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A Whirlwind of Greetings and First Impressions

April 16, 2012

On Thursday, March 29th, the four Koga-shi elementary 先生 (sensei) went to city hall to introduce ourselves to the head honchos in Koga-shi education. Then, we were split up and paired with guides to take us to all of our schools and introduce ourselves to our principals, vice-principals, and any other teachers that we’d need to get to know. For example, in my case I have a few teachers who were in charge of the English program that I will be working fairly closely with during the school year. Anyway, today I visited all six of my schools! My memories of them kind of melded into one lump, since there was so much going on! My guide was a man named Takahashi-san, who is a General Manager with Interac and has worked with the company for 30 years. He is the absolute greatest person ever. He had never been to Koga-shi before, so his rental car had GPS, which we used to find all of my schools. We had some pretty great teamwork going on as we navigated our way through Koga-shi. I really wish I had GPS in my car! Maybe if I end up staying in Japan for a really long time I’ll invest in one. Speaking of cars, my IDP finally came in! Hooray!

On Friday the 30th, I had an Opening Ceremony at FES1 (Friday Elementary School). For privacy purposes, I’ve decided to not use the actual names of my elementary schools but will be listing them as which day of the week I’m at that school. There are 23 elementary schools in Koga-shi divided between four ALTs, so good luck trying to figure out which ones I work at! Usually on Fridays I go to two schools (henceforth known as FES1 and FES2) , but since today was the Opening Ceremony day the students only had a half-day of school. So, I went to the Opening Ceremony at FES1 and stayed there until 10:30 (which is my contracted time). Before the ceremony, I was just sitting in the teacher’s room working on finding fun games out of a theatre game book I have, but then saw the students waiting in the courtyard outside and thought it would be much more fun to talk to them! I think it worked in my favor. I said “Good morning” to two girls in Japanese and they were really surprised and asked, “What? Do you speak Japanese?” I played dumb and shrugged with my hands going up in the air, and they started laughing and mimicking my pose. They also mimicked the way I was standing with my hands clasped in front (putting your hands in your pockets is super disrespectful, not like I have pockets anyway, and I thought crossing my arms would make me look mad). So, I think I’m going to be popular. Well, at least I sure hope so!

The Opening Ceremony was a lot of talking, and bowing, and new teachers introducing themselves. I basically followed what everyone else was doing, which I think worked out. Nobody came up to me afterward and said that I did anything wrong, at least. When it was my turn I went up and gave my introduction in English (since I’m the English teacher) and the students seemed to be pretty receptive.

My first full day of teaching was at MES (Monday Elementary School), but it wasn’t a completely full day because I only taught the two 5th grade classes. Normally I would also teach the two 6th grade classes, but for some reason I wasn’t scheduled to do that for the day. The staff at the school are so nice, and the woman who works in the teacher’s room always was pressing something to drink on me. Monday was the opening ceremony for the first year students, so she made 桜茶 (sakura-cha), which is hot water poured over a pickled cherry blossom. It’s commonly drunk at celebratory times, such as opening ceremonies or graduation. It’s sweet and salty all at the same time and sounds weird, but is actually pretty tasty. Anyway, she gave me a cup of that and also had a cup of coffee waiting on my desk when I finished my first class period.

Coffee and 桜茶 (sakura-cha)

Overall I think I made a good impression on my students at MES. They loved Pi-chan, the yellow Koosh ball I brought from the States that has a face on it. I got him as a half-birthday present from the birthday committee in my dorm senior year.

Meet Pi-chan, before my students got their hands on him!

Pi-chan’s role was to be something physical they had to pass down the line and say, “Hello. My name is ___” to each other or to me. He was mostly a marker for me so I knew how many had spoken their greeting in English. They went crazy for him. Some of them absolutely adored him, while others were pretty weirded out because they didn’t like how he felt. I had to rescue him a few times because they discovered that if you squish him hard enough, parts will bulge out. Keeping this in mind, I told future classes that he was my baby (which they thought was hilarious) and that throwing him and squishing him were not allowed. However, he is currently going to daycare (meaning I don’t bring him to school anymore) so they don’t completely destroy him. I need to find a way to get Pi-chan some clones! Aaaah!

Overall my self introduction lesson went a little more slowly than I had planned for. I messed up the order of my lesson plan in my second class of the day (oops!) but it seemed to go okay. Several of my instructions eventually had to be translated into Japanese after I tried several ways to try and make the students understand when I spoke in English. I’ve made it a personal rule to not speak Japanese to the students during class time as much as possible– if they receive instructions in Japanese, it’s because I’ve talked to their teacher and asked to translate so we can get the class moving.

We had a staff photo during the students’ recess period, so we all stood on risers outside facing the sun while a bunch of students stood around and watch us. The sun was so bright, though, and it was hard to keep my eyes open for the picture. I’m most likely making some bizarre face in the final photo, in an attempt to smile and have my eyes open. I’m looking forward to and dreading seeing the final result.

The rest of my week went really well with all of my schools. I had a lot of fun with each class, even though most of the time I was teaching my self-introduction lesson over and over again. I think one of my favorite parts of the lesson is when I hang the National Geographic World Map I swiped from my mom’s house and stuck in my suitcase on a whim (best choice ever) and ask my students where Japan and America are. I’ll point to random countries on the map and say, “America?” and they’ll all go, “No! No!” I always point to Antarctica last (which gets the biggest laughs) before asking for someone to help me and show me where America is on the map. I think the second favorite thing in my lesson is everyone’s reaction when I tell them that the animals they just learned (Bear, Fox, Eagle, Deer) are all animals I’ve seen from my house. They are so impressed. It makes me feel like a rock star.

I finally got my IDP Tuesday evening (the postman came by on Monday, but only remembered to bring my bank card), but walked to school on Wednesday because I didn’t see the point in using up gas when the school was so close. I’m only ten minutes away on foot! Besides, I needed the exercise! I practiced driving Wednesday night by going to the grocery store, and I was surprised at how quickly I adapted to driving on the left side of the road in the right side of the car. It’s a relief that the pedals are still the same (accelerator on the right, brake on the left) but one aspect about driving in Japan that I’m really going to have to get used to quickly is how they park! Here, everyone backs into their parking spaces and they’re able to do it in no time. I sit there and constantly have to readjust my position so I can back in. There are some points where I just give up and park the American way (nose in). Slowly but surely, though, I’m getting used to driving in Koga. I got horrendously lost on Thursday on my way to school, but luckily I was afraid that something like that would happen so I left home super early. I made it to school with a half hour to prep for class, which worked out perfectly!

Today I start my second week of classes, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how it will go!

Next on the list, a post about 花見 (hanami), also known as cherry blossom viewing!

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