Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Japanese Library card!

Jon and I went to the library today and I got a library card. It was great, just like being back in a library in the states. I have always loved visiting libraries, I love the how quiet, peaceful and interesting they are. You could probably say they are my church, and I haven't been inside one in six months!

I especially loved this trip because Jon and I spent our whole time in the children's section and there was a smiley baby crawling around on the floor as I flipped through picture books. These are the two books I checked out.

The orange one is called, "Oscar and Hoo," and I understood probably a third of the vocabulary, I didn't start the purple one yet, but I liked the pictures. I'm going to read "Oscar and Hoo" first, and I noticed that many of the words I didn't know occurred again and again, so hopefully once I spend the first few pages looking up unfamiliar vocabulary, I can spend the final 20 pages just reading.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

(Most Accurate) Description of Universe Academy in Miyakonojo Japan

I already wrote a post about working at Universe academy, but now I'm going to really share my feelings on the subject. The other day the management made a comment about how hard it was to replace me and how stressful their life has been trying to find someone to pick up my contract because I’m leaving six months early. At the time I didn't think much of it, but a few hours later, while mopping spit off the floor, I got really angry. THEY were stressed that they had to find another foreigner they could trick into working there? What about my stress level getting tricked into one of the worst jobs I've ever had? What about how hard it was for ME to work a job I hate- that I wouldn't have taken in a second had they given me an accurate description of the job beforehand?

I got in contact with the previous teachers at Universe and I have realized that it's not just me- every teacher who has ever worked there hated it. In fact, we e-mail back and forth quite often, two or three times a week. Why would someone who left this job a year ago, or 6 months ago still have that much pent-up bitterness towards this job? Why do we all hate it? Let me count the ways....

First of all, when you get there in the morning, you've probably got bus duty. It blows. I outlined just how much it blows in an earlier post. Then you arrive at school and all 33 kids have to get changed from their arrival outfit to their play outfit. 13 of the children are four years old and don't need any help. 8 of the children need pretty minimal help; more help is needed when their parents dress them in dress shirts with tiny pearl buttons that their toddler hands can’t handle. (On days when more than five children are wearing these shirts, I’m positive the parents are angry at us for some reason.) That leaves about 15 students who need help changing clothes and maybe a diaper change. Divide that number by the number of teachers, and that makes about five students per teacher. Sounds ok, except one teacher has to stand by the door and constantly greet each parent, and one teacher has to keep the new 20-month-old twins from trying to escape out the front doors and track down Mommy and Daddy. The final teacher has the rest of the 15 students to herself (it's a sexist place too, they would never consider hiring a man to take my position, a fact I didn't know till I arrived), and she tries to get the kids changed from pull-ups to daytime underwear and from dress skirts to shorts while ignoring the twins who are taking turns screaming at the top of their lungs, "Mama ga IEEEEEE!! Mama ga IEEEEE!" ("Mom is GOOOOOOOOD!" The unspoken insult here being, "and you're not.")

Ok, so once the kids are changed from their stupid arrival uniforms that serve no purpose into their play uniforms that they wear ALL DAY and they should just ARRIVE IN, it's recess time. It's time for them to go outside and burn off all their energy and build strong motor skills and climb and swing and kick soccer balls. Actually, since their play uniforms are shorts and shirts and they don't bring jackets, even in winter, either they have to be freezing cold outside, or I have to put my foot down and allow them to play inside because it is too cold for me to be outside in my long pants, warm winter coat, gloves and hat, much less for them to be outside in shorts.

Yes, they wear shorts all winter long. Being cold builds character. (No, the management isn’t Calvin’s dad.) Between the cold weather, the nearby volcanic eruption (the ash is dangerous to breathe), and the rainy season, the students have had to spend about 75% of their recess time inside over the past two months. Inside recess is 100% horrible. Try keeping 33 Japanese toddlers who spend all day watching ninja cartoons from running around and play fighting each other sometime. I am going to guess you'll give up after about 6 weeks and just let them run and fight, reasoning that they will fall down, get a little owie and be more careful next time. How do you think you'll feel after you pick up a crying two year old who ran face-first into the piano and now has to go to the hospital with a split lip? How do you feel now!?!?!?!
So, after recess, it’s the portion of the day where I most utilize my Master’s degree in Teaching English as a Second Languages. I lead calisthenics. Yep, the kids line up and I shout and model jumping jacks, touching my toes, arm circles, all those exercises that the two year olds can't do and don't really care about doing anyways, not when they can be pulling their shirts up and pretending to be sumo wrestlers.

After calisthenics, it's class time. I do my best, but it's disheartening to try to teach when I have two students still screaming "Mama ga IEEEEE!," two other kids sleeping in the front row, and when I try to plan a new activity, the management tells me I can't do it for some ridiculous reason. A few days ago we were studying body parts and I got some sidewalk chalk and swept the concrete behind the school and we were all going to trace each other on the concrete and point to the parts of the body....well, that activity got shut down because it would "make a mess and be impossible to clean up." You would have thought I was giving each kid a spray-paint can by the way the management freaked out.

So, after lesson time, it's lunch time. It's also spilling time, peeing yourself time, and making as much noise as possible time. The kids know the routine very well, they are supposed to:
-go to the bathroom
-get their chopsticks and cup
-sit down quietly and wait till I pour tea in their cup and give them lunch
-eat like human beings
-put away their lunch tray
-dump out any remaining tea and put water in their cups
-brush their teeth
-go to the bathroom again if needed
-sit on the floor pads and read books till naptime
Instead, it goes a lot like this
-ninja fighting
-chopstick swordfights
-spill tea all over the floor and each other
-spill food all over the floor and each other
-having refused to go to the bathroom earlier, take this opportunity to pee while sitting in their chair
-walk through the tea someone spilled earlier
-put away their lunch trays
-empty their cup of tea and get water for brushing their teeth
-spit water all over each other
-scrub their toothbrushes on the ground
-wrap their nap-time blankets around their necks to make capes
-run, wrestle, and scream on the naptime pads

Then, a very special version of hell begins. This lasts from about 11:45 till 12:30 (when I can finally escape for my hour lunch break.) There really is no hell quite like the hell of trying to get 33 excited kids to lay down and take a nap. You can try to have the older kids read books quietly till they get tired, (until the management forbids books during naps), you can try separating the kids so they can't play with each other, you can try laying your legs across two kids, holding two other kids down with two hands, and then taking away nap-time blankets as punishment for the kids who won't stop jumping up and down, shouting, "yatta!"...but if you're me, you'll take the coward's way out. You'll either pull a few kids out to a different room for private tutoring, or you'll grab the two worst kids, take them in a corner, physically hold them down and study Japanese flashcards while you ignore the rest of the little monsters and count the seconds until 12:30 when I can bike home.

At 1:30, (after an amazing lunch prepared faithfully every single day by my wonderful, loving and understanding husband, and then we watch the Daily Show or Colbert Report- gotta keep up to date on Egypt and Wisconsin) I regretfully drag myself from my house and bike to school....arriving a few minutes later and later each month. I go into the classroom and take note of what kind of day it is. Four days out of five, most of the kids are awake and talking, trying to be sneaky and play, throwing socks at each other, and waking up the kids who were actually (mercifully) sleeping, until they got woken up by a sock to the eye. One day out of five most of the kids will be sleeping and I can breathe easily for 20 minutes until it's wakeup time. I can even take a few minutes to work on something school related. The problem with that type of day is that the kids are sleeping so soundly that four or five of them will have peed themselves.

So, after wake-up time, it's recess again! Yatta! The kids don't want to bother with stupid rules, like this one,

"You have to go to the bathroom before you go outside."

So they try to sneak by and just go put their hats on and sit by the door. With 33 kids, it's not hard for one or two to sneak past you- but you always know who it was by the yellow puddle that surrounds them on the floor that spreads out and dampens the kids unlucky enough to be sitting next to them. Seriously, from now on the kids are getting sand in their tea cups.

After recess, the kids change from their play clothes into their POINTLESS arrival uniform. It was crazy enough in the morning, when kids are dropped off by their parents in the space of a half hour, but now all the kids are changing all at once, so it's twice as hard to deal with everything. Also, depending on my mood, either I've used up all my patience for the day, or I'm more patient than usual because I know the day is almost done...there's really no way of knowing which kind of day it will be.

Snack time goes about as well as lunch time and then it's story time. I've made one change to story time that leaves me with my sanity intact. Before, I would have the children sit in a half-circle on the ground in front of me while I read them stories...just like you remember from kindergarten. But this isn't kindergarten, this is a hard rock book reading and anyone lucky enough to get a front row seat is pushed over and climbed on by the kids behind them. Now, I make them sit in their chairs at tables. This makes it hard for the kids at the back to see the pictures, but at least no one is getting crushed.

Then, school is blessedly finished! Yay! I either have to stay and watch the kids whose parents don't show up till 6:30 (when I stop getting paid at 6:00, it makes it very hard to be civil to these parents), I have lesson prep time, or I have bus duty.

And the day is done. Finally. I only have one week left and I can't wait to be gone!

In other news, these sorts of occurrences also make life difficult:
-one of the few girls who actually ate all her lunch throws up all over herself and 12 backpacks neatly lined up for kids to grab on their way out the door
-the management leaves the doors to the school open all day, year round, even in winter. Apparently they like wearing their winter coats all day while also running the heater non-stop. Maybe energy is free in Japan?
-one of the three-year-olds will lean close to whisper something to me and at the last minute will sneeze directly in my mouth. This has happened not once, but twice.
-the kids will decide to pee on each other during nap-time. Why? Who knows?
-the management will tell you on Friday afternoon to be at school at 7:30 on Saturday morning for a fun (unpaid) day with the children.