Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Hirakata, You're Cut Pat II

This was to be the thrust of the last thing but I got off track when I went to scan pages out of the text book.

Last month Hirakata City, only 40 minutes from my house instead of an hour and 40, had openings for 6 new ALT jobs. Hirakata does direct hire and not dispatch. Direct hire provides a steady salary instead of paying by the day and cuts out the middleman, gaijin wrangling, useless companies. Companies like mine. It would have also been a $300 a month raise and a paycheck for the summer break which I am not paid for. On the downside, I very much love my school now and was not anxious to change.

But these things become a matter of ego don't they? Even if a girl you don't like tells you you are ugly it still ratchets down your confidence. So I went to apply on the last day they were accepting applications, sneaking out of school and returning to the campus where I was an exchange student in 1999, now converted into public buildings.

The process worked like this; One submits an application at the board of education. This office is n the old Kansai Gaidai administration building, which was a nice building. ( It has been Japanese officeized. I would spend time on this but that is not the point of the piece. Just imagine putting a lot of dusty cardboard boxes full of useless paper in random corners, hanging up a lot of public service posters, and carting in busted up old metal office desks. There.) After
this application is received you are given a number. I was N17. I was told that there would be a test at 10am the following Thursday and an interview on the Monday following that at a time that would be specified at the test. Why is when these occur important? As I said earlier, I work dispatch. Most people with my job do. We are paid by the day and get no personal days. At my company if we don't miss any days in a month and aren't late or have to leave early we get a $100 bonus at the end of the month. Taking days off for this process, including dropping off the application, would cost me $460. This is a large barrier to even applying. Who is it not a barrier for? People with irregular work. I think there is probably a pool of good teachers who don't have regular work, but you are limiting the field. How did I get around this? I am brazen. I just left work to drop off the application. On the day of the test I had a full schedule of classes but I met with the teachers and told them the situation and asked them not to mention anything. The day of the interview, I thought I was pushing it a little so I informed the vice-principal and all of the teachers that I would be out in the morning. I sent my work a mail detailing the situation. I will elaborate on this a bit later. (If someone from my company or the school board reads this, this is a work of fantasy. )

I say all of this because all through the process, on both sides; or employers and or prospective employers, we aren't really treated like full humans. Every marathon or grappling competition I have taken part in has been on a Sunday as most people work during the week. he school board doesn't want to work on the weekend so they put the burden, the financial burden on us. Should I point out again how much less money we make than these people?

The weekend before the test, I took the GRE as my 5-year window had expired. As usual with me, I did very well on the verbal- 97%- and barely passable on the quantitative- 30%. I had a total score of 1,200, which isn't terrible. I wanted a 6 on the essay but I got a 5. The Hirakata test was scheduled for an hour in the old reception hall at Kansai Gaidai. I remembered are welcome party there in 1999 when Tanimoto Gakucho sang "Old Susanna" for the Alabama contingent. Odd to be here now hoping for a $300 a month raise. After having took the GRE the test was pedestrian. I finished in about 20 minutes and went back through the whole thing about 3 times. There was very little math and it was basic compared to the GRE. The grammar was so easy as to be laughable. There was an essay section that was remarkable only in its limit to 700 words. I might be guilty of overconfidence but I have the GRE and its very real scores to show me the level I was preforming at.

My interview was scheduled for the following Monday at 10am. We were separated into groups of 6 and told that it would be a group interview. We would need to answer the first question in Japanese and give a 3 minute demonstration lesson on our assigned topic. Our group was assigned the relative clause. The example sentence was "The scientist who wrote 'Silent Spring' was Rachel Carson." I think that this is a terrible example sentence. If you are just introducing this grammar, you have to explain 'scientist', that 'Silent Spring' is a book and that 'Rachel Carson' is someone's name. In 3 minutes.

There is a lot to unpack in this. First, the tendency in Japanese society towards the simplistically maudlin is well documented. I am not saying that to be a jerk. I like it sometimes. However we are given these strange examples all the time because they are thought of as touching, or at least echo something that older teachers knew of when they were younger. As I pointed out in my last post, I don't think you should saddle knew grammar with new words and distracting tidbits. Again, this is to be a 3 minute lesson.

The instructions were vague as to whether we had to teach this sentence or the grammar that it was an example of. I had been through a large teachers office fight about this grammar earlier in the year and had then done a demo lesson of it for the Higashi Osaka Board of Education that had won a (meaningless) first prize. I decided to go with the method that I used there as it brings students to this grammar through language that they already know.

"There are a lot of students at this school. Mia is a girl. Mia plays soccer. Mia is the girl who plays soccer." The sentences in bold I had printed out and laminated. I also had printed out and laminated two pictures of girls. All of my materials were magnetized so I could stick them on the board. One playing soccer, one playing basketball. I then ask "Who is Mia?" Everyone gets it pretty quickly. I don't explain that 'a' becomes 'the' immediately, but I don't think it is that important. Other applicants did. Once the students get this I move on. "Takeshi is a boy. Takeshi plays piano. Takeshi is the boy who plays piano." Again, picture of two boys. "Who is Takeshi?" I don't think mine is the only effective method, but I have decided out it after years of teaching this grammar. It seems the quickest path to being able to understand what this point is trying to get across.

Other candidates taught the Rachel Carson sentence. Not all of them did. I would say that 4 out of the 6 applicants had below average lessons. 3 of them used up their time writing the grammar out long hand on the marker board. I would say that, in my opinion, one other lesson was good. Three other lessons had major, major issues. The remaining lesson was not well conceived but well prepared and presented, if that makes any sense.

I should backtrack for a minute and say that the interview was before the demo lessons. We were asked to give a self-introduction in Japanese. The overall level was pretty low, but whatever. We were then questioned by a panel of people from the board of education and our answers were translated by an older gentleman who did, I must say, an atrocious job. One other person being interviewed is completing his master's degree in education, I believe. That was translated as "He hopes to master teaching." A lot of information was cut out of the answers. I remember thinking it was a little humorous and not being able to tell if he was editing for brevity or out of ignorance. I was asked a question by one other member of the panel whose English pronunciation I couldn't quite get. I had to ask him to repeat himself. He looked disturbed and had already started his stopwatch.

There were two other groups of 6. So 18 people up for 6 jobs. Going just by my group, and I understand that my viewpoint is self-serving and biased, there were 2 people who I would have given the job to. Two that I really wouldn't and two that...whatever. Assuming that applied across all groups, the numbers work out to six jobs. With confidence I sat back and waited for my letter of acceptance to come.

But you already know what happened don't you. On the expected day, I went home early and opened the letter. "You are the 11th out of 18 applicants. You were not selected for employment." Questions abound. I don't think anyone is required to give me a job, but I am curious how the selection worked.

My real concern in all of this is; How are teachers selected?
It is a mystery. There is no standardization and it all seems so random. A lot of garbage teachers have great jobs. A lot of great teachers have to scramble to make a buck. The arbitrariness of it all is a different form of torture. Was I not selected because of my test score? Was my lesson flawed? Did my interview rub someone the wrong way? I won't ever know, but I do know that the people making the selections know very little about how to do the job. That can't be a good process.

I have an idea. I think it is a good idea. It will never be implemented.

Have prospective ALTs for Osaka take the GRE. Have the scores submitted to the BOE to a general pool. Weight verbal and essay scores over math. Have 1,000 be a cutoff, and a 4 on the essay. Have this pool submit a CV and 2 letters of recommendation from former schools. If they have no experience, then from former employers. Then have them come in for interviews and demo lessons. Have these scheduled on evenings or weekends to allow everyone to participate. Have the panel that considers applicants include current English teachers.

Additionally, give this pool of teachers a path to being licensed. Have them take the JLPT. Provide them a way to advance. In the state it is now, the education system is creating a system that is both unstable and stagnating. Teachers don't advance for being good at their jobs and aren't fired for being bad. There is no difference. It is all arbitrary.

I reiterate that I think none of this will happen. If Japan is willing to take any constructive steps, then I hope they decide to get rid of English education entirely at the junior-high level because it is a false promise for everyone and a joke in practice.

1 comment:

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attempting to silence the voices in my head.