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Wednesday. Five months and two days in Japan. March 24, 2004

Posted by LHK in Japan.
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I give up. I think I am going to have to clean Belinda’s three-day-old barbecued beef remnants out of our nice Martha Stewart Living frying pan (which Kristy and I jointly bought). Would it be really bratty of me to stick a note to the clean pan, saying, I should not have had to clean this…?

Today, I worked at one of our satellite Nova branches in east Tokyo. This is the place that inexplicably pumps music into lesson rooms. Last time it was tinkly piano music that was easy to ignore. Today, though, it was the same Horrendous Bastions of Western Chick Pop CD playing on repeat throughout the eight lessons. Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated,” Britney Spears’ “I’m Not a Girl (Not Yet a Woman),” that blasted “Milkshake Song,” something that sounded suspiciously like the beginning of the Mary Tyler Moore theme song, and a lot of songs I didn’t know because I’m not up on that stuff anymore. The noise was amazing. I was teaching with Jason, Andrew, and Jim, all of whom insist on yelling their lessons about follow-up questions and relative clauses into the frigid, damp air of those basement classrooms. Couple that with the girl pop and you end up with me sitting in a corner classroom with a 70-year-old real estate agent who’s grinning knowingly at me, because even though she’s having trouble understanding the difference between “sometimes” and “occasionally,” she can tell that the day here is testing both my patience and my eardrums.

The last lesson brought a really baffling student to me. He did fine in the introduction, asking questions to the other student about her job and her interests and her family, but when we got to the structured part of the lesson, it was as though he hid all his common sense under the kidney-shaped lesson table (I am not used to kidney-shaped lesson tables. I like round lesson tables. I must admit I will be happy to once again be teaching at nice round tables tomorrow morning). We were doing a lesson on describing actions with adverbs: “How did he dance / ski / play golf?” “He danced / skied / played golf badly.” Most students, even in low levels, can pick up new grammar points very well after seeing them written down, reading them in context, and practicing them orally. But this guy … was a puzzle. At the end of the lesson, I was trying to engage him in conversation with the other student about a J-pop concert she’d seen recently. I told him to ask questions such as, “How did they sing?” or “How did they play?” I’m not even usually that explicit with the questions they should ask in conversation.

He said, “How did you they see the concert?”

I didn’t know where to even begin correcting that, but I know I couldn’t just let it go, either, because the other student wouldn’t be able to answer it with anything that made sense.

I said, “Start again. How did they…?

He said, “How did you they the concert?”

Crap. Now he was even missing his main verb. Well, that was an easy enough thing to correct, wasn’t it?

“Don’t forget — you need an action! Use ‘sing.'”

“How you see the concert?”

“Not ‘see’ — ‘sing’!” Now I was just trying to get the right verb; I think I had put blinders on to his incorrect subject and overall structure. And all the while, “The Milkshake Song” was being unwelcomely pumped into my classroom.

“How…?”

“How did they…?” I prompted. I saw his baffled look in response to this prompt, and I knew I wasn’t going to get the right question before the bell rang not only for the end of that lesson but for the end of the teaching night. I wrote down exactly what he was meant to say — something I almost never do at the “application” stage of the lesson, because the students should have practiced the grammar enough to be able to produce it on their own. I wrote: How did they sing?

He looked down at the paper, looked up at me, and said, “How they sing a song?”

Britney Spears started playing, and I thought, wow, I am so glad I don’t teach at this branch full-time.

(In retrospect, I probably would have been able to help the guy out a bit more had there not been another student who ran linguistic and grammatical and vocabularial circles around him and who obviously wasn’t up to sitting there while I drilled and re-drilled the same sentence to the dude. Also, I feel like I should be putting I’m usually a better teacher, I think disclaimers all over this entry, but I won’t do it.)

I was still there seven minutes after the lesson’s official end. Jason kindly waited for me in the staff room as I filled out my files, stole a 100-yen umbrella from the lost and found, and dug my train pass out of the American Eagle purse I’ve carried on and off since March 1999. We caught an outbound train together, because I live across the river from Tokyo prefectural limits, and he lives out out out far enough that I call his town Brazil.

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