Who's teaching 4th period again?

In every single classroom in junior high there's a small blackboard right next to the door that has that class' schedule for the day broken down by period.  Often it's a mix between subject, teacher and lesson. Today I came to my 4th period class to see this on that blackboard.

Who?

Next to the 4 is the Kanji for "English" and next to that it says "JonJonJonJon".  Needless to say, we all shared a good laugh over it.

The ABCs in Japan

When I first had my Japanese students in Elementary school sing the ABCs, I was really confused when what they were singing didn't really synch up with how I was doing it. So on the second go around and stayed quite and listened and this is what I heard. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q8SU5svRIuM

Slightly different from what I'm used to from the US and definitely enough to through me off.

Have you seen this person?

The other day, I found this posted near the front office of one of my elementary schools, where I spend about a quarter of my time: Have you seen this person?

From what I'm told (and from what I remember of what I'm told) it say something along the lines of

"Do you know who this is? He's our new ALT who will be teaching here for 1 year. His name is Jonathan Kramer. Can you say hello in English?"

The picture was taken by one of the teachers I met at the board of education meeting when I first arrived (amazing guy, even more amazing teacher) and the school as a whole is great.  The posting creeped me out a little bit when I first saw it, but once I found out what it meant it made me feel even more welcome at the school.

22 Common Questions I Get From Students, and 5 Weird Ones

When I first met with the teachers I would end up working alongside at a Board of Education meeting a week prior to my starting they showed me the lesson they wanted me to teach.  At the end of the lesson they had left space for the students to ask me questions, because apparently they had a lot.  I found this be only be partly true, a handful of kids had a lot of questions, the rest seemed too shy to say anything, but luckily those outspoken kids would often act as representatives and ask even more.
Also, as the kids have gotten more comfortable with me, I've been getting a lot more questions in the hallways and during lunch.  Which is a great way to get them to improve their English outside of class.
I always seem to get a wide variety of questions, but there are always good handful that I'm always asked.  So here's a collection of those.
  1. How old are you? 23 years old
  2. How tall are you? 185 cm
  3. Do you like Michael Jackson? Yes, I do
  4. What's your favorite color? Since I'm not 12 years old, I don't really have a favorite color, so I tend to go with green since I can use the chalkboard as an example.
  5. Have you been to Disneyland? I try to explain to them that haven't, but I've been to Disney World, and I tell them that there are 2 Disney parks in America and I show them where they both are.
  6. Who's your favorite singer? Sometimes I'll say Michael Jackson, other times I'll say the popular Japanese boy band "Arashi" and the kids go crazy.  I've never heard a single Arashi song.
  7. Favorite cartoon/anime? I'll often say One Piece (a really popular, long running show about pirates) and the kids go crazy.
  8. Favorite movie? Most of them have never heard of Back to the Future, so I'll say Totoro or some other wildly popular Studio Ghibli cartoon that all the kids know.
  9. Favorite comic? Comic books are extremely popular here in Japan, and people of all ages read them, so not too unusual of a question.  I try to stick with something they know, so I again say "One Piece" or maybe Batman.
  10. Do you like Japan? Yes, I do.
  11. What's your favorite place in Japan? Fuji! Sure, it's a lie, but Fuji isn't half bad and I've barely been anywhere else.
  12. Favorite food/Japanese food? Rice, Okonomoyaki and Ramen.  Showing the tiniest knowledge of Japanese food or culture blows any Japanese person's mind.  Telling them that rice is one of my favorite foods blows there minds because it's so banal to them (and the rest of the world).
  13. Do you have a car? No, I don't.
  14. What food do you not like? Avacados.  Which gets a surprised reaction just like it does back home.
  15. What sports do you like? Hockey (exclusively called "Ice Hockey" in Japan) and Football (the Japanese call American Football "Amefto").
  16. What are your hobbies? I like traveling.
  17. Favorite animal? Whales, bears or something else that I've recently showed them a flashcard of.
  18. Shoe size? 27cm
  19. Where in Japan do you live? Fuji, because some of them think it's a possibility that I commute from Tokyo or Kyoto.
  20. How long have you been in Japan? I got this question the most during the first few classes I ever taught, so the question was often 3 or 4 weeks, which was mind blowing to even the teacher I was assisting.
  21. When's your birthday?
  22. Are you married? No, I'm not.

During every Q & A session I have during class, there always seems to be one odd question out of left field that I wasn't expecting.  It usually starts with the "Japanese Teacher of English" scratching their head, trying to figure out the translation.  Here are some of my favorite of these questions.

  1. Are you Christian Born Again?
  2. Is your hair natural?
  3. What's your favorite type of history book?
  4. Favorite flag?
  5. What's your favorite type of woman?

Hair Metal Elementary

As I was preparing for my second class at elementary school today, I looked up at the door to see 10 or so kids staring at me wearing ridiculous wigs.  It was like some sort of Japanese elementary school hair metal cover band had showed up for English class. My lesson went on without them breaking character and no explanation was ever given as to why they were wearing them, but I honestly didn't want one.

My First Two Weeks Teaching English

Tomorrow I start my third week as an Assistant Language Teacher in Japan, and so far I'm really enjoying it.  All of the teachers at my schools have been amazingly nice, and most speaking better English than I do Japanese, which has helped me quite a bit. The teaching aspect of the job is lots of fun since I just goof off with kids all day.  They can be a bit reluctant to participate at first, but I'm finding ways to loosen them up, mostly by just being stupidly goofy.  In each class there usually 2 or 3 enthusiastic boys act as liason to the shy kids, asking me questions they are afraid to.  How old are you? When's your birthday? How tall are you? Do you have a girlfriend? What sports do you like?

They also seem to really enjoy my presence (or they are just really good at mocking me) and my novelty as a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, 185 cm (6'1"), western guy.  When I walk the hallways, I always hear the kids shout at me "Hello!," "Jon-sensei!," and bits and pieces from my latest lesson (Nice to meet you! My name is Yuya!).

I teach at two elementary schools and one junior high school, spending most of my time at the junior high, and thee are some noticeable differences between the two age groups.  First off, the elementary school kids are far more enthusiastic about English class.  They are constantly calling out answer, begging to volunteer and are just great students.  The junior high school students are a bit more reluctant to participate, either being too shy or too occupied with trying to be super cool.  The advantages to junior high are the fact that there's a genuine English teacher with me that can act as translator when I need it and the kids themselves also have a better grasp on the English language, which gives me more to work with as a teacher and it enables me to have somewhat of a conversation with them during lunch time, which is great.

Kyushoku (school lunch) has easily been the most amazing, interesting and obvious difference between Japanese and American schools.  In elementary school kids (who are all required to eat the school lunch) put on something that looks like a mix between and chef's and hazmat suit with surgical masks.  In junior high they simply wear aprons, kerchiefs to cover their hair and surgical masks.  There are no lunch ladies that administer the food nor are there cafeterias.  A group of ladies prepare the food, and pairs students haul the large containers, one kid on each side grabbing a handle, up the stairs to their classrooms.  With zero adult interference or prompting, the kids dole out duties to each other, one student serves each dish to another student who will place each bowl of that dish onto all the students' desks.  For this reason it's considered both rude and unhygienic to sit on top of a desk. They wait until everyone is seated and served, then clasp their hands and in unison say "itadakimasu" (which literally means "I humbly receive," something said by all Japanese people before every meal) and eat away.  I have yet to see a single problem or scuffle happens amongst the kids over this routine.

Here's a video showing what this looks like from YouTube user "expateach"(I did NOT record the video and I should note that contractually I AM not allowed to post photos or videos of my school or students online).  The actual lunch serving starts at the 30 second mark. [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-7QLJfMGPfo] [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FFaTYZRmZfo] "Itadakimasu!"

Kyushoku is a great example of how well mannered and disciplined Japanese school children are.  The kids are given a good amount of responsibilities, not only with serving lunch, but they also clean up the room and the chalkboard in between each class, and everyday there is a cleaning time where everyone pitches in and cleans the entire school (there are no janitor's on staff).  Even though I've been told repeatedly that my junior high is a "problem school" with lots of misbehaving students, it's really nothing compared to what I've seen back in Miami.  Kids always get along with one another, I've only seen one kid pick on another once, they almost always pay attention to you and they don't yell and disrupt my lessons.  There are a three or four kids that could be considered "problematic," they don't wear their uniforms properly, have crazy hair, and skip class.  But I find it hard to call them problematic when a few times they've skipped class to come watch my lesson.