Destination X

Wednesday’s are always a fun day. Everything from three-second rule gaffes during home economics to messy self portraits in art and, of course, English lessons. If there’s an opportunity for me to attend a workshop with the kids, I know within five minutes of entering the office. As far as JET experiences go, I wish more schools were like this. Especially since all the down time with the kids makes for greater trust once they graduate to the middle school, where I teach all levels.

So it was with a mixture of anticipation and amusement that I stood before my favorite sixth years. I’ve come to trust them in many ways: asking them to help me research local dialects spoken by their grandparents, taste testing food they’ve prepared solo, water balloon fights, recommendations for places to visit within the prefecture. Now, I was about to integrate a lesson with real world application…

“So we’ve learned a lot about other countries in this unit.”

A couple of shy yeses pop up like groundhogs in the spring. Mostly it’s quiet. I take a deep breath.

“Where should I go on my next vacation?”

“Eh?”

“Nani?”

Their teacher translates. They look back at me, half-amused and half shocked.

“I’ll go anywhere – except war zones – I’ll take pictures to show you and I’ll bring something back for everyone to see.”

Everyone reacts. “MAJI DE!”

This is the equivalent of NO WAY. Also sometimes translated as YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME and YOU’RE CRAZY.

“No, I’m 100% majiME (serious).” Luckily my lousy attempt at a pun goes unnoticed…

“France!”

“Egypt!”

“Brazil!”

“ISLAM!”

We do a 7 minute review on why Islam is not a country. And yet they’re still too enthusiastic, excited even, to pay attention.

“Okay, okay! How about next week we write down suggestions on a slip of paper and I’ll draw one from a box.”

“Maji.”

That seems to be the theme of this semester: crazy English, crazy adventures ;D

We’ll see how it goes but at the moment all we’ve decided is that this trip must take place by Silver Week 2016 and I must take many pictures with myself in front of famous places and bring something back.

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Foreign Film Fridays 02: The First Grader

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. -Nelson Mandela

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Original Title: The 1st Grader
Year: 2010
Country: Kenya & UK
Language: English/Kikuyu
Subtitles: English
Length: 1hr 38 min
Availability: Putlocker

A beautifully poignant biographical film, The First Grader touches the soul in ways so few films can ever hope to. Based on the life of Kimani Maruge (who at the age of 84 decided to enroll in elementary school) and his first teacher Mrs. Jane Obinchu, the movie touches upon a myriad of human issues: the worth of life, the sacrifices we make to survive, and the importance of free universal education.

Set in a village far from the comforts of modern city life,  the story follows Maruge on his journey to pursue an education, particularly in his desire to learn to read and write, and also focuses on the struggles of rural teachers to provide quality education for 200 plus students. The story is given additional depth as it is broken between Maruge’s memories of his time as a Mau Mau rebel and the relatively peaceful man he has become in the present but who has yet to fully let go of the past.

There are many beautiful scenes of Kenya in this film, rich and vibrant, and give the story a beautiful backdrop for the cinematographically inclined. More than scenes, which are truly inspiring, it’s the characters that will stay with you long after the credits have finished rolling.

Maruge is the representation of Kenya’s crossroads in history: he is the everyday man with the weight of a terrible past hanging across his shoulders. He can’t even sharpen a pencil, much less hold it correctly, but his desire to become literate enough to read a letter from the government is all he needs to keep him going. Even as he is barred from elementary school in the village and forced to walk to the nearest adult school in the city, you root for him to win but it breaks your heart to watch him continually turned away from opportunities and especially when his own village turns against him. A man his age, or so he is often told, should be resting in peace in preparation for his final exit from life. Maruge, however, heartily disagrees… And it makes you truly wonder when was the last time you pursued your dreams with such passion and unabashed shamelessness, much less when was the last time you felt so fired up to learn.

By comparison, Mrs. Obinchu is the modern woman: brave, educated, and unafraid to carve a place for herself in the world, but also unencumbered by the past. She is from a poor family and has worked to the bone to become who she is. For these reasons she can see a bit of herself in Maruge and the two form a quick and steady friendship, despite the generation gap and the opposing political sides of their families during the rebellion. Young, full of idealism, and an intellectual to the end, Mrs. Obinchu does everything in her power to keep Maruge in school.

We are nothing if we cannot read. We’re useless. -The First Grader

The First Grader is a rare glimpse into a whole new world that is far and away from anything that anyone born in a first world country will probably ever know. One would expect it to be either a campy film, with one dimensional characters full of good cheer and ready to battle illiteracy, or a very deep and disturbing look at the politics of the conflict that led to Kenya’s independence. But in reality, the breadth of human emotion is expressed in each character and situation. Even the patient and good-natured Mrs. Obinchu has her melt downs when past tribal tensions force her to confront the choices of her family’s past and when she must fight for the right of her oldest and most motivated pupil to remain in her school. She is a veritable storm of sheer will and force. I can barely manage a room of thirty-five screaming seven-year-old children for six straight periods, let alone 200 students from all ages and educational backgrounds for a whole day. All the respects were given as I watched this and began to wish that every last one of my teachers had been a Mrs. Obinchu.

For those too afraid to watch a movie saturated with political and military undertones, this film is the perfect balance between serious and idealism without losing the weight of its message. We, who live in societies that have been long removed from the fight for survival and freedom, have a responsibility to the rest of humankind to help in any way that we can. It brings home the truth that one society’s treasure can be a public ally funded institution that is taken for granted by another.

The true story of Kimani Maruge is equally inspiring but ends quite sadly in 2009, when Mr. Maruge died of stomach cancer.

 

The English Menu, or Why I Am A Horrible Human Being…

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“Hello. Welcome. Table for two.” A hand shows the number two visually.

“はい、二人です。”

We are seated. We reach for menus and peruse while the waiter waits, watches us silently for a few moments. We’ve started speaking only to each other, unaware that he is still there, and are taking our time pointing out options to each other. This is mistaken as ineptitude.

“English menu?” he helpfully materializes an English version of the laminate copy. Any other time, I would be grateful. But this is the fifth time at the same restaurant with the same waiter and it’s been a long, long day. I glance across the table where stormy eyes concur with unsaid words. I turn suddenly to the waiter.

“ああ、大丈夫。読める。” I make an attempt at informal Japanese to show I actually can speak informally as well. Dark eyes blink back, slightly confused but the English menu spirited away from sight. Believing, I have established all information we needed to continue with dinner, we peruse at our leisure. We speak of silly things and serious things, we laugh at inside jokes, pointing out delicious options.

Five minutes pass in this way, until the waiter returns with a pitcher of water in one hand and…

…the English menu in another.

My mind screams in horror long before I’ve caught up with it. The pitcher of water is set down and the English menu dropped on the table where it cannot be ignored. To my very core, I am frozen, a mixture of emotions.

Shock. Laughter. Confusion. Fury. Despair. I want to cry. I want to laugh. Mostly I want to have dinner for once in my life, with the full comprehension that I know what I’m doing with a Japanese menu in my hand. Powder and sparks and consuming kisses, iambic pentameter, the sound of the atom bomb tests, Beethoven’s explosive fifth symphony… I think in sound, I think primarily in music. It’s all going through my head at the speed of light and anger wins before the rest of the emotions can catch up.

That all takes a millisecond to process. A fraction of a breath. I bend over across the table laughing into the hard wood surface, my arms encircling my head because I’m afraid of what I may do if he’s still around when I look up. I wait until I’m absolutely sure he is no longer near us. I surface for air.

“That’s it. I’m going to order in keigo.”

“What. No.”

We “argue”, my dinner partner and I, bantering about how we shall order in absolutely perfect Japanese keigo (or not order in such a way until we leave for our road trip and know for a fact that our passive aggressive actions will never negatively impact us).

“No, you’re right that’s just too rude. But still. I really want to order in keigo.” Internally, I tell myself that I might just wear my Waseda sweat shirt next time I go in. A sweat shirt made for autumn weather worn in the middle of summer is sure to illicit some response. Any response to the fact that I may not speak like a native but I can very well order at a restaurant.

Once we are quite sure that we know what we will order, we push the magic button that calls our waiter over and I speed speak through my order to show I’m not going to stumble through the conversation, I even give an explanation for why I can’t eat rice (allergy) and if it would alright to substitute it for naan. It’s not perfect, because I did slip up that last bit of grammar but I made myself more than intelligible.

Sadly, this isn’t the first time. It’s a performance piece we repeat ad nauseum, at every restaurant, and it eventually takes its toll on your self-confidence as a JSL (Japanese as a Second Language) speaker. Deep down inside you may know you’ve done it right, you’ve grammar-ed and words-ed your way through the linguistic minefield of what may be the exact opposite of how your native tongue works, and yet you will be rejected by looks alone.

He walks away even more confused than before. A different waiter comes to deliver the food. I’m unsure whether it’s worked or not, but we’re getting curry one last time before Kimmy leaves so, the fruits of our labor will be made known to us then. I feel like a horrible human being, relishing in the satisfaction of having pulled passive aggression on anyone. There are not buts to that sentence. I let it stand as is.

Hallway Inspiration 02: Live Long and Rainbow On!

Japanese hallways are the best. I feel that if I look hard enough, I could make this into a legit once a week article.

In the meantime, I bring to you the latest hallway inspiration, which I endearingly titled “Clean Water: Live Long and Rainbow On”. Japanese schools come in two neutral color schemes: beige or white. Or both. But this may just be the inaka experience (one of my schools is about to celebrate its 150th anniversary so it follows in the general tradition of We Are Rebuilding The School And This Is The Way The Walls Have Always Been Painted). For the most part, though, it doesn’t really matter what color the walls are because teachers like to plaster them with motivational posters like the one above or with announcements for upcoming museum exhibits, concerts, and other interesting educational events going around the prefecture. And then there’s this one… oh the spectra.

The colors are flawless, that is true, but the centerpiece obaachan is even more brilliantly rendered. Her pose suggests the grace of having aged marvelously well (arthritis, gout, and diabetes are clearly for the non-water drinkers of the world; sorry, Hemmingway) while still bringing forth that inner strength, that inner force of character which only the elderly can posses after two world wars and several market crashes. Above the fanfare, above the modernity, it is the final message that shines clearest and nearest to all of our hearts: drink clean water and you too can live a long, rainbow sparkly life. Otsukare~ 😉

 

The Japanese School System from an American Perspective

Education is learning what you didn’t even know you didn’t know. -Daniel J. Boorstin

Today marks the official end of the third semester. Yes, it’s the final end to the strange, strange practice of attending school for 8 weeks just so that the third years can study their brains out for the high school entrance exam. Saying good-bye to my beloved third years was quite painful. As one of them summarized it for me: ‘Goodbye for forever!’

*insert sad face*

From April on wards, we begin the whole ritual of entrance ceremonies and school life all over again. As an educator of seven months and a few odd days, it’s difficult to have an unbiased perspective because I’m still figuring out what my role in the school system is and how to best utilize to teach language and culture sensitively but it seemed like a good starting point nonetheless. I might update this piece again in another couple of months for the one year anniversary of my arrival in Japan. In the meantime…

School life. Otherwise known as, the never-ending compulsory thirteen years of general education specialization of doom. And then some, because let’s be honest, all the good jobs require at least a baccalaureate degree in Something (in America, it rarely matters what… unless, you know, you want to be doctor or a nurse).

So what do you kids learn in school these days, eh? I think it was quite funny that the principle at one of my junior highs really drove this point home:

Principal: ‘So third years, what do you use (insert ridiculous equation here) for?’

Third years: *BLANK STARES*

Principal: Step it up. High school’s much harder than what you’re doing here.

Anyway, here’s the basic breakdown of what the education system looks like (for the most part) in the United States…

‘MERICA

Teachers: the institution you entered is the institution from which they will drag your cold, hard body off the desk. Tenure is practically guaranteed at the ten year mark. Also, you do not transfer from school to school within the district. If you are a middle school teacher, you do not walk from class to class, rather you have your own classroom and the students are expected to walk from class to class. You emphasize the importance of critical thinking over rote memorization. You don’t end work just because you’ve clocked out. If anything you’re grading papers while attending your daughter’s science fair or your son’s piano recital. When invited to a dinner party, you’re grading papers from appetizers to dessert and have subsequently lost all rights to being invited anywhere by your other friends.

Preschool (optional): finger painting, ABCs, 1-2-3s, and other exciting adventures in the realm of learning how to use the toilet properly.

Elementary School (Kindergarten to 6th grade): the seven single most fun years of education, replete with projects, interactive reports, and learning how to negotiate a fare trade from chocolate pudding to Hot Cheetoes during lunch. This was the life. Sadly, we didn’t know it until much later. Subjects learned: Math, Science, History, Physical Education, Social Studies, Music, Computers, English/Cursive (I’m probably dating myself here since cursive is no longer taught).

Middle School (7th and 8th grade): Suddenly, nothing was ever simple again. Raging hormones, blasting Lincoln Park through the house, and school dances. You learn to hide what you’re really feeling because the animals will tear apart the weakest link in any group. Also, group work sucks. Subjects learned: Math, Science, World History, American History, English, Physical Education, Drama/Home Economics/Band/Wood Shop/Etc., Home Room. Life is about attitude. It’s about being you in the face of a world that’s trying to socialize you to look like the previous generation. *insert Lincoln Park lyrics: I tried so hard and got so far but in the end it doesn’t even matter…*

High School (9th, 10th, 11th, 12th grade): Suddenly there are all of these REQUIREMENTS to graduate and tests. All the tests in world: AP tests, SAT tests, high school exit exams, and then just your average test of the month/semester/year. The there is finding out your sexuality and where you fit in the grander scheme of things and finding a way to leave your hometown forever because you know, living and dying in the same house is too Emily Dickinson to be cool anymore (I joke), and then there was finding someone to attend the dance with you… High school was that strange period in life where you’re rushing to find things out before you leave for college, vocational school, and/or settling down with a job. Subjects learned: Maths, Sciences, English, Foreign Language, American History, World History, Electives, Physical Education, Economics, Law, etc. Depending on what state you went to and what requirements were in place, your high school education could have looked like anything. Also after school clubs and sports went a long way for your social life. This is also the age where you suddenly realize you have three apples and Mary Jane Vanderbilt/Onassis/insert-rich-family-name-here has twenty-five billion apples… the difference in life advantages between three and twenty-five billion are insurmountable… unless of course you’re intellectually one of the top 1% of your class and can afford to apply anywhere you want. But really, most of us were in the other 99% anyway >.>

 JAPAN

Teachers: You are mother/father/nutritional counselor/sports coach/friend/cheerleader/moral instructor/teacher to your students. You emphasize rote memorization over critical thinking. Every three years or so, you face the risk of being uprooted from the institution where you teach and forced to relocate within the span of two weeks. As a new teacher you start at level 0 (no trust, no real responsibilities, and your presented ideas will not be seriously considered by any of your coworkers). The more years you’ve put into your institution, the more seriously you will be taken and the more responsibilities you will be given. You start work at dawn and at 10pm you’re still at your desk pulling overtime to be amazing. If your students get into trouble, the first person the police will contact is you and not the parents.

Preschool & Kindergarten (optional): The focal point of your education revolves around learning your shapes from your colors and how to use the toilet properly. Basically, whatever your American counterparts are learning but in Japanese. Also, moral education is considered the responsibility of the school. I can’t tell the difference from preschool or kindergarten in Japan. Preschool might have more of a day care vibe but I’m sure they have an educational curriculum as well. Children at this age are being prepped to be miniature adults in the subtler arts of politeness and etiquette. I’ve been faced with children as young as 3 who can sit still for a whole five minutes in seiza (which is quite the accomplishment if you knew how painful it normally is… that and they’re three years old… what three year old can stay still for five whole minutes?!).

Elementary school (1st grade to 6th grade): Compulsory. This is the first time you will have been separated from your parents if you didn’t attend either preschool or kindergarten. You have an entire classroom full of friends, with whom you are socially obligated to be friendly and kind. Yes. You are obligated to get along with EVERYONE. If you do not play by the invisible social rules that you soak up through careful watching and listening, you will be ostracized in the worst possible way to shame you into reforming your conduct (I wish I were joking). Because everyone is required to eat the same school lunch (delivered by the local food packing center), you learn the ninja ways of secretly stashing food until the teacher looks the other way and you can pass it to your friend who will eat it for you. In turn, you will eat food that your friend hates when the time comes to return the favor. Subjects learned: Math, Science, Japanese, English (grades 5 and 6, 1st through 4th receiving occasional instruction), Calligraphy, Arts and Crafts, Home Economics, Physical Education, Social Studies, Music.

Middle School (7th to 9th grade): Compulsory. If you were bubbly, full of life, and generally the happiest person that ever walked the planet at age 11… middle school is about to change all that. You start wearing a uniform, you’re worked to the bone in rigorous school subject, and are expected to conform to institutional standards of conduct. You memorize the book and regurgitate it for the test. Clubs and after school activities are one of the few times you actually have fun in school. Hormones run rampant. You look forward to lunchtime every day because by the end of the first four school periods, whatever you had for breakfast was just enough to get you through to third period but not fourth. Around this time you’re becoming more and more aware that being an adult is over-rated. You’ve been entrusted with responsibility since you could walk. Your excitement levels peak at school festival season and vacation time. To Americans, you appear like soulless zombies, but in reality you’re just trying to survive the battlefield that is intensive rote memorization learning to pass the high school entrance exam. Subjects learned: Math, science, Japanese, Home Economics, Music, History, Social Studies, Art, and after school clubs are mandatory. You will attend high school even if it’s not mandatory because life without a high school degree is too hard to live…. even if it means putting up with English for another THREE WHOLE years.

High School (10th to 12th grade): Not compulsory. I have no idea what you’re like by the time you’re fifteen but I can only imagine, given that middle school is so rough to survive. You had to pass the high school entrance exam. The bane of your life (aka English) is one massive pain in the patootty. Unless of course you’re one of the 1% who actually enjoy and can keep up with all the arbitrary non-rules of a western foreign language.

If dreams and wishes were streams and fishes…

The kids (ages 10-14) are learning how to express what they want to be in the future. I’ve gotten some very interesting and specific occupations that probably would take their American peers by surprise:

OCCUPATIONS BY POPLUARITY

Soccer/baseball player

Pastry chef

Geriatric nurse

Carpenter

Nursery school teacher

Farmer

Gasoline stand attendant

Pianist

Teacher

Refinery worker

Dancer

Needless to say, their reasoning for choosing those jobs is above and beyond funny. It’s a real joy getting to know them week by week, assignment by assignment.

 

 

 

A Beginner’s Guide to Engrish

How the Japanese adapt English: Step one, can it be shortened? Step two, can it be forced to conform to the rules of Japanese pronunciation? Step three, can it confuse native speakers of English?

Check. Check. Check. 😀

Some days I’m the teacher. More often than not I’m the student relearning English. Welcome to the world of teaching English in a foreign country and the many adventures that come along with the territory.

Pants (n.) – 1. In America: trousers; 2. In Japan: underwear

Basket (n.) – 1. In America: a container made of twigs, rushes, thin strips of wood, or other flexible material woven together; 2. In Japan: shortened form of ‘basketball’

Hamburg (n.) – 1. In English: a German city; In Japanese: fancy hamburger patty and sauce with side of vegetable, rice, and miso soup.

Ice (n.) – 1. In English: the solid form of water, produced by freezing; 2. In Japanese: shortened form of ‘ice cream’.

Sand (n.) – 1. In English: loose grains of weathered rocks, primarily made of quartz; 2. In Japanese: shortened form of ‘sandwich’. An Ice Sand is… you guessed it, an ice cream sandwich!

 

Three Second Rule and Other Adventures in Home Economics

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Home economics is taught during a students’ last few years in elementary school. Here in Aomori the topics covered include sewing, cooking, nutrition, cleaning, washing clothes, and farming. Though I did not have the opportunity to take pictures of the soy bean or potato harvesting that went on a couple of months ago, I might yet be able to see the rice being collected if I get called in next Wednesday. At this point in time I would like to point out that though my elementary school had a thriving arts and science program, home economics was the far away distant dream that would not be an option until high school…

Lunch in Japan is also quite different from the United States. Food is prepared by the local school lunch plant and shipped to each school in town but it isn’t served in a cafetaria or by any staff member. Instead, kyuushoku (school lunch) becomes a collaborative effort that is distributed in each class room by the students themselves, similar to cafetaria duties. Then while everyone is eating, students selected to serve as school announcers relate the nutritional information of each meal before playing music for the lunch hour.

Cooking days for home economics at the elementary school occur once in a couple of months, if not once a semester. Students contribute ingredients and the equipment is provided by the school for them to use. Skills learned include the proper ways in which to prepare food for consumption (washing, peeling, chopping, and spotting for mold or rotten parts of ingredients), how to read and interpret recipes, substituting certain items for others, and the actual cooking part itself. All students chop their own vegetables so emphasis on class cooperation and mature level of expectations are widely understood and followed.

But that isn’t to say that kids won’t be kids, even here in Japan where so many behave like mini adult versions. In one epic moment, one of my students accidentally tripped and dropped her ingredients on the floor. Before anyone, even the head teacher, could react she grabbed the spilled veg and invoked the most sacred rule known to man, woman, and child alive by shouting: “THREE SECOND RULE!!!” And yes, in the soup they went – much to the head teacher’s horror and my amusement.

DIY Project 01: Teacher’s Survival Kit

I’m not going to lie: this was totally inspired by the Altoid survival kit for campers and decided to create a variation with teachers and teaching assistants in mind… because you know, I’m going to be one in a matter of weeks. Working at two different schools, having two offices… I felt like I might need this on my person just to make sure I’m prepared.

I only used items that I could find around the house (as a writer, former student, and former-not-so-former teaching assistant, I have a treasure trove in excess of school related paraphernalia) but if you find yourself short on any of them, a quick run to the nearest discount store will provide a cheap alternative. Also, having your own personal variation is not only unique but will also serve your needs better. Don’t need a hole puncher? Toss it, simple as that. The whole point is, of course, to find as many items that fit the essential tools of your trade. Preferably ones that you can find at home 😉 Total cost: $o.oo to $5.oo (depending on how many items you might need to purchase).

Dimensions of box (recycled cell phone box)

5.5 inches/13.97 cm L x 3 inches/7.62 cm W x 2 inches/5.08cm H

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Items used: 1 red correction pen, 1 pencil, 1 black pen or small mechanical pencil, 1 USB with enough memory to back up semester/year’s worth of lesson plans, 1 pencil sharpener, 1 stapler, 2 packs of staples, 2 small magnets, 3 plastic clips, 2 medium binder clips, 1 staple remover, 1 manual paper hole puncher, 10 paper clips, 2 small Post It Note stacks, 4 thin stacks of large Post It Notes, 1 small bookmark, 2 mechanical pencil lead refills.

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Step One: Place bookmark flat against wall of box length-wise.

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Step Two: Place the two staple packs against the same side you put the book mark and line bottom of box with post it note flag dispenser.

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Step Three: Nestle the staple remover inside of the hole punch remover grip (this will ensure that the staple remover compresses to save space). Place them flat against the floor of the box on top of the post it note flags.

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Step Four: Nestle pocket-sized stapler next to the hand held hole puncher and on top of the post it note flags.

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Step Five: Next take the two medium sized binder clips and settle them however they best fit into the box without adding bulk. In my example, one lies on top of the hole puncher and the other against the wall. USB will be lined on box wall opposite the two stacks of staples.

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Step Six & Seven: The two small magnets should be placed directly above one of the stacks of staples (metal attracts magnet end), slip the plastic clips onto one of the small stacks of Post It Notes to compress, and top off with chain of paper clips.

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Step Eight: And finally! Place (and flatten as much as possible) the last few items – red correction pen, pencil, small pen (or mechanical pencil), two mechanical pencil lead refills and small pencil sharpener into place 😀

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Step Nine: Top off with large Post It Notes to act as intermediary cover and…

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Step Ten: …Done! Should fit snug but well. Not exactly necessary but if the dimension of your box make it necessary you can opt to wrap a bento box band to make sure it doesn’t open in your suitcase 😉

So that’s the Teacher’s Survival Kit in a nutshell! It’s simple, cheap (practically cost-less if you can find all items or variations thereof at home). Remember, the point of the survival kit is to have an easy to reach and close at hand set for those moments when you might need it for emergency purposes. Keep it in your purse/backpack, inside your car, or homeroom desk drawer in case you forget something important in the teacher’s lounge/home.

For the student variation: substitute the red correction pen with a highlighter and the large Post It Notes with a small stack of flash cards. Magnets and plastic clips can be substituted for small erasers. Hole puncher can be replaced for correction tape/small bottle of white-out fluid. Also, packet of hole punch reinforcements are immensely helpful for those days when you accidentally tear out a page from your binder! In reality, two packs of staples might be a bit much for a survival kit so feel free to toss one out entirely. I just have an irrational fear of not having enough staples for some odd reason >.>”

For the artist variation: Use your preferred medium. Classic examples include: 1 sketching pencil, 2 artist pens in colors of choice, 2 small erasers, a pencil sharpener, and 1 Exacto knife. Can also add: 5 small tubes of paint of your choice (three in primary colors plus black and white in either watercolor/pastel/acrylic/etc) with corresponding brushes of your choice and a brush cleaner, a small shot glass for water. Or if you prefer: a set of small colored pencils or set of molding clay. The combinations are endless.

For the crafter variation: 1 glue stick, 1 tube of crazy glue, 1 pencil, 1 pen in color of choice, 1 Exacto knife, some yarn or a spool of thread, 1 small pin cushion with pins/needles, small scissors, set of small origami folding paper (multicolored), assortment stamps and ink pad, ribbon, trimming, cloth swatches/patches, assortment of buttons (different sizes/colors).