Thursday, November 13, 2003

Mid year conference:
Twice during the school year, all of us ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers) in Oita prefecture have a mid year conference. (And yes, we do call it a mid-year conference, despite the fact that we have it two points during the school year. I know it is a bit of a misnomer, so no need to e-mail me to point this out (this means you, Gerken)).
Anyway, Tuesday and Wednesday was our "mid-year conference." This thing is widely regarded by most of us as a waste of time. We just go to workshops on various topics presented by other ALTs, and it very quickly turns into a gripe session about our jobs. I think all of us realize that we do lead very privileged lives here in Japan, but it is to some extent human nature to complain. So when we are all thrown into a room and asked to talk about our jobs, it is inevitable that everyone starts complaining.
I led a workshop on "Educating Global Issues in the Classroom." Because of the inflexibility of the curriculum, and because of the low English level, it is definitely a challenge to introduce social issues into the English class, but I talked about various things I had tried, and the talk went fairly successful.
The rest of the workshops I was just a participant in. I was in one workshop on "lesson planning." In this workshop, we were divided into smaller groups, and asked to prepare a lesson on the passive voice, using the text book we were provided.
The purpose of this lesson was to try and take a rather dull passage from the text book, and make it interesting. This is a daily challenge we face in the classroom, because the text book is like the Bible in the Japanese schools, and so we always have to teach from the text book.
In this case, the textbook used a passage about Okinawa to illustrate examples of the passive voice. I suggested to my group that we try and invite some actually Okinawans into the classroom to make the text seem more alive. Beppu University in Oita prefecture actually has a high number of students from Okinawa, and I've met some of them before. Many of them actually speak good English, so it seemed like a good idea to bring some of them into the English class room.
My group was receptive to the idea, but as we got farther and farther into the idea of Okinawan culture and guest speakers, we strayed far from the original intent of introducing the passive voice. The moderator of the work shop was quick to criticize this when we presented our ideas to the rest of the work shop.
And again, these workshops are all run by fellow ALTs, so we all know each other socially. Although I wasn't presenting for our group, the moderator singled me out as the reason our group had been led astray. "This was Joel Sxwagman's idea, wasn't it?"
I tried to play innocent. "I'm just sitting here. This was a group idea," I replied.
"This sounds like something you would think off," he said. He then added, "It's a shame your going to be leaving next year. We'll be loosing one of the greatest minds of our ALT generation."
I'm always curious as to what other people really think of me. I suppose all of us are. Apparently I'm developing a reputation as someone with a unique thought process. Hopefully that's a good thing.
Oh-and one more thing: the key note speech for this whole conference was delivered by a graduate of Hope College. These West Michigan connections pop up all over the place.

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