I know I don't talk about my work too often... mostly because I think my work seems pretty straightforward, but I have decided to give you a little peak into some of the activities that happened with my work towards the end of this semester.
Since public education for elementary and middle school is regulated by the Japanese government, in November, Japan's country and city sides are dotted with school children running in the chilly autumn air. During morning recess, PE classes and sometimes before classes even begin for the day, children and school staff are running laps around the playground field. A place where children are usually playing kickball, soccer or tag is called to a halt while loud booming inspirational (sometimes really annoying) music is sounded out through the school loudspeaker system. Since November is one of the only 2 decent months for weather, it seems a perfect time of year in Japan to train for a marathon. That's right... November is marathon month in Japan.
I was lucky enough to be present for two of my five schools marathon days. I guess the really lucky part was that A. I didn't have to teach any classes for half the day and B. I didn't have to run a marathon!! Girls and boys run separately and then they were again divided by grade. It takes over half of the morning the for all the students to run. The best winners getting medals, awards and of course praise from their fellow students and the school staff. And of course, at lunch time, not a grain of rice is left on their plates.
School isn't the only place marathons are run. Sometimes large companies will host their own run for their employees. Even while I was driving through Tsukuba City it seemed that half the city was out and running a marathon. It is nice to see the general public so open minded to exercise while we are having such extraordinarily superb weather.
November was also the month for Thanksgiving lessons. As always, explaining American holidays made me run to the nearest dictionary and/or my favorite Japaneses teacher who studied in America for a year and speaks some pretty decent American English. After some internet searching I found a pattern to make "hand turkeys". Even though American 5th graders would have probably thought that this activity was beneath them... my Japaneses 5th graders actually had a good time making something as simple and well traditioned as a turkey with hands for tail feathers. Turkeys are not a major (or even minor) meat staple in the Japanese culture. So my students were highly impressed with pictures of wild turkeys and hearing about the love of the American and Canadian public has of this delicious white poultry. MMmmmm TURKEY!!!!
At the end of November I was asked to attend a mock English lesson in the city of Sakai. Not to my surprise, the English teachers giving the lessons were teachers from my very own company. Since I had met these teachers before I kind of new what to expect. People were very impressed at the amount of English these young children were speaking. They were asking not just one question during the role play, but a slew of questions. It was amazing to see what a difference it could make when a city has more than one teacher for all of the elementary schools. Not to mention the money that is put into their program. These teachers are want for nothing. And if they do want anything... it's theirs! I don't even have budget... I'm lucky that my small town even has a budget set aside to pay my salary!!! Jealous you say???? HELL YA I'M JEALOUS!!!
For some reason... my school became very crazy twards the end of the year. I was teaching over 22 classes a week as every school thought that I needed to work my ass off before going on winter vacation. Eventhough the majority of my classes are already planned out, all worksheets are completed and games and lessons are well planned out And eventhough I try and keep my work life highly organized, little things still creep up on me every now and again. Like before I knew it... christmas classes were here and I needed to create a new craft to do with my 4th grade students.
Taking a cue from my Thanksgiving craft, I decided to make a 'Hand-Made" Christmas Tree. Each student was given a large piece of green paper. They were told to trace out several hands and on each hand they needed to write their name and what they wanted for Christmas. With the current trends most students wrote things like "Wii" or "PS3". After cutting up their paper wish hands, the Japanese home room teacher and I went to work gluing the pieces to a large sheet. Once the students were aware of what we were doing they all watched in awe as their little lands made one huge tree. Afterward they decorated their very own tree with paper bells, candy canes and gingerbread people. A pretty easy craft that turned out to be a big hit with my students and with the teachers.
During the first week of December, my self and the JR high School teacher for Yachiyo were invited to the home of our boss. Toyota Sensei has included us in several interesting outing with his family before, but this one took the cake. Well maybe we didn't have cake... but we did have a whole lot of sake. Toyota Sensei's childhood friend now manages his family famous sake factory. I was privileged to a private tour around the factory by the chairman of the board. After a video describing the process of how they make sake (it involves a lot of rice, water and some yeast) we were treated to a special drink. Just like wine, the pressing of a new batch of sake is very important. After the pressing the liquid is transfered into bottles and then stored for any period of time between 1-10 years. We had the extreme honor of tasting the fresh pressed delicate sake. It was sweeter than normal sake, but it was still good. After our tour of the sake plant, the chairman of the board gave us a private tasting, which ended up with us drinking a lot of their best label sake (it was damn good and over 50 bucks a bottle!!!). As a gift, the chairman have us all a bottle of their best sake and some commemorative sake cups with their label on it. They also gave us two very large bottles of great sake (pre-labeled, which is supposedly more revered because it doesn't have a label) which we drank at Toyota sensei's house while his very nice family gave us a shabu-shabu party (meat and vegetables cooked in a boiling pot of water at the table).
The only other considerable work event before Christmas break was the great Christmas feast thrown by my adult English club. I really just thought we were only going to have a snack and do a small gift exchange, but when I arrived my students had gone crazy!!! There was so much food!!! Candy, fruit, nuts, Japanese deserts and the inevitable Japaneses Christmas cake, because you can't have Christmas in Japan without cake.
I can't say it enough, I really love teaching my adult class. It is so nice to teach people who actually like and want to learn English. Even though my work only mildly stresses me out I am so damn happy to be done for two weeks. YEAH!!!! Winter vacation here I come!