How to Print Essays at the Convenience Store

netprintAs usual when I teach, I hope my students learn as much from me as I do from them.  Last week, the first draft of their essays was due.  Most of these kids are either in a home-stay situation or in a dorm, neither of which allows much access to a printer, so they ran to the computer center at school to print out their essays.  However, a few of the students had their essays ready, so I asked them about their method of printing. It turns out that the convenience stores, which are omnipresent in Tokyo, have a system called NetPrint.

The first step is to pick your favorite brand of convenience store – most likely the one closest to your house. Then go on their website, which will be only in Japanese, to sign up for a NetPrint account.  Once you are signed up, you can upload whatever type of document you want to the site and in return, you will get a confirmation ID.

Then you can go to any convenience store at which you have signed up for an account.  So if you’ve signed up for the Lawsons account because it’s closest to your house, you can use the Lawsons store right by your office or school as well.  It’s only one program for every branch of the shop.

The NetPrint machines in the shops often speak a little English on their touch-screens.  All you have to do is enter your confirmation number and the document you’ve uploaded will print.  You can’t edit from the convenience store machine, but you can change some formatting.  If you don’t upload the document, but have it on a USB key in PDF format, that’s okay too.  You can’t print a .doc or .xls, but you can print a PDF from the key.

You pay right at the machine, inserting coins as needed. It’s 10 yen ($.10) per page for black and white, 20 yen ($.20) per page for color.

To my students, I say sorry – no more excuses for an unprinted essay.  To everyone else, I say, geez, I love this city.  What a system!

Education – A Privilege

AUW logo with white backgroundYesterday the Japan Support Group for the Asian University for Women (AUW) held a film screening to benefit the university.  The film, a PBS documentary, “Peace Unveiled” which is part of the series “Women, War and Peace” showed how women are fighting to have a voice in the politics against the Taliban in Afghanistan.  It is the exemplary work of filmmaker Abigail Disney and it reaffirms the commitment of American Public Broadcasting to bring the issues to the community.

The stars of the day, however, were the two young women, second-year-students at AUW, who flew from Chitagong, Bangladesh to be with us.  They, along with the vice-Chancellor of the university, Dr. Fahima Aziz, talked about the school, the opportunities it offers and truly gave the audience a taste of the bravery it takes to commit to an education outside of one’s home country when gender issues are rife in the area of the world from which they hail.  One of the girls is from Afghanistan, and she talked about the opportunity to learn as well as the very political and strong act of writing. Writing one’s story, she said, is as important as getting into politics. She, who essentially fled the Taliban and grew up in a refugee camp, has discovered her voice.   The other young woman is from Nepal.  She talked about learning not only the lessons her wonderful, international teachers teach her, but also about finding herself and being a role model for the girls of her home village.

Dr. Aziz, committed fully to the needs of these young women, spoke passionately about the students, their abilities and their hard work. From her I heard how every day is something new and different – these girls  appreciate everything they see and have and do. She talked about the girls’ internships, learning experiences, and leadership. They all have such very bright futures.

The entire afternoon was an inspiration.

My children were in the audience, and later, we were able to talk about how lucky they are to have the opportunity to go to such wonderful schools in Tokyo now, and the presumed university educations in their future.  Education is something to appreciate, not take for granted.

Thank you AUW, Dr. Aziz, Raihana and Rasani for being an inspiration to us all.

Happiness is a DESK

writingpicTo be filed under “news of the new year,” I am teaching again at Temple University’s Japan (TUJ) campus.  Writing at teaching writing are my passions; they’re the two things that get my blood flowing and can bring me to a boil in seconds.  My husband likes to quote from the movie “The Flamingo Kid” when he says, “In life, there are things that you like doing and there are things that you’re good at.  If God is smiling at you, they’re the same thing.”  Well, God is definitely smiling on me with this one since I often cannot believe someone pays me to do this work that I love, and I get pretty good reviews on it, too.

The road to get to my first class this week was a pretty tough one.  I’m the last adjunct hired in the first-year writing department at TUJ so if a class is going to be canceled due to low enrollment, it’s going to be mine.  I wasn’t able to confirm that my class was running until the night before it was supposed to begin.  Luckily, because of department regulation, I had to write syllabi and plan classes well before the deadline, so I was ready when it started.  I suppose it all could have been for naught if both of my classes had been canceled (only one was canceled), but I am lucky that one is running.  Class planning is never useless though; flexing that academic muscle is good for the brain.

Professors at TUJ do something that no professor would consider in the U.S.: they sit in cubicles, bull-pen style.  There’s no privacy and no privilege that comes with walls and a door.  It’s a very Japanese approach to work, as most offices function this way in the country.  It’s just not something we’re accustomed to as Westerners.  Since coming back to work at TUJ last year, I’ve never had my own cubicle, though.  I either teach on Mon/Wed/Fri or Tues/Thurs and they assign met to a desk that I share with a person teaching the opposite days.  This term, for whatever reason, however, I got my own desk.  I don’t know if someone felt badly that both of my classes didn’t fill or about the late run-notice or something else, but it doesn’t matter.  The point is that I have my own desk.

The desk is nothing special, nor is the chair.  There is a good, usable computer on the desktop with a wireless printer attached.  It is light, and near a window.  It’s at the back of the big room and ensures a small measure of privacy.

Best of all, it’s mine for the semester.  I can work here whenever I like, no matter if it’s a teaching day or not. I can come here and write instead of feeling distracted at home.  I can come to school and be inspired by students and other professors as I go through my projects and make progress.  I will be able to get out of the house and see other people every day if I want to when I go use my desk and computer at school.

I have a number of projects and ideas in the hopper, and I can hardly wait to get started.    It all begins with a desk.  A desk with endless possibilities.

How do you find your muse?  Can an inanimate object help you?

I Miss Writing!

I am lucky that I have two passions: writing and teaching writing.  For the past four years, I pursued just the writing and I wasn’t teaching at all.  Some people claimed it was a waste of a good doctorate, but I didn’t care – I just worked on my freelance career and a whole lot of fiction.  Last year around this time, I decided to pursue an advertisement in a local magazine for a writing (English) teacher at a local international high school.  It’s important to note that it’s an international school, because it’s not primarily Japanese and it runs on an American calendar, not a Japanese one that begins in mid-April.  If I am going to work outside the home, I need to make sure that it doesn’t affect the kids in any real way, and part of the kids’ lives – and mine – is a long summer in the U.S. with family and friends.   Well, I got the job.  It seemed perfect – just mornings and though it was every day, I’d be done by 11:30am.  Of course when you have a job is when it’s easiest to get a job, and I got an email from Temple University (there is a Tokyo branch of the Philadelphia school!) that they needed adjunct instructors.  I had worked there in the past and loved it – it was an opportunity that I just couldn’t pass up.

Well, autumn came and I started teaching every morning and two afternoons a week for only 2 hours.  It was busy, but I could do it.  Then I found out that two courses were available to me if I wanted them at Temple, starting from January.

So since January, I’ve been teaching at the high school every morning and then three afternoons a week, I teach at Temple from 12-5.  Between actual face-time with students and prep work, things have been more than slightly out of control.  House stuff has been shunted aside.  I haven’t been fully present for the kids in the evenings because I’m constantly thinking about something else.  And our healthy eating habits have been slipping.

But here’s the worst effect: I haven’t been writing.  I have been pretty good about the blog and my writing for “A Hopeful Sign” but other than that, nothing.  I haven’t written an article in months and not a single word of fiction.  I miss it so much!  I have characters running around in my head with nowhere to go.  I have article ideas and no time to pitch them to potential editors.  My time has been just that limited.

The good news is that the university classes end in just over a week.  I still have grading to do, which will take about a week, but right away my time will be my own in the afternoons.  And I’ve decided to give up the high school completely.  It’s not fair to our lives for me to work every day – other things really slip through the cracks.  A few times a week is perfect.  Of course, Temple is having enrollment issues, and there might not be classes for me to teach, but I’ll be okay with whatever they have.  So after the long summer break, I will come back to a modified schedule.

I can’t wait to start writing again after next week.  I wonder what I’ll do first.  Articles? Fiction? Creative nonfiction?  Who knows!  All I knew is that I will have the time to write again and I will be overjoyed.  I miss it madly now and can’t wait to re-start.  I’ve learned a lot of lessons this school year and hopefully some of them stick.  The best part is the clarity I have on what balance looks like for me.  Balance doesn’t look the same for every person and every person has to find it for himself, but for me, balance has more writing and less teaching in it.

The knowledge is power.  Onward ho!

Writing As a Teacher – New Adventures

Recently a lot of the writing I have done has been for school.  I am teaching freshman composition at Temple University’s Japan campus, but I am also teaching at The International Secondary School (ISS) part time in the mornings.  I teach one class of 7th grade English, one class of 8th grade English, and then one class of Multicultural literature for 12th graders.  Trust me when I tell you that it is never boring.

This is the end of the first marking period and right now I have just finished writing report card comments, the first I have ever done in my life.  Wow, what a challenge!

As a parent myself, I know what those comments mean.  Parents search within them for clues to how their child is really doing, regardless of their grade.  If the grade is low, they search for reasons why.  If the grade is high, they lap up the positive comments like a parched animal.  Every word is subject to interpretation and therefore, misinterpretation.

The key is to make the comments nuanced enough so the parent can understand what the concerns are with their child, without being outright negative.  No one wants to believe something bad about their own child, and bad news is difficult to deliver.   Even good comments have to be phrased in such a way that is cautiously optimistic, lest the parent think that the child is fault-free.

It took me a long time to craft the right message to the parent about the kids.  It is a whole different type of writing than that to which I am accustomed.  I’m not saying that it was a bad experience; just different.  How’s that for nuance?

More Learning WITH my students

A fellow teacher gave me a book a few weeks ago titled, Story Starters on Ancient Japan.   She is the middle school humanities/history teacher at ISS, and I am the writing teacher.  She thought we could collaborate – I would teach the eighth graders to write a story, and she would bolster the content.  It seemed like a grand idea.

The book goes through a series of steps to writing a narrative – just like I would teach my kids.  First, create a character and get to know him as well as you know yourself.  Figure out his name, how he looks, what he does – everything about him.  Then, figure out where he is – at home, at work, in a garden – anywhere.   And then give him action – a plot.  We need an introduction, rising action, climax, falling action and a resolution.

Because it focuses on ancient Japan, it gives examples in that vein.  It lists details about shoguns, samurai, geisha and other ancient Japanese stereotypical people.   The settings involve shrines, battlefields, or music halls.  The plots involve intrigue and battles and the occasional espionage.

On Monday, I enlisted the help of my children and I actually photocopied the pages onto card stock and cut out to create the character, setting, and plot cards.  Then on Tuesday, in my eighth grade class, I threw them across the table, telling them to choose – match them up – and create the bones of a story.

Well, the students ate it up!  They found a cool guy, put him in a weird spot, and made him do radical stuff – as they said.  I just sat back and watched as they were off and running.  The process is going to take the better part of this week as they create the outline of what they want to accomplish – and then next week they can start drafting.

It’s a purely methodical way to write a story – matching ideas until they come out whole as the story in your head.  But whatever works for these kids is what I’m going to try.

And then, lo and behold, I am going to put together a few story cards of my own; stack a deck, if you will.  Because my own writing could use a little kick.  A formula might be just the push I need.

When Teaching Informs Writing – or How I Can Resucitate My Character

I met with my writing group earlier this week, and as always, they give me excellent suggestions on what to do with my manuscript.  I am working on a novel, my second (though the first has yet to be published), and I am determined to whip it into saleable shape.

The main advice the group had for me was to take the character and really make the chapter *hers*.  Don’t just use her as a device to open the book – bring out her story.  I stewed on that for the afternoon and evening before sleeping.  I think I even dreamed about the character – someone who I know so well that she could walk into a room and I would recognize her.  I didn’t work on it all the next day, preferring to let it lie.

Then, at school two days later, I gave a lesson to my 8th graders on CPR.  This is not the usual type of CPR, however; this is writing CPR.  No, I’m not trying to resuscitate my manuscript. I am talking about character-problem-resolution.  In class, we did an exercise where we devised a character – Susan, who is new in town.  The students had to work on the problem and solution.  They came up with Susan being lonely, and the resolution was taking walks around the city until she got to know it and ultimately met people.  Of course, being middle-schoolers, there were some pretty gross and frightening iterations of that scenario that I will not share here.

Then finally, as I was going to bed that night, it hit me.  MY character needed some CPR of her own.  I was so busy worrying about how to introduce the book, I had not considered my character’s central problem.  And man, does she have a concrete, identifiable, but solve-able, central problem.  All I need to do is listen to her voice, and let her tell me of her resolution.  From there, the writing will be a piece of cake.  It will all come from the character.  (Reminder: all writers are somewhat schizophrenic – according to the writer Joyce Caroll Oates.)

Since today is my long day of teaching, I’ll have to see if my character and I have time to talk this evening, or if we should wait until tomorrow to converse.  But now I’m so excited about the whole thing.

This is the first intersection of my teaching and my writing, but rest assured, it will not be the last.

Writing – Teaching It Is An Art

Besides teaching part time at the International Secondary School, I’m also teaching freshman composition at Temple University’s Japan campus.  Today was my second class of the semester.  What a total blast!

First of all, I could go on and on about the elements of good writing forever.  But get me up in front of a class of students who HAVE to be there to get credit – and who have actually paid to be there, and I’m on fire.

In the first half of the class, we had fun discussing the two assigned essays they read.  And I do say “we” discussed them – it wasn’t just me in front lecturing.  In fact, we rearranged the tables in the room to make them discussion-friendly, as my dear mentor-professor, Dr. Dulce Gray, taught me to do.  The students participated beautifully and we had lively back-and-forth chats about the articles about which they will be writing.

Then, I gave a mini-lecture on the value and necessity of the thesis statement.  It was very brief – perhaps three minutes.

After that, the real fun began.  I broke the class into four groups of three and made them stand in the four corners of the room.  On a piece of paper  each group wrote a topic – it could be anything: beer, children, movies, libraries – anything.  They left the paper on the table and moved clockwise to the next group’s paper.  On the next group’s paper, they had to devise a thesis statement about that topic and write it.  Then I made them move clockwise around the room again, and repeat the exercise.  They did it one more time so they each looked at each topic.

More fun ensued.  I asked each group in turn to give me their favorite thesis statement written on the page.  I wrote it on the board, and devised a quick outline of a potential paper that could be written using that topic and that thesis.  It was off-the-cuff silliness: on the topic of schools, one group wrote that Japanese school-girls’ skirts should be longer so as to keep the sexual urges of men at bay.  On the topic of  food, we had a good time with a thesis about fast food and obesity rates.  I mentioned defining terms such as “fast food” and even “obesity” for their readers.  I did all of this while jumping around, talking, writing on the board, challenging the students to think harder, think deeper and have a general blast.  It was two of the fastest hours I have had in a while.

Call me a geek all you want, but I love this.  I love the challenge of shaping these first-year students into good writers.  I love the challenge of making them think. I love the way they grow in only 13 weeks.  And I love writing.  I love writing enough to be overjoyed to share it with others.

This is who I am.

Teaching As A Writer – A New Adventure

This week I have been doing a completely different type of writing than usual.  Usually my work involves stories and characters, plot and scenes.  This week, however, I have been working on curricula, goals, outcomes and syllabi.  Yep, it’s that time of year again: back to school.  Here at Chez Weinstein, it’s not just the kids going back, but also me; I am headed back into the classroom, somewhere I haven’t been in four years.  As I have been struggling through this week of preparations, I realized that some of the writing I am doing bears a startling resemblance to the writing I always do.

I will start every day at a small school called International Secondary School (ISS) teaching middle and high school English.  Two afternoons a week, I will teach at the Japan campus of Temple University.  I have taught at the university level many times – at George Mason University, George Washington University and Prince George’s Community College.  I have taught freshman composition, research writing, creative writing, upper level and lower level expository writing, and even basic writing. However, this is my first go at high school.

ISS is a private high school here in Japan, catering to English-speakers only.  There is ESL support, but in general, most of the kids should have native English skills.  Because it is a private school, it is not subject to state or federal oversight like any regular high school either in Japan or in the US.  That doesn’t mean they don’t have standards and best practices and all that; it just means that those standards, goals, outcomes and the like are not as set in stone and I am allowed much more creativity than I would be in a public high school.  For this I am grateful.  Under the tutelage of an excellent, young special education teacher who has been with the school for a few years, I have learned to adapt my skills and prepare/prepare for, my classroom.

I wrote the syllabi; I wrote the class descriptions; I wrote the learning-based outcomes I hoped to achieve with my students.  All of that took every ounce of creativity I had.  I realized that engaging these students will take my brain to a new level of thinking that my brain has heretofore not discovered.  I had to think about these abstract youngsters and how they are going to feel when they immerse themselves in my world of reading and writing.  I had to consider how I would make them into readers and writers – and to think of themselves as readers and writers.  These kids – they are going to become my characters.  I am going to write them into a story and move the narrative through the school year until they emerge from the high action of the text and through the denouement of the school year in June.

What an adventure.



The scene in Taipei, with more sooters than bikes, but you get the picture.

One of my favorite pictures from our trip to Taiwan a few years ago was taken on the street while we waited for the light to change so we could cross.  The cars stopped, as expected, in a neat row as the light turned red, but then the bicycles and motorbikes kept coming toward the front of the cars.  Soon the intersection teemed with them, all jostling for position to be the first out of the gate when the light turned green.  There were regular human-powered bicycles with one rider, there were scooters with any number of riders depending on who needed to sit or who could stand on the muffler in the back, and then there were the full-on motorcycles, which generally had no more than two passengers.  There were even apparent mothers, toting one child in a seat on the front of the bike and another one the back of the bike, while carrying a basket full of groceries in front of the front child.  Of course, her purse is slung across her shoulders.  Well into the twenty-first century, Asia is still a two-wheeled continent in many areas.

I’m stereotyping a bit, of course, but even in modern Tokyo, it’s very common to see multiple riders on bikes and the streets and sidewalks congested with them.  The ever-popular scooter is a common commuting method in a country where the infrastructure is built for public transport, and not for the complex and large system of roads that we expect in the United States.

So now we’re back to me, and my little corner of Tokyo.  What does this have to

The bike I'm thinking of buying from the Japanese marketplace Rakuten

do with me?  Well, it seems that my new job is located in an area that is a little bit awkward for commuting.  It’s only one train-stop away, but it will take me 5 minutes to walk to my train station, five or eight minutes on the train, and then ten or twelve minutes to walk up a hill to the school where I will teach.  If I walk, it takes thirty minutes.  I think it’s time for me to buy a bicycle.

I have never been particularly good at biking; I have terrible balance, but I can do it.  The weather in Tokyo is pretty good for bikes, too.  It doesn’t rain too often and the extreme cold is rare and short-lived.  The worst part of biking would be the heat, and I won’t be biking in the summer because I’m a teacher and won’t be in school.

The next thing to tackle however is the big hill to school, not to mention the big hill atop which my house sits.  Tokyo is NOT flat.  And so I believe I’m about to buy a power-assist bike to help with said hills.  If I do it, the whole commute should take me under fifteen minutes.  In my time-crunched world of home, children, teaching and writing, I think the time-savings will be well worth it.

I think it’s time for me to get closer to the Asians.  Time to buy a bike.  Stay tuned to see what transpires.