Tag Archives: JET

I wish that I could have had my camera

So as the title suggests, there are no pictures accompanying this post, but I had to write it down anyway.

It should surprise no one that I had a fire drill today. I work at a school. As far as things go, even in a foreign country, that goes as common sense. It makes far more sense since I live in emergency conscious Japan. Listening to emergency alarms in another language is sort of nerve wracking. You get used to it, and maybe that’s another post for another day. Incidentally the word for fire, as in dear God there is a fire, is Kajida.

Anyway. They sounded the fire alarm, which, after the initial alarm tones, pretty much sounds the same as it does in America minus the ear splitting tone that could wake the dead. The students shuffled down as many as five flights of stairs in a calm herd. Unlike what I’m used to, no one expects absolute silence.

We all shuffled out the back door out onto the athletics field. That’s when I realized that things were just a bit different. See, in Japan, it isn’t just the school that runs the drills, it’s the actual fire department. Across the field, standing resolutely, was a man in uniform blue holding a stop watch. We were being timed, so students and teachers sprinted the last few feet across the yard. Everyone fell into places with their classes or the other faculty.

I found a few people that I work with regularly to stand with because I knew we were going to be waiting and wanted to talk. Then I turned around.

Three faces were peering out of one of the windows on the fifth floor of the building. Since all of my teaching experience has so far been in American, my first reaction was crap those kids are messing this up for everyone. Nope. Dead Wrong.

Those three students were right where they were supposed to be. As if on cue, a single firetruck drove up the hill and around the outside of the field. It backed in. One of the firefighters jumped out so that he could watch and wave the driver into place. Then in practiced formation everyone else jumped out of the truck. In about two seconds, they had the braces dug into the ground and one guy had jumped into a control seat tucked onto the back of the truck. He turned on the lift while two other firefighters climbed into the bucket, which the first firefighter and turned open for them from the control seat.

I think you see where this is going. They raised the ladder and “rescued” the students from the fifth floor window. Now before you go all, how dare they endanger their students by pulling them from a window, think about it. Should an actual emergency really be the first time a student actually has to do something like get into a fire ladder bucket? I’m not really sure it should be.

To that aim, the last part of the drill involved two members of the faculty and two members of the student body having to put out a “fire” with some of the extinguishers kept in the building. Don’t worry. The “fire” was actually a red rubber cone. Frankly ending my day watching two third year boys scream fire and attack a cone was pretty hilarious. So was watching one of the teachers accidentally shoot the other with the extinguisher. Extremely practical, yes, but also very fun.

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Keeping work spaces warm in Japan

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This week it finally got to the point of being pretty cold. This is the point where all my family and friends in Michigan will start complaining that it’s a lot colder back home. Yes I know. Yes it is.

The difference, however, is that while it is quite a bit colder in Michigan and other places in the United States you people have the luxury of insulation and central heating. In Japan, this is a very uncommon occurrence. Only places like the Northern tip of Honshu (that’s the main island) and the northern island of Hokkaido seem to have it. This is mostly because the climate is much more similar to the good old frozen north I grew up with. Further south in the country, it doesn’t matter if the building you’re talking about is an apartment, school, or possibly even an office building. There is little to no insulation. The walls are more than likely concrete. The windows are single paned, plentiful, and often open (even in the bathrooms). Many schools are made up of two larger buildings connected by corridors. These corridors are generally completely open to the elements.

So, by now I’m sure you’re wondering why I’m not sitting here in four layers of clothing, and I’m not. This lovely contraption is my space heater.

As you can see, it hooks into the gas line building into the wall. When you come in in the morning you turn on the gas (don’t forget to turn it off before you go).

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Then there are two knobs. Once you turn them past a certain point, a sparker clicks and sets the gas alight. After that, you have to turn past just a little bit. There’s one more click, and if you do it right when you release it the flame stays on. Yes, that’s right. I heat my workroom at school with an open flame, all be it a controlled one. My favorite part about the whole open flame thing is that everyone seems to just leave them on while they are away at class even if there isn’t anyone else in the room. I personally turn mine off. I don’t want to be that foreigner that burned the school down.

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There are two ceramic panels that suck up the heat and radiate glorious warmth into the room. Of course making your room nice and toasty makes it just that much more difficult to go back outside. I’ve learned to look forward to teaching class on the fifth floor. It’s usually pretty warm up there since, you know, heat rises and stuff. Also the first floor faculty bathroom is now my bathroom of choice because of the heated toilet seat. Yes, that’s another topic I’ll discuss later.

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So today I did this

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One of the awesome things about working here in Japan is that I have to put on things like Halloween parties. It’s all for the cause of showing the children in my English speaking society “real American culture”.

To me this is an excuse to revel in the sweet nostalgic awesomeness of my child hood. Yesterday we all got together and carved pumpkins. Most of the students had never even opened up pumpkins let alone carved them.

Today we had a Halloween party. We gave out goody bags with candy from back home; had a competition for the pumpkins they carved the day before; put together bowls of fame monster parts so they could guess what they really were; and held a haunted house coloring contest. It was really awesome and all very old fashioned now back home. I kind of wish it weren’t.

My big contribution was to draw a picture for the board. I’m proud of how it turned out even though it isn’t super awesome. I sectioned the picture I based it on so that I could section off the blackboard. Below are some pictures of the process. Sorry I didn’t get a picture of just the grid. I got excited and started before I took a picture.

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It’s nice to, for once, have time to do all those crazy over the top things teachers should have time for. Yes I know I’m lucky and that most teachers in Japan don’t have the free time that I have. I know that most teachers in the states don’t, but maybe, just maybe, they should. We want exceptional teachers. Exceptional teachers need time to be exceptional. Just some random thoughts after a day which wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t had the time to plan it.

Since I’m here in japan, I’d love to know some things you’d like me to talk about. I’ll be going to Osaka this weekend. The comment section is below. Go!

Language Training in Saijou

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Yes. It has been an unforgivably long time since the last time I posted. It’s been nearly a month. I’m slapping my own wrist so you don’t have to. I sat down yesterday and looked at all the pictures and thought about all the things I’ve done. There is no reason for this literary absence.

I should have talked about this while it was still fresh in my mind. I’ve already apologized, so I won’t do that again.

I guess it was about two and a half weeks ago now. It seems impossible that i was that long ago. Since I’ve been here, time has seemed to move both slowly and impossible fast. One of the perks of being in the JET Program is getting to have language training. We had a week long intensive training. For most of the time in class, I spoke no English.

It was a very rewarding and a very tiring experience. Your brain slowly starts to turn to mush. Thinking first in one language and then in the other is a lot more wearing than it has any right to be.

My group, however, was really small and awesome. I was put right in the middle as far as ability went. We all knew enough to pretend to be conversational but little enough to still make some very silly mistakes which of course makes things more fun.

Probably the one thing that made it, beyond our silly mistakes and general ability to get along with one another, was our teacher. Kimura-sensei managed to teach a class in Japanese to a bunch of clueless foreigners and still made sure we understood. She didn’t personally speak much English, but she still knew enough to help. There were a lot of times where we all flipped out our phones to look up a word or a phrase and among all of us managed to come up with the correct word for something.

Every group had their own classroom and sign. Ours became special after the second day. The mark of a great teacher is knowing when you need to let students have a moment to be silly and off topic, Out of one of those moments came our door decorations. Like so many other random things our creation of several paper cranes came from botched discussions in Japanese about our hobbies.

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Kimura-sensei bustled out of the room only to return with a package of origami paper. I naturally picked the gold shiny paper. The next day we were greeted by our cranes. She had first stuck them to our name tags and then decided that they looked better on our door. Slowly we collected pictures and drawings to go along with our cranes. There’s nothing better than getting a sense of belonging in a classroom even if it’s a simple white room.

I didn’t just take away Japanese skills; I also had a chance to really consider some of the things that make a great teacher. I guess I have been doing long enough to start analyzing the craft not just be swayed by it.

Chicago Pre-departure Orientation

One of the things I had to do before leaving to go to Japan was a pre-departure orientation. No I don’t think you’re stupid. Yes, I am aware that you can read the title of this post. Anyway, moving on. There was the usual set of speakers. Some of them were a bit doom and gloom. Some of them were funny, and some of them proved that being a good public speaker has nothing to do with how well you know a language.

A particular speaker jumps to mind. One of our travel coordinators, and forgive me his name has escaped me, was in charge of telling us all of the necessary information for our actual departure. Yes the one we were at the orientation to talk about. He was entirely unprepossesing, short, and a bit round in the middle. His accent was right out of a stereotype. There were rs instead of ls everywhere, but to be honest he was one of the most engaging speakers there. He managed to give us information and set us at ease with a laugh. It gave me a strange sort of hope that I’ll be able to get my personality across even though I may not know the right words.

The actual information was pretty basic. Get places on time. Keep your things where they need to be. Get your luggage somewhere so it can go on the truck, those sorts of things. However whenever you get a room full of nervous people certain personality traits begin to present themselves.

For this reason, I dread the part where someone asks if there are any questions. Those words bring out a few specific personalities. There’s always that person who needs to ask that question just to make themselves feel better about what they already knew. There’s always the person who doesn’t pay attention, so they ask a question someone else already asked. And, inevitably, there is always someone who asks a question whose answer is clearly to be found in the packet already passed out and sitting in front of them. Others tend to be annoyed by this, but I understand that it’s merely nerves. Sometimes, when people are nervous, they get a little stupid even though they’re very smart. It sort of makes me want to hug them.

By far my favorite person, who I never actually met or learned their name, was the girl sitting a table ahead of me. She sat very still and very quiet. She seemed to look above it all and to be a bit to cool for the questioning and information. She even managed to convince me of her aloof coolness until she pulled a sandwich out of her purse. Then with a single question, naturally about the sandwich, her face lit up. Suddenly she was a different, albeit still nervous, person. It’s certain proof that you should never immediately judge a book by it’s cover.

Something else I learned from this orientation is that I’m old. OK, before you older people shoot me down, hear me out. Most of the people leaving are four to five years younger than me. Many of them have been many awesome places. Some of them haven’t. I’ve seen a lot of bravado, but I know it’s secretly hiding nerves. Again it just sort of makes me want to hug them. You’ve got to be honest with yourself, or you will get yourself into trouble. I experienced the culture shock thing in Texas. You won’t always realize that’s what happening until it does. I’m not sure how you learn to look closely at your own emotions, but it’s one good way of learning how to do it. Unfortunately, it’s a bit sink or swim. You either get or you don’t. As long as you can start off by being honest with yourself and your feelings, I think you will end up being better off than those trying to play it up.

For this reason, last night I stayed way past the young kids. Yup that’s how I’m going to refer to the young twenty somethings. I’m going to be a bit crotchety. The reason I stayed was to talk to another married couple my own age who were not only taking themselves but also their two children. They both got placed in the program, however, they were placed ten hours apart. I will be keeping them in mind when I get a bit lonely in the next two weeks. I will also be doing my best to keep in touch with them, mostly because they were a bit crunchy and awesome.

By stepping back and watching over the last day or so I’ve sort of come away with a kind of confidence I didn’t realize I was capable of. Everyone I’ve talked to was grateful to talk. When I had a reaction to try to follow, I stood back and watched. I think I’m ready. I didn’t think I’d feel that way, but there it is. See you all on the other side.