Thursday, 21 July 2011

Interacting with Interac

I applied for a job with Interac, the biggest private organisation that puts ALTs into schools. The position I want is teaching at high schools in my area — a position that recently opened up when the previous ALT — who, along with his wife, is also a friend of ours — handed in his notice and relocated, soon to return to the US.

I am in the middle of the application process. I have had a phone interview, but tonight I have a face-to-face video interview. Last night, I made a teaching demonstration video to submit. I'll pop that up on the blog when I have the means.

So, it's all going ahead. Prayer and determination will see this through and me successfully welcomed into a position that is ideal.

We shifted house last weekend. We had a lot of help from Ps. Taniguchi and his wife, and Mika's dad. We got everything shifted over and the old house completely cleaned. It's been difficult to try and set everything up in the new house, but we are pacing ourselves as we try and unpack and sort through everything, and work out what to put where.

As yet, we haven't got an internet connection at home. That means I will be setting up at the old (empty) place tonight for my interview, since there is still both power and an active cable internet connection there. We are trying to get ADSL hitched up, but so far haven't even found out when that will be activated, or with whom.

As for cable TV; well, we are going to get cable installed (at a fairly large cost), but the installation won't take place until October. So until then, I guess we try and hook the TV up to a regular aerial. I dunno if that will do anything, as so far we haven't tried. Heck, I haven't even set up the home theatre system yet!

There was a farewell nomikai last week with the main office in K-town, which I attended. And there is a local welcoming/farewell one next month for the new ALT and myself to attend.

I filled out a survey for leaving JETs. Following are the comments I wrote at the end of the survey:

"Educate all shougakkou teachers a lot more about what JET and its ALTs represent and do. Instead of "omakase", they should be leading and participating in the ALT classes like the rest of their classes, without fear of not being able to use English.

"Offer more training that invokes team teaching and how an ALT can be effectively used at junior high school. We are not human tape recorders, and ALT lessons should not be grammar cramming time. If all JTEs knew how effective classes could be if they would just work with the ALT and find a good balance, then both parties - as well as students - will be much happier in the long run.

"Those are the two biggest issues I have. Because if primary school teachers have their foreign language class confidence boosted and junior high English teachers better understand team teaching, then there is more potential for JET ALTs to be involved with effective and ongoing lesson planning - and thus more for ALTs to actually do during non-class work hours, and more of an overall positive language and cultural effect on students across the board."

I really can't imagine things changing for the better anytime soon, but maybe one day this whole internationalisation thing will have a paradigm shift and we will see much more interactivity in the classroom and a lot more assessment and adjustment to teachers really utilising the human tools that they are being given.

I didn't have an altogether bad experience, as some of the schools I taught at gave me a very rewarding experience as an ALT. But, there are issues over homeroom teacher involvement and team teaching relationships that could be better addressed. Think of the kids!

That's all from me, for now. I really hope that we will get internet at home soon, as it is difficult to live without it (the things we have become accustomed to, eh). I also hope to be able to upload my teaching demo video here. Because it's all about enjoying yourself whatever you apply yourself to. :)

Edit: Here is the video!

Interac Teaching Demonstration from Tim Gough on Vimeo.



Thursday, 7 July 2011

Four Quizzes in a Month

I ran a quiz at Shouwa chuu, posting up results in Wordle format weekly. The students were very cooperative, and we ended up with some nicely stylised quiz results. Good stuff!

Wordle: Quiz - Week 1 Results   Wordle: English Quiz - Week 2 Results

Wordle: English Quiz - Week 3 Results   Wordle: English Zone Quiz - Week 4 - Tim

My time on JET is very close to finishing. Today I have my last classes at Shouwa JHS. We are playing Jeopardy with the kids, using the quiz questions that I made in the last month or so. Next week will be my final classes overall, so it's just over a week until my last appointment as an ALT for Shimanto primary and junior high schools.

I can only hope that both English Zone and English Corner will carry on with new ideas and a different kind of flair from my successor. And yes, I realise that I still have to put up my collection of photos from those projects!

What the future holds is anyone's guess, but I do have some prospects on the table. Teaching is likely still on the agenda, but I won't know for sure until possibly after my contract actually ends at the end of this month.

For Tokawa, I was submitting a monthly "short story". Even though my time there was cut short — I had my last class before the end of June — I still submitted a little editorial for the final month before natsu yasumi — summer holidays.

April 2011 - Anzac Day
In recent history, we have had two "World Wars". Many countries fought for what they believed in. Almost a hundred years ago, the 1st World War took the lives of many millions of people. Some of those people were New Zealanders and Australians: ANZACs.

ANZAC stands for “New Zealand and Australian Army Corps”. In 1915, thousands of these soldiers died on a beach in Turkey, called Gallipoli. But we remember those soldiers every year in commemoration of what they fought for. April 25th is Anzac Day.

Anzac Day is a day of remembrance. Many of the soldiers from the World Wars are dead now. But we still remember their sacrifice. We are reminded that war is terrible - but there will always be people who believe in freedom.

May 2011 - Golden Week
What did you do for Golden Week? Did you enjoy the time off? Did you travel? Did you see relatives?

This year, on the first day of Golden Week, my family and I travelled to Niihama, in Ehime prefecture. We visited the National Science Museum there. There was a lot to see and do.

The museum has a lot of hands-on (interactive) displays. There were many things that we could look at, play with and experience; a science show for children; craft that my daughter could make – she made a hovercraft; giant model dinosaurs that moved and growled; and a planetarium with a very cool astronomy display.

Even if you were unable to go anywhere for Golden Week, I hope that you had a good time. And I hope that you will have the chance one day to visit the museum in Ehime.

June 2011 - Four Seasons in One Day
Before we get the expected muggy, stiflingly hot weather that brings with it giant bugs and the desire to swim, here in Japan we have to experience heavy rainfall. Rainy season is as predictable as the mukade that try to creep into your house.

Rainy season is a strange concept to New Zealanders. The weather in New Zealand is so sporadic and unpredictable all year round, that people joke about there being “four seasons in one day”. In fact, there is even a famous song about it!

As with Japan, different areas of New Zealand experience the different seasons in different ways: It snows down south in winter, but throughout most of New Zealand we only experience cold wind and rain and the occasional frost. In summer it gets incredibly hot on the east coast and a lot more humid up north than anywhere else. My own city is fairly temperate: not too hot in summer, and seldom icy in winter.

I hope you enjoy rainy season and look forward to swimming in the river!

July 2011 - Goodbye Message
Dear students

My three years teaching in Shimanto have brought me through many experiences: from attending school sports days and graduation ceremonies, to getting married and raising a family. Part of me wishes that I had taken more advantage of my time as an ALT and done more – been more involved with the various schools that I teach at. But one can only be happy with as much as one actually does.

My time as an ALT may be at an end, but it is merely a change of season. I am not leaving Japan – and very much doubt that I will leave Shimanto any time soon. You could still see me around: at Sunshine, in Kochi city, at various festivals that we have. Please say “hi”, and know that I am always willing to say “hi” back!

I wish everyone at Tokawa chuu a bright future. Aim for the skies and keep your dreams alive. And never forget that English – no matter how frustrating to learn – opens up a whole new world of intrigue and diversity.



I will try and sort through my photos of both display walls to present those in a couple of slideshows, spanning the past year or so that I have been doing display projects at two of the three junior high schools I have been teaching at.

And even though I will no longer be on JET from next month, I will continue to update this blog. Because it is the Japan Journey; not the JET journey! There are many years ahead of me of discovery, experience and all-round continued Japanese immersion.



Thursday, 16 June 2011

Four Seasons in a Year

The months rolled by and I simply couldn't bring myself to sort through all of the photos from the school display walls since last year; or any video I've captured; or basically anything that I've done in the last three months. Yes, pictures are great — and it would be wonderful to put up pictures from school, and Engrish pictures I've taken, etc. I will. Just not now.

Rainy season is upon us in full swing — and yet, we are still getting colder weather than I remember at this time of the year. It is even cold enough to wear a long-sleeved top at times, though not so mild in most places indoors as to warrant quite that. It is nice to wear short sleeves — and it is nice to not yet soak my trousers through with sweat.

Wordle: Love is the Greatest
Love is the Greatest — 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

My JET contract is creeping towards its end. So far, we haven't yet found a new place to move into and I haven't found a replacement job for when I finish at the end of July. I trust in God completely. I will not be out of work because I have never been let down in that regard. If you want to hear about a miracle, watch this space. Because God always, always comes through — and that is something I can testify to throughout the course of my entire life.

The hotaru (fireflies) have been out recently. We went for a walk the other night — as we try to do now and then, when it is not raining — just as twilight was fading beyond dusk, the yellow moon gibbous but obscured by strata. We tried finding the telltale lights of those amazing little glowbugs, but either it wasn't quite dark enough or they were just being evasive. Still, I think there is yet time to head out before they disappear for the year — when it is truly dark and serene enough to find some.

Just a few weeks of school left now. I will definitely make the most of it. My ties to Japan — to Shimanto — means friendships will be easier to retain. Now, if only we had more friends...

Take it easy, and I hope that this entry finds any wayward readers well. Remember that the greatest need we have is also the greatest tool that we can choose to carry and extend beyond ourselves in the greatest way: love.



Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Spring Break - April 2011

What is a writer without his writing? What is a blog without photos and video? Perhaps it is partly because I simply can't be bothered to go through the hassle of sorting out all the photos and video that I have collected these past four months; or perhaps it is partly because I just let the weeks pile up simply because they were piling up and I wasn't writing a blog entry. Either way, it has been nigh on four months since I put finger to keyboard (I type with five fingers and a thumb, thank you very much): and for that, I am sorry.

It's not that I haven't been writing - far from it. Nothing substantial or worth mentioning, as most of my daily writing is in the form of my personal diary, at home. But not a day goes by that I don't write something.

Still, if one intends to make a career out of writing, one could at least make the effort to throw something up onto their blog, regardless of life.

We came back from New Zealand near the start of January and settled back into life here. School was back in full swing in pretty short order, and the last term for the academic year went by pretty fast. In fact, these last three months have gone by rather swiftly, wouldn't you say?

Since then, graduation has happened for many students, and we are currently in the interim between terms - between academic years. It is spring break for students; for us, not so much. Gotta sit in the office and find things to do. And seeing as my last term as a JET is about to start, it's a good time to think about how I want to finish off my time here at the Taisho branch of Shimanto town's Board of Education.

Mika was offered a receptionist job. We just found out a couple of days ago that it is at Shouwa primary school, one of the schools I teach at weekly (Thursday afternoons). It means that we have to sort our lives out a lot more. So not only am I looking for a job that starts in August (after my JET contract ends), but we have a few more things to balance.

Maya will start in daycare next week. Mika starts at her new job this Friday. And on the same day, I have to go see a dentist in Kochi (technically, Nankoku, which is just past Kochi city) regarding my wisdom teeth.

As far as display walls are concerned, I have a lot of photos from the last few display walls. It's just a matter of whether or not I do anything with those photos. No promises!

There has been a Christmas display, a display about New Zealand, a Valentine's Day one, and a St Patrick's Day one. As a matter of fact, I have to work on a big one for K-town Junior High School for April: Easter. So before I start back at school, that is one project that I aim to have finished - or at least partially done.

Here's to the first term of the new school year!



Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Happy New Year 2011!

A belated happy new year!

We went away for Christmas and New Year, and now that school is fully back into the swing of things, it's time to kickstart this blog for 2011.

Yes, I am still alive and fully functional. I am still going about my business, doing my best to assistant language teach here in Shimanto. And the Japan journey continues, day by day.

I'll write another blog entry to talk about our family trip to New Zealand, complete with a few photos. But right now, there are two things I want to talk about. The first is a little story.

It all started on Saturday night, this past weekend. The temperature dropped ever so low and white flakes had begun drifting down as the evening wore on. Our hot water heater had just been repaired that day, so it was as dry as Tutankhamun's face. We were forced to vacate the premises in order to wash, so after dropping the kids off at their grandparents', Mika and I went to an onsen out in Hiromi; a town in Ehime prefecture that we have visited on occasion.

The snow continued throughout the night and we were greeted in the morning with a white blanket that covered everything in sight. Getting to church was ok, as we had parked the car down at the hospital parking lot the night before and we drove carefully along the icy road.

But driving home was a different story. As we came around a corner, the car started to slip on some ice. Too late to do anything, we slipped out of control and the car spun and crashed into the guard rail.

Everyone was fine, but the poor car now needs some cosmetic repair work done. We trust God for the finances to get done what needs to be done. We are thankful that no one was hurt and that the car is still functional. It is hopefully going to be repaired this week, as Mika is going to call back the garage where we are getting it fixed.

So that was our little ordeal on the weekend. The hot water pipes freezing over a couple of days in a row are minor compared to filling out a police report over a car accident.

The second thing I want to address in this blog entry is a collection of comments I just submitted to a survey regarding English teaching and learning here in Japan. It is a survey being conducted by a fellow ALT here in Kochi prefecture. Her goal is to "keep the enthusiasm for language learning from primary school going all through middle and high school."

You can find the survey here.

Here is what I submitted. I have changed the titles slightly. Note that I only wrote about "middle" school (chuugakkou), even though the issues surrounding classroom English teaching are tied into more than one level of academia.

Good points about the way English and other cultures are approached
We have the freedom to talk about almost anything regarding our culture and things from our home country. There is an open mindset regarding foreign cultures, as students find the "different" to be interesting, no matter how disinterested they are in practising any sort of spoken English.

Limiting points about the way English and other cultures are approached
There is little room for simply a cultural interaction approach. It is mostly work, work, work.

Students are not encouraged to speak English outside of the classroom. For those that don't have any sort of interest in the subject or find the academic approach to be boring, they struggle and get left behind and by the time they leave "middle school", they may have developed a hatred for foreign languages - due to the difficulty of learning and effort required to make progress, and the current classroom approach to learning.

Learning English in the classroom is limited. Students are not given enough freedom early on to realise that languages learned within the classroom don't need to be all repetition and grammar. It often feels confined, and even though repetition and group work are both good, Japanese schools seem to hang onto the past and not move forward at a pace that keeps up with advancements in the synergy between learning and teaching.

How can these limiting factors be improved upon?
It's difficult to say how anything could be done differently. If students are shown at primary school level that there is more to learning anything in the classroom than working out of a textbook and "learning" by rote - including foreign languages - and are given real examples - really shown - why they are learning English and how it can impact them: then that is a start and a good launching pad for entering chuugakkou.

Feeding more life into English class is getting away from the preaching and lecturing followed by repeating and scribing approach. But how that life is fed into English class is a metamorphosis that takes a lot of thinking, a lot of effort, and a willingness for teachers and possibly the entire education system to accept and adapt.

My overall opinion about the way English and other cultures are approached
The cultures themselves are approached with interest. Anything foreign is unique - and unique is good. It broadens the students' world view and shows them that they are not alone here with their language and their culture and sub-culture.

If language and culture can be tied in together a lot more, then more students are likely to find that motivation that they need to embrace the language associated with any given culture.


It was hard to put into words or to pinpoint the problems surrounding the current methodologies and systems in place for teaching English in the classroom. Cultural exposure is one thing; tying in culture and language and really encouraging students to embrace something so foreign is an ongoing struggle.