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Showing posts from 2018

Immerse yourself in extra-curricular activities

FINDING yourself knee-deep in marking essay papers, exercise books and general school work is something quite common in the heart of every education institution. It's "part of the deal" when it comes to responsibilities and a teacher's solemn duty. Albeit time consuming and tedious at times, it naturally helps a great deal in assisting you with keeping track of student performance and progress throughout the school year. You sigh at the end of the day as you trudge home with bags filled with papers upon papers, your trusty red pen - in your pocket - anxious to comment, correct and criticise. Amid all that hectic progression and time-consumption, I often found myself asking: Why not enjoy yourself at school sometimes?
There are so many opportunities to achieve this enjoyment, too numerous to mention in a single post. However, there are some more obvious activities an often over-burdened teacher can get involved with. First and foremost, however, you must always make …

Why I love sumo wrestling

ONE DOES not come across sumo wrestling so easily in everyday life Japan. It is as if it is a hidden art form, a closed doors meeting place where men of extraordinary skill and strength gather to do battle. Its rules seem simple enough: to push and/or throw your opponent out of a circular ring (dohyo) or onto the ground. But even then, sumo's delicate grace, its subtleness and tradition does not reveal itself until you immerse yourself fully in the sport. One discovers these things slowly and in time, finally culminating with a visit to the famous Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo - an indoor sporting hall specially designed for sumo wrestling.
I had heard of the sport as a child in North America in some form of parody - perhaps in a cartoon - a shadow of its actual grandness as a disciplined, highly dedicated practice. No, a way of life. I was unaware of the true reality of its existence until I had casually come across a broadcast of an event in Japan on one of the TVs in my share hou…

Cover/substitute teaching 101 in London, England

YOU WOULD be amazed how early a person can get up in the morning when they really make an effort. We all have different internal clocks, personal time zones and habits, but when you become a teacher in London your body learns to live with the misty haze and fog of 6:30 am - every day.
This particular time in the morning becomes such a part of you that even when you do reach the weekends, your body diligently beckons you to open your eyes and rise to the same early tune. Thus, robbing you of the vital weekend sleep in. I find this useful in so many ways. Firstly, you get more out of each day, especially when you discover in one inspiring moment how much work and things you can do in a single complete morning. Secondly, and more importantly,this is the time you need to wake up in order to be a successful cover teacher.
Starting off in London as a cover teacher is no small task. Yes, responsibilities are at a minimum and there is no lesson planning involved. However, there are other asp…

Do you REALLY need to learn Japanese when you move to Japan?

THINKING back on it now, the first time I actually started studying Japanese was when I lived in Abu Dhabi, two years before I actually moved to Japan. At the time, my main focus was to learn common, useful phrases that I could apply in any daily interaction in Japan, whether that was in a store, meeting someone for the first time or asking for directions. was the website I went to in those early days. It was a brilliant site, filled with fantastic audio that emphasised  correct pronunciation, natural phrases and Japanese vocabulary, flash cards - content galore.
I spent many days driving to work in the desert, saying common phrases out loud. 'Good morning', 'Excuse me, how do I get to ____', 'How much is ____?' Repetition and repetition. This was the way of learning which suited me best. With the result that, to this day, the Japanese phrases and words that I am always most comfortable using are the ones I learned those days in the Middle Ea…

The importance of school holidays

THE bells could be heard chiming from the Abbey nearby in the beautiful city of Bath in England. In front of me, a steady procession of locals, tourists and citizens from all walks of life wandered amongst the historic buildings, shops and cafes. Spoken Italian, French, English - among other languages - could be heard in the air, a gentle intertwining of laughter, exuberance and excited deliberation about where to eat. I spared a glance upward, noticed that the skies were clear as the birds soared past majestic spires above. The River Avon continued its gentle flow through the city centre as I took another bite of my panini. This moment best summarises my life as a teacher living in the United Kingdom.
Everyone has heard of the tidy and mouth-watering assortment of weeks off that a school teacher has in the UK. It is beyond comprehension. Words that come to mind include: dream job, amazing, unfair. What you quickly learn teaching in inner-city London is that you earn those weeks off.…

The joys of parent-teacher nights

HAVING freshly emerged from the second of three parent-teacher evenings scheduled one spring term at my previous school in London, I noted that it was past 8 o'clock at night. My stomach demanded food, further lesson planning awaited me at home, and my arms had already started groaning in discomfort with the weight of 30 exercise books that had to be carefully marked.
Nevertheless, you will find no intended hint of sarcasm in the title of this post. Simply put, I love parent-teacher evenings. I find them stimulating, enlightening, and one of the best ways to communicate some of the most important educational information you want your students to know, along with their parents.
Parent-teacher nights were like one big comic book convention. Each teacher from every subject had their very own table in the dining hall. They encircled the middle of the hall, forming a perimeter of knowledge and experience. In the centre was a cluttered collection of chairs - some full and some empty - …

The Cons of living in Tokyo's share houses

WE'VE all been there at one point or another in our busy, eventful lives. Sitting in our rooms, on the couch, in the kitchen, outside a public stall, anywhere really. Sitting or standing, and waiting. Waiting for someone to finish using the bathroom. It could be your brother, sister and very likely a friend or stranger. It's just a regular part of life. What really matters is the urgency of our visit to the toilet - how desperately we need to go at any given moment. And that is where the issue becomes more complicated, especially when living in a share house in Tokyo.
I've always been open about the fact that I like share houses. The benefits of living in one - particularly when living abroad - are immense. However, certain negative points do pervade this style of living, one way or another. Issues such as conflicts of space, noise, privacy and general upkeep and cleanliness are the biggest ones that I have come across during my habitation in several share houses.

The Pros of living in Tokyo's share houses

I AWAKE to the sound of my neighbour yelling in frustration and disbelief. Hurriedly putting on my slippers, I exit my room and confront him with honest intentions and a desire to help. I ask what's wrong and he tells me:
The remote control for the TV does not work.
So begins another glorious day in Tokyo. Amid the yells of my Slovak/Swedish friend - "Duuu-shan, I'm just an old man who wants to watch the news in the morning. Why doesn't it work? I don't understand why! Duu-shan!" - I can't help but enjoy the surreal moment. This man who always makes me laugh every day. This daily dose of randomness and newness. It all points to one thing - the beauty of Tokyo's share houses.
As far as I was concerned, moving into a share house was the best way to start my life in Tokyo. It offered several key advantages that I think are particularly helpful for a foreigner moving to Japan - either in their first adventure overseas or as a seasoned veteran of this wor…

Why asking students for book recommendations is a good thing

ONE bright afternoon at school, one of my Year 7 students approached me after class to ask me one of the greatest questions anyone could ever ask an English teacher: "Sir, what books do you recommend I read?" This was followed by, shockingly, "I am reading Pride and Prejudice right now, but I also like Charles Dickens." Here was a student, in Year 7 mind you, so keen on reading and expanding her mind, whilst surrounding herself with only some of the best company of authors already.
I needed a moment to recover from her question.
I next thought, how do I answer this enquiry? So many novels, so much literature at the tip of my tongue, and my mind kept spawning more suggestions with each passing moment. However, these were books that I enjoyed reading growing up. Perhaps she would not share my admiration of them in the slightest bit. What genres does she tend to favour? Maybe it's not science fiction after all, maybe it's not Tolkien. I needed time to prepare…

Teaching English in Tokyo

I WILL get straight into it. Finding a teaching job in Tokyo and going through the overall process can be complicated. There is a different system to contend with, foreign language and culture. A mixed bag of uncertainties and new things to learn. The good news: it all depends on you. Here is a brief overview on my teaching experience in Tokyo.
When I first started looking for a teaching job in Japan, the first and most important decision I made was committing to working and living in Japan. Before even beginning my visa application, sending out any CVs or cover letters, I sat down and had a conversation with myself. At times, out loud, but for the most part I outlined all the pros and cons of teaching in Japan - what the benefits to my career would be, what I could bring to schools in the Far East, as well as what skills and experiences I could pick up if I were to live and work in Japan. Not to mention the rich cultural and linguistic learning that I would go through in a new, quit…

Being honest with your students

REMEMBER Teacher's College? A period of hectic chaos for many apprentices of education. The hours were long, the student teaching memorable, and the lesson plans carefully thought out and carried out, for the most part. We were assessed, scrutinised, commented on. Given advice. Most importantly, however, we learned and improved as teachers and individuals.
I broach the topic for two reasons: One, it was inspiring and a revelation to see so many NQT (newly qualified) teachers in the London schools I taught. They had fresh energy, were innovative and really wanted to teach and help their students, even when they had more harrowing, challenging days at the "office". They worked hard in their respective teacher training programs, and it was so gratifyingly obvious. Two, I came across a great post by a teacher who wrote about his freshly appointed student teacher's first day and the initial, first impression he made with his new students. It's an honest, humble messa…

Eating (un)healthy in Japan

I LOVE food. There is no clearer way to say it. I suppose I was born with this eternal love for all things edible from around the world. But it must also be said that my mom created such a variety of dishes for our family over the years that I couldn’t help but learn to love them all - Japanese food very much included.
Japan offers up such a diverse assortment of culinary delights, able to stimulate and hook any taste palate from anywhere on the globe. The amount and variety of different dishes, prices and essential quality available in Japan - particularly Tokyo - is incredible. I remember first arriving in the city and having to adjust to essentially a new diet. I started to eat more rice - it was unavoidable - and now had access to an unlimited amount of bento boxes! Such flavours, affordable prices, combinations of vegetables and meats galore. I ate one every day. Sushi was now much cheaper, readily available at “Su-pas’, or supermarkets, and the quality was quite, QUITE a notch a…

Teaching with higher standards

I REMEMBER sitting in my classroom just after school one day a few years ago, looking out the window and admiring the plethora of snow that had been descending on London since early morning. Not just any snow, rather, the United Kingdom's version of a snow storm. School had closed early that afternoon and I had just dismissed my overjoyed Year 8s barely past the stroke of noon. I could already see them hurling snowballs in the distance. Apparently there would be snow the next day as well, bringing about even more school closures. 
However, a second thought crossed my mind that day: What of their education? Our students were going to miss out on a whole afternoon of enriched and fruitful learning - to the joy of many, admittedly. But what about Macbeth, poetry, the greenhouse effect... And what of Monday's classes? Hours wasted. How could our students learn outside of the classroom?
This train of thought eventually drifted to the question: Can students learn without the comple…

Culture shock in Tokyo

WHEN I lived in London, once upon a time, I remember the concrete beatings my shoes used to take walking from my flat to the station, the station to the next destination. That combined with the London general pace contributed to a reasonably fast deterioration of the soles of my shoes. And I thought that was pretty bad. Until I encountered Tokyo’s unforgiving concrete.
I love to walk and explore whenever I move to or visit any and all cities. It’s a vital step in the initial introduction to my new surroundings, overcoming any culture shock that I might have. Prior travel experience most certainly helps with the transition that we all go through when moving to a new location as you have some prior knowledge of adapting to unfamilarities too numerous to count sometimes. Still, there are instances when even that is not enough and one becomes overwhelmed with the enormity and scale of a city, its incredible otherness. Where walking is simply not enough. There are times when you just canno…

Is teaching abroad worth it?

IT may come to you on the way home from your part-time job, or in the middle of a leisurely stroll through campus on the way to your next class. Perhaps a friend suggested it countless times? Or you've known it since you were in Grade 9, sifting eagerly through the pages of Julius CaesarThe decision to become a teacher is something most of us make for one reason or another and at very specific times. Like a sudden revelation.
Once decided, we propel ourselves to panicked - at times - fulfilment of volunteering hours with students of various ages. We polish our Philosophies of Education and ultimately send our applications to a number of 'Teacher Colleges'. Learning the art of teaching itself within the walls of these colleges and universities is another topic altogether. However, the final diploma and subsequent certification to teach in whatever provinces, states or countries is the lasting achievement of all your hard work. But where to go from there?
There is no need…

Why did I move to Japan?

"WHAT brought you to Japan?" This was probably one of the most frequently asked questions that my students asked me (and still do) when I first started teaching here. The answer I generally always gave was "I wanted to get more experience teaching one-to-one English - predominantly business and IELTS prep - but also conversational language." All true. I would THEN expand my answer to the second and more common expected response: "I want to explore the culture of Japan. I love Japanese food, the people and trains. Nature, etc." All true as well. I generally didn't include the stereotypical adoration of manga and anime, even though I am a fan of a handful.
Was I giving a stock answer? Not quite. I have always wanted to teach in Japan, ever since I began my educational career. The history of the country always fascinated me. I generally favoured studying the Edo period, of course. The samurai, bushido, shogun after shogun. I watched "The Seven Samu…