Sunday, December 4, 2011

Let's Talk About....

I found this restaurant through one of my students!!!
So, I've been working pretty consistently since I was 14.  My first "real" job (where I got a paycheck) was bussing tables at the Wisconsin State Fair.  It was disgusting and hard and only payed $5 an hour.  Plus I'm pretty sure it violated child labor laws because we only had one half-an-hour break for our 8 hour shift.  Either way, it sucked.  Then, I was a cashier at Walgreens starting at 16.  I can't even begin to talk about how terrible this job was.  After that, throughout college, I had various jobs on campus.  These were OK since the work was very easy and the hours were light.  Still, not they were pretty boring and not the greatest.  Finally, this past year, I worked fulled time at an airline.  My job boiled down to people yelling and complaining at me all day.  Needless to say, I haven't really enjoyed any of the jobs I've had.  Until now.

My job teaching English in Japan is so super awesome.  I basically get paid to have conversations with cool people.  My hours are super reasonable, and with my normal schedule, my maximum commute time is about 30 minutes, which is unheard of in Tokyo.  Now, I won't talk about what company I work for (and for those of you who do know, please, do not mention it.  I'd like to keep this private), but I just want to say that they have been really good to me.  So now, I guess I'll talk about a "typical" day of work for me.

So first, I gotta look the part.  I get all gussied up and wear a fancy (second-hand) suit to look my best.  After I've collected all of my (unorganized) teaching materials, I head out the door and (rush frantically) to the train station.  I soon arrive (just barely on time) to work and get ready for the day.  I have a certain amount of slots available for people to take drop-in conversation classes with me.  This means that I don't have regular students unless they wish to see my (weird) face every week by (torturing themselves by) signing up for the same time.  The lessons are really free-form and casual with a wide-variety of lesson plans that I can choose as soon as the lesson starts.  We then go on from their (and I make stuff up along the way).

The lesson groups are divided by English language ability.  This presents both a challenge and a great benefit.  The lowest level is by far the hardest to teach.  It's hard to have a "warm-up" conversation with them because they have little conversation experience.  The lessons themselves can also pose a challenge to those who have literally no English ability previously.  But they can be very rewarding and it's awesome to see the progress the dedicated students can make.  The pre-intermediate and intermediate levels are a lot of fun.  They are comfortable to have some nice conversations and they are usually very eager to learn.  You can also teach them some nice vocabulary.  The advanced lessons are the most fun and can also be the most challenging.  They are so fun in that you don't have to grade your language down and you can talk about very complex issues.  I also often get these advanced students multiple times, so it's nice to develop a relationship.  But it can be extremely challenging because these students will know when you've made a mistake or that you haven't prepared.  And unless you can talk about something the student is interested in, your conversation is going to go dead faster than a goldfish in a toaster (that was a terrible analogy).

From all of my students, though, I have learned so much about Japan.  They've told me about cool places I should visit, new trends that are happening now, different cultural events (my favorite of which was a student demonstrating the Hakodate "squid dance"), and great restaurants around Tokyo (such as the amazing Chicago-style deep dish pizza place pictured above one student told me about).  They also are all extremely interesting people.  One student is a mother who moved from South Korea.  Another student is an operating room nurse (who has some of the most hilarious stories about the surgeries she performs).  Another is a worker at a cart parts factory who plays the synthesizer in a band that performs at music festivals around the Tokyo area.  A lot of my students are very successful business men that probably make more money in a year than I will ever see in a lifetime.  And so many of them have such great senses of humor!!!  Truly I learn much more from them than they do from me (partially because I'm such a terrible teacher @_@).

But with the good also comes some bad (but not as much as you'd think!).  Just today I had to do a children's lesson about Christmas.  Since I was a substitute teacher, I had never seen any of these children before.  Many of them were completely blanked faced.  But one little girl of the eight children there was..... well.......  After all other seven children had already taken their seats, she walked with her parents to the door to enter my classroom.  I greeted her like all the other kids.  But before this, she started crying and sobbing.  "I don't wanna go in!  I don't wanna go in!" she screamed (in Japanese).  Her mother kept telling her that she'd be right outside the classroom (which has really big windows and seats for the parents) and that she'd be fine.  This little girl was not having it, though, and she wanted her mom to go in with her.  She screamed and cried so loud, all in the entrance to the kid's classroom.  I had no clue what to do.  Her mom kept telling her "You're making problems for all of the other kids.  Go on in.  You can do it.", but the girl kept crying and stomping her feet.  Finally, the mom got fed up and said, "OK, then we're going to go home, then."  But the girl GOT EVEN LOUDER and started hitting her mom!!!!  I was in a state of shock, as the short lesson was being held up because of this cute, tiny, screaming little girl.  After some more arguing with her mom and a towel given to her to dry her completely drenched face, her father had had enough and pushed her into the classroom and closed the door.  I had NO CLUE what I should do.  I told her she could take a seat, but she just stood there, staring out the window, sobbing.  I just started the lesson, though, and pretending she wasn't having the most traumatic experience of her life that will probably make her hate tall, white, curly-haired, glasses-wearing Americans forever.  Finally, it came time to draw some pictures, so I dragged the table out so the other kids could write.  I put down an extra sheet for the crying girl and motioned for her to come over and draw.  The other kids even beckoned her over, but she just cried even more.  I then vowed for the rest of the class, not to even acknowledge her existence, lest I set her off again.  Finally, the lesson was over.  The cage was opened and the roaring tiger of a little girl was allowed out to her embarrassed and angry parents.  I gave her one of our little Christmas coloring pages.  I then started to clean up the room for the next class, but the little girl came back.  She was crying and trying to say something.  Her mom had made her come back to get the other sheet we were working on in class.  Her mom then glared at her to make her say "Thank you" to me.  And then that was the end of that ordeal @_@

So, moral of the story?  English conversation teachers have to be able to think on their feet and turn a sucky situation into a good one.  In my time as an RA, I dealt with medical emergencies, drunk fights, and pot busts.  But nothing prepared me for one tiny little crying girl.

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