I work at a private high school in Japan. That means hustling for students. There's really no way around it. Japan has had a negative rate of population growth since 2007. Many public high schools are just trying to keep their doors open, which means accepting any student who applies. So the pool of students who need/want to attend a private school, like the population in general, is decreasing every year. Part of recruiting, at least at my school, means putting our current students out front and center and giving them the space to talk about what they like and don't like about the school. I have mixed feelings about the whole thing. I don't want my students to have to sell their school. But, to give credit to my students, they are open and honest, share the good (classes are fun, the other students are very empathic, etc.) with the bad (the classwork can be too easy, there are very few clubs to join, etc) and seem to enjoy meeting the crop of potential first year students.
The last day of work this year, December 22, we had a school open house. I ran a sample lesson, hoping to show the students some of the ways they'll learn English if they come to C------ Osaka Campus. During part of the sample lesson, we played a variation of a "tag" game called Zoom. Zoom is originally a drinking game with it's own very technical sounding and rather unhelpful Wikipedia entry (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zoom_schwartz_profigliano). It's basically a game of tag using words and gestures instead of running around like mad and physically touching each other.
My simplified take on the rules of Zoom:
- One student is "it". To pass being "it" to another student, they point and say the word "zoom!"
- Once a new student has become "it" they can then point and say "zoom" to another student and hence pass on the "it".
- A student who has been "zoomed" and is going to be "it" actually has 3 choices:
- They can accept the zoom and pass it on to another student by pointing and saying, "Zoom."
- They can return the "it" to the person who zoomed them by looking at and gesturing back to the zoomer and saying, "Schwartz."
- They can reject being "it" entirely by holding up a hand, avoiding eye-contact with the person who zoomed them and saying, "profigliano."
Like most drinking games, it's not rocket science (although the Wikipedia page might make it seem as if it is). It's just a series of actions difficult enough keep people making errors and hence steadily drinking. But if you just change the words and modify some the gestures, you end up with a pretty good way to practice common chunks of language. For example you could play the game making the following substitutions:
Zoom--> Have some
Shwartz--> You first
Profigliano-->No way/Come on/etc.
It also works pretty well with auxiliary verbs and various vocabulary which can be substituted for the underlined words in the examples:
Zoomà Will you cook dinner?
Schwartzà No, you should cook it.
Profiglianoà I can't cook it.
The sample lesson during the open house went pretty well. Most of the prospective students left the classroom laughing. As I was moving chairs and desks back into the normal classroom position, Shi-kun, a first year student volunteer, helped me out. Shi-kun is a baseball player. He lifts weights after school and usually picks up two desks at a time. He doesn't talk much in class, but he's quick to smile. I asked him if he was going to be working at the ramen shop all winter vacation. When he's not playing sports or training, he puts in a lot of hours at his part time job.
We talked about his winter plans, about his boss at the ramen shop, a little baseball. Like usual, he was picking up and setting down desks about twice as fast as me. It was quiet for a while and then he said, "You know, I've been thinking maybe I could join the International Course next year." I set down my desk and stopped. Shi-kun kept moving desks. He was looking at the desks in his hands when he said, "I don't know if I can keep up. But recently, when I take your class, I've been thinking that it must be good to be a teacher. It looks like so much fun to be in a classroom with a bunch of high school students and helping them talk in English." This was the longest I'd ever heard Shi-kun speak at one time. We finished putting the desks back in place and Shin-kun said, "I want to be a teacher. I want to be a high school English teacher."
For a moment I just enjoyed it. It was one of those moments when being a teacher meant living in a world of pure potential. When simply speaking a dream turned it into a real possibility. Then I told Shi-kun that I wanted nothing more than to help him become a high school teacher. And that he didn't have to worry about, "falling behind," because the road to becoming a teacher was just that, a road, not a race. And on this road, there was no behind to worry about.
If Shi-kun decides to be a teacher, he'll be the third student of mine to become an English teacher. Maybe that sounds like a boast. I hope it doesn't, because it isn't meant to be. The other two students of mine who became English teachers were meant to be English teachers long before I ever met them. They became English teachers because they loved English and maybe not because of, but in spite of what I had done in my classroom. But that's not why Shi-kun wants to be an English teacher. For Shin-kun, it isn't English, or it isn't just English. It's the act of working with students, of helping teenagers learn. Part of that is because the students in his class are a little wild and know how to enjoy a role-play. But a bigger part of it, I think, is that over the past year, teachers from all over the world have reached out and helped me be a better teacher, class by class, week by week. A little bit of what they have shared with me, what makes them great teachers, has, maybe, found it's way into my classroom, has translated itself into the "fun" of being, "in a class with a bunch of high school students." So this post is my way of saying thank you, thank you to all the teachers who have been there for me, have made 2012 the most personally and professionally satisfying year of teaching in my life. Thank you for helping my classes to be the kind of place where a ramen slinging high school baseball player is willing to share a new dream for the new year.
Thank you (in no particular order):
Michael Griffin: for a gentle nudge to write stories for my students, being a role model for how to engage in a honest dialogue with myself, and a hundred thousand other things.
Josette LeBlanc: because now, as often as I can, I take the time to remember that unless my students feel safe and listened to, no language learning is going to happen in my classroom.
Rachel Roberts: for showing me how research really does connect up with the classroom, especially around reading and listening.
Gemma Lunn: All of the material you have put up on the LOL is an inspiration. I've used and recommended fortune tellers a handful of times alone. And I will be using a station based teaching class to cram three lessons worth of fun into my next 45 minute International Course pre-course lesson.
Sophia Khan (@SophiaKhan4): for taking the time to help me wrap my head around some of the language teaching jargon that was getting in the way of teaching, and the chance to publish on lit in the classroom, and
Laura Phelps: for the best written blog around and reminding me that anything that happens in a class can be a source of laughter as well as worry.
Anne Hendler: for asking questions, for posting about things other than English because teachers who only talk/write about English are sure to run out of gas before the year is finished, and for the gift of the laughing journal.
Christopher Wilson: because sometimes I forgot why I blogged, but when I did, your blog was always there to remind me, with fresh ways to think about what it means to teach.
Alex Grevett: for the regular reminders that pronunciation is one of the other things that matter, even if I try mightily to forget that fact from time to time.
John Pfordresher: passion can't exist in a vacuum, like fire, it needs oxygen to breathe. Your blog and the ESL Learner Output Library have been a much needed dose of oxygen.
Vicky Loras: for reminding me how much I love poetry and being the glue that seems to hold the twitter universe together.
Leo Selivan: for the idea of highlighting chunks of language in a text, useful tips on using corpus, and keeping me think about words in use.
Mura Nava: for showing me how different and how similar it is to teach a group of Engineering students in France and my own experience teaching here in Japan (and that place hacking lesson plan was the bomb).
Tyson Seburn: for introducing me to the idea of reading circles, and getting me thinking about LGBT issues (which I hope has helped make my classroom a safer place to be for my students).
Barbara Sakamoto: for a million ideas that all remind me that what works for teaching children (generating interest, being genuine, caring) will work and is needed for teaching adults and giving our community the gift of a teaching village.
Sandy Millin: for a primer on Cuisenaire rods, rearranging your classroom and at least 2 great new ideas a week.
And of course
Chuck Sandy, John Fanselow, Steven Herder and the rest of the team over at iTDi for a chance to use my voice and listen to a world full of amazing teachers.
I'm sure I have forgotten people. If I did, I hope no offense will be taken. I thank every teacher, writer, educator and parent who has reached out to me this year. I hope a poor memory on my part won't get in the way of what is meant to be, while genuine, a far from perfect expression of gratitude.