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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Lesson on Invitation Etiquette

I'd like to do a post that's a little bit different, if you don't mind. But I think that what I'll be discussing is a topic that doesn't get addressed nearly enough, and will serve as important knowledge for planning your future lolita gatherings and parties - invitation etiquette.

From Make-Your-Own-Invitations.com

Before I begin, I'd like to point out that I'm not writing this blog with the intent of putting anyone off or making people feel guilty. In fact, I'm mainly writing this while keeping a personal situation of my own in mind - one in which myself (the hostess) and the other party could have handled the situation more eloquently. Learning from my own mistakes I seek to only educate others and prevent misunderstandings from occuring in your lives!

Now, let's say you want to host a party. This party could be anything, from a birthday party, to a more intimate lolita gathering among close friends. You are the host or hostess and you have a few things to consider when figuring out who to invite to your event:

1. How many people can you have in your party?
2. Are the people you're planning to invite a good mix (aka will everyone get along? Does everyone know at least one other person attending?)
3. Where are you going and what will you be doing? (For example: going to a bar, only invite 21+ friends and fewer of them)

Once you've considered all of those factors and have a solid idea of who you'd like to have attend your gathering, the next step is invitations!

From weddingliasion.com

Many of you are quite aware that the age of paper, snail-mail invitations has been virtually dead since Facebook allowed us to "create an event", and in this day and age our entire lives are basically wired through social networkings sites. Obviously this has its ups and downs. Creating an event online is often the easiest and fastest way to get invitations out, as well as receive RSVPs, and you don't have to worry about anyone's card getting lost in the mail (in the case of weddings and other "milestone" events, a written invitation is still the more appropriate way to go). However, because we are so "wired" to the Internet, the downside of being able to create events online is that those who are not invited will find out one way or another. Facebook tries its best to counteract this by giving us the options of making "private" or "secret" events, however you have to take into consideration there will be friends of the invited party members who don't receive invitations, and photos will inevitably pop up after the event takes place.

In short, no matter what you do or which route you take with your invitations, someone's feelings will be hurt at some point. Most of us knows what it feels like to be that kid who didn't get an invitation to a birthday party or was "left out" at some point in life - it sucks, to put it bluntly. As the host or hostess, do you know how you're going to deal with those who's feelings are hurt? If you're the one who's been left out, how are you going to handle the situation? Here's my advice for both sides:

To the host/hostess:
1. Be prepared to explain your reasoning, but be kind about it. If there was a cap, explain that.
2. If someone was uninvited because of issues with someone who was invited, tread around that very carefully. In some cases the uninvited will be understanding, in other cases not so much. It depends on the person.
3. Reassure the person who wasn't invited that it's nothing personal, and when you plan your next event make sure they are included.

To the uninvited (I realize that's such a cruel sounding word but I can't think of a better one at this time >_<):
1. Take a deep breath before blowing up. If you allow yourself to blow up you will most likely say something you regret.
2. If you're concerned, talk to the host/hostess privately. Do not attack him/her, but rather ask them to explain. Most likely there will be a sound reason and no offense was meant.
3. Again, keep your cool, and try your best not to sweat it. Everything will most likely work itself out :)

Now, a word on the situation I was in, so that you can learn from my mistakes: I hosted a party recently and could only invite so many people. I tried to make sure that the people I invited would be a good mix and that there would be a few from each group of friends. I made an event on Facebook and set it as private so that it wouldn't show up publicly on anyone's page. There was one friend I did not invite because this friend lived in a different area, had a young child, and would be leaving for the military soon (or would already be gone by the time the part rolled around - I wasn't sure at the time, and hadn't talked to him in quite a while). Well, while a mutual friend who had been invited was hanging out with this friend, he found out about the party, and wondered if he was invited. When I explained that he wasn't, he got quite upset, and made a bit of a rage post on Facebook.

Now, I was in the wrong in a few ways for this. I should have allowed this person to come seeing as he happened to be in town - the handling wasn't exactly golden on my end. However, on the other side, my reasons were never asked, and if they had been this would have been a much calmer situation that would have easily been resolved. Instead of coming to me and talking to me about it, all communication was done through a third party, and angry posts were made on the Internet by this person (which then involves others who had nothing to do with the situation).

Both parties could have handled things better. I have definitely learned from my mistakes and will only improve from this point on in how I handle my own events and invitations!
Hopefully this little post has provided you with a bit of education on invitations and events as well! Good luck with your future party-plannings! :)


Monday, June 27, 2011

Letting Students In: How Much Should They Know?

Before I get into what I'd like to blog about this week, I'd like to give a special shout out to a special group of people: Team 4 from USA Summer Camp 2010!

Photo by Yuta Shinozaki

Today is the one year anniversary of our landing in Japan. I participated in a progran called USA Summer Camp, through which I spend my summer teaching Japanese students English on a team of 25 people made up of American Counselors, Japanese Counselors, and an awesome American and Japanese Director! Although most of us live pretty far apart, we try to see each other a couple times a year, and our reunions are always enjoyable! There are a few people from my team I still talk to very regularly and they've become very good friends of mine. So, Team 4, on our one year, I'd like to dedicate this blog to you! <3

All right, now on to the lolita-teacher part of this entry!

Each week in my Japanese class I try to focus one of the two lessons on something cultural, and I base it around what the students want to learn. My quietest student had a real interest in fashion in Japan, which of course was exciting for me since Japanese fashion as a whole is something I'm pretty into. So last Monday I excitedly came in to work with photos and my Gothic & Lolita Bibles, ready to do a fun and engaging lesson on the many unique fashion statements of Japan. We went over a few dfferent substyles, and we eventually came to lolita. Confidently and proudly, I told my students that I was one as well, and had been enjoying the fashion for over a year. I even showed them a photograph of myself dressed up.

Now most would think that this isn't a big deal at all - it was relevant to the lesson material, and the students were all old enough to understand and appreciate it for what it was, right? Unfortunately, though, with being a teacher we're always walking a fine line with how much of our personal lives we can allow our students to know. With lolita being as controversial as it is, I wanted to spend this blog discussing the pros and cons of letting a student know that you are a "loli sensei", as well as when it might or might not be appropriate to talk about your personal life in general (so this is good for teachers who are not lolitas, too! ;) )

Let's list off the pros and cons of "letting students in" first.

- Your students can know a bit about who you are as a human being
- You can help develop positive relationships with your students if  there are mutual interests (my quiet student turned out to love lolita and asked to borrow one of my GLBs after class)
- It makes you as the teacher appear more interesting - there's something unique about you that students can relate to and find interesting (which will help with making your lessons more successful!)

- Your interests and hobbies (in my case, the fashion) could be misunderstood and parents could be offended
- Making yourself more "human" can at times jeporadize your authority in the classroom (students might begin seeing you as more of a "friend" instead of as a teacher and a professional)
- Students, parents, and colleagues may lose respect for you and treat you differently (though I'd like to believe this is rare and only happens for more extreme cases, though for lolita this might be something serious to consider)

Looking at all of this, the points both sides make are highly valid, making it tough to determine if it's necessarily "right" or not to allow your students to know that you're a lolita.

The conclusion I've formed, therefore, is that it's entirely situational!

For me, personally, allowing my students to know I'm a lolita is acceptable. For starters, my workplace knows, so it wouldn't be a shock or surprise to my supervisors if this got back to them through student word-of-mouth. Secondly, I teach Princess Academy and last Saturday led a lolita fashion panel at Woodlawn, so I actually have the opportunity to attend work in my frills. Lastly, I was able to judge the appropriateness of telling my students through knowing who my students were - they're mature, they're genuinely interested in the topics we learn, and they're open-minded and nonjudgemental (not to mention that, again, it was relevant to the lesson plan).

I feel that my situation is a rare and golden one where I am able to be open with my students about something unusual that I enjoy and is part of who I am. Now, when I begin my district teaching job in August (yes, by the way, I am now a middle school art teacher - SURPRISE!) that will be a different story. I won't really know how the staff will react, and I don't know how mature my students would be or if there would even be a lesson where lolita fashion would be relevant (and even if it was, would it be appropriate to share that part of my life?)

Although my job at Woodlawn is just as serious as any other job, there is a bit more leeway that I'm being given in terms of teaching styles and methods. Since Woodlawn isn't an official "school" and is more an offshoot of the YMCA, I have to act professional but not to the extent that would be expected of me for teaching in a school district. So, I'm allowed to let my students in a bit more with who I am (as long as it's appropriate, of course. I'm certainly not going to tell my students about a Friday night I spent stumbling around drunk no matter WHERE I am teaching).

 Now, this doesn't necessarily mean that because you work in a super-official-teacher-district-job that you can't EVER be open with students or faculty about lolita. I have seen a couple lolita teachers who wear their outfits to class (in a more toned down manner), or are just open about what they do and enjoy. During student teaching I was able to tell one or two of my students about my interest and participation in lolita (and even anime conventions!), but I took the time to make sure those students would be mature and accepting of it. I also didn't just bring it up randomly, but rather let it come into a relevant conversation. Again, everything has to do with the situation.

But how can you tell what would be a good situation for being more open with your students in regards to your personal life? I judge by these guidelines:
- How does this class mix with you? Are you able to be more lenient with them in general, or is this a more challenging class you must be stricter with?
- Are your students mature?*
- When presenting subject matter in lessons that is new or unusual, how do your students react?
- Are your colleagues open-minded and open about their own personal lives?
- Are you established enough in your position that being (appropriately) open about your personal life would receive little to no negative reaction from colleagues/students/parents?*

(* = particularly important points to consider)

If there are a couple points where you are hesitant about your answer, then it's probably not a good idea to delve too much into the details of yourself with students. Remember that you're their teacher and not their friend, so it's not really a bad thing if they don't know you're afraid of clowns or you live alone with seven cats on day one of the school year.

Above all else, remember: it's okay to bond with your students. Just remember to bond over what's appropriate and relevant :)


Saturday, June 18, 2011

Princess Academy

I apologize for being a wee bit late with this week's entry. With the summer classes kicking off I've been quite busy getting used to the new routine.

My classes are going quite well, though, and I have absolutely no complaints. My Japanese for Teens class is a delight - with the exception of one girl all of my students are big anime/manga fans who have an interest in learning more about the language and culture. They are all very involved in class and the hour goes by like nothing! My Creative Writing class is also wonderful - five girls and one boy make up this course, and they are all very creative and sweet.

However, my one class I'd like to focus this particular entry on is Princess Academy. I've made a few mentions of it here and there on Facebook and some friends have asked questions, so I'd like to go into more detail about it here!

Photo from imagebarrel.com

Princess Academy was inspired by a thread on EGL that revolved around working children's birthday parties in lolita. Some girls said they would dress up as "princesses" and do tea parties and face painting. I got to thinking and I thought - "how neat would it be to have a class that teaches girls how to be princesses? I could dress up, they could dress up, and it would just be good, happy fun!"

I proposed the idea to my supervisors at Woodlawn. They said they'd offer it for registration but were a little hesitant at how well it would be received. This was around March. By the time I came home after graduation, and stopped in at the school, I was delighted to find out that Princess Academy was not only getting students, but it was full with a waitlist! I decided to open up a second section that would be directly after the first class, so I have 12 little princesses from 10am-11am and 6 more from 11am-12pm.

I want to keep this class as fun and imaginative as possible, so to do just that I created a princess persona to act under while I'm teaching: Princess Lillian. Lillian is just like any other "princess" - she's fun-loving and sweet with a soft, kind voice. Lillian's mother (known only as "the Queen"), has given her a special test that she must pass before she can receive her princess crown - that test is to successfully pass her knowledge of princess etiquette on to other young princesses-in-training. The benefit of this background information is to give the students a sense of purpose - they are the ones who can help Lillian get her crown by doing their best each class to be perfect ladies! ;)

What "Princess Lillian" wore to school today

Each class has a specfic schedule that I'll be following, for reaons that kids in this age range thrive on routine, and to keep things organized and keep them moving about, busy, and entertained for the full hour:
5 minutes: "The Princess Dance"
10 minutes: Story of the day
20 minutes: Activity 1 (normally something arts-and-crafts-related)
20 minutes: Activity 2 (etiquette)
5 minutes: "Every Girl Can Be a Princess"

For today's lesson, our first activity was talking about what princesses do - what do they wear? How do they act? How do they spend their day? After our discussion the girls drew their own princesses and showed them to the rest of the class. Our etiquette activity was "princess posture" - I overdramatically slouched myself over and asked, "Is this how a princess should stand?" After a chorus of enthusiastic "NO!"s erupted, I placed a book on my head and proceeded to stride about the room, demonstrating the proper princess walk and stance. I brought books for the girls to use, and they took turns walking about the room. The spectacle was quite adorable and hilarious to watch, because most of them basically held the book on top of their head as they walked, rather than trying to balance it, and to top it off, while holding said book, they'd walk very slowly, taking the littlest steps - too cute!

Photo from animegallery.com

I think my favorite thing about this class is that I'm making little girls believe that real princesses can exist, even in a town as small as the one I grew up in. Also, the fact that I'm making them believe that they too are princesses makes me feel that I'm doing great things for their self-confidence. Lastly, in a class where interaction is key, I'm happy to see that many of my students are already forming friendships with each other. :)

I am optimistic that this class will only continue to be successful and grow into something that will greatly benefit not only Woodlawn, but my own personal growth as a woman and teacher.


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Summer Photo Session and a Life Update

Greetings, blog readers!

I am very sorry I have not been updating this as often as I should be lately. With my summer classes starting next week I've been quite busy trying to figure out lesson ideas (as well as spend time with my hometown friends, of course!)

A brief life update: I still have not heard back for the part-time middle school art teacher position, but I fortunately have a phone interview tomorrow morning for an elementary school art position in the same city (also part-time). Here's hoping for the best! In the meantime, whilst hoping for a job in the Quad Cities, my lovely friend and fellow Art Education major Daun and I have been looking at apartments in the area. We both fell in love with the Moline High School Lofts, an apartment complex that was converted from an old high school. What could be better than two teachers living in an old school anyway?

I started my Japanese private lessons with my student who was continuing from my official class. It was very nice to be able to see and work with her again. We have some catching up to do since she's going to need to relearn the hiragana characters, but we started on adjectives and katakana yesterday and she's been doing well with that. I'll also now be taking on a second student for prviate lessons - the mother of the nine-year-old called me back and scheduled a time once a week for her son, which I'm very excited about!

In lolita news, I modeled for some summer photos today for my friend, Ben. In exchange for a free meal, he gave his portfolio some padding and I got a few gorgeous photos. Here are my favorites:

This coordinate is almost entirely Bodyline - the headbow, necklace, and wristcuffs are offbrand.

Working with Ben was a lot of fun! He normally shoots concert photographs, so lolita was very new to him. He basically gave me free reign over my poses and where I wanted to take pictures, which had its pros and cons (I tend to prefer a little more instruction from my photograhers, especially when they're trying to capture very specific auras). I will be doing cyberpunk fashion for Anime Iowa and will most likely commission him for that shoot since he did such a great job!


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Dealing with Parents: The Gifted Student and the Age Requirement Standard

Parents have got to be one of the biggest blessings and simultaneous challenges in the educational realm. As a teacher, you want to keep parents happy, but when it comes to dealing with their children, there are sometimes obstacles you have to overcome to get the parents to understand your reasons for doing things a certain way, or to even get them involved at all!

The triangle showing the influence of  relationships between parent-teacher-student. I found this on Google Image Search. I do not know who made this.

I have been working with WAA for the last couple summers and have usually been a hit with the parents - I always do my best to keep them informed. I'm friendly and love talking to them before and after classes. I want them to see that I am an involved and devoted teacher who puts their child's instructional needs above all else. Because of this, normally there are no problems. But I met with my first challenge today and it was definitely a tricky one to handle! I thought that this situation was a fantastic learning experience for myself as a new teacher, and decided to write the scenario and solution as a blog entry for other teachers to reference.

The Situation:

One of my summer classes is Japanese for Teens, which has an age limit of 13-17 (I also have an Adults class that goes for 18+). My supervisor called me a few days ago asking if I would be willing to let a nine-year-old into the teens section. I was fairly uncomfortable with the idea, despite the mother telling my supervisor that her son was very mature for his age and would be able to keep up just fine; it wasn't that I doubted the mother, it was more that I worried for the comfort level of my other students, as well as how much I'd have to alter the content of the course to make it understandable to a nine-year-old and still be interesting to a seventeen-year-old!

In the end, I told my supervisor that I did not feel comfortable taking the student, but when she talked to the mother, the mother was very upset about this. She did not understand why her son could not be an exception, especially since he is above-average intelligence (I'm not sure if he is a TAG student quite yet but some hints towards that were made) and "very mature". My supervisor recommended that I call the mother to talk the situation over with her, so of course I did just that.

Before I go into my personal solution to the situation, I'll lay out the challenge in bullet points for easy reference:
- A nine-year-old student's mother wants to register her son for a class where the earliest age accepted is thirteen.
-You as the teacher feel uncomfortable with this because of your students' comfort levels and content issues.
-Mother is upset and does not understand why her son can not be in the class if he is mature and intelligent enough to handle the content.

Pause and Reflect: before reading my solution, how would you handle the situation? What would you say to the mother? If you'd like, leave your solutation in the comments section and compare to the one I provide!

The Solution:

I called the mother of the nine-year-old student and began by introducing myself and stating my purpose. I said that I had called to talk to her about her concerns over the Japanese for Teens class so that she could understand my perspective and we could reach a solution that would benefit her son. I was very calm and even-toned, even going so far as to make sure my voice sounded cheerful and optimistic to ease the tension. I listened to the mother as she expressed her upsets to me and waited for her to allow me to speak. When I spoke, I started by saying that it is my top priority to make sure each and every one of my students gets the most out of my classes. I said that I want to give her son the best education possible, but that I did not think that it would be the best environment for him because it might make the older students uncomfortable to be in a class with a student so young. I said that that sort of discomfort could hinder their learning experience, as well as his. Explaining it this way really helped to calm the mother and understand things from a new perspective.

I continued by telling the mother I had no doubt that her son was very intelligent, and that I wanted to make sure he got the challenge he needed. Although I couldn't allow him into my class, I offered to give private lessons. Private lessons, I explained, would cost more, but it would allow her son to have plenty of one-on-one attention, the progression could go entirely at his pace, and the content could be focused around what he wanted to learn.

The Outcome

The mother was in much better spirits after we talked. She told me she would talk about private lessons with her husband, although she was still a bit disappointed there wasn't a chance her son could be allowed into the teens section.

Even though her son couldn't be included in the teens section of my Japanese class, the lesson that should be taken from this is that the mother was grateful to speak with me and a positive bond between teacher and parent was formed - a bond that is key to being a successful and outstanding teacher!

I hope this scenario proves useful to you fellow lolita (and non!) educators in the future.