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Monday, January 26, 2009

Taking positive action to bring about change

As many of you may know, I'm an audiobook junkie. Due to my attitude towards the use of time, reading physical paper and ink books is difficult. I feel uncomfortable using my time in that way. If friends give me books, I start to read them, but usually by the time I reach page twenty I've either decided that the book is not worth my time, or that the book is worth getting on Audible. If an audio version is not available, I either pass the book on, or keep it for those rare occasions when I feel comfortable with the idea of reading.

Anyhow, I'm lucky to have a fellow audiobook junkie here in Tokyo - someone with whom I can swap recommended listens. Recently, he recommended 'Manage your tune, Master your life' by Robin Sharma, a very short audiobook that had helped him make some positive changes. I downloaded it this morning (in addition to Obama's speech which is available for free), and listened to it whilst on the train to the city office.

In brief, Robin points out just how precious our time is, and how important it is that we do not postpone the things that matter most to us. He gives practical advice - one suggestion being to join the 5am club. Having started my own 6am club last week, I can vouch for the amazing difference it makes to have an extra hour in the morning. Whereas many people wake up and find that they are chasing their day before it's even started, if you get up that little bit earlier, you will find that not only can you get a ton of stuff done before the daily routine begins, but also that you entire day will be more orderly and productive. From experience, I'd say that's very true.

Listening to Robin's session today, I was finally compelled to do something that I've been wanting to do for about a month now but have been lacking in courage to face - quit one of my part-time teaching jobs. I love the students (and judging by the emotional scenes tonight the feeling was mutual), and found myself learning a lot through working there. But (as I mentioned last night) I've got other projects that represent my passion, and the feeling of frustration in not being able to make time to pursue them has reached epic proportions.

It was funny though. When I gave them notice this afternoon, I felt compelled to re-write my email and explain why I was quitting, and pass on some of the advice from the audiobook. I talked about 2009 being the Year of Change. I wasn't entirely sure why, I'd only ever exchanged very short emails with them about scheduling. But next thing I knew, the member of staff who deals with foreign teachers was asking me to come in a bit early - they needed to talk to me. It turned out they since last week they have been at exactly the same crossroads as me. There were further emotional scenes.

I think we humans are pretty good at knowing when we're not acting in harmony with spirit. If we practice being in touch, we can tell if a job is no longer in congruence with our true paths. But taking that next step - causing inconvenience and possibly upset, stepping into the unknown in the face of (sometimes strong) opposition from those around us, is incredibly hard sometimes. But it has to be taken if we're to move forward.

I'm glad I took that step today. In the grand scheme of things it was insignificant, but carries a lot of meaning for me as I continue on my journey.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

It's a small, small world

Photographic entertainment is provided by yesterday's Office Halloween party (sorry for the repetition to those of you who have already seen them in my site feed).

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For the past two weeks I've been looking for someone to do tandem learning with. That is, someone who will teach me Japanese in exchange for me teaching them English.

One might think that having just spent 4 years studying Japanese the last thing I'd want (or need) is more Japanese lessons. Not so. I didn't put as much into my course in my final year as I could have done (a conscious decision that I don't regret to split my energy between my course and extra-curricular activities), thus I failed to internalise a lot of the vocab I was learning.

I'd like to emphasise that this is in no way a criticism of our course, which was bloomin marvellous. If anyone wants to learn Japanese in the UK, Sheffield is the place to go, no doubt (n.b. I may be biased). But of course, you only get out what you put in, thus a lot of my course-mates have much better Japanese than me.

obc halloween party_0250

Whatever, I've come such a long way, and am constantly delighted by the fact that I (of all people) have learnt to speak Japanese. However, I do tend to stick to the grammar patterns that I'm really familiar with, avoiding the use of complex structures. It was brought home to me just how far I've gone down this road when the other night *Twinkle* applauded my use of a complex pattern - it should be normal, not praiseworthy.

So I put the thought out there - I need a Japanese teacher - and tonight she presented herself (although I didn't know she was a teacher until after we'd been chatting for a while).

She contacted me having seen my profile on www.findateacher.net, and requested a trial English lesson. We met at a subway station near my office and made our way to a nice little cafe. We chatted a bit more, with her explaining why she wanted to study English.

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Then she stopped, and with a mysterious look on her face said, 'actually, I've got some photos to show you'. Confused, I took the envelope in her hand and took out the photos...

...and blow me down if it wasn't Phil, my coursemate from Sheffield! I was stunned, and naturally clammering for an explanation.

She explained how Phil had been one of her first students shortly after she qualified as a teacher, when he was living in Tokyo a year or so back. It was only after she'd initially contacted me last Friday that she'd mailed Phil to ask if he'd heard of someone called 'Joseph Tame' who'd studied at Sheffield. Seeing that I was quite a bit older she assumed that we wouldn't know each other ...and thus was very surprised when Phil replied that he did indeed know me!

Spot Joseph

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So that's how it went. We've decided to meet on a weekly basis for language exchange - my calls for a teacher have been answered. Thank you Universe!

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Another CELTAesque weekend

Yesterday, being a Saturday, I went to uni.

The previous day we'd been given the option of either watching a teaching practice video on the Friday, or of going in on the Saturday morning and watching it then. Four of us chose the latter option, as we felt that it would be a good way of making sure we got started on with the pile of work that we had to do for the course over the weekend.

It was a good choice (although I did feel for one of my coursemates who was a little the worse for wear, having only got to bed at 4.30am that morning!); once we'd watched the video we were able to spend some time working on our lesson plans and getting a little feedback.

Following that, it was off to the Information Commons. The previous day had seen us finally granted our full PG student ID cards, which in addition to entitling us to some great discounts at cinemas, restaurants and at online stores such as Adobe.com (85% off Photoshop CS3 extended) and Apple (free 3 year warranty + 11% discount), also give us access to the uni's wireless network, allow remote access via VPN, and access to all library resources. It's a real blessing (one tends to take it for granted until all your privileges are removed upon graduation!).

Once inside the (very quiet) IC, we set to work re-writing our first assignments (language analysis), penning our second assignments (a piece of reflective writing) and planning next week's lessons. It was good. I enjoyed working with my new friends, just getting on with it. and checking facebook.

Today's been pretty relaxed. I've done a little lesson planning, but also had time to do my own stuff. It's been good.

I'd say that the first week was definitely the hardest. It's not that the pace has slackened off all that much, but rather, we have a better idea of what's expected of us now.

This afternoon I was thinking about what I like about the course, what would make me recommend it to others over say, a cheaper distance learning course. It's something I wondered about before signing up, and I would have liked to have had some guidance to help me make the choice. CELTA is not cheap - there's TEFL courses out there that cost a quarter of the fee that we've paid.

I think if there is one thing that really sets it apart it's the opportunities that we have to observe qualified teaches, and then teach ourselves. We learn the theory, we apply it when writing our lesson plans, and we can then try it out on real students. That's followed by evaluation, which allows us to reflect and adjust our technique appropriately for following sessions.

The theory and instruction are of course vitally important, but without real live students to try it all out on, well, how could we really judge our progress or get feedback on where more work is required? I'm thinking now of distance learning courses, which strike me as being far less useful. I liken them to taking a course of driving lessons without ever getting in a car.

Of course I might be way off the mark - I've never done a distance learning TEFL course. But I know there's a lot of them about, and they're not necessarily all that cheap.

The other thing is the quality of instruction we're receiving. Our tutors have decades of TEFL experience between them, and they all have to be licensed by Cambridge in order to teach the course. They frequently monitor one another - and in a few days we'll have a Cambridge examiner coming up to visit us to ensure that the course meets their requirements.

Tomorrow, we'll be embracing a whole new bunch of students. The course requires that we teach at least two levels of students - our group has been teaching upper-intermediate until now, but as of tomorrow we'll be with a group of students who are far less proficient.

...I guess that means even less of my stunning sense of humour in the class, shame!

Anyway, best be off to bed. There's a long 3rd week ahead of us!

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Friday, August 15, 2008

CELTA: nearly half-way there

A poster I created to help get students in the mood for learning the second conditional: "If I won a million pounds I'd..." (the building featured houses about 5 classrooms that we teach in).


Wah. Shatterficated. That's what I be.

We're now almost half way through CELTA. The pace hasn't let up at all, really is intense.

I've found that I need to get in to uni for about 8am most days, after doing my Willyaki deliveries. Lunchtimes are pretty much taken up by lesson planning, so it's basically non-stop input and output all day; we are finishing by about 6pm most days now though which is nice.

For the first week, we were basically spoon-fed our lesson material. We'd write our plans with our tutors. This week however, we're just told what subject to teach, and pointed in the direction of what we might find useful. Next week it'll all just be left to us.

Last night, after four hours planning for today's one-hour lesson, I was thinking about how much longer it's taking me to prepare for lessons here than it did in Japan. The main reason for this is that if we are not careful to meet all the criteria, our lessons (which are observed by three other trainees and our tutor) will be failed (and quite a few people have been failed. I had a near-miss in today's grammar class teaching the second conditional, but thankfully just managed to pull it off). Fails can be made up for in future classes.

In class, I find it really challenging to maintain awareness of everything going on around me whilst at the same time focusing upon my lesson aims and objectives, and providing clear grammatical explanations (my weak area). I feel I need a clone.

This afternoon whilst explaining the difference between would and could to an individual student who was struggling to create example sentences, I noticed that two students on another table had finished and were looking around with bored expressions.. not good (and of course picked up by my assessor). I find in those situations my brain actually splits in half through necessity - one half continuing to deal with the student in need of an explanation, and the other figuring out what mini-activity to distract the advanced types with (should be on the plan though if I've done it properly).

Overall however, classes are going well. My strong point is rapport with the students (at the end of today's lesson a student announced to the class, 'You will make a great teacher Joseph!"). My weak points: board work, keeping the pace going, grammar explanations.

Back in the classroom where we are the students, there's been a lot to take in. Today we were looking at lesson sequencing (devising a plan that covers a series of lessons), and then later, integrating the four skills (listening, speaking, reading, writing). That was a lot of fun as we were set a 'running dictation' - a competitive race done in pairs - with one person writing, and the other running back and forth to a text stuck on the wall at the end of the hallway remembering and dictating the passage sentence by sentence. Very funny :-) We also learned more about the problems that learners face with English verbs, notably when 'present' and 'past' tense verbs are put to other uses.

Yesterday, we studied phonemes and were taught the phonetic alphabet. That was absolutely fascinating (I'm not kidding!). We also looked at how we physically create these sounds (what parts of the vocal gear we employ) - you know I never realised that the sound 'd' is an unvoiced 't', that 'j' is an unvoiced 'sh'.

Time and time again I'm staggered by the amount of stuff we know without even knowing it! The way I move all those muscles in order to produce the word 'hello' - and I can do that at the same time as walking up a flight of stairs, skillfully (and unconsciously) maintaining my balance through thousands of computations telling my body to move this way or that in response to input from my balance sensors. Just incredible how it all work. 

Also yesterday, we looked at study spaces (our group offered the IC's CILASS Collab 2 as a model study space, adapting it to suit a deprived African village), and the use of technology / realia (that's real 'things').

Other sessions this week have included 'teacher talk', materials development. assessing, and questioning - with such a variety (and at such a pace) I don't find myself tuning out at all, no matter how shattered I am.

Oh, we received our first (grammar focused) written assignments back today, the ones we were warned that we probably wouldn't pass first time. They were right - out of 16 of us, 13 failed! That's ok though, it's written into the plan. We now have the weekend to go through the incredibly detailed feedback and submit them a second time next week.

Anyway , almost halfway through the intensive course, I'd have no hesitation in recommending CELTA to anyone thinking of teaching English as a foreign / second language. And whilst I haven't done the one-year version, I feel that this intense course is possibly more effective (maybe? Maybe not. OK, so they are different things really. Perhaps). 

I dunno, it's just that with teaching practice two to three times a week, and immediate feedback on virtually everything we do, we have a chance to rectify our mistakes and focus upon our shortcomings whilst they are still fresh in our minds. Rapid and effective change. Faults dealt with before they have a chance to become patterns.

I think it's also a lot more fun - it's like being locked in a submarine with a bunch of strangers for a month. Allows for friendship development to occur at ultra-high speed; such a pleasure to experience (especially with such a nice group of people).

Anyway, I need some shut-eye. Today's Teaching Practice has left me pooped. Need to rest as much as possible in prep for the weekend which I think is scheduled to be filled with re-writing assignment 1, and writing assignment 2!

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Monday, August 11, 2008

A CELTA weekend, and Family Planning

So this is what a CELTA weekend is like then: study, study and more study (and a very enjoyable 3-hour trip out to the Peak District to see friends - thank you!)

It's been fun though. You know, I think I'm actually starting to get my head around English grammatical terms, after 30 years of being frightened of them (yep, right from birth). Did you know that a preposition is a word (or group of words) that is used to show the way in which other words are connected? I didn't.

Spent a good few hours on my first assignment too - language analysis. I find it strangely interesting.

Today I'm creating my lesson plan for tomorrow afternoon, a 40-minute class teaching listening skills. My theme: "Mysteries of Everyday Life". Looking forward to it. :-)


Joseph and Twinkle do purikura

Spent a while on the phone to my darling in Tokyo today. Crikey I think I'm rather in love with her. Anyway anyway, we've set aside a weekend soon after my arrival to make some life plans / family plans together. What we would like to achieve in life both individually and as a family, when we'd like to have children (being conceived in Paris so I'm told), that sort of thing. Once that's done we'll look at what we need in order to accomplish those goals, how we need to improve (or bring in outside help) to achieve them.

Of course we've both done this as individuals several times over the past couple of years, but this will be our first family plan as such. It's very exciting!

Caw blimey, I'm going to be living with my cutey by a big pond ten mins from Shibuya in four weeks!

I love life.

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Thursday, August 07, 2008

a brief hello

The way things are shaping up I think there will be very little in terms of blog activity from me this month. Or any other kind of activity, other than working towards gaining my CELTA certificate.

It's incredibly intense. from 9.30am to 6.30pm (7pm yesterday) the 16 of us are either in our classroom being taught how to teach, or, just up the road in another classroom, teaching.

When we get home, we have a considerable amount of homework to do, including lesson planning for the following day's class, and the study of English grammar.

My brain doesn't know what's hit it! Eight hours+ of constant input is very draining, and leaves me feeling pretty out of it when I do get home. The weekend is only 2 days away - but then we have the first of four assignments to complete (for the Monday).

Not that I'm complaining - It's a fantastic course, and we must be learning an awful lot. I'll appreciate it when it's overm I know :-)

There's the camaraderie too, couldn't have wished for a nicer bunch of CELTA classmates. It's only day three - but we've already spent a whole 24 hours working together in a group, and thus know each other pretty well.

Our students are nice too. They're our guinea pigs, getting their lessons free (I guess I'm actually paying to teach them!).

I'm glad I have a comfortable home I can collapse in. I'm staying at my friends' house whilst they're in China (nice bit of synchronisity there). Part of the deal though is that I deliver sushi to 5 outlets four times a week for their catering company in return - thus it's up at 6am on those days.

I think i'll need a holiday when I get to japan!

xxx

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