Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Miss Nelson is Missing!

A warning. This is a "watercooler" entry full of complaining and bitterness, but in no way reflects my quite decent mood and refreshingly optimistic view on life on this very lovely Okinawan day. Really. It's fantastically beautiful. Again. And it's almost a three day weekend. So with that--- some vintage vent-age.

As I sit here on the last day of finals testing, and having just finished grading the "smart" class's tests (with a shocking number wrong for each student), I think it's time to comment on some of the day-to-day things at school that drive me mad. So, if I was given the floor at a staff meeting, these are some of the suggestions I would offer up in a lovely PowerPoint presentation.

Title- "The kids in room 207 are misbehaving again: An Outsider's View"
Dedicated to Tammy and all other Miller Hall survivors

First of all, all teachers must be in their given classroom when the final bell rings. Not running from the copier to their desk, not sucking down yet another cup of foul tea, not sprinting up the stairs to the classrooms and dropping all papers in the process. In front of the class and ready to go. Composed and in control a la Euclid. You are wasting precious time, my friend. Tick tock tick tock. As Groucho Marx once said, "Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana."

Another colossal (and I mean, taken-off-the market SUPERSIZE) waste of time is the taking of roll before every class. Maybe it's because they don't know their students names, but this problem is easily solved with a seating chart. A quick glance and anyone not in their seat is absent. Even if they are there. Give them a few absences for not sitting in their assigned seat and they'll learn. I was told throughout my education training that students should be engaged from the minute they walk into the classroom, not sitting through a tedious five minute roll that accomplishes nothing, except time to sharpen chopsticks into deadly projectiles. It is especially annoying in classes with all the chairs taken except one. All you have to do is ask, "Okay, who's missing today?" and the students would offer up the name. "Miss Nelson." Or maybe Yuki. Or Tatsuhide. Or Mr. Miyagi.

I just graded 40 tests and every single student missed a rather large number of questions. In fact, one problem was only answered correctly two times. As a teacher, this would tell me something. A) I did a lousy job teaching that particular point and it should be reviewed and probably taken off the total point score (the truth hurts) or B) Maybe my answer is wrong (*gasp* NEVER). I would not just go red pen crazy. In fact, generally, when I found questions that were like this, I would make it a bonus point if you got it right, which for some reason, works like a charm at getting kids excited (and other kids trying to forge a different answer to get that bonus point).

These students have potential if given some "Rah Rah Rahs" instead of "Bah Bah Bahs." It is completely refreshing to have brave students come and visit me at my desk (one in particular in a cute pink sweater is bent on learning English from me), and while their skills aren't perfect, I can understand what they are trying to say for the most part. And we can discuss such important matters as Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen and Avril Lavigne. Please, teachers, give them the courage to speak English. Look around... you live on an island and are completely surrounded by military bases. As much as you may not like having them around, teaching your students conversational English will aid them as they try to get better jobs after graduation. Perhaps a job on base might seem like selling out, but I bet it's better than some of the other options. And like one of my teachers has discovered, you can get Dunkin Donuts coffee if you have friends on base!

It is positively an American student's dream here, which must mean something isn't working! There are no planned quizzes, pop quizzes, essays, 100 point projects, rubrics, homework assignments, busy work, bell ringers... I don't hear them reading outloud. I don't see them translating full paragraphs alone and answering higher level questions. It is a bit bold to ask a teenager to hold himself accountable for material when there isn't any incentive (stickers only go so far, mate). They know they will pass if they simply show up for class all year (students don't fail isn't compulsory and it is their "right" to pass). Of course they don't *want* to do work, but they would probably prefer it to just sitting around and sleeping all day. (Ask me! I am so bored that I search for work to do like a garbage digger. Everyone has their threshold before they need some sort of mental activity.) I am in no way a master of Spanish, but when I give students problems to translate into English, I find that I can still translate them into espanol. And two whole years after taking it. Yet they are struggling with very simple concepts like "What is the time? What is the weather? How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?" that they have been learning since the womb. Es mal.

And as the new school year begins, some advice. The tone of the entire year is set by the first few minutes in class. So, let's try to smother the drinking party hangovers (I will hand out packets of Excedrin... unlike anything this country of weak meds has ever seen), the lack of confidence in your own discipline abilities, and really get things started with a bang. If you make it clear that it is going to be an engaging environment, that sleeping (or eyebrow shaving) is not becoming behavior, and that there are expectations for each and every student, then everything should be smooth sailing for the most part. (For more read Harry Wong's "The First Days of School." Just kidding. Maybe my teacher friends will appreciate the Wongvision reference.)

We are also going to have a brand new high school here in Chatan (moving in next week) and let's show some spirit ("I'm'm thinking...smiles...I'm thinking John Lennon illustrations) with decorated classrooms and an inviting atmosphere. How about some accountability for school property? (i.e. no drawing Nazi signs or naked mermaids on desks)

And, finally, as Perry R., one of my more memorable education professors told us, "Be careful with adolescent males. They are facing a lot of embarrassing conditions, like the appearance of man-boobs."

Let's shape some minds!

(Then to finish off my impressive speech, complete with professionally printed and bound copies, I would whip off my Viola Swamp costume and do a jig to an old Backstreet Boys tune wearing a mixed-gender superhero costume, which I think the teachers would thoroughly enjoy.)


Kenneth said...

Wow. I don't know what to say to that. If you give this presentation you better give it in Japanese because I don't a know a JTE in the world who would keep up with Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. Gambatte.

Mom said...

This was just what I needed this morning. You are SO on target. You could change this learning environment into a successful place to promote self-esteem as well as academic content. It should be fullfilling and rewarding. Save this power for your next teaching assignment. You go girl!!! Thanks..I needed this lift today.

Tammy said...

what??? no reference to Perry's testicle that didn't descend until well after it should have? How could you leave out the highlight of my months upon months in Miller Hall? But I did appreciate the man boobs! hehe