Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Help Me

Oh minions.
What a day of ups and downs.

Sometimes this job is so rewarding. The kids are adorable, they respond wonderfully to the lesson plan, and you feel like the most awesome, fun, influential teacher in the world.

And then there are other days… The days where you feel like a failure. The kids don’t listen, they don’t respect you, and they sure as hell don’t respond to your lesson plan. In fact, your time would have been better spent doing monotonous repeat exercises instead of the super fun game you planned for them. They aren’t worthy of activities, stickers, and games that were so lovingly allocated for them.

Today was one of the latter.

Tuesdays are usually my toughest days. I have five classes, five different grade levels, and two schools. There is one school (out of my 4) that has managed to be my least favorite. The kids are unruly, and I’m pretty sure they are the rejects from other elementary school as each class seems to have its own dose of crazy. There is one class in particular which is just OFF the walls insane.

I walked in to find one student sleeping, five students reading manga, three students in an epic janken battle, two students stomping on the floor as hard as they can, one student swinging his arms back and forth and screaming at the wall. I wish I were making this up. The rest of the students were either writing on their desk or having conversations with their friends.

The teacher nodded at me, a signal to start class. Big surprise, no one answered my questions. In fact, they continued speaking Japanese OVER me (Silly English teacher, we are in the middle of a conversation. We’re fourth graders and obviously have matters of the UTMOST importance to discuss). It felt awesome.

There were a couple times in the lesson where I stopped to simply because I could not keep going. I need a moment to collect my wits, not scream at the top of my lungs, not storm out of the room, and God no, please not cry (I honestly wasn’t so sure I would survive the hour without doing one or all of those things). At which point, the teacher would say “Please. English. keep. teach” , as if I’m supposed to ignore the obvious chaos and continue the class.

When I decided, “what the heck, it’s the last day of lessons before Winter Break… We’ll just play this wildly successful game”. I had to explain it to them. I got out one word (“timer”) before I had 27 students SCREAMING Japanese at me from the top of their lungs.

Dear fellow teachers,
How do I get this class under control?!? I know very little Japanese and while I still have those cheerleader lungs, I can’t manage to raise my voice over 27 high pitched Japanese children. Their homeroom teacher does absolutely nothing.

Crying for help

There WAS an up though… my first grade class (at the junior high) responded to the daily questions (How’s the weather today? What day is it today? What’s the date today?) with screams of “I LOVE YOU, JACKIE!” “JACKIE ROCKS” “WE LOVE JACKIE!!!” The homeroom teacher was less than thrilled, but I was overjoyed. It was a bit awkward, but still managed to make me smile.

Seriously though ALTS… I need your help. Suggestions please!!!

Monday, December 17, 2012

My Vice Principal

It’s been a solid nine months that I’ve been working with my schools, acclimating myself to the daily life of a teacher.

And I think it’s about time that my good 'ole Vice Principal gets a blog post of his own.

Let me paint you a word picture (because an actual picture, while possible, would be outright cruel).
  • He wears these hugee Napolean Dynamite glasses. If Wayne Slazinski used his machine to blow up the glasses to an enormous size.
  • Throughout random times in the day, he likes to walk around the teacher’s room with his hands in his pants. No joke. Sometimes, he will lift up his shirt and bang on his belly like a drum. The first time, I thought it was a joke. I looked around at the other teachers, and they carried on as if this was just a normal, everyday thing
  • He talks to himself. Loudly. I’ve learned that lots of people mutter to themselves here in Japan, but this guy takes it to a whole new level. If other people in the room are having a conversation, he’ll raise his voice so that no one else can speak. Then he’ll laugh at his own little joke, as if it was the funniest thing anyone has ever said.
  • One of his favorite past times is to play detective. He’ll sit down in a teacher’s desk and then open folders, riffle through stacks of papers, peruse the contents of drawers. All the while, he will be gossiping with nearby teachers.

But really, the most important thing you should know about my vice principal is his IMPECCABLE English.

In the first semester, I tried my best to carry on conversations with him. They went a little like this…

VP: So, Japan. Like… you?
Me: Oh, yes I like Japan very much. I actu (cut off, mid sentence)
VP: Yes, yes. My son. Paperclip. Mmmhmm. Books. Sky.
Me: Oh really? Your son likes to read books? About skies and paperclips? That’s so interesting!
VP: Yes yes yes. Firefighter. Berry. And then the insestuance. Etoo… the nice is mmm.
Me: Ahhh…

Now it’s gotten to the point where I try to say as little words as possible in our exchange. I once told him “I’m sorry, but I don’t understand”. At this, he turned to the other teachers and said “Kanojo wa eigo wakatte inai” (literally translated: “She doesn’t understand English”). Well, I don’t know MUCH Japanese, but I sure as hell understood that.

Anytime he hears me conversing in English with another teacher, he will shout out random English words from his VP chair that literally have NOTHING to do with the conversation topic. IDEAR! RUN! LIGHT! BOOK!

Once, he initiated conversation with me… then did an about FACE in the middle of my response. Like, what was the point of that?!? He acts like a child and the insane part about it all is that the teachers don’t even bat an eye!! Is this normal Japanese behavior?!?

I’m telling you. Tina Fey herself couldn’t make this stuff up. And I adore Tina Fey. 
Not sure if I like her or Liz Lemon better...
See you tomorrow, minions.

Friday, December 14, 2012

5 am mornings

Well, thank goodness it’s Friday!! A couple things about my week…

-I’ve been blogging every day. Self-five!! Awwww yeahhhzz
-I’ve also been running every day. Before school. That means the alarm goes off at 5 am and I am out the door by 5:30. Say whaattt?!?

Let me just mention that before this, the coldest weather I ran in was 48 °F. And I only made it about half a mile before returning shivering and frozen while John sat in his computer chair and shrugged “Told ya” (I had been INSISTENT on carrying on with my daily runs. Arrogantly, I told him “A little rain ain’t going to stop me”. Yes, I used “ain’t”. Like a weirdo). Here in Japan, I’ve been running in temperatures averaging about 24°Farenheight. That’s below freezing (my fears of becoming a popsicle are becoming a reality)!!! Poor Californian girl.
What Hanno looks like at 5:45 am
I guess the running started because of a bit of a lull that I was going through. It was nothing serious, just some deepening homesickness and overall dissatisfaction I was feeling with my life, career, the general bulls*t that we put up with as AETs working for a sleazy company. Plus, I felt exhausted all.the.timeee. I felt like I was 52, not 25. I blamed it on the cold weather- it’s impossible to feel energetic when a warm bed is the only thing that brings you happiness.

So, Monday morning, I dragged my tired, shivering body out of bed and unlike the countless times before… I actually got up and ran. Now, don’t give me too much credit. I only made it about 1/4 of the way that I used to run but hey! At least I was up and doing it.

I feel worlds better. I don’t know when food or laziness will find me again- I seem to go on these “running spurts” every now and then, and proclaim “This is the new me!” But one morning, it’s too hard… and then it snowballs to a week. And then I remember exactly how good it feels to sleep in past 6. And then I’m back at square 1.

I’m not going to pretend this time that it’s going to last forever. But it seemed to pull me out of my slump. I was even surprisingly cheerful in the most dreaded class I have. My animation and high spirits caught me off-guard as I found myself smiling a lot more than usual in a school that hates me (again, I’m a little dramatic).

My goal is to take it to two weeks, at which I will reward myself with a new pair of running shorts (don’t worry, I wear leggings under them). At four weeks, it will officially become a habit and I will allow myself to buy a new pair of shoes (yeah yuhhh). At six weeks, people should start to see a difference and the reward will be the zillions of compliments I'm going to get on how skinny I look.

Alright minions!! Happy weekend (Well, Happy Thursday to all yous in America)!
Love these guys

Thursday, December 13, 2012


Today’s post gets a huge shout out to Jessica Lee, who is one of my “fans”. HELLO LEE!! She wrote... 

 And then I promised to make it up to her with this spiffy blog post.

Dear Jessica,
Thank you for your comment regarding “minions”. I promise, from this day forward, to always end the blog with a statement that includes the word “minions”. And to answer your unasked question, I took this habit as referring to my readers as “minions” from one of my favorite writers… She’s actually a hotshot writer now but I first developed my girlcrush in college, perusing The California Aggie as a way to kill time before class.

I flipped open to the opinions column (they tend to be the most fun and light-hearted articles, especially before a class of mind-numbing economics). I quickly found myself snort laughing and attracting TONS of unwanted attention from my classmates. From then on, Tuesdays were a day I looked forward to, all because of a Ms. Lynn La. She was sarcastic, hilarious, the writer I wish I could be.

So now, as homage to her… I refer to you all as my “minions”. That, or she is going to end up suing me for taking “her word”.

Here is one of my favorite columns by her… and another one that includes the “minions” thing I was telling you about.

And as a nice way to end this post… Here’s the trailer for the NEW Despicable Me 2 movie, coming out in July 3, 2013. I am excited, if for no other reason than to have more cute “minions” photos to post here!!

Thanks for reading! Until tomorrow minions :)

PS. I put the word “minions” in here 9 times! Wowza!  

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Just what I needed

I'm not quite sure how these things happened, but today it was JUST what I needed.

I had the 5th graders make Christmas cards today (it's their last English lesson before Christmas break). I told them to write (in Japanese) letters to their family for the holiday season. After leaving class, I was run down by one of my students who bashfully handed me this gem...

Made. my. WEEK
I proudly showed it off to all the teachers... to the point where they started laughing at me. I didn't care. Oh little Maika... you don't know how badly I needed that card.

PS. That's a portrait of ME and what I wore to school today (down to the necklace and everything!).

Some other things that helped lift my spirits today...

Yeahhhh clicker training!!! Positive reinforcement for the winnn :)

Now I'm not a fan of Chocolate Rain (seriously, that song is SO WERID. Chocolate rain makes it sound like it's raining poo-poo), but this song is undoubtedly awesome.

And finally.... this next clip has new appreciation in my heart. To the friends who call themselves "world travelers", "marathon runners", and "rock climbers", I could NOT have said it better than this (and this is not because of my undying love for FRIENDS)...

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Proud to be a Twinkie

I claim to be a twinkie (yellow on the outside, white on the inside) and for the most part, I am pretty white washed. I mean, I was born and raised in the OC- what can I say? But while I might not speak Chinese, Japanese (chotto) or Tagalog, and I’m admittedly the WORST at math, I’m still an Azian at heart.

As any Psychology or Sociology major will tell you, there are drastic differences in Western and Eastern cultures, education, beliefs. I’d bore your ears off if I discussed it to the extent that I would LIKE to, so I’ll sum it up in two sentences. Westerns believe that (academic) success comes because one is smart. Easterners believe that success comes because one works hard. [This article sums it up nicely AND is pretty interesting]

I grew up in an Asian household (woah, shocker), and was raised to believe that hard work and perseverance are the key to everything. Take a look at my parents- they are without a doubt the hardest working people I know. My mom had about three different jobs at one time growing up AND she was still there every day to greet us at the door by the time we got home from school. My dad? Well that man has no limit. He will work overtime shift after shift to help provide a good life for his family.

Throughout years of schooling, I would come home upset because after hours (hello, melodramatic much?) of studying, I still didn’t get the highest score in the class. Little Megan F (who, I swear NEVER even cracked her textbook) got a perfect score while I worked my a$$ off for my 92%. Year after year, I would plug precious time into studying, only to come up short compared to my other (less studious, might I add) classmates. And year after year, my mother would tell me “If you did the best you could, then that’s all that matters.” A mantra of “Do your best, doyourbest” is something I still mutter to myself on nervous first days, scary interviews, and intimidating classes.

Even to this day, I will watch as my roommates spend hours on the internet, messing around with each other while I slave at making lesson plans. Roommate 1? Beloved by his students and teachers. Even the Board of Education comes to watch his lessons to be an example “ideal English lesson”. Roommate 2? Reaches the hellions and helps them understand (and enjoy!) English. He comes home with stories of previous troublemakers who behaved like angels in his class. Someone will tell him on a weekly basis that he should go into teaching instead of whatever career.

Me? I have the student who punches me. The Japanese teacher who won’t let me speak during his class because his English is better (?? It’s really not). I have the teacher who mutters and laughs openly (I can only assume AT me) while I teach. The kids who look like they'd rather be sharpening their pencils with their eyeballs (don't worry kid, the feeling is mutual some days). Haha it's honestly ridiculous what happens in my day. Like, how does this even happen to one person?

East vs. West. Is there a way to mesh these styles? Or is it more of an oil and water situation?

Ok, in all fairness- I kinda went off on a tangent.  I have no idea how to wrap this blog post up with a pretty bow so I'm going to leave it at that. How do I get back to Twinkies?!??