Wednesday, January 19, 2005

An entry in three parts...

Part One

There are things I like about living in Japan, and things I don't like.

Things I like:

I like being able to buy green tea ice cream whenever, wherever I want it.

I like the economy of space, how it's used and lived in. Much more sensible and even aesthetic to me than the sprawling homes of much of America.

I like the politeness (cross-listed below).

I like that the country takes the environment seriously (even if there are ugly powers that be that will abuse it like there are everywhere, but so many of your everyday people actually really do care).

I like the language (cross-listed).

I like all the weird foods I come across and get to try for the first time in my life. I mean, even if you're a connoisseur of Japanese foods back in America, you're not going to find three-fourths of the kinds of food that I've been introduced to in the country itself.

Things I don't like:

I don't like having to wait for everything to happen. It seems everything here is a huge bureaucratic mess that takes at least ten people to figure out and sometimes, oh well, it doesn't get figured out. Sorry, bye bye.

I don't like not having central heating...ANYWHERE. Nuff said.

I don't like all the politeness sometimes (cross-listed). It's nice mostly, but there are days when I think, Okay So and So San, now that we got all that bowing and complimenting out of the way, tell me what you're REALLY thinking.

I don't like the language sometimes (cross listed). This has more to do with being immersed in another culture than with the language itself. Sometimes I just want to be able to walk through a store or a subway station and understand everything that's being said around me without having to think about it.

I don't like the medical experiences I've had recently, described in earlier posts.

I don't like being looked at and talked about so much in certain places where I guess certain sectors of the population aren't used to seeing foreigners. Sometimes I just want to disappear.

Part Two

So I voted for the Nebula Ballot online today. Glad they've made it easy to do, especially for people overseas. My only questions is this: Why the hell are there so few nominations on the ballot this year, and why are so many of them crappy? This is not to say that any and all of them are crappy. Actually a few of those listed I recommended to be on the preliminary ballot. It's just, well to be honest, it's just an uninspiring list. Certainly makes me hopeful for those works that are wonderful on the ballot, but really, there must have been more stories out there this year that might have been included on this list. I am sure lots of you reading this will enlighten me or degrade me. Enlighten and degrade away.

Part Three

So there is a teacher at the junior high, an English teacher, who rarely has me come to his classes. This is because he actually doesn't really speak good English and is mostly afraid he won't understand me in class and the kids will find out. It annoys me because if he would get over this fear and have me spend more time in his class, he would see that I'm flexible and will speak with him at a level of English that he's more competent with, even if it's very low. In any case, I got over this months ago, but suddenly it was his turn to be observed teaching a class today by almost all the other teachers in the school (they do that here) and also some man with a clipboard and a stern face marking things down during the entire class period. And of course now all of a sudden this teacher wants me to teach with him. Well it would look weird that the school has an assistant language teacher from the States and he isn't being made use of, right? So now I get the call to go to this teacher's classroom and be a part of one of the most horrible teaching experiences of my life. You can't just expect to start team teaching with someone out of the blue and do it well. This guy should have been working with me for the past five months like the other teachers, who I've gelled with and teach smoothly with now, knowing how they run a classroom and what they expect of me while I'm in it. Some give me a lot of control, others want most of the control and want to tell me what to do and when to do it. I'm fine with any approach, as long as I've been given time and instruction to become accommodating. So today while me and this teacher are being observed by the rest of the teachers and said stern faced man with clipboard taking vigorous notes, pretty much everything that can go wrong went wrong.

In the first period class, the teacher was trying to fix his Powerpoint presentation that he couldn't get to work, and I managed to teach the class entirely on my own, and by the end of the period, without the aid of Powerpoint and any of his lesson plans, I had the students comparing all sorts of things, and they were raising their hands to join in because I was making it fun for them, allowing them to compare their teachers on various subjects (it was a lesson in using comparatives like "more than" and putting -er and -est on the end of adjectives). So you know, I'd ask them things like, "Who is stronger? Me or Mr. Nagasawa? Who is funnier? Me or Ms. Ohama? Who is cuter? Me or Mr. Hiraga? Who is nicer? Me or Ms. Fujita?" We put an impromptu scoreboard on the chalkboard to keep points for teachers who got the positive end of the comparisons. This seemed to work completely fine, and was an elegant and smoothly flowing classroom exercise that the kids were excited about. Also, I didn't speak Japanese to them the entire time, and they figured out what the words "than" and "more than" and "-er" and "-est" were meant to do all on their own, just by listening and watching me. Unfortunately, there were only a couple of teachers watching during that period.

Next we move on to second period class, with a few more teachers, and lo and behold the Powerpoint is up and running, and all it does is eat up our classroom time as the teacher takes forever to go through the slides of pictures, using images for the kids to compare. The U.S. is bigger than Japan, etc. The 500 Yen coin is larger than the 50 yen coin, etc. The kids become restless in between shifts of images and chatter a bit. After this class ends, Ohama sensei comes up to me and says, Chris, I think that there is a lot of waste of time during the image part of this lesson. The kids start chatting and no one listens. Maybe you should do something about that.

Okay, I know she came to me with that because she saw me teaching the class alone the previous period and knows it ran better when I did it myself. But this is this teacher's class now that he's got his stuff up and running, not mine. What can I do? And why isn't she going to him and telling him he's got a lesson plan that wastes a lot of time and isn't efficient? Why am I being told this? It's not my lesson plan. So anyway, I just said I agreed but didn't know what I could do about it at this point. It was too late, and I hadn't been consulted enough by the teacher ahead of time to come up with ideas on how to improve the lesson.

Then the third period comes and this is when about forty teachers are watching us teach and the stern faced man comes in with the principle. My mouth is dry from so much talking and probably from nerves too, because this ship is going to sink, I know it, and what's worse is that I'm up in front of that classroom and am going to take the fall, possibly with this teacher, or on my own, because you know I'm just some American guy and why am I not making this classroom work, damn it, even though I'm just supposed to "assist". But I figure if Ohama comes to me with criticism of the teacher's lesson plan instead of going to him, maybe the same thing will happen with the principle and whoever the stern faced man is.

Anyway, the class sucks and I make myself stop short of just walking out because I'm so frustrated and want to take over and save it from careening uncontrollably into oblivion, but I'm still really mad about this. Fujita sensei asked me after that class if the teacher and I had consulted before class about the lesson and I said, well a little bit, but not much. She of course had an evasive answer to that response and said, Ahh, yes, he was much too busy probably. She smiled too, that smile only Fujita can give, which always makes me wonder, are we thinking the same thing underneath these words we're exchanging, do we both understand that this teacher was ill prepared and mostly because he avoids having to speak English with me, or do you really think he was too busy? Sometimes she smiles like that and I feel like it's a signal that she knows, and that her answer is trying to tell me something opposite of what it's actually saying, and then at other times I can't rely on that being the case at all. I'll never find out, because the questions I want to ask she wouldn't want to answer. It would be impolite to talk about someone else in this manner. The thing is, I like this teacher, I just wish he would have used me in his classroom more and gotten used to me, rather than allowing his own insecurities to keep us from finding a balance together so that when observation days like this one come around, we can do well together.

Anyway, tomorrow I go to an elementary school, so I will just have to forget about today by allowing the little ones to be themselves, which almost always cheers me up.


Blogger David Moles said...

Part Two is my fault. I didn't read my fair share of short fiction last year and haven't made any nominations.

1:05 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

Yeah, I have to agree with Moles on this one. It's his fault.

(I didn't reactivate my SFWA membership until the end of the year when all the drum banging started about low numbers of recommendations. I jumped in in time to put some in. This year I plan to be a readin' and recommendin' fool, consequences be damned. If anybody has a problem with that, well they can just see David Moles.)

1:34 PM  
Blogger Christopher Barzak said...

Well I'm glad that the two of you came forward with this and admitted you are the ones at fault. Now at least I can sleep easier knowing where things went wrong.

Glad to see you rejoined, Christopher. I think some of the bad blood spilled in SFWA in recent years chased away a lot of people. I can't say I'm hugely active in SFWA but I do tend to try and be active in the recommending of stories for the preliminary Nebula ballot.

7:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nebula recs fell off the table a few years ago. Theories of why this happened have been discussed in various SFWA forums. One possible reason is that the awards themselves have lost any clear identity they may have had. If they could become the awards given to new/young writers they might get a new lease of life. But it would require a lot more participation in the process.

1:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And that last post was mine.


1:55 PM  
Blogger Christopher Barzak said...

That's an interesting idea, Rick. Though I have a feeling if the award were to be reconceptualized for new/young writers, there would be a bit of resistance suddenly from all sorts of corners. But I think you're right that it definitely needs an identity overhaul. This award is supposed to be given to the best examples of American science fiction and fantasy by the writers for the writers, and yet hardly any of the writers are recommending or voting for anything. A huge loss, I think. With all the himming and hawing that goes on all the time about the genre is just as good as the literary, blah blah blah arguements, we then have an award for excellence in genre work and the turnout is a pretty chilly reception. I don't know how one would go about reinvigorating the award and the award process, but I hope it happens.

10:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sometimes she smiles like that and I feel like it's a signal that she knows, and that her answer is trying to tell me something opposite of what it's actually saying, and then at other times I can't rely on that being the case at all. I'll never find out, because the questions I want to ask she wouldn't want to answer. It would be impolite to talk about someone else in this manner.This could have come directly out of the Haruki Marukami novel I'm reading (A Wild Sheep Chase). You really are in Japan...


3:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Damn, I envy you. In Philadelphia one can only buy green tea ice cream between one and ten pm.

Orthographic troll: principal. It might come in handy for a schoolteacher to know how to spell it.


12:22 AM  

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