in Japanese. Because of my seriously silly glasses I could not see properly who I was giving the sweets to (although I could hear their giggles) until I was right in their faces, so I also accidentally gave some to a couple of security guards, who thanked me - in English! - and happily dug into the bucket, and a couple of Japanese professors, who waved me away indulgently. They were FAR too mature for such nonsense. (At least they smiled, though. Even they could not resist the glasses.)

I also said hello to some kindergarten children who were taking part in the parade. They had the job of singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, in English. I'm not quite sure how that relates to Halloween, but never mind. Perhaps singing in English was enough. It was supposed to be an English event.

The kindergarten children were cute in their little Halloween costumes, and I am very sorry that I made two of them cry. Apparently the glasses are frightening to small children. When I said, "Hello," two of them stared up at me, mouths agape for a few seconds, and let out horrified wails. What was more disturbing was that when I realized the glasses were scaring them and took them off that only made made them howl louder and more desperately. Apparently a foreigner with funny eyes is a foreigner with funny eyes with or without glasses if you're four years old and looking up, and is altogether terrifying. Or maybe they thought I'd suddenly removed half my face.

As I was going to my first afternoon class I had the glasses in my pocket still, and saw a student, not mine, coming towards me down the corridor. He was not looking at me, so I quickly put on the glasses. Then I said hello, very seriously, and he responded, and at the last moment as he was passing he looked up. For a moment I thought he hadn't seen, but then I heard a sudden snort and turned just in time to see him swivel around to have another look, still laughing. This made him wobble off course, and he walked straight into the wall. Ooh, the power of my seriously silly glasses!

My afternoon students were pretty surprised by my new glasses, too, but as they were all sitting down nobody walked into any walls. In my last class, which is smaller, I passed the glasses around and made each student stand up and show the rest of the class while saying something in English. The glasses totally transform whoever is wearing them into a seriously silly cartoon, and in my classes, at least, it transforms them a seriously silly ENGLISH-SPEAKING cartoon.

I think I have been taking myself too seriously. I'm feeling much better now.

Addendum: Here are the glasses. You have to agree they are PRETTY DAMNED SILLY.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

We are clever

Last week, in my very low-level class at a very low-level women's university (which is not a bad class, just a discouraged and not-very-motivated one), the students were trying to do a little grammar exercise in the textbook. I noticed in my perambulations around the room that they were all having trouble with the same questions, and decided this was a whole-class teaching thing, not an individual thing, and tried to come up with something helpful.

My students could not figure out the correct answer when they were asked to choose between there and they in sentences like these:

How many beds are there in the hotel room?
They/There are two beds.

Where are the pictures?
They/There are on the wall.

It probably didn't help that the sentences were boring.

When I tried to explain that they is a pronoun referring to the pictures, in the same way that the picture would be it, they didn't understand that, either. It turned out that they were fuzzy on pronouns altogether. At first they didn't want to admit this. But eventually Kumiko, a student who has openly declared war on English, told me defiantly (in Japanese) that it was impossible. She didn't understand it, she declared, and her attitude said that she didn't expect to so I may as well give up now. After announcing this she put her head down on her textbook and promptly fell asleep.

This broke the ice, and several other students mumbled that they didn't get it either, and looked embarrassed.

"I know we studied this in junior high," one said to another. "But I don't remember. Hazukashii, ne. Maybe the teacher is angry, but I really don't understand."

I told them I was not angry.

If they studied this in junior high and didn't get it, then why didn't their high school English teachers notice that they had not understood even the rudiments of the English language? What were they taught at high school? How could they have understood anything in English classes if they didn't know pronouns?

But it's worse than not knowing. They have moved into negative knowledge, if that's possible. I am using the same (very low level) textbook for this class that I'm using for my big class of mostly Chinese students, who have had far less English education than these students have. The Chinese students are getting it, but the Japanese students aren't. It appears that their previous education in English has made English harder for them rather than easier. How is that possible?

It's not fair. I think they should ask for their money back.

I decided it was time for them to get at least an idea of how pronouns work. I drew two stick figures on the board.

There are two pictures, I wrote underneath. The two pictures are very bad pictures. They are very bad pictures. Badaunt draws bad pictures. She draws bad pictures.

The students stared. Everything I'd written was true, and that made it easier to understand.

This picture is Kumiko, I wrote on the board, with an arrow pointing to one of the pictures. Kumiko is sleeping. She is sleeping.

The board ended up covered in badly drawn stick figures and example sentences showing pronoun substitutions with little arrows joining the nouns and pronouns. I was eventually rewarded with glimmers of comprehension from all over the classroom as students started telling me which pronouns to use.

I congratulated myself. I had kept their attention during a grammar explanation! They HATE grammar. My success had nothing to do with the fact that I used the students (and myself) as subjects for my drawings. Of course not. Don't be silly. Kumiko often sleeps on her textbook. She sometimes dribbles. Her textbook is wet. It is wet, is a fabulously effective pronoun explanation. It caused Kumiko to suddenly wake up (and dive for her friend's dictionary). See? It worked. You can't understand grammar explanations when you're asleep. Also, mockery and insults are far more interesting than The pictures are on the wall.

I mocked everybody, including myself. Especially myself, actually. By the time I finished I was feeling well and truly mocked. I had been mocked by an expert. Me.

But in the end it was worth it. I was able to write on the board:

You understand pronouns. You are clever.

I got the students to substitute the pronouns so it would be true for them, and after a false start ("THEY - "), they yelled:


Then I wrote,

Am I a good teacher?

I told them to answer, changing the pronoun.

"YES, YOU ARE!" shouted half the class. (The other half shouted "YES, SHE IS! and I pretended not to notice.)

I set them back to work on the textbook, but after that little burst of pronoun concentration they were tired. They'd had enough of this learning business for one day, and reverted to type. Several fell asleep (and probably dribbled) and the rest spent the remainder of the class time chatting amongst themselves (in Japanese, of course).

But they like me, so they pretended to do the work if I happened to look at them or wander past. They don't like to hurt my feelings by ignoring me when I'm standing right next to them. About two metres seems to be the critical distance, so that an English bubble follows me around the classroom. Outside that it's Japanese only.

The bubble phenomenon is not limited to this class, either. I have often noticed it, and in fact last week I pointed it out to a class at a different university. I was feeling too tired to care, but knew I should do something.

"Hey!" I shouted suddenly, startling them into silence. "Has anybody else noticed the English bubble in this room today? It's really strange." I peered around as if I could see it. "It goes from about here to ... here," I said, gesturing. "And it follows me, like magic! Outside the bubble is all Japanese, and inside is all English!"

There was a long pause as they performed their mental translations, then they started giggling. I asked them if it would help if I gained weight. "Would the English bubble get fatter too?" I asked, curiously, and they thought that was hilarious. They also looked a bit embarrassed, and after that were MUCH better about staying in English when they were supposed to. But they are a generally better class anyway. They were just having an off day.

For this week I have prepared another pronoun worksheet, to reinforce what my problem class did last week, but I am not expecting too much. I have never known that particular class to revise or study outside class time. When I assign homework there are only two students I can rely on to do it properly. The others do it before class starts, if at all (I see them doing it when I come in) while chatting to their friends in Japanese. 'Studying' one language while speaking another doesn't seem very effective, judging by the results of this multitasking.

These students are non-English majors. Most of them will never take an English class after this year - they don't have to - and they can't see any reason to learn it anyway. I may win one or two battles with this lot, but it's hard to avoid the conclusion that I'm losing the war.

It's just as well I get long vacations.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Fashion victim

Recently, in a coffee shop, I saw a young guy who had multiple piercings. This is not so common here, and obviously he was trying to be cool and different. He was with a couple of friends who were also dressed 'cool' but without so many piercings, except in their ears. Dressing 'cool' recently, for guys, means wearing pants so low the wearer looks like they've been cut off at the knees. (Fashions are interesting these days. It used to be only women who were hobbled, by their high heels. Now the guys are, too, by their trousers. Does this herald the arrival of sexual equality?)

Normally I would not have found the pierced guy worthy of remark, but he had one particular piercing on his bottom lip that was obviously causing him pain, and I had to make an effort not to stare. There was a ring through his lip, and attached to that was a chain which linked at the other end to one of the rings in his ear. The chain was too heavy, though, and was dragging his lower lip down on one side, so that he looked like a stroke victim. Also, the hole in his lip was infected and weeping, and he kept dabbing at it with a tissue. The entire effect, combined with his trouser-hobbles, made me want to pat him on the head and shuffle him off to hospital to get his infection treated.

But he saved the best bit for last. As he got up to leave he turned around. On the back of his sweatshirt was a single word, written very large.


Thursday, October 19, 2006


When you have a classroom that is longer than it is wide, and the whiteboard is so small you have to write small, and there are not many students in the class so there is plenty of space at the front, why do students who have forgotten to bring their glasses SIT AT THE BACK OF THE ROOM?

I gave a little test today in the first half hour of one of my classes, and for that had to write some questions on the board. Two students sat right in the back row, squinting and leaning forward and trying to see what was written up the front. There were several rows of empty seats in front of them, as well as some space at the front, so I went back and suggested that they move forward. After all, it was a test, right? It was important, right? And the board was so small I couldn't write bigger because not everything would fit. I could read it, but they were having trouble.

They assured me they were fine where they were.

"Don't you have your glasses?" I asked.

"Forgot," they told me.

"But you can't see the questions, so you can't do the test," I said. "It's worth ten points. Why don't you move forward a bit?"

"No, no!" they assured me. "No problem!"

They tried to squint less conspicuously.

I was about to TELL them to move instead of merely suggesting, but out of curiosity decided to leave them alone and see what happened. Why were they insisting they could see the board when they obviously couldn't?

I shrugged. "Oh, well. If you change your mind, you can move," I said. "You don't need to ask."

They stayed where they were, squinting painfully.

It was an easy test. It was supposed to be. That class hasn't been doing well, and I wanted to lift their confidence and raise the grades a little.

Most of the other students picked up an easy ten points towards their final grade, but those two students did extremely badly. Well, OF COURSE they did extremely badly. They couldn't see the test questions.

I concluded that I had inadvertently given a test for common sense.

But I am mystified by this behaviour. There is no point in sitting at the back in my classes, ever, because everybody has to move eventually in any case. I have them changing partners and moving into groups, EVERY WEEK, and for that I count them off at random and then tell them where to sit. And these particular students are not troublemakers, or particularly bad students. Nor were they trying to cheat.

In the past when this has happened (more often than I like to think about) I have insisted on students at least giving themselves a chance by moving to where they can see the board. I've always wondered what they'd do if I left it up to them, and now I know.

But ... WHY?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Today I had my students writing questions to ask each other. They wrote the questions today, and will ask them next week. These were WH- questions, using WHY, WHO, WHAT etc., not yes/no questions, and they have a lot of trouble with them. (They have a lot of trouble with yes/no questions too, come to think of it, but never mind that.)

I was walking around the classroom helping as they were writing, and found that one student had written:

What is the deliciousest food?

I stopped and stared at her notebook. I tried to mumble the word to myself. Delicioushest.

I sounded drunk, but I was pretty sure I wasn't. I tried again.


It kept coming out wrong, and now I felt drunk as well.

The student looked up to see what was raining on her notebook.

"Ashk me this queshtion," I instructed her, pointing at what she had written. My tongue had gone funny.

"What is the delicioushush..." she said, and stopped. She tried again. "What is the delicioushest..." She started giggling.


I was happy it wasn't just me, and she was just as happy to be told it wasn't really a word and she didn't have to say it.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Interesting mess

I've been trying to catch up on my blog reading backlog. 7000-plus unread, Bloglines tells me, and I know it's hopeless. I want to 'mark all read,' but that would marking read the ones I really want to read as well as the ones I don't mind missing. That would be annoying. I decided to catch up on the ones I want to read.

I started off with Ms Mac, who never fails to entertain, and I haven't neglected her for TOO long so there wouldn't be so much to read, I thought. (I was wrong. Ms Mac is prolific.) I only left one comment, on an oldish post, but read them all. I can't figure out whether Ms Mac should be writing for sitcoms or is living in one.

Then I moved on to Gordon, and the rest of my evening was gone. I KNEW that would happen, and that's why I had been avoiding him. Since August. (I am so ashamed.) But he does great links (which inevitably lead me astray), and writes some thought-provoking posts.

There were two posts I wanted to comment on but didn't (because they were old), one about culture and the other about why RSS doesn't quite work. That second one is basically what I was talking about at the beginning of this post, and in fact using Bloglines to organize my RSS feeds COULD work, if I organised it properly. If I had all my 'hot' feeds in one folder, and my 'cold' feeds in another, I'd just need to click on one folder (the 'hot' one) to get rid of the ones I had no need to read all the backlog of. (Horrible, horrible sentence. Quick - move on.) But I gather he is talking about off-line RSS readers...? I'm not sure. I didn't even know there was such a thing. It is true I don't know much.

Actually there were a few more posts I wanted to comment on, but didn't. One was his latest one, Hard Times, which begins like this:

Blogging is not life and my life is not centred around blogging. There are a lot of things that go on that I have never and will never mention on here...

I don't know why I didn't comment, except that I had nothing to say, really, except Yeah, gotcha, me too, and doesn't it go without saying?, and that's not very interesting, is it?

The culture post, on the other hand, I wanted to think about. Because what IS your culture, when the culture you live in is not your own (and can't be, because Japan's like that), and when you hardly ever watch TV (and that's what most people talk about, isn't it? It's the common ground) and the various circles of people you socialize with (when you have a social life) are all different and come from different cultures (and watch different TV programs from each other), and when you've been so long away from your own culture it has moved on and you haven't? Do I even have something that could be called a culture?

And does it matter?

Oh, and somewhere in there I managed to visit the Auspicious Dragon Bookblog, where I discovered that out of all the books reviewed there I had read three. She has been reading a lot more than I have, but still, I read two of those books fairly recently. It was one of those things that made me feel ... I don't know, connected. Like maybe, just maybe, I share a little bit of culture with someone, even if it's someone I have never met.

So maybe it does matter. And maybe that's the way it always is. We don't share whole cultures. We share parts, with different people, in a great big glorious and interesting mess.

I'm supposed to be marking homework

What a lot of fun TypoGenerator is! (Found at Mandarin Design.) I have wasted an enormous amount of time generating an enormous number of BadAunts and present simples.

BadAunt seems to generate only text images, probably because the generator takes pictures off Google Images, and there aren't many pictures of Bad Aunts out there. (If I entered only aunt, the generator stalled. This is less understandable, because there are a lot of pictures of aunts out there.)

But present simple generates pictures as well.

I also made a picture on Mr Picassohead (also found at Mandarin Design). My picture is this one, which I titled Worry. It looks remarkably like someone I work with. And yes, he worries a lot.

Saturday, October 14, 2006


I am wiped out. Thursdays and Fridays do me in.

One of my students in my last class, however, cheered me up enormously. His sweatshirt revealed, in large letters, his true identity:

since 1969

I didn't know he was that old. As I was going home I wondered whether he could prove it. Also, was he really a goddess?

As I was pondering these questions, a large young guy passed me going down the stairs at the station. He was also wearing a sweatshirt with a message. It said:


Sometimes you don't need the I Ching. You just need to be alert to the messages around you.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Unnecessary lurches

For a couple of years I was given the same classroom at the place I work today, and the teacher's podium had a wonky leg. It lurched when I leaned on it.

This year I was assigned a room with a stable podium. The room is identical in every other way, but the podium does not lurch. However, I am so used to a lurching podium that I EXPECT it to lurch, and when it doesn't, I do.

You can't imagine how irritating this is.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Sparrows and bats

Sometimes when The Man and I are cycling we have some very odd conversations, if you can call them that. When the wind is in your ears, or a car goes by, things get misheard.

Today as we were cycling I said something to him. He replied, irritably,

"Orange sparrow bottoms? What are you talking about?"

I can't remember now what I actually said, but why would he even THINK that I had said something so utterly weird?

On our way home we went through a little park as the sun was setting. There were bats flying everywhere. Just down on the corner from our house there is a little paddy field, and we often see bats around there in the evenings, too, but usually I don't look too closely. I am too busy avoiding traffic and watching where I am going.

Today, however, since we were in a park and there was no traffic, I looked up at the bats, which were swooping and diving and generally looking pretty. (I'm fairly sure they look less pretty close up, but when they're dancing around in the air like that they are pretty, I promise.) After about five seconds of bat-watching I rode into a hedge.

Today I learned two things to avoid doing while riding a bicycle: attempts at sensible conversation, and bat-watching.


On Wednesday I checked my stats for the first time in a while (I haven't been updating so often that I deserve visitors, and I got the idea that looking at a drop in visitor numbers might inspire me) and found a couple of hits coming to me from Guardian Abroad.

What was going on? I stared for a while, trying to figure it out. Then I got sensible and clicked the link.

And there it was! But... what was it, exactly? I clicked around a bit, puzzled. I saw the link at the bottom of the Your blogs page that said Add blog, but I didn't think I'd added my blog myself. Was I losing my mind? Had I been surfing the Internet half asleep and added my blog without remembering? I worried about this for a little while.

Then I noticed the time and went to bed.

For the next couple of days I was busy, but a couple of times paused to wonder what was going on. Was this going to be another coriander mystery, never solved?

A digression: No, I never did find that coriander, and yes, it still bothers me now and again, and sometimes I wonder if it went to the same place the lentils came from. The lentils were one of the great mysteries of the 1995 earthquake, although it is a mystery that will probably never get into the history books. What happened was that after the quake, when we investigated the kitchen, we discovered that a lot of things that were stored in high places (i.e. above floor level) had been hurled around. The floor was covered with broken glass and crockery, oil, vinegar, soy sauce, and orange lentils. This would not have been so odd - things tend to get chucked around in a big earthquake - except that we didn't recall ever having bought any orange lentils.

At that time we had a very healthy professional athlete living with us (and showing us up for the slugs we are), and we knew he tended to eat things that are good for you, like lentils. When he called from Australia, where he was when it happened (lucky man), I asked him about the lentils.

"Yeah, I have brown lentils sometimes," he said. "But I didn’t know there were any left."

"These are orange," I told him.

"I never eat orange lentils," he said.

Neither did we. We didn't even know they were available in the shops. We didn't know there had been any in our kitchen, and certainly not that many. WHERE HAD THEY COME FROM?

We never did find out, but perhaps the lentils and the coriander are both part of the same mystery. If there is another big earthquake (and I hope there isn't) maybe the coriander will turn up again.

Where was I? Oh, yes, the Guardian Abroad mystery.

This one I solved.

On Friday night I checked my blog email address. I don't check that very often. I keep forgetting. (Although I did get your email, Cheryl, and you're welcome!) And there was the answer: an email from someone at Guardian Abroad.

It was a very nice email, too. She said my blog had been recommended (thank you, Natalie!), and that she hoped I was happy with the description. If I wanted to change it, I could.

I emailed back and said I was delighted and flattered, which I am. I went back and looked again at the site, and noticed that on the page for 'classroom antics' (a category created especially for me, I suspect), blogs are listed in order of ranking, and I have the highest ranking blog. How wonderful! Mine is also the only blog, and has not been ranked, but never mind that. I intend to bask in the glory for as long as it lasts. For now I am at the top of the page.

She also suggested that I get people to go in and review me. This is an exciting and more than slightly worrying idea, but I must admit it would make things more interesting over at Guardian Abroad, particularly if you're honest. (But not too honest. "A bit uneven," is acceptable, since it is true, but "She's making it all up, I'm sure. She's not in the least bit credible," is not. It's the Japanese university system that is incredible, not me.) Maybe you could review some other blogs while you're there.

Also, if you have or know of any other 'classroom antics' blogs, please submit them. I'm feeling a little conspicuous with a whole category to myself. I would submit this one, which I still think it is the funniest and most frightening Japanese classroom blog EVER, but it has been discontinued since the writer left Japan. (Start by clicking on Year One: August. This year, I am participating in the JET (Japan English Teaching) Program. Come, join me as I eat noodles, discover the wonders of Japanese porn and generally laugh at people different from you and I! Ha ha ha!) I doubt that discontinued blogs count, which is a shame, but I'm looking on the bright side. I do not have to worry about being permanently relegated to second place.

Not yet, anyway.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Hard landing, soft book

A guy who teaches sports students in the evenings was in the teachers' room as I was packing up to leave today. He was sighing and wondering what to do with his class of wrestlers.

"They refuse to speak," he said. "They don't even speak in Japanese. You know what sumo wrestlers are like in interviews on TV? My students are like that, when they're not asleep."

I do not normally watch sumo wrestler interviews, except by mistake, but I have seen one or two. They go like this:

Interviewer (Terrifically excited): Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah! Blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah, blah!!!! Blah blah blah blah blah blah, blah blah?"

Sumo wrestler (After a long pause): Ungh.

Interviewer (Even more excited): Blah blah de blah blah blah blah blah! Blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah!!! BLAH DE BLAH! Blah blah blah blah blah blah de blah. Blah blah blah, blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah, blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah de blah!!!! Blah blah blah blah blah blah, blah?"

Sumo wrestler (After an even longer pause.): Ungh.

And so on.

I sympathized with the teacher.

"I wonder if there's anything up there to work with, actually," he said, tapping the side of his head. "Last week I showed them part of a movie. It was easier than trying to get them to speak. I just had a worksheet they were supposed to fill in afterwards. One guy was asleep when I got there, and I couldn't wake him up, so I left him alone. He looked pretty comfortable, and about as responsive as he is when he's awake. I had the volume quite high, and it was quite a noisy movie. He didn't wake up. But then suddenly there was a huge thud and I looked around and ... well, I don't know what happened. One moment he was snoring comfortably, wedged behind that tiny desk, and the next he'd somehow hurled himself to the floor. We heard his head when it hit. It didn't sound good at all."

"Good lord!" I said. "Nothing that exciting ever happens in my classes!"

"It was horrible. There was blood all over the place."

I gaped at him, riveted.

"He hurled himself to the floor hard enough to draw blood? In his sleep?" I said. "What did you do?"

"Well, of course I asked if he was OK, and if he needed to go see the nurse, but he brushed me aside and grunted. I asked in Japanese, but he just grunted again and sat down, with blood running down his face. So I gave him some tissues and left him alone. He went back to sleep."

"But what about the other students?" I asked. "They're his teammates, right? Didn't they do something?"

"They just sat there. You know how they are," he said.

I did know. They tend not to respond very intelligently to stimuli of any kind. Mostly they don't respond at all, unless they get a terrific shock. As I have mentioned before (in the second part of that blog entry), I suspect they have their English class after dinner.

The only sports students I have play soccer, but they are not actually classified as sports students. They are a couple of law students who belong to the soccer club. They told me they play soccer for four hours a day, and run for an hour. They should be tired, but they never seem to be, at least in my class. They are not like the wrestlers at all. They are full of beans.

I'm very lucky, really. My sports students spend most of the class time speaking English, as they are supposed to, and attempting to beat each other up, which they are not supposed to. But they are very funny about it and it doesn't affect their study (they beat each other up with English sound effects) so I deal with it by ignoring it most of the time, or, if they get too noisy, declaring one of them the winner and telling them to get back to work. They seem to find their lives hugely amusing.

They also like to accuse each other of domestic violence, which appears to be their new favourite English phrase. The first time they did this I remonstrated with them.

"That's not domestic violence," I said. "'Domestic' means 'related to the home,' and you don't live in the same home."

"Oh yes, we do!" they said triumphantly.

"Oh," I said. "Er... but domestic violence is a very SERIOUS problem. It's not really funny."

They nodded solemnly, all bright-eyed with suppressed laughter. They find 'serious' a difficult concept.

"We understand," they said.

As I moved away I heard behind me,

"You are a very serious problem! You are not funny!"



I turned around. They froze, one with his textbook raised over the other's head.

"Sorry, sensei!" they chorused.

I frowned severely. I do not want them thinking that I think domestic violence is funny. It isn't. (Well, not usually anyway.)

Then I had one of my less clever teacher moments.

"If you hit him hard enough with that book maybe some English will fall into his head," I suggested.

I should have known better. It's just that by Friday afternoon I'm running on empty and sometimes things just pop out. It was safer when I had a very low level last class. Having students who actually listen to me at times like that can be positively dangerous.

Oh, well. No harm done, this time at least. It was a soft textbook.

Thursday, October 05, 2006


Something odd is going on in one of today's classes. We're in the third week, now, and the class lists arrived in my mailbox last week. I looked at the list and thought I must be looking at the wrong one. There were twenty-four students on the list, but I had only seen ten of them. Where were the other fourteen?

I decided to let it go for another week.

This week two more turned up. I am DELIGHTED to have a twelve student class, but ... where are the others? Why did they register for the class and then not turn up? I asked my boss.

"Did you set really hard requirements?" he asked.

"I don't think so," I said. "But they don't know what the requirements are anyway. They've never come to find out."

"Oh," he said. "Then they must be engineering students."

"No," I replied. "My engineering students are coming, and they're good. This lot are business students. Also, it's the lowest class. After the retesting at the end of semester most of the class moved up. I have only one from my old class, and the rest are failures who have moved down."

"Maybe that explains it," he said.

"It must have been a pretty strange test," I added. "The one who didn't move up is the only one I gave an A to last semester. She was the only one in that class who actually spoke English. And these 'failures' who have moved down to my class are all better than she is. It's weird."

"Oh," said my boss. He looked a little disturbed, and it suddenly occurred to me that he might have written the test. His job includes things like that. Now I couldn't ask. I kept my face carefully innocent. (How can I find out who wrote the test, I wonder, now that I've closed off that avenue?)

I asked the students who DID come today whether there was a reason for the no-shows. Did I have a horrible reputation? Did they think the non-attending students (who I've never met) had heard of me, and panicked?

They laughed. Did that mean yes, or no? They told me no, but they would, wouldn't they?

I have decided to believe that I do not have a horrible reputation that is preventing my new students from coming to class. If that was the case, they wouldn't have signed up for it, right? (Unless they didn't know who their teacher would be when they signed up. Oh, dear. Better check that.)

No, it CAN'T be that. In order to preserve my ego, I've decided that the reason they're not coming is that they are disillusioned by the test that my boss probably wrote. The test has led them to believe that their English became worse after attending the classes of foreign teachers, and so they've decided to take the wise precaution of stopping before they lose what little they have left.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Catch up

Recently I have not been posting much. This does not mean I have not been writing. I have. But I have been writing on the Palm and forgetting to sync it to the computer on a regular basis. By the time I do sync it I look at what I wrote and say to myself,

"Nah, that's LAST week's news. It's not relevant."

Then I delete it.

Of course, for most of my readers it doesn't matter if I post something a week after it happens. It makes no difference. It only makes a difference to how I feel about it. Sorry.

I have decided to attempt to rectify this problem, at least a little, by (a) syncing more often, and (b) posting some snippets from the Palm which I have not deleted yet. Some of it has been there for a while, but I wrote some of it today. I am posting it all before I start thinking it is boring, and delete it.

Here it is.

1. Synesthesia
If a person has the kind of synesthesia in which they see sound as colour, and then use the Silent Way for learning a language, do they get confused? Or does their synethesia make language learning easier?

(Don't ask me where that one came from. I don't remember thinking it, let alone writing it.)

2. Huh?

The most cheerful student in the class is wearing a t-shirt that says;

I hate myself so much I want to die.

He giggled his way happily through most of the class. I asked him what his t-shirt said, and he giggled, covered his chest with his arms, and replied,

"I don't know."

3. Going blind

I get the class lists earlier here than at other places. They write the student names very, very small, in Kanji, and above that, even smaller, they write the names using the English alphabet. In recent years I've been finding the class rolls harder to read, but I'm not sure whether that's since they started using the alphabet instead of katakana, or because my eyes are getting weaker. Actually I'm almost sure the katakana was easier. When they used katakana I think the font was a little larger, and they certainly didn't make so many mistakes. They have some really odd readings of student names when they use the English alphabet. I can usually figure them out, but it can be embarrassing if I read what they wrote without thinking.

Unfortunately I am more likely to read without thinking now, too, because the letters are so tiny I'm concentrating on reading them rather than on whether they are correct or not.

I got a bit of a fright this week (i.e. last week - this is an old note). It was the first day back, and I had a horrible time trying to read the names. It wasn't too bad for the first three classes, but by the last class I was really tired and had terrible trouble with it. I did a lot of muttering to myself as I squinted at the page.

"I can't see!" I muttered. "This is terrible! I'm getting old! What's next? Will my hair go blue?"

I read through the roll painfully slowly, making a lot of mistakes. and causing numerous snorts and giggles as I went. Then, as I put the paper down, I noticed that the printing on the page under it (the list from the class before) was much, MUCH larger.

For some reason the university had reduced the size of the printing on that last class list to very wee, to make teachers think their eyes have aged 10 years in a day.

What a mean trick! I'd thought I was going blind.

After class I went off and copied the list, enlarging it to a size I could actually read. It could fit on one page and still be readable, so I don't know why they'd reduced it in the first place.

4. Time travel

I have a time traveller in my class.

"See you last week, in class," he said as he was leaving today.

I comforted myself that he had learned something, at least. I had just been teaching them how to use, See you.

"You can add something about time or the place," I told them. "Or both," I added, and demonstrated.

"See you tomorrow, in class."
"See you at 2 o'clock in the library."

And so on. However, I forgot to tell them that the time should be a future time. That was my fault, I guess. I thought it was obvious, but apparently it wasn't.

5. I don't even speak Italian

In the last class I got inspired and taught the students to say goodbye in Italian.

"Ciao!" they all said as I was leaving, and I was happy. I had taught them something, and they'd remembered it! Never mind that it was the wrong language. We English speakers have been using Ciao! long enough, and besides, it is in my dictionary. It may not have been English to start with but it's English now. Or near enough.

6. Panic

Over the weekend, and again last night, I went nuts looking for the paperwork for today's classes. Last week was the first day. What did I do? I could not find the student lists. I could not find my notebook. And didn't I get them to write self-introductions? If so, where did I put them? I knew I had probably done something like what I did last semester, but I wanted to be sure, because I frequently make last minute changes.. Also, I needed the material to take to work again today, especially the notebook. Didn't I buy a new notebook especially for these classes? Where was it?

I'm going senile, I thought.

This morning I was still panicking quietly when I left for work. (I panicked quietly because I did not want to give The Man more evidence about how disorganized I am.) I did not have my notebook. I did not have the class lists. I did not have the students' self-introductions and wasn't sure if they'd written any. I could not remember exactly what I did last week.

On the plus side, my bag was very light.

On the train I tried to remember the new students' faces. If I could remember just one, I'd remember what I'd done. It often works that way. But I couldn't. They'd left an indelible blank in my memory. I am losing my mind, I thought. Is this a short-term memory loss or a long-term memory loss? How long is long?How long is short?

When I got to work I found the class lists and student self-introductions (I had left them in my mailbox, phew!) but there was still no notebook.

Never mind, I told myself, bravely. I'll take notes on the Palm and then transfer them to the notebook later. I can manage. Managing is what I do.

About ten minutes before class I opened the Palm to think about which category I'd store the class notes in. To my great surprise there was already a category created for today's university. Also, there were the class notes from last week!

At that point the lightbulb went off over my head. I remembered. I had decided to experiment with a paperless semester, at least as far as notetaking goes. It was a brilliant idea! Instead of using the nice new notebook I had decided to keep notes on the Palm. Maybe that way I'd save paper, and also have less to carry around.

It was working already! I may have lost the new notebook, but the notes were all there, perfectly preserved, on the Palm. AND I'd had less to carry around.

Actually I would be a lot more impressed with my brilliant idea if I'd remembered having it. As it is, I'm still moderately impressed. I used the Palm again today. My notes are far more complete than they usually are. The spelling is a lot worse, but I have written more. This is because I had the Palm and wireless keyboard sitting on the teacher's podium, and every time I flew past I stopped to speed-type a couple more things. My speed typing on the Palm is a lot speedier and a lot less accurate than it is when I'm sitting down at the computer, but I can still understand most of it. Sometimes I typed while I was answering a student's question. I looked at the student while I was talking, and continued typing about something quite different. I was not just doing two things at once, I was thinking about and verbalizing two things at once. It was the ultimate in multi-tasking. The results from those times are somewhat ambiguous and tend to peter off into gibberish because I focus on the student rather than on the note, but most of the time I can remember what I was trying to write, and can fill in the details later. Overall there is nothing too difficult to understand. I've taken more notes than usual, and more RELEVANT notes. This is a good thing.

After finishing work today I wrote a note to myself in the calendar program. I dated it for next Saturday.

"DO NOT PANIC. NOTES FOR TUESDAY CLASSES ON PALM," the calendar will remind me. Apparently my memory does not go back a week these days. It might go back a few days, but not a whole week, and I do not want to panic again.

Aside from the minor glitch of not remembering I was doing it, it looks like this could turn out to be quite a successful experiment.