Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Shimanesque 2: The Seminar

"I'm sure that the majority of the English teachers here today have to teach, at times, with an ALT."

"This is true."

"And I am also pretty sure that a lot of teachers here have some confusion about how to effectively use the ALT in the classroom setting."

"Again, true."

"So what I'd like to ask is, what, in your opinion, is the most effective way to involve the ALT in the classroom situation?"

"Well, the common complaint is that most ALTs get used in place of a tape recorder and don't feel like they are being useful at their workplace."

I nodded in agreement.

"The best thing to do is bring the ALT into a more major role in the classroom. Don't just rely on the ALT for pronunciation; get them involved in more areas of English education. Have them conduct interviews with students. Ask them to come up with lesson plans, and talk to them about it. Get them to a point where they can function as your replacement. Make activities that focus on doing something with the ALT. Get the students to realize the fun they can have communicating with a foreigner."

The main reason I was able to go back to Shimane was that there was an English education seminar being put on by the SELT Association. SELT stands for San-in English Language Teaching. So Tuesday morning, I got up, got cleaned up, had some breakfast, and after a bit of waiting, got a ride into Matsue with Mr. Nishikori. I made it with a little time to spare, and when I got there, who should I see but OTAKI, a good friend of mine from Izumo. I helped him out with his studies a bit while he was preparing for the teacher's exam, and (while I won't claim it was due to anything I did) he passed the test in September. Congrats!

So we talked for a few minutes, and then I headed in to check in and find a seat. I was, as is always the case, the only foreigner there. I was also the only person from Hokkaido there. (That's a given, too.)

The reason that the seminar was being held was that the man who set up SELT in the first place, Mr. Tsuido, was quitting his job at Shimane University and moving down to Hiroshima to teach at Hiroshima University. Mr. Tsuido is a university professor who specializes in English education, especially that in elementary schools. I first met him when I was volunteering as a translator in Yakumo Village for the Yakumo International Theatre Festival in November of 2001 (Wow. Has it been that long?) He was assisting as a translator as well, and we hit it off pretty well. We've kept in touch off and on since then.

One of the other SELT members, Mr. Nishiyama, sent an e-mail to the Iburi English Research mailing list that Hiroshi and I are on. When I saw the information that not only was it going to be a farewell party for Mr. Tsuido, but also a seminar with classes all day long (one of them taught by Mr. Tajiri, an amazing English teacher I'll talk about more in a later paragraph), I really wanted to go but figured that there was no way since I had a bunch of work to do over Spring Vacation. But then Hiroshi called me over and told me to talk to our principal about the possibility of going. I figured, "What the heck?" and went and asked him...

...and got the okay.


So the basic idea was that I would go to the seminar, take part, do some plugs for Starfish High, and make some connections with teachers down there, specifically Mr. Tsuido and Mr. Tajiri. I knew both of them personally, of course, but the idea was to make connections for the school.

Mr. Tajiri. This guy is a god among men. I heard about him from Will, the ALT in Hirose, the town next to Hakuta. He told me that he was working with a teacher named Mr. Tajiri in his school way up in the mountains, and that this guy was amazing. I first got the chance to see him in action later that year when the English teachers in the Yasugi/Hirose/Hakuta area all went to this school way up in the mountains to see the master at work.

DAYAMN. Seventh graders were using English. All of them. Well. And they were actually enjoying it! I couldn't believe what I was seeing. This was what I wanted to do. Why wasn't I able to do it? I was so impressed, and I've really had a lot of respect for him ever since. He's been featured on national television as a breakthrough teacher, and having the chance to listen to a lecture of his was one I couldn't pass up.

So at 10 AM the seminar started. The morning section had some interesting lesson ideas and helpful hints from three teachers, including the organizer Mr. Nishiyama and another teacher, Mr. Yoshida, who introduced an activity using song lyrics to study. The teachers also talked about their connection with Mr. Tsuido and thanked him for everything he's done for English education in the San-in area.

Then it was lunchtime. Otaki and I caught a ride with a friend of his, and we set out in search of Izumo soba.

And promptly got lost. We drove around until we finally found a place that had some soba, but we only had about ten minutes to eat before we had to get back to the conference. We hurried and ate, but we still ended up being late. I begged and prayed to the gods above that we wouldn't be in trouble, but I also thought up an apology that I would say when we got back in and the seminar had already started back up again.

We went back into the seminar room and...

They were having technical difficulties! Yes! Thank you yaoyorozu (the eight million deities)! Somebody upstairs was looking out for me.

So we listened to Mr. Tajiri's speech. He talked about his working relationship with his school's ALT (the first presenter to do so that day). He also ran us through a lesson that he does with his students. Again, amazing use of the material and an effective use of classroom time. Wow.

Then it came time for Mr. Tsuido's speech. I had a tough time following along in places because there was a lot of specific terminology that I wasn't familiar with, and it's tough listening to lectures in Japanese all day long. But I made it through, and was able to ask the question at top to Mr. Tsuido during a short question & answer session at the end of the seminar.

I also ended up getting a really cool desk calendar as a present for being the person to come from farthest away. You'd think that I'd already qualify due to the fact that I'm from Oregon, but the Hokkaido part counted more, apparently. I also had to make a short speech, which was a little embarrassing, but I took it in stride.

After the seminar ended, I got a ride to my hotel from Mr. Tajiri, who was kind enough to give me some textbooks to use in my classes, and to give me some ideas on how to use them. He remembered me from the old Hakuta days, and both Mr. Tsuido and Mr. Tajiri were happy that I made the trip down from Hokkaido for the conference.

After checking in and getting changed, I headed over to Spiritus for the party. Because really, it's all about the party. Good food, good conversation, good drinks, and good company.

The gang that went to the party that night. Mr. Nishiyama is standing on the far right, Mr. Yoshida is squatting next to me, Mr. Tsuido is next to him, and then just behind him is Mr. Tajiri.

Mr. Tsuido and I.

Mr. Tajiri and I.

The best part was that after we finished up at Spiritus, a few of us headed over to Filaments, my old hangout when I was an exchange student at Shimane U., and had a few more drinks. I got to see Imagawa-san again. He's as crazy as ever, but still awesome. And he played the Afghan Whigs "1965" album for me. Aaah, sipping on a Charlie Chaplin and listening to the Whigs. Good times.

Then it was back to the hotel and off to bed.

I'm so glad that I got to go to this seminar. It was fun and educational. It also really inspired me to try some new things this next school year. It also made me feel excited about teaching English (not that I wasn't before, it just gave me an extra kick). I'm also glad I got to see the people I knew and meet people that I didn't know before. Definitely a worthwhile experience.


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