Monthly Archives: December 2014

They just want to make a mouse.

Billy has spent the last six weeks constructing a small mouse out of bits of felt, then he gets ‘sheets’, which ask mysterious conceptual questions. I looked at the latest sheet: “What do you want to achieve by making the mouse?”
Billy and I looked at each other desperately. How global do they expect you to go with a question like that, I mean in a philosophical sense? I handed Billy a pencil. He sat down at the kitchen table and wrote, then handed me the sheet.
To make a mouse.


This is a passage from the latest Bridget Jones book. Yes, I’ve gone Bridget for quotes and literature references for my posts and at the moment they make more sense to me than Dostoevsky. This short nighttime post is a reminder against overthinking.


I’ve previously mentioned it in my post here that hearing students introduce themselves with English names in Korea was puzzling to me. One university student gave me a neat comprehensible explanation (and correct me if I’m wrong as I’m recalling that from a conversation that happened more than 2 months ago). Korean kids are made to pick an English-sounding name by their teachers either at their regular English classes at school, or at a language school they are most likely all attending in their after-school time. The latter variant was the case with the student who gave me this explanation. She said she had actually searched the Internet for the name. So, when Korean kids (and apparently university students as well) talk to non-Koreans, they use their English names ‘because they are easier to pronounce and remember’. That whole fact was bothering me for quite a while in Korea. Yes, it’s true that Korean names are not so easy to pronounce but neither would be Russian names to non-Russians. I’m not developing this into a list of nationalities but you see where that is going.


And you know, I think we actually have a similar thing going on with names in Russia, too. So many of my students, during our first lesson together, introduced themselves under a pretence English name, which would, however, phonetically resemble their own name. I’ve got a pretence name myself! ‘Ann’ is a variation of Anna that I adopted for signing my English lesson papers at some point at school because it sounded “more English” than Anna (or Anya) to me. No one told me at that point that my name is actually international and that change made no difference. It might still be fair to mention that I was not made or forced to adopt a new name. (I will also use this chance to publicly assure you I have no issue with being called either, and I’m sorry if that has been confusing.)


Well, anyway, getting back to Bridget Jones and Dostoevsky. In one of conversations with some bloggers you might know it was legitimately speculated that we teachers make a whole lot of fuss about things – or nothings. Basically, we overthink. Kids love trying on another hat and playing the game, and then for some that John, Andrew, or Sophia could stick, so what’s the harm? While some of their *thoughtful?* non-Korean communication partners will ponder how this double name scenario ‘ruins the integrity of their personality and identity’ (or something), the boys and girls may just still want to make a mouse.


In addition to all said above, I was very glad to see ‘sheets’ in those inverted commas. I’ve seen ‘sheets’, I’ve downloaded ‘sheets’, I’ve made my own ‘sheets’. Sometimes my sheets included questions that students chose to skip, for no mind reeling on their part yielded to any answer that would match the depth, intensity and demand of an open-end question ‘that would help the teacher’.



The middle of the night is a great time to do proper overthinking or write a blog post. I’ve done both and I will do so again. Thanks for reading.

Bananas are yellow in Osaka, or an unusual interview with Naoko Amano

This post feels very warm to the author of this blog, because (1) it does not revolve around the author of this blog; (2) it puts an exceptionally kind, friendly, open-hearted, sincere and devoted teacher and friend centerstage.

Wait no more and read what Naoko Amano had to say in the conversation we had in the living room of her apartment in Kishiwada, Osaka, Japan, late in the evening on Saturday, December 6th.



Hello, Naoko! The first time I saw you was at JALT 2013 and you were one of the few Japanese English teachers that I met there (or maybe the only one?). Why did you decide to come to JALT? It was great and refreshing to see you among so many English native speakers.

Hi Anna! It started from a small mistake. I was looking through my friend’s Facebook posts. One of them was about a teaching workshop. I was interested in it but I already had plans for that day and also it was far from my house. So I looked at another post. Soon I got a message from Marco Brazil: “Thank you for joining my workshop”. OMG I did click “GO” by mistake! Then he suggested I should come to JALT 2013 to see his presentation.

I thought only a professional can join so I didn’t think about going there. I thought not yet … But another day, Barbara (Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto) also suggested for me to go to JALT. Then I thought that I should go. I was really scared but it was great to meet lots of wonderful teachers, and I could learn a lot.


I see. As you said to me in our conversation a couple of days ago, small things lead to big things. I believe it to be true! But why did you think that you couldn’t go to JALT at first?

I didn’t have any great experience like studying abroad or graduating from a famous college. I can’t speak English like a native speaker. I didn’t have much teaching experience. So I thought “not yet”.


Well you were teaching English in 2013, right? What kind of teaching experience did you have by that time?

I’d been teaching children for 5 years then. But the first year I had only three students. In these three years I had more than 30 students. So I felt like I’d been teaching for only two or three years.


I see. You mentioned in your answer before the word “professional”. Do you connect this word with teaching qualifications? I know you had some back in 2013.

No, I don’t connect those. I think qualifications are like a ticket to the teaching world. I want to connect experience with professionalism.


I agree with you on this. And even then, in my view, you had this ticket to the teaching world: you’d taken a course for teaching English to young learners. You had every right to be at JALT (if one needs to have that). Anyway, I think your story of how you started teaching is fascinating and inspiring. Can you tell it, please?

I met lots of people because I studied English and could speak it. I wanted to keep using English after that. So I changed my job to use English, I went to an English school, I watched movies, I wrote letters and called my friend in the USA. I tried to use the language. One day, my friend in Miami gave me presents for my daughters. They were workbooks for English used in the US (my friend is an elementary school teacher). The workbooks were colourful, cute, not like Japanese ones. I felt excited and I really wanted to show them to children in Japan and to use those books to teach. So I told my friends that I wanted to teach English and some of their kids started to study English with me.


Oh really? I didn’t know about that. That must have been fun and also pleasant to feel your friends’ support in this way. I also know that when you got your teaching certificate, you didn’t go to work at a public school or a language school, like the majority of people would do. Instead, you went your own way.

I thought about a franchise but they have their own educational system and I would have had to follow it: textbooks, schedules, everything. I don’t like that. I didn’t feel excited about that. I can’t imagine that I’m teaching English with their curriculum. I think that I can teach in a more fun way.

I made a list of things that I wanted to do with kids in English and looked for music, books, teaching ideas… Then I talked about it with my friends and some of their kids started to study English with me. There were 3 at first. Then I did an English summer program. I made 4 posters to advertise and 15 kids joined the summer program, 6 of them later stayed in my school. “It was fun!” – their feedback made me really happy.


That’s really interesting and unusual. So, small things have led to big things – and now you have your own school?!

Yes!! But there was a time when I thought I’d close down the school because I didn’t have many teacher friends. I didn’t know what other schools were doing. It was then that I decided to go to a workshop. It was an Oxford workshop and there was the name “Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto”, who is the author of the book I was going to use. I was surprised to see many teachers there and the workshop was interesting and meaningful for me. On my way home my friend and I came up to Barbara to thank her for the workshop, and she said: “Why don’t you have a cup of coffee with me?” Who would say no?! I was shy and could not speak a lot (my friend did though). Barbara suggested to start using Facebook for professional purposes and she introduced some teachers to connect with me.

And one more thing that I decided to change to keep teaching was my school name. Initially, my school name was “Nao’s English Studio”. We were talking about how important it is to know that English is not just a subject but also a communication tool, and communication is important. It is ok if it’s not correct. “Hello! How are you?”  – “Yellow Banana.” This conversation is ok if it makes you smile. That’s communication. I was inspired from this conversation and then decided to change my school name into “Yellow Banana Kids English”. I felt excited about it and didn’t want to quit teaching anymore. Students love this name and people know it!




Yellow Banana certainly feels positive and makes you want to smile =) I’ve been lucky to see your lessons. I saw how dedicated you are, your passion and concern about making your lessons enjoyable for kids. It seemed to me your students feel very comfortable and “at home” in your class. Their parents smile as they bring their kids to your class, which I think is a good sign. They know you care for their children.

Thank you very much Anna! I’m really happy to teach English. “Teaching” for me is not just teaching… It is teaching a person, having a relationship with students and their parents, relationship with other teachers. How wonderful it is!


I thank you! This is, by the way, the most extraordinary post I’ve done in the #livebloggingparty series (note: we were, as I’ve said above, sitting in the same room and having this dialogue in real time on a real piece of paper, in actual writing). One last question in this interview is strange but I want to ask it anyway. How did it feel to you to be having this conversation in writing? It was the first time for me personally. This is the kind of an interview that I’m really interested in for my blog.

It was very interesting and also it was a very good writing exercise for me. I could read your question many times and I had time to think what to write. It was fun!! Thank you very much, Anna!




It is certainly me who has to be thankful. Naoko enthusiastically picked up my *nerdy* idea to spend an evening conversing with each other in pen and on paper, and I doubt it is something many teachers would agree to doing as their Saturday night pastime. For me, this experience was eye-opening in how much I really value the presence of a person I’m talking to. These 90 minutes and 9 pages had (and indeed have) a genuine feel of care, interest, and bonding. Thank you for this, Naoko.  I wish your school to prosper and your energy to be ever-present!


This teacher behind practice.

You might know I have an unhealthy tendency to write about myself a lot or too much. In connection with this, I am very pleased with the choice of topic for this particular blog post. Basing it on the materials from Thomas Farrell’s workshop “Teacher Behind Practice” that I attended at JALT is a decent excuse to continue conversations with and about myself.

In the workshop we were asked to complete a set of sentences (“narrative frames”) without giving them too much thought. That was an almost traumatizing and certainly challenging experience as I normally would do my best to look for the words which express my thoughts as close to the thoughts themselves as possible, and that takes a lot of time, mental effort, and oftentimes a dictionary search. That fast-paced workshop experience left me feeling unsatisfied. So I want to go through the same set of frames again and have a second, more thoughtful run over them. My original, rushed workshop notes will follow in italics and let’s see how they will compare.


***** Who is THIS teacher behind her practice? *****


1. To me, the word teacher means … different things in my native language and in English. In Russian, I have recently started to read “учитель” as a kind of a mentor, almost guru. That could be related to my Asian travels. The word “teacher” in English for me at the moment is not really much more than a piece of lexis in the language to define a person teaching, as a driver would be a person driving.

To me the word teacher means a person with students in the room.


2. I became a teacher because… I happened to like my first experience working at school when I was 20. Quite possibly I didn’t “become” a teacher, I “happened to become” one. For now.

I became a teacher because that’s what happened, I never wanted or planned to.


3. I DON’T believe teaching is a calling because… No, I don’t believe this, because it’s not true for me or maybe because “a calling” sounds too presumptious and high-flown. I believe a very obvious and inescapable artistic talent is a sign of a calling. I believe teaching requires a certain set of qualities, but then again different students will connect to teachers with different combinations of those qualities.

I don’t believe teaching is a calling, at least from my own experience.

4. When I first started to teach I… was very naive and sensitive. I would take every little uncomfortable moment in the classroom very seriously and think about it for days on end. I’ve learnt to let it go since then.

When I first started to teach I was 19 and created my own crosswords.

5. The place I teach now is… providing me with enough freedom to think bigger and come up with projects. I’m grateful to my boss and colleagues for giving me the space to feel at ease in my classroom and our shared staff room.

The place where I teach now is interesting.

6. My students are… intelligent and open. I’m not sure if it’s about the university they enter and its entrance requirements, or about my attitude towards people I teach. Both?

My students are mostly boys and most often intelligent ones.

7. I enjoy going into school each morning because… This is a frame full of limitations (which I believe fits well into the concept of a frame). I enjoy not having to go into school each morning as I’m very happy to be the master and manager of my own working week and schedule. I enjoy going into school in the morning because I’m excited to see what the day may bring.

I enjoy going into school each morning because it makes me wake up early and have a maybe exciting day and be social.

8. I find teaching exciting and challenging because… I like to think my students feel free enough to express themselves during a lesson and this eventually leads to interesting discoveries for me, us and our mutual learning.

I find teaching exciting and challenging because …(no answer).

9. I do not think teaching is a job because… + OR vs I think teaching is a profession because

These statements are really hard for me to tackle. I don’t see any trouble with thinking of teaching as both a job and a profession. I hope in the comments you can guide me towards figuring out the difference, if you see it here. For me, in any case, teaching English is a kind of a life style that gives me enough freedom, social contacts, and plenty of opportunities for personal development (which I value a lot). There’s no speaking of work life balance in my situation, my “work” is my life, and that’s why I don’t feel bad or get whiney about writing articles at 3 am on the night of the deadline. These are my choices.

I think teaching is a job but also could be just the way you see your life. Communicating what you know to other people.

I think teaching is a profession because there’s room and means to grow.

10. The best aspect of my life as a teacher is… being connected to a great number of teachers around the world. I can’t help feeling lucky and special in being able to form these connections, strengthen them, use them to change my own lessons and even probably the course of life and career.

The best aspect of my life as a teacher now is being connected to other teachers and having found good friends.

11. The worst aspect of my life as a teacher is… having too many ideas, plans, and projects and too little time to bring them all into life.

The worst aspect of my life as a teacher is …(no answer).

12. What I really enjoy doing in my classroom is… challenging and surprising my students.

What I really enjoy doing in my classroom is talking to students about their learning.

13. My students believe in…. the importance of having a good relationship and nice connection with their teacher. That is my take on their belief.

I think my students believe that I’m more energetic and positive than I really am.


***** Shallow reflections *****

– If you frowned at some of those and categorised them as “assumptions”, you’re with a few people from that workshop and maybe with me, too.

– As I was typing the notes from the workshop after I’d finished with the post, I surely laughed. It was amazing to see how challenging it is for me to think within strict time limits AND with a presenter walking around the room pressing on me AND with a crowd of other people around. It makes me think that some students might be going through a similar kind of process in my class. I would like to decrease the discomfort level in my lessons though.

– So who is this teacher behind practice? I had no trouble or needed no extra time to come up with a positive (though likely not comprehensive) answer to this question. I believe I am relatively well aware of who I am aside from being a teacher. I might very well be wrong but my belief right now is that as a teacher I am who I am as a person.

– “Who I am is how I teach.” I yet have to dig deeper into the “how I teach” part. Coming up, maybe.



This post dramatically and suddenly ends my Asian series of #livebloggingparty. This time blogging happened sitting on tatami around hibachi (which looks to be the Japanese version of Russian samovar but is a totally different experience as you basically burn charcoal inside a table)), in a traditional Japanese room in a most hospitable and nicest house of Nara, the ancient capital of Japan. As some of you might have already guessed, Kevin Stein is the host and blogger (and friend) and here’s his writing from tatami. Thank you, Kevin! Thank you.


I’m going home.