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Showing posts with label First day of teaching as JET. Show all posts
Showing posts with label First day of teaching as JET. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

First Day On The Job

This past Monday, I started work at a new job, as the so-called Editor-in-Chief at a national magazine celebrating its 80th anniversary with the very next issue going out in one week's time.

What, me worry?

Actually... no.

Before any new or somewhat traumatic event, the evening before is such a stressful time that I break out in acne, have a twitchy stomach or fail to go to sleep.

But last night... much like the night before I had my first team-teaching event on the JET Programme in Japan at Ohtawara Junior High School in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken back in September of 1990... I was actually kindda calm.

Back then, I had just reinvented myself a couple of years previous upon entering the journalism program at Humber College in Toronto... becoming more outgoing... less shy, and infinitely more talkative.

I know, I know... you can't believe I was shy or not talkative, but I was. Painfully so. I was still afraid to talk to women, but I did - and even had a few dates... and by the second year, I was dating three women at once. A blond, a brunette and a redhead. Really.

I wasn't sleeping with them, and if you asked any of them they would have said we had gone out on dates (plural), but we weren't dating. Pa-tay-toe, poh-tah-toe. What's important is how I interpreted it in my head... part of the reinvention process.

I learned I really could control how I felt. If I felt like it.

As such... the night before my first class, I wasn't nervous at all.

What's the worse that could happen? I had finally unleashed the gift of gab I had always possessed amongst my small cadre of nerdy friends (I'm a nerd), so having stage fright talking wasn't going to happen.

And besides... my first class... and all of the first time appearances in front of other classes... and at six other junior high schools... that was to be my self-introduction.

That's where I talk about me to others. Tell them about myself... who I am... who and what I have done in the past... tell them about others in my life...

It was the forerunner to my blog. In an oral tradition rather than written down.

And... while all I did was talk in English while the JTE (Japanese teacher of English) translated my ramblings into Japanese, I realized for perhaps the first time, that MY story wasn't as dull as I thought it was when I was living it.

They really loved that Neapolitan ice cream joke regarding those three different hair colored women.

And here's why... the young guys in the class all thought I was a pervert for dating these women at once - which was both an insult and a compliment by them, I soon realized... as after class they gathered around to ask me more questions in English (!!!)... and the young dudettes... they were trying to figure out just why this nerd was able to get three women to go out with him...

News of that triple-dating scenario actually made the rounds outside of the school, as older brothers and sisters were told... and later when I finally broke up with Ashley (or she with me, depending on how revisionist we want to be today), I suddenly had all of these single, young Japanese women - the older sisters of my students, it would appear - wanting to date me.

I've already written about that in other blogs...

The point? Confidence begets more confidence. Or something like that. Hmmm... I thought I had a better point to make. Oh well.

As for my first day at my new job yesterday? Well... I managed to spill hot coffee down the front of my shirt. Comedy gold.

Still... it didn't bother me, or I didn't let it bother me, and had a really fun time.

Somewhere with a drinking problem,
Andrew Joseph

Friday, February 8, 2013

So Now You Are A Teacher - Now What? Part 2

I suppose I could have called this "How to earn respect in Japan", but I didn't.

After the giddy and hectic first morning at school where you do the self-introductions to the three classes before lunch, you will feel excitement... The thrill of success... The rumble of hunger. But... despite Part 1 where I walked you through a typical Self-Introduction on your first day of teaching, I skipped a part.

Something that will happen before you stand up in front of the students to tell them all about yourself.

But first, let's look at a Japanese custom -  bowing.

When you arrived at your school this morning - either walking or riding a bicycle built for someone much smaller than you, or having to take a train, or a taxi because you missed the train, or you got a ride from a teacher (wasn't that an experience?!) - it was scary and frightening, but it really wasn't that bad.

As you locked up your bicycle or stolen taxi, students whom have never seen before are bowing while looking at you, and you either smile, wave or bow back.

Look... That was cool. They may even have said a few Japanese words to you - they might want to speak English, but are afraid they will look silly.

While you as an adult, a teacher and a gaijin (foreigner) are NOT required to respond back vocally, you should bow.

Bowing etiquette - casual

If these are kids bowing to you, a simple nod of the head will suffice. You have acknowledged their existence, and that is enough. It sounds funny, but trust me, this is proper behavior for you.

Bowing etiquette - formal

If these are teachers - your equals - a good bow with your hands straight to the side, and your torso in a forward and downward position is perfect - held for no more than two seconds, though depending on their level of excitement (talking while bowing), you may bow up and down rapidly after that initial deep bow.

Bowing etiquette - very formal

If you are introduced to the vice-principal or principal - your superiors - you need a better bow than what you gave the teachers (your equals). Hands to the side, stand up straight. Look them in the eyes, bow at the waist. Bow low enough to see their shoes. Bow for three seconds. Come straight up.

Bowing has its pecking order, as you can see. I treated men and women equally, however, and only judged them on occupation or age.

Yes, age. The first time I met the convenience/sake store owner, I gave him a long, deep bow. This was because he was obviously an older gentleman, and because I wanted to do business with him often - so I gave him respect.

Being a shop-keeper, he wasn't used to having people show him too much respect, and because of it, he and I became friends immediately.

So... The bow is important.

A word of advice... If you aren't sure who is your superior, when you bow, check out their shoes. If the shoes are a better quality than your own, they are your superior.

All bets are off if everyone is wearing slippers. Perhaps note if they are wearing a jacket and tie. A tie or a dress shirt could mean they are your equals, but note that often teachers come dressed up in their track suits
because they've just spent 90 minutes performing club activities with students from 6:30AM on. So... Adult in school is a teacher. The principal and vice-principal don't seem to leave their office too much.

Help Is On The Way

Dozu yoroshiku onegaishimasu.

While it is a formal way of saying "Pleased to meet you", it also conveys the feeling of "Please look after me."

You can say this to any of the adults at your school. They know you have been forced to say it, but they also are smart enough to know you are a stranger in their land and will do everything they can do to help you out.


That phrase should be said while bowing down (torso bent forward) to your equals and your superiors. Do NOT say this to your students. 

Now... Because it is you first day at your school, it's not a typical day.

After being served a piping hot cup of o-cha (Japanese green tea) - drink it. The women servers will ask you if it I 'oishi' (delicious?), you bow slightly and say 'hai' (it means 'yes' and is pronounced 'hi').

Before the o-cha cools down to a level where you can actually sip it, it's time to go. (By the way, experience will soon teach you how to gulp down scalding hot o-cha immediately after it is placed in front of you.)

You will, more than likely be asked to accompany all of the teachers somewhere. Seven schools and for four years (September when I first arrived, and April when Japanese school years actually begin and a new crop of kids come aboard), I was paraded to the school gymnasium and formally welcomed and introduced to the school's students and teachers.

This is cool and frightening. I had no idea this was going to happen. I looked up to the front of the gym and saw a huge Canadian flag beside the Japanese flag, with a city flag beside it. Or variations there of.

I would be maneuvered to the stage of the gym, and be shown that I had to slip off my dress shoes for a pair of uncomfortable, green or pink plastic slippers that were far too small. I have size 10-1/2 US shoes, which equals 30 centimeters in length, which is how Japanese shoe sizes are measured. Beware... Make sure you have socks or hose that is darn well perfect. No holes. By the way, in Japan, I believe that a size 27 is the largest common shoe available. If you are bigger than that, don't expect to find new shoes in you size readily available.

Up on stage, you might be sitting to the side of a podium filled with hundreds of students in full school dress, quietly sitting there. Because no one told me what was going on (unlike me right now for you), I was nervous
as all get out.

The principal would get up and stand beside the podium. Everyone had to stand up. Everyone. The principal turned and faced the Japanese flag. Someone yells telling you to bow, and everyone bows to the flag. You should bow to the Japanese flag, too. That shows respect to the Japanese.

The National anthem may then play. Perhaps yours, but definitely the Japanese one. It sounds like a funeral dirge, but it is elegant and powerful (still not as cool as the old USSR one, in my opinion).

The principal will shuffle to a place behind the podium (those slippers!), and then, before he speaks, someone yells for everyone to bow, they do (you included), then everyone sits (you sit, too. Good dog.)

The principal may give an important school announcement, but really, this is YOUR day. He will tell the students your name, where you are from, to behave, treat you with respect, blah-blah-blah.

He will then introduce you.

I had no idea what he was saying, and had a had a blank look on my face because no one was telling me squat in English.

The principal motioned for me to come to the podium... I did, he backed away... And while I wanted to also back away, I did not.

I looked at the head English teacher with eyebrows raised - and he came racing over... he said - "Please give a short speech".


So I did.

I bowed to my audience. I pulled out a blank piece of paper and spoke in English. I told them how happy I was to be in Japan and that I looked forward to meeting each and every one of them.

God knows what else I said, because I didn't have anything written down, and it was a lot of years ago.

Now... this is the important thing.

When I finished, I moved to the side of the podium and bowed - and I gave them all the "you are my equal" bow, and as I moved back towards my chair, I stopped and faced the Japanese flag and gave it the "you are my superior" bow.

I showed respect to the flag. And yes, the Canadian flag was up there to, but I bowed to the Japanese flag. I bowed.

Total kiss-up, I can hear some of you saying - but if you aren't kissing up in Japan, it's going to be a very lonely and difficult time for you.

And besides, it wasn't kissing up. I genuinely wanted to be respectful of Japan and its customs.

Later that day, the head English teacher said the principal told him how impressed he was by my show of respect - that bowing to the Japanese flag was most impressive. But I wasn't Japanese yet. (To paraphrase Darth Vader.)

So... how do you earn respect in Japan? You earn it by offering respect when given the chance.

Yes, you are a foreigner in a foreign land, so mistakes will be made. But first impressions are very important. You know... you make them yourself. We all do.

But, in Japan... you are a G.O.D. That stands for 'Gaijin on display'. Everyone is watching you. Be respectful of that.

Okay... that's all for now...

Next, we'll look at you getting undressed for lunch - IE, you exposed with 60 eyes watching to see if you can use chopsticks, and if you can even stomach Japanese food. And, if I remember, in another blog I'll tell you about a funny story of mine (and others) involving bowing.

And... we're still ONLY in the first half of the first day of you teaching at a school.

Hey... at least you have someone who's been there giving you solid advice.

It must have been an important day, because aIA'm recalling all of this from something that first happened 23 years ago.

Respect the respect.

Andrew Joseph
The photo above - Since I don't have any photos of that first day, here's a photo of me at my last school day in Japan before leaving for good (or worse). Aside from the beard and silk shirt and manicured pony-tail, myself and the stage set up is how it was that first day.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

So, Now You Are Teacher - Now What? Part 1

Let's take a look at what it means to be accepted in the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme, focusing on the "T" - the teaching aspect.

I had previously discussed my thought regarding the "E" - exchange, part, so let's look at what your day job will entail.

Okay... this isn't so much as about 'teaching' as it is about that first time you walk into a classroom.

Congratulations, by the way, while foreign teachers of English in Japan may be plentiful, getting accepted into the JET Programme is sure a hell of a lot harder than showing up in Japan to find a job.

That doesn't mean that your job is more difficult than non-JET English teachers, just that you underwent a larger screening process and were deemed acceptable.

First of, some back ground information on myself. My parents are from India. I was born in England. I was raised and educated in Canada. I'm tall, broad, brown, have an English-sounding name and speak English without a discernible accent.

In fact, my accent is considered 'neutral'. I'm sure I have one relative to anyone from Newfoundland, Louisiana, Illinois, Boston, Long Island New York, New Jersey, Texas, Georgia et al - not to mention the U.K., Australia, New Zealand or another country where English is a first language.

I have a political science degree from university and a journalism diploma from a community college. I am not a teacher or a specialist in English. I can read, write and speak better than most though not as well as some. I speak swell. That's grammar joke.

I am a communicator with a big, loud, clear voice that can make women swoon over the telephone - I have that radio-voice, whatever that means. Probably a polite way of saying I'm ugly, but whatever.

I briefly worked as a newspaper reporter for Canada's top newspaper. I taught piano and clarinet. Coached women's soccer. Played third-base in a men's league for a couple of years -awesome with the leather and bat, but not so good at making the crisp throw to first.

I like comic books (now I write them), comedy TV, mystery books, cop shows, damn near all sports though I admit I didn't watch any NFL football this year, and perhaps because I played and played well, I have a difficult time watching professional soccer because, although I am 48, I still think I could have been a professional if given half a chance.

So... I am deluded.

Why am I telling you all this? Well... I may have taught piano and clarinet and some soccer, but I have never been trained to be an English teacher.

And so, like many of you, when I was selected to be a junior high school teacher in Japan, I was scared to death, because I knew I didn't know what I was doing. By the way, my girlfriend Ashley was 22 when she arrived, and was teaching at the boy's high school in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken... she was five years older than some of her students. Now that must have been daunting!

So... I'm not a teacher, but everyone was calling me An-do-ryu-sensei (Andrew-teacher). This will happen to you, though I suspect that for most of you, they will use your first name rather than mine. Any Andrew's out there, feel free to use my name and title.

The Point Of This Blog - The Self Introduction

The first time I visited any class, I would do a self-introduction.

If your class is 40 minutes long, be prepared to talk for 30 with 10 minutes for questions, invariably delivered by the female students to both the male and female foreigner.

If no questions arise - be prepared to talk an additional 10 minutes, but for goodness sake, make it interesting...

I brought along photographs of all my friends. Guys and gals. Pictures of my family. My pets. My car. My house. The backyard of my house. Trust me, this is stuff that is just not seen in Japan - the houses et al.

I also took along a photo of my comic book collection, and one of my room - complete with a Sports Illustrated swimsuit calender hanging in plain sight, which got the boys interested, as they could also see the model kits of cars I had built in the background. Okay, maybe they didn't see the model kits - just the models.

Do not be afraid to share your life with the students. This is your one and only chance to connect with them - to make them think you are worth listening to because you are interesting.

Yes, you can be boring - but then you are just like all of their Japanese teachers. You are the special one. The foreigner (gaijin). Most will have seen a foreigner before, but few will have ever talked to one.

Make yourself interesting. Tell them what sports you like, what music you listen to, what musical instruments you play. Tell them you were once an extra in a real movie (I was).

Tell them what you know about Japan. Ask them if they know anything about your country. Most won't have a clue - so tell them about the weather, the population, the sports teams - whatever.

If you are teaching kids - tell them what video games you like(d), and what system you have. Tell them what Japanese anime (animated cartoons) you have enjoyed, or what manga (comic books) you read.

If you don't have anything in common, you are losing a valuable chance to connect with the kids on their own level.

Don't worry - they aren't stupid, these kids will still respect you because you are a teacher. Granted the 'teacher' is NOT as well-respected as it was say 40 years ago, but it still carries some cache in Japan.

These initial self-introductions are given by you English, with the JTE (Japanese teacher of English) you are team-teaching with translating for you into Japanese. Talk slowly and, above-all, clearly. Look around at the students and at your teacher. If you are shy, look to the back of the class a couple of inches above their head. Don't be shy. This is not the time to be shy. Be proud and loud. Be a JET!

I did over 78 introductions at my schools over the three years I stayed there. After the first five or six, you need to mix it up, because the kids will hear the boredom in your voice. If you are bored, you know they will be, too.

Describe the school system - pass and fail. Tell them your height and weight (if you like) and your shoe size - but do it in centimeters (not inches or in whatever sizing your country uses for shoes!).

Do not tell them how large your penis is (except to say 'bigger than yours') or what your three sizes are (Bust-Waist-Hips), if you are female. None of their damn business. Besides, they use the metric system, and their way of measuring a cup size is askew, as a B-cup in Canada, would be a D-Cup in Japan.  

Tell them what your favorite foods are - I told them I never ate Japanese food until two days before I arrived in Japan. That's true.

Tell them if you have a boyfriend or girlfriend. Provide photos if you want.  However, I will warn you, if you are gay, lesbian or transgender - be proud, but just know that Japan is even less accepting than the folks in your home country.

Regarding the boyfriend/girlfriend thing. I told my students that fellow JET Ashley was my girlfriend, and she, to look proper, told them she didn't have a boyfriend. They knew who was telling the truth, but never busted Ashley on it. 

Clothes Make The Man Or Woman

By the way... how to dress? That's up to you, of course. During the winter, I wore dress pants, shirt, tie and a sweater, with dress shoes. When it was warmer, I wore a suit and tie. Always.

To me, I was on the JET Programme as a representative of my country. The actions of a foreigner often reflect upon whatever country you are from. in fact, it doesn't matter where you are from - you are a gaijin, an outsider, your actions reflect back on all other foreigners. It's not fair, but it's true.

You do not have to wear a suit and tie, or your best dress - but you should look neat and tidy.

Got a beard or mustache? Keep it neat. Got long hair and you're a guy? Keep it neat. Women - at school you don;t need to look like a school marm from the 1880s, but do not dress - how to say it without sounding sexist? - too sexily. Junior high and High school boys are in hormone overdrive, as are Japanese men. You also don't want to show up the female teachers.

Now, it is true that in my suit and tie, I was better dressed than every teacher (male or female) at any school. The principal and vice-principal may have worn a suit, but mine were better. I got away with it because my actions made me less a snobby clothes horse and more a regular guy with a better than average sense of humor.

The End, For Now
I'll go into this in more detail shortly, but bring a lunch for the first day - just in case. Chances are better than 99% that you will be eating a school-prepared lunch with a class of your students, or in the teacher's lounge with teachers who do not have a home room to look after. Just know that the topic of school lunch is a topic unto itself.

And that's basically what you need to know for your first day. You still haven't taught a wit of English, but that will come (in another article). But, after your first day at a school - you are now a professional teacher.

Granted, your experience will vary, but it will be awesome for you. Your JTE who will marvel at how exciting you are (but do so in subdued tones, because they don't know YOU as a person yet).

Note that these self-introductions do tend to turn you into a side-show act, but trust me - that's the excitement of them meeting you.

Oh... and that first class you meet... they will tell everyone else all about you. So be prepared to have some new information to tell them - just pretend you are The Grateful Dead, and perform a different playlist every night.

Andrew Joseph