Monday, June 22, 2009

I (heart) Kumamoto

It's been about two months since I started teaching at Luther Jr. High and High School. I really enjoy teaching. I also love my new home of Kumamoto. I've been here now three months and couldn't have asked for a better place to live or work...because I can't imagine either.
Luther Gakuin is an institution that holds a kindergarten, junior high, high School, and university. I teach English Communication to 1st & 2nd year high school students and 1st year middle school students. All my classes are team taught alongside a Japanese English teacher. I have three partner teachers who are all very professional and very good teachers. Japanese children spend 3 years in middle school and 3 years in high school. First year high school students in Japan would be sophomores in the U.S. Luther offers its high school students 4 tracks or course foci: Art course, English course/college prep (Eigo Tokshin), Math & Science College Prep (RiSu Tokshin), Sports, and General course (Sogo). I teach English to English Course 2nd year students, and 1st year Art Course, Sports, and (RiSu)Tokshin students. My classes range in size from 17 to 28 students.
The cutest kids are the 1st year middle schoolers (U.S. 6th graders). These are my largest and lowest level English classes. Most of them have just learned how to spell their names using roman characters. In fact, my first day in their class they were given strips of paper with their names written in roman characters so that they could learn and practice writing their names in English. The junior high has two classes in each year of middle school so there is 1st year class 1 (1-1) and 1st year class 2 (1-2). These students will stay together as a class there whole time in middle school; when they are second years 1-1 will become 2-1 and so on through year 3. I teach both 1st year classes. 1-1 is very cute and pretty quiet. 1-2 is cute, but not quiet. I see these students once a week for one hour.

Now for a brief Japanese lesson.
High School in Japanese is Ko Ko 高校 literally translated: high school.
Middle School in Japanese is Chugako 中学校 literal translation same as English.
Year in Japanese is Nen 年
1, ichi 2, ni (nee) 3, san (sahn)
When refering to students of a certain year we often say Ko-ichi (1st year high schoolers) or Chu-ni (2nd year middle schoolers). I teach Chu-ichi nen sei's (students), Ko-ichi and Ko-ni.

My most challenging class is the Sports class. They are known as having the worst behavior and lowest high school educational level. For this reason, and others, they have their own curriculum. The class of 41 students is split between myself and another missionary teacher. My Japanese teaching partner and I currently have a class of 21 15 year old boys, most of whom are not interested in English (by most I mean probably none). Needless to say, we've had some behavior problems. For the most part they're just talkative. These kids spend all day together and still find things to talk about, it amazes me. Of course when they're talking they aren't paying attention to the lesson and are not doing their work. Thanks to some great advice from Mary Johnson, the ELCA's ESL/EFL supervisor and trainer, and a couple helpful books I've started to get the talking under control. However, quietness in the classroom doesn't mean students are paying attention. I've found that if they aren't talking they're usually sleeping. The result was that coming toward midterms 25 of the 41 students were failing. Now, the percentage mark for failing in Japan is set really low. Students only need 30% to pass a course, so one must be intent on not producing in a course in order to fail. Students in this class seem to be just that. Unfortunately, there are no immediate negative repercussions for failing a subject; students aren't put on academic probation here. So, the week of our midterm examination the four teachers held mandatory study sessions after school for the 25 failing students. It was exhausting, and the students were not happy to receive extra help. We spent two hours after school on Monday, and two and a half hours on Tuesday helping students with their pronunciation and preparing them with the correct answers for their Thursday test--it was an interview exam so where students would be graded not only on their answers, but on pronunciation. The result: for the first time every student passed an exam and our 25 failing students was decreased to 4. Thanks be to God! Students did not only study during their extra study sessions, but were studying on their own. When we walked into their classroom the afternoon of the test every student was sitting with their study sheets in hand practicing their answers. One girl (there are about 6 girls in the class) scored 100%. I don't know that I've ever been more proud. Even their homeroom teacher, who also has been getting on their case about their grades, gasped to see the score of one student who is infamous for having a bad attitude (he scored 67 out of 100, and had previously scored a total of 2 points in the 5 quizzes leading up to this exam). It was indeed a great end to a very busy week.
We are now closing in on summer break. My health has been okay. My feet have not bothered me since leaving Tokyo. Actually, everything has been better since leaving Tokyo. I haven't had any haunting dreams, or strange ailments. Thank you for your prayers. Language continues to be a struggle. I'm forced to speak more Japanese in Kumamoto than I was in Tokyo. On the other hand without being in language school and with being required to speak English on the job I feel like I'm not making much progress in speaking Japanese. I might be getting better at understanding the language. I find myself often frustrated, because not having the language has been an invisible divide between me and my Japanese colleagues. I want so much to be able to talk with them, but everyone knows that the conversation will only go so far so neither party tries. Every now and then I or they will reach out, but I feel very isolated even though I have three other missionary teachers at school with me (as well as Japanese English teachers who are pretty fluent in English). I like to be able to mix and mingle with many different people. Language has really limited my ability to get to know new people. Please pray for me in this area: that I would be courageous in speaking and diligent in studying.

Thanks again for your many prayers and inquiries into my life here in Japan. I pray the peace of Christ keep you until we meet again.