Finding the ways to fill the time
That was a long, unplanned break. Once my course started, I tried to keep up weekly contact with this blog through my Weekly WriteUp, but once 6 weeks of teacher prac started, a full day work schedule plus concurrent, 2000 word plus assignments blinkered my focus.
In hindsight, not blogging about the experience was a waste. I don’t know if there are people out there interested in doing a graduate Education course online, and doing their teacher prac in Japan at an English language primary school, but the whole point of the internet is to be this huge receptacle of niche knowledge that one day, to some one might be useful. Or enjoyed for the same reason I read the Another Student Doctor blog – as a window into someone else’s experience.
Another good reason to blog down experiences, especially those shared with Grade One students is this:
The course I’m doing is through an Australian university, the Charles Darwin. Apart from Monash University, which changed its graduate diploma course to a Masters recently, I couldn’t find another university that offered primary (or elementary) school teacher courses online.
I don’t know how widely used the term graduate diploma (or grad. dip.) is used outside Oz: It’s a post grad qualification, that usually takes 1 year to 18 months to complete, and without the thesis required for a Masters. It will upgrade my Bachelor of Arts, in English and Japanese, to the equivalent of an Education degree, and will allow me to register as a teacher.
The course runs over three semesters, which, if you use the “summer” semester (remember Australian summers are in December), means it can be finished in 12 months full-time. There is a part-time option I believe, but the idea of finishing in 1 year is very tempting, but soooo much work.
I’m hoping the first semester (aka the one I just finished which saw my almost complete retreat from the internet except for help on citations), is the tough one to weed out the curious. 4 subjects in 12 weeks, overlapping 6 weeks of being a full-time student teacher: the first few weeks are a confused blur of learning where all the coursework was hidden in Learnline, our friendly internet portal. There were weekly tasks, modules, readings and reflections to complete each week, and we had just gotten the hang of doing them when the due date of the first, ginormous assignment loomed.
Seriously, huge assignment. I think I wrote 14K worth of words, as we responded to at least 5 different Activities in Module 1, all which required a day of reading and digestion of what we’d read before responding to; writing up a lesson plan which followed a variety of pedagogies; reflection on those pedagogies; and discussing any “surprising” ideas we had encountered during this process. The worst part was uploading it to the portal’s Journal Facility – a Satan-ridden, buggy piece of awful which would change the formatting of each paragraph, so that half were point 12, but in bold, and the other half were point 48 and double spaced. It didn’t matter how many times you tried to fix this problem, as soon as the “save” button was pressed, the imps would have their way.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, most of the cohort didn’t do well on this exhausting assignment (marked down on presentation). But there was more work to be done.
If I did this again (which, thank god, I never have to do), I would suggest IGNORE THE JOURNAL FACILITY, and simply attach everything in PDF form.
I would also advise, especially if you live overseas, to try and source your books from Amazon, or another book seller that isn’t the bookshop at Charles Darwin. The staff there are great, but the shipping put me back $100, on top of the expensive texts.
The mandatory book, Curriculum and Assessment: A narrative approach, was basically ignored throughout the semester.
The uni work was hard, but there was a lot of support from the other students, answering questions before I even knew I needed to ask them. I was more nervous about starting teacher prac, and whether I could find a school that would take me. The school had to fulfill certain requirements: its curriculum had to be either British, Canadian or IB (International Baccalaureate); the school work had to be done entirely in English, there had to be English native staff etc
There are a lot of international schools in Japan, I called the IB schools in Kyoto (closest to me), and received a lot of confusion of the “Whothewhatnow? We’ll call you back.” variety. To 4 emails, and two phone calls, just to that school, I never received even a, “No, sorry.” response. The IB schools in Osaka did the same. Emails were never replied to, and phone-calls stopped being an option as we entered summer holidays and schools closed. I started considering deferring my prac, and heading to Australia for a few months to complete the course.
Finally, I saw a school actually HIRING teachers and I knew my email would actually be read. I wrote it up just like a serious job-applicant, with a cover letter (UNPAID student teacher, in capitals at the top), my resume and references from every single ESL teaching job I’ve had. I heard back the next day.
The distance from my home in Hikone meant I had to move in Osaka temporarily, though there was a cosy (tiny), affordable Leopalace apartment within 10 minutes of work. So close in fact, that I turned up to work 45 minutes early the first day. My mentor must have wondered what eager-beaver they had taken on…
The school was awesome, the teachers – a split body of half English speaking, half Japanese speaking – were professional and supportive. I got to work with almost every teacher, as the school used the system of different teachers for different subjects. My mentor was fantastic – working on his masters in Education, and a great source of knowledge about teaching. Also, unfairly blessed with facial muscles that can be moved in different direction and double jointed knuckles. Note to self… 6 year olds love weird body movements.
The kids were a challenge, but a fun one, and after 6 weeks of being with them every day, the first few days post-prac were seriously empty and depressing. Of course, having a folder full of hand-drawn cards from the kids as well as a great final night of karaoke with my coworkers gave me a big high to come down off ><
Most important lesson I learned during prac was: Be explicit! Give clear instructions for everything, even writing the main points of the lesson on the board. Don’t expect, especially with 6 year olds, that they will know how to move a desk, or which end of the marker to use. Describe desirable and undesirable behaviour explicitly, both as a tool of behaviour management, and giving more meaningful feedback to students (ie, don’t just say “great job!” tell them why)
I will try to provide more day to day insights during my final prac next year (10 weeks, can’t wait~), but for those considering teaching, or doing their teacher course in this fashion (and it is open to international applicants not just Aussies – my fellow students included some from Vietnam and Dubai) – it’s damn hard work, but it is worth it.