今週の漢字: 教育

The American education system is very different compared to the school system in Japan. Well, it makes sense considering the many differences between the two cultures. An education system, according to sociologists, reinforces the ideals of the culture. I think this makes sense. American students learn the value of individualism, while Japanese students learn the value of community.

A lot of the motivation for American students seems to deal with grades. Usually, a student is in trouble with any grade lower than 73 out of 100. However, in Japan, there are apparently two systems of grading: attendance and test scores. Grading based on attendance is exactly how it sounds. If the student is present (even if the student sleeps in class) more than the required amount of time in order to pass, the student does not need to worry. As for the test scores, unlike the grading system of most American schools, the student is in trouble if the score falls below half of the average score. For example, if the average of the test scores is 40 out of 100, then anything below a 20 would be dangerous. There are supposedly even retests that are administered (at least in Mito SHS) at the end of the academic year. So, why should the students worry about their grades?

From my observations of the teachers in Mito SHS, they grade very harshly. There are few teachers who give partial credit; answers are either right or wrong. I can’t make a blanket statement to include all Japanese teachers, but from conversations with non-Mito SHS Japanese teachers, a lot of teachers follow this type of grading. In America, there are many ways teachers grade. I think that partial credit has become more widespread. Personally, I favor giving partial credit, because I think it is a good way to encourage students. However, there is a fine line sometimes, and giving too much credit may lead to the placating of students.

In Japan, school functions as a second family. The teachers mingle with the students, not only teachers with teachers and students with other students. In the US, there are some teachers and students who have really good relationships, but in Japan, it’s as if the teachers are the students’ second set of parents or older siblings. There is a great deal of trust. It’s a wonderful community.

What can be a motivation for Japanese students? I don’t have an answer, but I do know one thing that students fear. Students fear being wrong. As I have written in a previous post, I can understand. When I was wrong, I used to think: “I am inferior. I am not as smart as everyone else. I am now set apart from the group. It’s embarrassing and shameful.” I imagine some students have other reasons, but my fear that I experienced apply to at least a few students. There is an AET who gave some advice to new AETs, which was to “use the students’ fear.” I am against this idea. I don’t want to play on their fears. I want the students to be motivated, not trying to get something right for the fear of feeling inferior. The system in Japan was made so that students who are self-motivated to learn would continue with schooling past junior high school, because secondary and post-secondary education requires an application process. These steps of education have become the norm, so the self-motivation factor has decreased significantly from a number of years ago. I am looking for a way to let the students apply English. I am also incorporating American and Japanese pop culture into my lessons as a bit of a boost. However, sometimes I wonder if my efforts are effective. As one of my favorite phrases goes, we’ll see.

Stay tuned next week for another update!

今週の聖書の詩: “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.”
- Numbers 6:24-26 (NIV)

- 民数記6:24~26 (新改訳聖書第3版)

今週の写真: I was told that Australian high school students were visiting, but when I met them, they were more immature than what I had imagined for the maturity level of high school students. Alas, my suspicion was accurate from my first encounter with them. So, here is a picture from the visit of Australian junior high school students. 1-E and 2-E did a few activities with the Aussies: 夏祭り (なつまつり/ natsu matsuri / summer festival), a lesson on Japanese holidays and festivals by playing カルタ (karuta, a pair card game), Japanese calligraphy, and a tea ceremony demonstration.


今週の漢字: 中間試験

Midterm Exam:
The midterm exams took place last Friday leading into the first few days of this past week. I had to make midterms for all my general track students (2 tests). My part only makes up a portion of their midterm grade as my teaching partners’ tests make up the majority of the grade. For the first years, my test makes up 40%, whereas my test makes up 30% for my second years. It was an interesting experience making and grading tests.

After I made my first draft for the first years, I showed it to my teaching partner, who is also my supervisor. After a bit of time of looking it over, he came to me and said, “It is my general impression… yea… that this test… yea… is much to difficult for the first year general course students… yea…” Okay, maybe there was one less “yea,” but that was basically what he said. Now that I look back to that draft, I agree that it was really difficult. The final version was much different compared to the original. It turned into something a bit too easy. However, my supervisor still thought it was too difficult. He said that my predecessor would use multiple choice questions, and they were easy enough that the students could do it quickly. After a short discussion on the purpose of the test, he decided to go with my version only after putting hints in Japanese. I didn’t know exactly what hints he would use or even how, but I didn’t mind too much as I am the AET after all. It turns out that he put some of the answers in Japanese under the blanks, so my test was further made easy. My first years got an average of 35/40, or 87.5%, on my part with an overall average of about 70. I think the results will strengthen the trust between the two of us. I imagine that he will accept my final with more ease. I understand his original concerns as he and the students are used to one type of test, so now we are all still adjusting.

I didn’t have such a clash with my teaching partners for the second years. They approved my first draft, except for a map that I put on the test (students learned about telling directions). Some of the place names were blurred, so it might have been too hard for the students to read. I easily fixed that problem and went on my merry way. My second years got an average of 24/30, or 80%, on my part with an overall average of about 77. I was very happy with the results. The students really tried hard. Sometimes in class, I didn’t get much feedback from the students, which made it difficult. I couldn’t tell if the students understood the material, but I guess they were just trying to absorb all the material leaving me to deal with what seemed like blank faces.

I don’t grade harshly, at least I don’t think I do. I generally give points for effort. Learning a language is difficult, and I know that it can be frustrating. I want to encourage the students. However, as this is a test, most of the points are assigned to correctness. The least, or sometimes equal to effort, is grammar and vocabulary. My teaching partners have separate classes with the students, which are specifically for grammar. I only take off for misuse or misspelling of the tested terms.

I also had the privilege to grade the essays of 3-E’s midterm, which I did not make. The teacher who made that exam asked me if I could grade them, and I am always happy to help. The criteria that I had to use for grading were grammar, vocabulary, and flow. I could give a maximum of four points per criterion. This was a challenge, because it is harder to be fair when it comes to essays. I didn’t give any student full marks. In order for a student to achieve full marks from me, the student can only make a few minor mistakes at most. I think that reaching perfection on a test should give the student a sense of accomplishment. When I was in middle school and high school, the expectations were so high. Among students and parents, C's were not seen as average. Grades were defined similar to:
C = generally as bad as “cranky cops”
B = often as average as “brand beef”
A = usually as good as “awesome artisans”

I will use part of my post next week for a short discussion on education systems. This is my current phase. Stay tuned next week for another update!

今週の聖書の詩: “At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
- Matthew 18:1-4 (NIV)

I think this is interesting, because it seems that there are a few implications here. Oftentimes, there is an emphasis placed on being as a humble child and believing in God. There is good reason as it is stated explicitly. However, we need to also look into how children do not have worries. They place their worries to their caretakers. We need to do the same by placing all our worries to our eternal father. He provides for our needs.

Why must we try to take control of everything? I think it all deals with the fear that events may be random. We don’t want a purposeless life. The funny thing is that we are so focused on making an order for everything. Many people refute the existence of God, especially as our creator making everything with order, and at the same time, they believe that the world was created by chance—fear of uncontrollable happenings with the belief that everything was made under such uncontrollable happenings.

今週の写真: Two weeks ago, there was a major cleaning time after the last period, which also involved waxing the floors.

The following is a picture I took of a festival practice.


今週の漢字: 授業

Let me get back to the school for this post. The class dynamics have varied greatly through September into the beginning of October. It has been interesting to see when the students are really up for something versus when they just want to curl up and sleep. The teachers have been very busy as well. So, the school has just been a place where a bunch of tired and possibly cranky people congregate. Because of all the holidays and school events, it has been hard for the teachers to really keep all the classes on the same page.

Preparations are still going, especially for 1-E and 2-E. On the afternoon of October 18, a number of Australian students and teachers will be visiting Mito SHS. 1-E and 2-E will primarily be the students who will greet the guests as well as present something. 1-E is very busy, because they need to also prepare for presentations to elementary school students, which will take place in late October and early November.

In all of my classes, except for my first year general course students, I have instigated journal writing. I give the students a topic, preferably something in relation to the past or current lesson. They have about five minutes to write as I play a CD track or two. The students appreciate that most of my songs are more recent like Fall Out Boy’s “Thnks fr th Mmrs.” Some songs I play are actually ones that I don’t really like, but I think it’s good to give the students a nice variety instead of only playing those that I like. I have bit of fun with the journal topics. For 1-E, I try to give topics that will have the students get used to writing, so the topics deal more with the “what.” For my second year students including 2-E, I want the students to express more on how they feel. This focuses more on the “why.” For 3-E, I give abstract topics. For those of you who know me well, you know how much I love the abstract. The two questions I’ve given for 3-E has been as follows:
1. If you were an electrical device, what would you be, and why? Write 10 sentences or more in 5 minutes.
2. What is love? Write 5 sentences or more in 5 minutes.

When I asked the first question, I noticed that 10 sentences might be a bit too much as maybe they aren’t used to deal with too many abstract questions. It is even hard for some native speakers of English to answer abstract questions. So for the next time there was journal writing, I went a step further with the difficulty as I lessened the sentence requirement. It was all very good.

When the journal time is up, I collect all the journals and read them. I correct them and make comments. My time each day is usually filled with a lot of journals, but I find it fun to do. It’s been really interesting to see what the students write about. I also feel that I should really put my all into teaching, because the students deserve to get a good education. I don’t want to be like those AETs who treat their time in Japan like a long vacation. Although part of my reason of coming to Japan is to experience the culture and see new things, I do have a job commitment. Some days I wonder if I really am doing a good job. I know that I’ve only been here for 2 months, but I want to put in what I can so that the students can improve their English and experience a bit of another culture.

I had an AET meeting a few days ago. A lot of the AETs are very talented and have a lot of interesting ideas, but I feel lucky that I have a great deal of input into the English education in Mito SHS. Many AETs have files upon files of games, whereas many of my lesson plans consist of topics to teach the students. Why do they have so many game ideas? It’s simple. Most AETs have more than one school, so it’s hard for them to build on their relationships with the students. Usually an AET visits a class once every few weeks. In such a situation, it’s difficult to be involved with daily lessons and yearlong goals. In that way and much more, I am very lucky.

Stay tuned next week for another update!

今週の聖書の詩: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
- John 14:27 (NIV)

His promise is so amazing. Indeed, He does not give as the world gives. The world boasts the material things. There are so many people who do not accept God. I find it interesting when people don’t accept the Bible, but still claim to believe in God. I can understand if people don’t want to believe something ignorantly, but please spare me following something else based also on ignorance. Why do people follow something else? The usual reason is an indirect way of stating dislike for the hardships and difficulties mentioned in the Bible. Some people believe in “no pain, no gain,” but then when they hear about the hardships in a Christian life, they just abandon it. Why? It is usually for something that is pleasant to the ears and something that puts the person in control.

今週の写真: Beautiful flowers from the flower arrangement club.


今週の漢字: 突然

You might be wondering, “What might have been so sudden?” Well, it’s quite simple. Two weeks ago, I went to Tokyo. Actually, I went to the prefecture of Chiba, which is right next to Tokyo. Chiba is also home to the Tokyo Disney Resort. Why did I go? It was for none other than the Tokyo Game Show, of course! What is the Tokyo Game Show? It’s a major video game convention. Unlike anime conventions in America, gaming conventions tend to have a large industry presence as they are the times when gaming companies usually make big presentations. For this year’s Tokyo Game Show, the first two days (Thursday and Friday) were for industry personnel only. The following two days were open to the public starting at 10AM and ending at 5PM. Again, you may be wondering, “What was so sudden about the Tokyo Game Show?”

I found out about the convention just about four days before the first day open to the public. I had a day of inner conflict as to if I should spend the money to travel to the Tokyo area. I decided that I must go, so I called some of my AET friends. As it was sudden, only one person really got back to me. She was actually planning to go already, but she was just going to play by ear during the weekend. Many of you reading this know that I can’t stand that. I needed to plan everything. So, we went to buy our shinkansen tickets. It went well (definitely better than buying those movie tickets). Earlier in the day, I jotted down some important words that I might need to use:
切符 [きっぷ – kippu – ticket]
往復 [おうふく – oufuku – return (ticket)]
買う [かう – kau – to buy]

On the following day (two days before the first day open to the public), one of my friends who did not respond to my initial round of calls, contacted back letting me know that she wanted to come. I was already in the process of booking my own hotel room. So, this addition left us in a calling frenzy to see if the first friend could buy shinkansen tickets for the second friend as well as letting the second friend sleep over. Why did the second friend want to sleep over the first friend’s apartment? I was planning to take the 6:42AM shinkansen to Tokyo, so we can make it to the convention by opening time.

On the night before the first day open to the public, my two friends had me book a hotel room for them as the first friend did not have internet yet. The hotel where I was staying had no more vacancies, so I had to look elsewhere. They decided to stay at this place that’s considered to be the “Brooklyn of Tokyo.” However, when they arrived at the hotel on Saturday night, they encountered a problem. The hotel e-mailed me to let me know that there was no vacancy. We didn’t think it would be full. The form on the hotel website is really only a way to check if there is vacancy. So, my friends had to go to this other hotel that was close by, which also had an onsen (hot spring).

Now, I’ll write about the actual convention. It was great! For those of you who do not know much about video games, you will have to bear with me. The moment we stepped onto the halls, we got some free stuff like folders and pamphlets. We first played the Naruto game that is coming out soon for the Nintendo Wii. That was fun, but it was a bit difficult for me to get used to moving my hands in a fighting game. We walked around the entire Tokyo Game Show on the first day. Some notable booths include Square Enix, Capcom, Sony Playstation 3, and the merchandise. Nintendo’s absence was odd. I didn’t expect them to be missing. I wonder what they have up their sleeves. There were a few games that caught my eye like “Resident Evil (Biohazard): Umbrella Chronicles” for the Wii, “Devil May Cry 4” for the PS3, “Halo 3” for the X-box 360, “Time Crisis 4” for the PS3 (I think), “Metal Gear Solid 4” for the PS3, “We Love Golf!” for the Wii, “Little Big Planet” for the PS3, and a few other Wii titles of which the names escape me.

The second day started with experiencing the Square Enix closed theater, which showed exclusive trailers for all “Final Fantasy XIII” games, “Kingdom Hearts” games, and other popular titles of theirs. It was very exciting, especially watching the beautiful FFXIII. I really don’t like to talk too much about graphics in video games, because I feel that the content and gameplay is much more important. However, I couldn’t help but to fix my eyes to the screen. Afterwards, I played “Yosumin,” a new game for the Nintendo DS by Square Enix. Then, I played “Dragon Quest IV,” a remake for the DS. They were both really fun. The rest of my time at the convention on that day (only until about 1:30PM) consisted of walking around, because the lines for the games that I wanted to play got too long (some with 3 or more hours wait).

Stay tuned next week for another update!

今週の聖書の詩: “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness.”
- Psalms 29:2 (NIV)

It is amazing how many Christians do not do this. How can a Christian give unto the LORD the glory that fits his name? Well, a Christian must give everything, yes?

The LORD creates and has a plan. There is a great complexity in this world, much too complex for us lowly humans. It’s interesting how important it is for us to categorize everything and name things or events. It seems that humans want to do everything to take away from God’s glory.

今週の写真: 2007 Tokyo Game Show

Sign outside

Inside right after doors open

Square Enix - Look at the smile slime and chocobo. Cute?

"Kingdom Hearts"

Pikachu, still popular


Where did all the people come from?!

Pose in front of large poster


"We Love Golf!"

Look at the smile slime and black mage chocobo that I bought!