Tuesday, November 30, 2004


Even farther back now. I've finished that cup of coffee...I wonder if I'll stop going back now or if momentum will carry me even farther. Anyway...

Well, THAT was fun. :)

Sometimes, to alleviate the boredom of being a Human Tape Player, I'll do voices. As in, when I read the sentences from the book, if the speaker is a female, I'll do a high-pitched voice. If the speaker is a female CHILD, I'll do a high-pitched squeaky voice. Today was one of those days, but a bit different from before.

See, usually when I read aloud from the book, the students repeat after me. Today, when I did the voice, ALL THE MALE STUDENTS DID IT TOO! Every single one of them, spontaneously, simultaneously, decided to do the same squeaky voice as I. It was impossible to keep from laughing at the unexpectedness of the situation.

Later, in a different class for the same level (first grade) (so, same teaching plan), the JTE picked one part for the class and one part for me (it was a dialog). Of COURSE the part chosen for me was the girl. I think the class enjoyed that, although it was a bit embarrassing for me.

In other, less happy, news, I did something today that I regret. At the other end of the spectrum from the first graders, the third graders have a pretty good beginning grasp of English. Today I graded pair-work, where each pair composed a dialog taking place in a shop. One student was the customer, one the clerk. I had to grade them on a scale of my own choosing.

It went like this:

If you fulfilled the assignment as expected, you got "Good". That was the baseline grade.

If your pronunciation was too far off, or you made too many grammar mistakes, you got marked down to "Fine" (or theoretically worse "Poor" if you were completely incomprehensible). No one scored lower than "Fine".

If your pronunciation was really good, AND you made no grammar mistakes, AND your situation was very creative, AND your volume was loud enough, etc, you got marked up to "Pretty Good" or "Very Good". No one scored higher than "Very Good".

However, I wrote the scale on the board. And I included the theoretical limits above and below, like "Excellent" and "Fantastic", and "OK" and "Fair".

This was a mistake.

See, once the students knew about "Fantastic" (the highest theoretically possible mark), they were disappointed with anything less. I tried to explain that, so far, no one had scored higher than "Very Good" and that "Good" was, by definition, not 'Bad', and was what most people got. But each was convinced that they were "Fantastic", and heartbroken to only get "Good".

Whats worse was that it was kind of arbitrary. If the people before them were "Very Good" it was hard to measure up. If both were "Good" but one was better, the other might be marked "Fine". It's how they were in comparison to whomever came before them, which sucked.

Afterward, I was reminded of a teacher of mine at University that I resented. In a course that I thought I was going to score a 4.0 in, I scored a 2.5! How? Hadn't I done all the required work?

Well, of course I had! But, compared to other groups in the same course, I had done JUST the required work, and no more. So, I scored a 'C'. I had so become accustomed to scoring 4.0s by doing exactly what was required that I had thought that was the norm, but of course it didn't used to be that way.

And I ended up doing the same thing to my students. Live and learn, of course, and these students can't resent me too long, as the school year ends in a couple of weeks, but still I regret not being more clear.

The WORST part was, I stayed after school to do this. Since tomorrow is a test day, I won't have any classes, so I fit as many as I could in today (technically against my contract, but hey, "Welcome to Japan"). On finals week, the days leading up to the tests are extended by one class period, so I stayed after for that period to fit in one more class.

I spent my private free time doing something I regret to my students, because I was trying to help them. Sigh. And I'll probably stay after tomorrow, too, to help grade papers.

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