Thursday, June 28, 2007

my day.
actually it would be more correct to say that i hit the snooze way too many times thinking that i'm somehow owed an hour of extra sleep for staying after school for 2 extra hours.
show up to work 30 minutes late. Empty school. Nearly. 1st graders are the only students in attendance. 2nd and 3rd graders are at work sites, 2nd graders have been at them since Monday, 3rd graders only today and Friday. Have a meeting with JTE for 2nd period class with 1st graders. We're entering dangerous territory--3rd person singular "s" addition to the verbs. It is the most common mistake and the more frustrating for the fact that if students don't have this down by 3rd grade, what chance do they have with past perfect construction?

So. Plan to actively pursue education of fresh minds. Recently I realized that when i took foreign language in high school the classes were every day and in the German classroom. Therefore everyday we got to see the posters with common rules on the walls. The more you see those rules, the better they sink in, i think. Since in Japanese classrooms it is the teachers that move and not the students, having permanent subject posters like that is impossible. So I asked if we could have students glue inside their files a cut out with the explanation of how the "s" gets added on to the 3rd person singular verbs. He went for it! Yipee. The inside of their file covers are going to be filled by end of school year!
Class over, I stay around and chat with a couple of the kids. Back in the teachers' office, I savor the coolness of the aircon--the only one in the school. Few minutes of kanji study are followed by a completion of a Sudoku puzzle--I've renewed my interest in these puzzles after finding a book of them under others while cleaning the shelves behind my desk.
Next, time on the internet, chat with my sister and bring Facebook up to date. Then i realize i should be going to the BOE to talk with my supervisor about my wanting to get the AC in my car looked at. I call, he's on holiday today, they say the superintendant will be back in 15 minutes. I leave school in 20, get to BOE and am told the superintendent went to lunch already. It's 11:30am. I mention that I want to go to a repair shop in Kunigami to have AC fixed. While one BOE lady looks up the phone number the other remembers that this shop will not do AC work and I have to go elsewhere. Men in the accounting division are asked and there are now 3 people trying to figure out where to send me. They map out a place near Nago, and I think i know what they mean (the subject of how maps are drawn here should be fully explored at a later date). The new concern is whether I will be able to get a loaner car from the shop. The phone call is made and it is found out that no loaners are available at that shop or another one like it in Nago. What to do? The discussions that follow are mostly beyond my comprehension. I just politely stand off to the side as the issue is hashed out. I am next told that there is a place in Tsuha (the northern most village of Ogimi-son) that I should go to. Another map is drawn, and this time I know exactly where I'm going as the car place appears to be right next to a new soba shop I've eaten at several times already. I thank everyone profusely and go back to school for lunch.
Lunch time. One of the dishes is tiny salted fish mixed in with caramelized peanuts. But we also got a watermelon today! Hurray! And it's delicious! I eat three pieces as there are extra. Yum.

After lunch, drive to the car place but warn two people at school prior to my going that the shop might be calling them if I don't understand something important. Drive to shop, thinking that I'd pay 500$ to fix the AC as opposed to the previously self-imposed limit of 300$. Limit upgrade due to the intensity of the heat during drive over. Get to the shop. One of the workers immediately points me towards Nago as soon as I say, "koolah" but I insist that I was meant to come here and he goes to ask. A minute later I step outside the comfortably air conditioned tiny office to find another man pulling up in a small white car. When he steps out he attempts to explain to me the details of the situation. I gather that I'm getting a loaner from them, but they will actually take my car to Nago to get it looked at. It dawns on me that the man back at the office arranged this with the owner of this shop who is possibly a friend if not a relation. Sooo. I have no idea when I'll see my car again, how much it'll cost me or anything else for that matter. But I do get to drive a tiny air conditioned car for a couple of days, and that's all right with me.
A year ago I would find this to be extremely frustrating and nerve wracking. I am much calmer about these situations now. Am not exactly sure why that is. Perhaps it's due to the fact that nothing really has gone wrong for me here yet. This will be the first thing, eh? Watch me shell out a grand for AC repairs next week! But if I do, it better work like new.

At school I do more sudoku, study more kanji, read a grossly entertaining book called, "Stiff" about human cadavers and their adventures in the land of research.
I can't leave.
I am waiting for the story contest students and so have to stay at school past my contract time. One of them shows up a little after 5:30pm. We have a quick practice; she is nearly ready. I call a couple of teachers and some 1st grade basketball girls to listen to her tell the story. She does it beautifully and in well under 5 minutes. I'm relieved and we both go home.

Quick, improvised dinner of stir-fried wild rice, tuna, green onion, and leafy frozen veggies. At around 7:30pm I'm at eisa practice. Tonight we get to put in orders for pants and shoes. I try on the L size baseball pants and they fit. I sometimes wish i was back in a country where I was Medium size. We go through the songs three times and at the end of the 2nd round i enthusiastically hit my thumb instead of the drum. AGAA!

After eisa practice, i watch some women from the village practice a hari boat dance inside the gym and feel a part of a community. Sort of. Still sometimes just an outsider looking in.

Have an exciting weekend coming up, starting with a carefree Friday. No students will be at the school at all, and I'm staying at home in the morning 'cause only 4 people will actually be at work. I will have to go in around 4pm to wait around for the story contest students again. But thankfully tomorrow is the last day, and Saturday we get to show off our students and stories. Goodluck to all! :)
I'll let ya all know how it goes.


5:45am. near Ogimi, looking north.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

the test scores are in and they are pitiful. students took their midterm tests yesterday and today, and i graded all the English ones, because i could. the part where i could actually read their japanese and grade it was exciting, the part where the class averages where in the low 60's was depressing. 2nd and 3rd graders' scores made me want to cry but grading 1st graders today was the highlight of my week so far. they're well into high 70's and 80's and 3 or 4 scored above 90. i know you must think that it's a bit sad to be excited about 2 or 3 high scores but after seeing test after test of below 60, i was nearly beside myself writing those numbers on their test sheets.
two reasons for low test scores: the absolute certainty that all students will pass through junior high school no matter what their scores are on the test and second is that the language is taught in a completely illogical manner and there is too much information and not enough time to process. sub reason: the teaching enthusiasm of a certain person has transferred to the learning enthusiasm of most students. 1st graders so far seem immune. The 1st grade textbook is actually a bit better than the ones we used in previous years and also they had 5 years of Gabrielle's brilliant teaching in elementary school. It also helps the class averages that most students are either good learners or well above average. In other classes there are handful of students with obvious learning disabilities who get lost behind when the textbook tempo picks up at the end of 1st grade.
i would love to be able to say that the reason 1st graders are doing so well right now is due to my inspired assistance. perhaps in parts, i could attribute it to it, but certainly not all. the fact that we introduced phonics differently this year and have tried teaching reading a bit differently might have contributed to it, but i don't have any data other than these tests to support it.
i am happy to say that on the listening portion of the tests, in all grades, students scored high. So i guess i'm doing something right. oh well. we'll keep persevering.

in other news. the mosquitoes are out in full force! I am being eaten alive at home and out. Last night went to eisa practice, thinking it was going to be indoors like on previous tuesdays, but the weather had cleared up right before practice time and we were out on the field--in full range of the mosquito population. most ladies were itching and i learned the word for "itchy" and won't forget it now.

Eisa is turning out to be a lot of fun. The dances are a bit complicated, but have gotten a hang of most of them. Am having trouble with transitions from one song to another, but that's probably 'cause we haven't practiced the full set of songs with transitions. Yesterday, they added the cheers, and so i now can rightfully scream "ha ee ya!" in response to the "ee ya sa sa" of the big drum dancers. and of course, this will actually make sense to only a handful of you, so i just gotta say to the rest of you, try to make it to the Ogimi festival this August 10 and 11th when i'll hopefully be performing the eisa with the group.

and it's looking like the rainy days are finally behind us. although, i say that now, and watch it pour down again this weekend. enough rain already!!


Friday, June 15, 2007

i hadn't actually realized it's been a while since i posted. guess i been busy. doing what, though, you might ask. well. a few things. for one, growing a year older and a year closer to the overbearing number 30. But since i've met several wonderful and youthful 30 year olds since being on Oki, i'm not so fearful of the number.
but still 29 for now.
so i shall mention that my birthday has been quite a successful one this year. it just keeps on giving. the actual bday was on a tuesday but my first and very enthusiastic birthday song was sung on a monday by high school students. This happened because i didn't have school on monday and drove south to spend time with Kel and Yas. While driving down, Kel asked if i wanted to stop by her high school and maybe even visit one of her classes. I agreed. Been curious about an Okinawa high school for a while. all those stories of make-up sessions in class, cell phones, short skirts, Yonkee boys, etc. So i was in quite a surprise when i walked through the halls of Kelly's school. They're all respectful, tidy, smiley individuals who were very enthusiastic about seeing a new foreign face in the halls. and the class i visited blew me away. Kelly had them ask me questions and one of the first i got, said with perfect grammar mind you was, "why do you have so many pockets," this was in regards to the cool skirt i was wearing that does have a large amount of pockets. Next questions came shyly and some under coercing from Kelly but they were impressive when they came. I got asked about my hobbies and sports i liked, but also about the reasons my family moved from Kazakhstan to USA and why i wanted to come to Okinawa to teach. A really inquisitive bunch of high school seniors. And propped by Kelly, they all burst into a rendition of a birthday song when i was asked the appropriate question. Fantastic! I had a great time in the class and walking around during break. It was fun seeing what a high school is really like. It was very intimidating, realizing that there were 1200 students at the school and several teacher offices full of staff that taught them. Quite a shock to the system after my 108 youngsters.
So yeah. that was the first birthday present. I've also gotten a 1440 page book, a giant watermelon, a website with a message just for me, a package of random goodies, two bright red shisas, numerous messages on the Facebook wall, and of course, the best birthday surprise ever from two beautiful women i'm lucky to call friends.

and the rest of the post will be in pics, 'cause i'm starting to get tired.

Ogimi boys in the final game against Nago Junior HS. They're number 1 in the north, and will play in the all Okinawa tournament at the end of July. Go Ogimi!
The cheering section at a baseball game. The card at the bottom shows the name of a player at the plate. During a cheer his name is yelled several times.
Ogimi baseball team taking a bow to the cheering section after winning their first game. They unfortunately lost the next one.
A beautiful tree in Yomitan. The school went on a field trip to learn about the experience of Okinawans during the Battle of Okinawa. We started in Yomitan at a cave site where numerous Okinawans hid and later committed suicide. The students listening to the guide tell them the sad story of the ChibiChiri cave site.
At the Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum students have a chance to read personal accounts of survivors of Battle of Okinawa. This was a very bloody battle, and most of the blood was spilled by the Okinawans caught up in the fighting.
The view from the top floor of the Peace Museum.
That's me being super excited about a surprise birthday cake on the evening of my birthday.
And here are two lovely ladies responsible for the best surprise ever! Kelly and Yasemine snuck into my place, blew up baloons, taped up photos, lit candles and hid in the livingroom for me to find them. I was keeled over and speechless for several minutes. Naughty monkeys!

Sunday, June 03, 2007

snippets from last two weeks

on the way to school in the morning i now get to see some of my students waiting for the school bus at the bus stops. if we make eye contact, i wave and they wave back.
i started going to school a half hour earlier to practice for the story contest with one of the students. she's been busy after school practicing for a basketball tournament and mornings seem to be a good time to have a story session. sometimes she's late, though. and starting next week tuesday her morning "job" at school will be to stand with 3 or 4 other students and greet everyone as they come in to school. she'll have to do it for a week.
actually, because i usually don't get to school until 8:15am i don't get to see all sorts of things that happen before classes start. there are students who come in early to practice sports, and some are there to water the plants in the morning and to do a bit of clean up around the entrance. and of course, the greeters, whom i always miss because at 8:15am as i walk into school, students rush to their homerooms for a morning meeting. So i've been enjoying coming in early and seeing a new side of my students and school.

at first being back from home was really odd. and sort of difficult. my trip was so short but so wonderful that all i wanted was just to be back there still, surprising the dog with my presence every morning. but alas, i was back at school, thrown into a busy, ever changing schedule, and the first couple of days were tough. but it's back to normal, and the trip home feels like a dream that i had to reluctantly leave when i woke up on a school day morning.

tomorrow two student teachers start at the school. one is for English, the other is for Home Economics, i think. i really don't understand how they schedule these students teaching stints. they're only 3 weeks long, but during those three weeks the school will be super busy. we're having the biggest inter JHS sports tournament this weekend, which could be the last one for 3rd graders if they don't win in their respective team sport. Our school has girl and boy basketball teams, girls' soft tennis team and a boys baseball team. I think a couple of students will be competing in karate as well, but we don't have a formal team at school--they practice at private dojos. So we get a friday and a following monday off because we'll all be expected to be at the tournaments' various sights this weekend to cheer on the students. Also the following Wednesday all the students are going on a field trip to two places in Okinawa to learn about WWII and the peace movement. So lots of interruptions, during which the two young and scared student teachers will have to attempt to practice their budding teaching skills. seems ridiculous to me. but at the same time, very japanese.

this past weekend was filled with all sorts of cultural and learning activities. On Friday, the school was visited by a singer/songwriter who performed for the students and the community. She's Okinawan and in late 20's and suffered from an illness i didn't quite understand which, i think, resulted in her losing vision in one eye. not sure exactly how it happened, but she wears a patch over her right eye. She battled through a serious depression after it happened but with the help of her friends and music was able to pull through. She seriously got into singing and song writing to help her through and has been performing since 2003. She plays the guitar and has a lovely and strong voice. Her music is Alanis Morrissete influenced and not bad at all. I enjoyed her singing.

But i had to leave the concert a half hour early because i got invited to join a few friends in watching a performance by a troupe from India at another village community center. Craig saw them perform on his island of Izena the previous night and said they were worth seeing, so we invited a few people and went to see it. The performance included classical and traditional dancing, singing, drumming and even a martial arts dance with swords. It was great to have our very own Indian expert in Juhi, who explained the story behind one of the more beautiful dances which involved a Krishna flirting with cow shepherdesses. The evening's event also included several performances of Okinawan traditional dance and music. This troupe from North Eastern region of India has been traveling Japan for a month and has another month of daily performances ahead of them. Their performances are a part of the Japan-India Friendship Year 2007. This is to commemorate a cultural, historical and more recently business connections between the two countries. There are numerous events taking place all over Japan and India to commemorate it. I'm really glad we got to see it. It's really great to see a live cultural performance, and i seem to appreciate those very rare opportunities more here.
Here are the students setting up their chairs before the performance on Friday. They bring their own chairs from the classroom. Each chair has their name sticker on the back, unless of course they scraped it off at some point. And then i don't know how they figure out whose is whose.
The singer/songwriter performs at the school on a Friday afternoon.
Prior to the performance at the Nakijin Community Center, the dancers and musicians are introduced to the audience.
The shepherdess dance. When they came out in their stunning costumes, the "awe" in the audience was audible. They were gorgeous and graceful. The best dance of the evening.
Krishna flirting with the main shepherdess. Their love, as Juhi told us, has been deified in Indian mythology. A beautiful, classical dance.

Craig has an interesting story about the performers' visit to his island, and i hope he shares it on his blog. so watch for that.

I also wanted to mention two movies i recently watched, Libertine and Stage Beauty. I watched Libertine first last week, and i had no idea that the two movies took place during the same time period. Each movie's focus was the theater life during the reign of Charles II in England in the 1660's. And the two movies couldn't have been more different in their portrayal of the times. I enjoyed both movies and the stories they told. The differences in how they told the stories of the time made me think in how we look at history of centuries past. We can have a story of depravity and excess be shrouded in dark colors and not shy away from gruesome and highly sexual imagery that prevailed then, or we can have a story of love taking place in the same period where stepping into a pile of horse dung represents the discomfort of life, and the ending stops on an uplifting love moment instead on the image of a death of a syphilitic man. Of course, both films bend history to their liking in order to promulgate their stories.
Would films two hundred years from now be able to romanticize the tragedy of our times? Will there be films two hundred years from now is probably a better question, eh?

and on that note, i'd like to end this blog, so i can get back to watching the 4th season of the Simpsons. The true cultural genius of our times. :)