Thursday, June 26, 2008

Falcon Vs. Bald Eagle, WHO YA GOT?

Bear vs. Hippo, Lion vs. Tiger, Gorilla vs. Elephant. In the realm of the hypothetical interspecies warfare that interests 19-year-old virgins, drunk frat brothers, and autistic Star Wars fans, my dad can authoritatively settle at least one match-up.

This could be the most badass thing to hit Cannon Beach since the '64 tsunami--I guarantee some Octogenarians' pacemakers skipped a beat during this monolithic showdown last week:

Click to read the article!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Advice to My Replacement Part 2: Games

I tried to treat teaching like counter-insurgency. These little kids are hanging out and having fun, and all of a sudden their mom turns off the TV, throws them in the back of the van, and ships them off to extra school. I am the despotic lord of their new world, and they are the directionless peasants under my thumb.

As with any all-powerful despot, you have 2 main options for controlling an unruly populace- the carrot or the stick. In general, I was pretty "carroty." My guess was that if the kids were busy being afraid during class they wouldn't be learning much. Plus, who wants to go to a school were the teacher is some arrogant ass who's into scaring little kids into obedience? I've had teachers like that, and it's no fun.

So as the year wore on, these were my operating principles:

1. Kids hate forced learning.
2. They love games.
3. Their attention span is really really short.
4. They love violence.
5. Class works better if they're always a little tired and a little off-balance.

Eventually, I was able to work all of this into a method for making lesson plans. I solved number 5 by asking for a bunch of big rubber balls to be stocked in our classroom. Have you thrown around a bouncy rubber ball lately? It's fun as hell, and it's like kryptonite to children. They can't resist. You know those cows that, given an unlimited food supply, will eat until their stomachs explode? It's like that.

If there were a few balls in the class room, the kids would instantly come in before class and play dodgeball/soccer/volleyball/ until they were sweating profusely and exhausted. This made them way more mellow and easy to control during the succeeding hour of class. They just didn't have the energy for their usual bastardry anymore.

As for the actual classes, I just tried to make those into one spastic game session. I worked off the assumption that kids can pay attention to something for like 5 minutes, max. I tried to always keep them moving, standing up, sitting down, talking loud, talking quiet, just keeping things moving as much as possible. Everything that could be turned into some kind of competition, was. If I say "He has crackers" and I want them to repeat it, I would make it a competition between 2 students to see who could do it first...that kind of thing. They go from not caring at all about English in a regular setting to it being of life-or-death importance when it's framed as a game.

All of the games would last for about 3 minutes or so, and after about a year we could cram in like 10-15 games in one 50-minute session. In the very beginning, we were doing a paltry 2 or 3 games per session.

The last thing, and one I didn't do enough of, is to keep the kids slightly off-balance. Every once in a while, I would just randomly stop class and call on a student to answer a question. Usually someone who wasn't paying much attention. This can interrupt the flow of class, but it's pretty good for keeping students on their toes. I never found a good way to do that while preserving the rhythm of class.

Anyway, once I got all this stuff institutionalized into the lesson plans, we were able to shred through the material like Godzilla through downtown Tokyo. It's amazing how fast these little bastards can learn when they're halfway engaged. By the end of the year they could have absorbed 3 times the material we had scheduled for one class.

So to sum it all up: make it fun first, and the learning will follow inevitably.

Any of the other teachers reading this: you have more experience than me, so feel free to throw in your own 2 yen.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Advice to My Replacement Part 1, the Nature of the Beast

My replacement arrives in less than a month. I've decided to write him some short bits of advice to smooth the transition, and just for the hell of it, I'm going to post them all here, first. I always wished I had more guidance in the first months I was teaching, so now I'm giving back what I can to the cause. None of you bastards ever comment (with a few much-appreciated exceptions), but now would be the time if you have anything relevant to say.

Part 1: The Nature of the Beast

Children are little bastards, and if you understand that early, everything else will be easier. Don't hold them to the standards you hold adults--their worldview and priorities are fantastically different. Would you let it slide if your co-worker came into work one day, jammed his fingers up your ass as a joke, drew a naked woman on the wall in marker, then demanded that you two go outside and play dodgeball instead of work (edit: Christ, that sounds like a pretty awesome work place actually)? Hell no, you'd have him fired before the end of the day. For a child, particularly a male one, these all seem like reasonable options.

They don't understand or care about social convention. They don't have the ability to manipulate you or hide their emotions. They are basically a raw mind on display. If they want something, they take it. If they think something, they say it.

Structure your class with this stuff in mind. Sure, they'll thank you for teaching them English when they score that sweet job with Honda's North American headquarters when they're 35, but in the meantime you're just some jerk-off who steals an hour from them every week when they'd rather be outside destroying something or watching crappy anime or doing whatever it is Japanese kids do for fun.

In short, you cannot treat these kids like they're just small adults. They have no idea why they're studying English after school when they'd rather be playing baseball. If you told them it's because it will really pay off in a decade when they're in high school, they'd tell you to get bent, they can't even think 2 weeks into the future.

So what's your response? Mine involved a metric assload of games, and I'll get to that in the next installment. In the meantime, anyone with any relevant input on children's nature, feel free to write a comment.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Yale Captain Shows Us How Lame Rowing Is

The latest news around here was the earthquake that killed 11 people and injured about 150, and I'll get to that in due time. I was going to write about it now, but I came across a mock-worthy rowing article, and when it's natural disaster vs. making fun of rowing, I have to make the hard choice and go with rowing...

The Harvard-Yale race happened sometime in the last couple weeks. For those of you who don't know, this is the oldest American intercollegiate sporting event. A hundred and fifty years ago, most young physically fit men were doing things useful to society and needed to generate money for their families--farming, delivering newspapers, laying bricks, shoeing horses, stuff like that. Of course, when your family estate is maintained by a collection of slaves and underfed orphans, you have more free time to devote to activities that are super expensive and benefit no one, like racing row boats. So that's exactly what our well-heeled lads from Harvard and Yale did, and the rest is history.

So the race just happened--Harvard won--and I found this description by the Yale captain pretty funny:

"It was like a boxing match," said Yale captain Jack Vogelsang, who was in the six seat. "You throw a couple punches, then wait and see how they respond. They throw a couple at you, you put up your defenses and try to go in. So much of it is just being very patient and knowing when to go in. They played it well."

Definitive proof of how lame rowing is. The reality is that the race was nothing like a boxing match. Boxing is exciting and dramatic. There's a lot of fancy footwork, physical danger, and an incredibly fast pace. A sport where you can find a psychologically broken and physically exceptional specimen like Mike Tyson--a poor black kid with fire in his belly beating the shit out of everyone in his path. A sport with a pretty compelling narrative, warts and all.

The Harvard-Yale race is a bunch of rich white kids racing carbon fiber boats at relatively slow speeds. There is almost no guile or strategy. Each stroke is exactly the same. Basically, from the word "go" you try as hard as you can and hope you win. Occasionally your coxswain will tell you to "make a move," which means you try harder for like 20 strokes, but you're already trying as hard as you can, so usually not much happens.

This guy from Yale is trying to associate rowing with boxing to leech off some of the danger and excitement into his own relatively dull sport. I don't blame him...he's searching for a way to convey his excitement about the race and make it relevant to the rest of the world.

But the bottom line for me is that interesting sports don't have to metaphorically compare themselves to other sports to seem interesting. Correct me if I'm wrong, but do football players ever say "This game was like a boxing match?" No way man. They don't have to. They say "This game was like a badass game of football, where grown men are running into each other at full speed and breaking their bones."

My dream is to hear a hardened ex gang-member welterweight emerge bloodied from the championship fight and tell reporters that it was a lot like the Harvard-Yale race.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Spoken Japanese vs. Written Japanese, or, Checkers vs. Chess

Spoken Japanese is considered to be one of the easier languages, in the grand scheme of things. The sounds are pretty easy, there are no tones like in Vietnamese or Chinese, verb conjugation is straightforward, and the Japanese habit of omitting everything possible from a sentence makes it a little easier for a beginner to understand.

Instead of asking, "Are you well," a Japanese person would just ask "Well?" with the implicit understanding that they're talking about you. It's way easier to understand a sentence that's half as long.

Lastly, Japanese people speak pretty clearly for the most part. There's no mumbling through a mouthful of superglue like's more like a moderate-speed machine gun shooting out crisp words at you.

(If you ever get into the honorifics and knowing which special level of politeness to use for a certain person, spoken Japanese can become diabolically hard--my rambling is just in reference to basic Hiroki Average's speaking.)

But written Japanese is a whole other ball of natto. I've heard it said that written Japanese is the single most difficult written language in the world. For those of you unfamiliar with it, Japanese has three alphabets:

Hiragana, which looks like this: あいうえお

Katakana, which looks like this: アイウエオ

And kanji, which looks like this: 頭肩膝足の指

Hiragana is kind of the basic alphabet, the first thing they teach little kids here. Katakana is used primarily for foreign words, so Japanese people can identify them and discard them as loan words from inferior barbarian cultures. Kanji is used to express ideas...I'm not really sure how to say that correctly.

Basically, if Japanese is a cake, Kanji is the thick bread part, hiragana is the frosting, and there's sprinkles of katakana on the top.

So anyway, three alphabets would be fine, but there are literally over 10,000 kanji in existence. Just to get around daily life and not be illiterate you have to know 2,000 of these little bastards.

Now here comes the fun part. For a given kanji, there is a Japanese reading and a Chinese reading, and multiple readings within those sub-categories. God forbid you put 2 kanji together, because this creates a compound kanji, which completely changes the meaning. So sometimes you're looking at like 10 different pronunciations for a given character.

And of course, they are always printed really small and look very similar.
Let's take this little guy, for example: 読む --This means "yomu," or "to read." Please don't confuse it with 語 which means "language," or 話す, which means "to speak."

The colors are pretty fun too. This means red: 赤 and this means blue: 青 All this stuff is about what a 6-year-old in Japan is learning while us slackers were outside enjoying the fresh air, our ABCs firmly committed to memory. Japanese children are incapable of reading the newspaper until they're about 15--then they can read most of it, but not all.

My all-time favorite is probably the kanji for "dot," though. Like, a little circle. A dot. Easy, right. This is the kanji, right? " . " NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO, that would be too simple, THIS is the kanji: 点 That means "dot."

So yeah, Japanese is a real flying scrote-kick in terms of learning to read and write, and probably helps explain the work ethic around here. They've all been busting their asses since age 6 just to read the color of their crayons.

For those of you who read this and studied Japanese back in the day, how far did you get with the reading and writing?