Sunday, October 20, 2013

You May Call Me "Gabi-sensei"

How could I forget about the main purpose of coming to Okinawa? Just kidding! I didn't forget, but I have been extremely busy these last few weeks. Now that I have some downtime, I'll  update everyone on my ALT life in Okinawa. 

I am the Assistant Language Teacher or "ALT" at three elementary schools in my village of Ginoza (see below). I have been told that teaching at the elementary level is the most fun and rewarding because the curriculum is flexible and the students are eager to learn English. I can say, without conviction, that this is true. So far, the 5th and 6th grade teachers have been very open with communication and will often meet with me before class to discuss the day’s lesson. For the other grades, I plan the lesson based on an unofficial curriculum that all the schools seem to have and will ask the teachers to translate the game's rules (more of a T1 role). I have been successful in my lessons thus far, and I hope that this pattern continues. The students are sweet and very energetic, but I noticed that the younger the student, the more willing they are to participate. Therefore, I have included my self-made English class passport cards for the 5th and 6th graders who are "too cool for school" as an incentive to participate. If they participate, they receive stickers. It seems a bit strange, but kids go bat-shit crazy over stickers. I wish I could take credit for the passport, but I got the idea when I visited from a former friend who was also an ALT.

I also try to incorporate a lot of American cartoons and Japanese anime into my teaching materials. Any thing Disney works! Mickey Mouse and the gang as well as well as some throwback characters like Chip and Dale (...Rescue Rangers!) are very popular. Phineas and Ferb's Perry the Platypus has a fandom as well as the Minions from Despicable Me. However, you can't go wrong with One Piece

M. Elementary has undergone some drastic renovations (update not reflected on their website) and the school provides a fantastic view of the ocean. Within the teacher’s room, the staff and assistant teachers will often gossip with me or invite me to help with the school's festival preparations. I feel the most relaxed at M., in terms of manners, because I feel as though they have overlooked my "foreign-ness" and have stopped treating me like I am a guest. I find this interesting because I have spent the least amount of time at the school due to typhoons and three-day weekends.

A female principal, who spends most of her time gardening or attending meetings, oversees the elementary school. She is very sweet, plump, and jolly, and provides me with fresh veggies and flowers whenever she gets the chance. She's like the Japanese Mrs. Claus! Just to give an example: 

One day, I needed to leave work a little early to go see a doctor. It's been joked about that I could smile and excuse myself out the door whenever I wanted in the Japanese workplace. I decided to test that theory and do just that. Half way to my car, the principal stopped me to say that I was leaving early. I walked back to tell her about my situation, but she continued the conversation saying that she missed the opportunity the previous day (because of the typhoon) to give me a huge bag of okra and sweet potatoes. Turns out, I mistranslated what she said. She said that I was leaving quickly ("fast" and "early" are  the same word in Japanese). Either way, I felt bad and told her what was going on anyway. She couldn't care less that I was leaving early, as long as I used the veggies she gave me. 

The vice principal for M. Elementary is very comedic. He often greets me in English and is always game to practice every chance he gets. He seems very excited about my presence at the school, and has once commented that my boyfriend is his rival. However, he doesn't set of my creeper sirens (yet). My only gripe is that there is one teacher assistant who is still dead frightened of me. Dead frickin' frightened! He's a few years younger than me and our interaction has not gone past hellos and goodbyes. I also had this same interaction with the 6th grade teacher, who is my same age, but he has since opened up now that we teach classes together. I have the most fun in his class because the boys in the classroom are real class clowns. They goof around, but they are doing it while actively participating so it's fun.

Funny Story:  During their self-introductions, the main class clown told me he was on the baseball team. I asked if his position was the bench, and he felt the burn. Gabie-sensei's got jokes!

K. Elementary is my favorite school thus far. They have a very diverse set of teachers who are not only interested in practicing English, but also like to practice their Spanish with me as well. I also have the closest thing to a JTE, as there is a specific teacher who co-teaches English class with me for 5th and 6th grade.  The principal is a woman who is the polar opposite of M. Elementary's principal. She is a very refined, proper, and assertive woman, but still kind in her interactions with me. The vice principal is a Japanese Robert DeNiro. Seriously! He looks like Robert DeNiro! He loves golf and was ecstatic hear that I am from Florida, the land of golf courses. 

The girls at K. Elementary are locas and often ask me to play volleyball with them during break since I told them I played throughout middle and high school. They like to gossip with me, and I like to ask about their classmate crushes. It's really cute because the girls have no reservation concerning their love confessions. On the other hand, the boys are still fairly reserved with me, especially the 6th grade boys. I figure they are battling with there hormones and having a young and fairly attractive teacher makes them a bit uncomfortable (I'm sorry, but I'm not sorry).

Funny Story: During my first days of work, I was pleasantly surprised when one of the TA's, who also teaches high school history, scooted up next to me to ask what the Native Americans called the U.S. before Christopher Columbus discovered it. Although extremely random, I was happy to answer questions that deviated from my personal life.

G. Elementary was a little intimidating at first because it has double the teachers and students of my other two schools. However, the 5th grade teacher, who speaks English very well, has made my transition smooth. She is definitely an amazing teacher and our teaching styles complement each other favorably. We were both recently observed and evaluated by the G. Board of Education. Under normal circumstances I would have been extremely nervous, but we plan lessons so smoothly that it was really a piece of cake – even if we had around 10 people observing in the room. Yikes! 

 The only complaint is that this school seems to be a bit more rigid than my other school in terms of how they expect the students to behave. I get the sense that the students aren’t as cheerful in this school. One moment of complete shock was when I gave my self-introduction presentation to the 6th grade class. No amount of genki-ness on my behalf could shake their zombie-like expressions and responses. They were simply not amused. This has been the case sense, as refer to them as "The Satan 6th Graders." I just try to do my best to stay energetic, but I have to keep my eye on a few misbehaved children. Prior to Sports Day, the 6th graders did warm up enough to me to pull me aside and ask questions. I would have been glad under any other circumstances but the questions started with my age and ended with how to say various perverted words in English (tits, masturbate, sex, etc. I know WTF!). Those little demon children even included gestures with those questions! I wanted the earth to swallow me as I looked around for a teacher to pull me out of that awkward situation. Either way, I just told them that the words didn’t exist in English. Sometimes you can’t expect these things because they are kids, but I learned for next time how to cut the hentai (perv) questions short. I've also had one instance where I yelled at student who blatantly disrespected me during class. It hasn't happened since, but I made a good example out of him. I also teach English to four students with learning disabilities. I try my best to keep the lessons simple, engaging, and very hands on. I’m not exactly sure of the nature of their disabilities, but I try to use English games that incorporate a lot of hand-eye coordination. 

Aside from the issues with little demon children, I definitely bonded with some of the younger teachers (who are closer to my age), and I believe my time there will be great,

Funny Story #1 : One of those teachers that I bonded with may or may not have a crush on me. The custodian was commenting on my looks and suggested that the teacher tell me that I am beautiful. He looked me dead straight in my eyes and said, "Later." Moral of the story: Innuendos transcend language barriers. 

Funny Story #2: I think one of the boys from the 5th grade class may or may not have a crush on me (haha). He's the only boy in all of my schools that asks me to have lunch with the class (usually it's the girls who ask). I also see him every so often around the cultural center because he takes sanshin class (I think) while I take dance class. Either way, before class, he was writing his name (Yuuto) on the board in Roman letters. I told him he could write his name like "Yūto" since he has a double "u" in his name. A little later in class, the kids were asked to make their own shirts. He made a baseball shirt with "Yūto" on the back. <3

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