This week, I want to burn all of my words for warmth because believe it or not, my tropical island is cold. Especially in my school, and specifically in my teachers’ room. It has rained every single day since last Saturday. I’m not just talking drizzles here, people…it has been pouring buckets of cold rain. Anyway. I decided to wear my suit jacket on Tuesday to keep warm instead of my warm and fuzzy navy zip up from Uniqlo like I do every other day, and right away my senseis questioned why I was so dressed up (I have a very laid back style.) They all laughed when I told them it was because my suit was warmer than most of the clothes I have at home.
I didn’t believe my students or senseis when they first told me that Amami gets cold. I have been a Brutal New England Winter Survivor for the past 26 years after all.
But now I drape my Totoro blanket over my legs every day when I am at my desk like I am an Obachan (Grandmother.) My school is partially outdoors because there is a beautiful garden in the center, and the classroom wings wrap around it. So we all have to technically walk outside to get to class. My students are wrapped in neck warmers and gloves and some of the girls wear blankets like they are capes. It’s a little comical that we are all so cold on this island, while Hokkaido people probably would laugh at us for the way we are acting.
But despite the cold and rain, this has probably been the best week in school I’ve had yet. Here’s why:
We need to improvise!
On Tuesday after school, I introduced my debate students to improv theater. We watched some Whose Line, played Questions Only, Charades, and laughed until we cried at my favorite Talking Animals Video of All Time. (That last one was just for fun.) I thought introducing them to some improv techniques will be good for their debating skills so they can improve on coming up with things to say on the spot in English. They enjoyed this new and fun way of learning, so we’ll be playing some more games on Monday after school!
And I just have to share this hilarious snippet from our Questions Only game:
Theme: At the grocery store
Student A:What do you want for dinner?
Student B: Can you please repeat your question?
Student A: I said what do you want for dinner?
Student B: Why did you just ask me the same question twice?
Teaching College Writing
The sannensei students are still preparing for more college entrance exams, so I was asked by the head of the English department to visit her class for the next three Wednesdays and prepare an example of a good essay response in English. I ended up creating a 45 minute lesson on How to Write a Strong Argumentative Paper in English, complete with an in-class rewrite for the last 15 minutes on a topic they had previously written about. After class, my sensei told me she even learned a few things from my lesson. I am really looking forward to planning two more lessons for these students because I have some more ideas up my suit sleeve.
I also did my lesson on writing for another sannensei class, but it didn’t go as well because I should have modified my lesson for a different learning level. But that ended up being okay, because it led to 4 or 5 students coming to the teachers’ room for individual conferences on their writing with me. It was reminiscent of my days in the writing center during grad school, and reminded me how much I love working one-on-one with students. I pulled out many of my tried-and-true techniques, such as students reading their work aloud, and then me underlining a sentence where there is an error and seeing if the student can spot their mistake on their own. And in most cases, they could. This was also a great opportunity for me to get to know the sannensei students more because I see them so infrequently. It is easy to bond with a student during a tutoring session. I find it challenging to get to know anyone when I teach classes with an average of 35-40 students.
Most Wednesday afternoons, I help out with an elective course where the students are making presentations to talk about Amami in English. We have only two weeks left before the students have to present, so we booked the computer lab from 4-5 pm for a couple of days this week. I offered to stay after school on Thursday, but only one student showed up. so we brought her back to the teachers’ room, and I gave her an individual lesson on making a PowerPoint with pictures and English captions. I am 100% positive my English went above and beyond her head, but she was very appreciative, and I was happy to help out the head senseis of the elective course. Some of the other senseis were curious about what we were doing, so we showed them our presentation!
Friday Lessons: MLK and Harry Potter Edition
I introduced an advanced ninensei class to Martin Luther King Jr and the word segregation in honor of MLK Day in America. Turns out it was a reintroduction for them though, because I had no idea that some Japanese students learn about MLK in Junior High! That made me happy.
In my other classes, I played Harry Potter Word Jumble and Harry Potter Mad Libs. The students were so genki for Harry Potter! Almost every hand shot in the air when I asked who had seen the movies, but then most of them didn’t know that Harry Potter was a book series first. Then of course I encouraged all of them to read Harry Potter in English like the Great Defender of the Written Word that I am.
A few other notable mentions from this week:
-After almost 6 months, Kyoto Sensei said his first words in English to me! He said, “bunka center…okay!”
Context: He was telling me it was okay to go watch the Culture Festival at the culture center in town. But I ended up not going because I wanted to stay behind for the students who needed help with their essays. But this little interaction made my day!
-I will begin journaling with a ninnensei student who has serendipitously been to both Boston AND my alma mater, Western Connecticut State University! I love journal projects with my students. Most of them are too shy to talk to me in person for longer than a minute or two, so I love when they want to write to me instead and I can learn more about them. I have several consistent pen pals at my school who write to me weekly, and I love it!
-This has nothing to do with school, but next weekend, I will be trying out my first yoga class instructed entirely in Japanese!
I didn’t have a lot of time for myself this week. But I am okay with that. Because when my weeks are busy like this, I truly feel a part of my school’s community and like I am making a difference. Even if it’s just to help lighten the load for the hard-working senseis.
And when you’re doing work that you love…well, it doesn’t really feel like work at all.