by Sharon Abe
English Teachers in Japan, Aichi Chapter
November 18, 2001
Next month will be Christmas and the end of the year, and I guess at least some of you are getting ready to have a party with your students. Maybe you were wondering how you could make this year's party the best one ever?
In Japan, English is not just a foreign language, it's a foreign experience, and both students and teachers can benefit from interacting in non-class situations. We as adults have so much more experience and knowledge to share with our students than we could possibly give in 50-minute weekly installments, just as our students are much more than the faces we see every week.
Extracurricular activities are for learning about each other, working together, being spontaneous instead of practiced, and experiencing cultural differences. Many of you teachers may not have the time to do something outside of class, but what about spending 1 or 2 classes a year on some special activity? This will give the students a chance to relax with you and not worry about being right or wrong, and you will have the chance to relax with them and not worry about being "on."
When planning an activity, there are actually quite a few items to consider. But do not give up before you start; once you hold your first big event, it gets easier to do the next one.
Whether you are an old hand at activities or someone who has never even ventured to try, consider these essential elements of good planning for any kind of event, and refer to them often:
2. Даtype of event;
3. Даattendees and supervision;
6. Даstudent fees;
9. Даrecord keeping;
10. Даinvitation and reconfirmation notice;
11. Даliability insurance
12. Даestablishing policies.
The first main point to remember: the activities are for the children, not you, so the planning does not have to be strenuous, elaborate, or time-consuming. But it should be carefully done. The planning itself is more important than detailed and expensive decorations or matching accessories.
So, why are you having an event? Is it to celebrate a holiday or festival? Is the event for teaching, reviewing lessons, having parents visit, or just to get together for fun and learn more about each other?
Are you going to be using only or mostly English, or are you going to allow Japanese? Only you can decide which, depending on your main purpose and the level mix of your students. Your students will speak more English at a learning event than at a just-for-fun event, but whatever you decide, make sure the students understand before the event, so they, and you, will be prepared.
You may not be able to know clearly whether something is of value to do or not before you actually do it, but try to consider the situation if you don't do something. If you don't have a Christmas party, for example, will the students stop coming to your class? Or if you have the party, but don't go out and buy a tree with all the decorations and cost, will the students hold it against you? We all have our memories from our youth and our ideals of parties, but if we don't do it the same way, will anyone suffer? If your answers are no, and you don't really have the time and resources to do it anyway, then don't do it.
Now, all of your students will probably not attend, unless you hold the event during their regular class time. They may have other lessons, sports practices, family holidays, or local events that coincide with the date you choose. In order to get an idea of how many you can expect, you may take an informal poll in your classes so you can estimate the number of attendees. Would it be worth it to you and your students if less than 100% attended? How many would make it worthwhile? Only you can decide this, whether it's preparation time you are thinking of, the cost of supplies, or the interaction between the students.
Type of Event
Now you have to decide what type of event to hold. If your purpose is to hold a review session or a parents' visiting day, you might structure your event like a class. Otherwise, you probably already have in mind a party, a barbecue, or an egg hunt. Many teachers hold Halloween and Christmas/End-of-the-Year parties, but you can come up with an idea that suits you and your students perfectly.
Some other ideas for events are sports days, such as volleyball, miniature golf, bowling, or a wading-pool party. You could have a food-themed party such as pizza, an ice cream social, or a potluck party. Or, what about a craft-making event? You could do t-shirt painting or tie-dyeing, hand puppet-making, or wood-decorating. Most of these are done away from the classroom, but you can adapt nearly every one to indoors or out, big or little.
Attendees and Supervision
Is the event to be just for the students, or are family members invited also? Is it for all your students at the same time, or for individual classes? Depending on how many students you have, holding several smaller events with fewer children is more manageable, but also more time-consuming than one event with all the students. I have tried both ways, and I much prefer the do-it-all-at-once style and not have my supplies left out for a whole week or two.
Depending on the number of teachers, you may want to have parents of small children join the event to help their own children. One of my events is a miniature golf/hamburger day to celebrate American Independence Day. I invite all of my students, who are allowed to bring one parent if they wish, but no other family members. Generally my kindergarten-aged students bring their mothers, though some older children have brought a parent. If the parent also plays, they must pay for the game and lunch. For the parents who do not play but only supervise, they pay only for the lunch. Having parents attend means more work for me in preparing, but less work supervising at the event itself.
When selecting the date of your event, remember, you cannot please everyone no matter how hard you try. You need to choose a date that works best not only for most of the students, but that is best for you, too. I prefer to hold my events on Sundays, when most students and I have time, but some of my students have other clubs or classes on both Saturdays and Sundays, so although I would like to include them, it is not possible.
After you have chosen a date, make sure you also choose an alternate date, especially for outdoor events when it might possibly rain or snow. Also, the venue you choose may not be available on your first-choice date, so be prepared with an alternate.
Now comes the place. If your classroom or school is large enough for the number of people invited, that's all the better, as it saves not only on money but also preparation time. You need a place that is easy to get to; most people do not want to travel far or with difficulty, even for a fun event. And the place you find should not eat up your budget, especially if you are paying out of your own pocket.
Your local municipal (shimin)or community/public hall (kouminkan) is a good place to start. Or ask at your local branch of city hall for suggestions of places to use or rent, but make sure you can tell any prospective place in advance, even if it changes later, how much money you want to spend, how many attendees you will likely have, and the area where you would like the venue to be. These places may charge you nothing or very little for the use. You may have to have a bank account to pay for the venue.
You may also need to sign a contract, though many places do not have a written system. If you make a contract only orally, you should reconfirm your reservation at least one week before your event.
Then find out if the date you want is available. If it is not, see if your alternate date is available. If your event is outside, you may want to reserve two dates in case of bad weather, though many places may not allow this. When reserving a venue, ask about the points in the "Venue Checklist" that apply to your situation: reservation; rental fee; facilities; rules; decorations; and cleanup. Then double check everything during your preparations, and triple check right before your event. The venue people may think you are a little odd, but it doesn't hurt to ask. And it may hurt not to ask. One year, I reserved my local community center for a 45-student Christmas party, then found out three days before that the citizens were doing a major cleaning there that day so I couldn't use it. Fortunately, I was able to find another place large enough but I was really annoyed because I had made a reservation.
Many teachers and schools do not charge the students any fee for parties and other events, holding them for free as a kind of service, for good will and good advertising, or because they may never have thought of charging anything.
But when you do not charge a fee, all the money comes out of your income, and some events can become relatively expensive. "That's OK," you may say, but as your student numbers increase, so does the cost of events. You need to be prepared to pay by planning and saving money in advance. If you automatically save a percent of your monthly income just for events, when the time comes, you should have most of the money available to you.
On the other hand, if you decide to charge a fee, you have to remember that while the students may be excited to join an event, it's the parents who end up paying; if the fee is too high, the parents may not allow the child to join.
But how much is a reasonable fee? Some teachers charge a minimal 200 to 500 yen per event, even if it involves snacks, games, craft materials, photographs, and other supplies. Others charge only enough to cover the cost of the venue.
I charge my students and attending family members for one share of all costs that I estimate in advance. Making estimates is essential for two main reasons: one, you can make the fee for the students based on a thought-out plan; and two, it allows you to see a list of all the supplies you need so nothing is forgotten.
I make an estimate list of all expenses imaginable before I even advertise the event. This helps me decide if I will be spending too much money or if the fee will be too expensive. I can decide at this point what to do or not.
Included in the estimates are venue fees, all food products and ingredients, paper goods, decorations, prizes, ribbons, wrapping paper and bags, and camera film and developing. I take into consideration the ages of the attendees, as bowling alleys and other places charge different fees for different age groups. I try to be as specific in my planning as possible, right down to the ketchup and balloons. And I include the tax. I try to stick to these estimates while preparing, and not allow myself to add "just one more" of anything, unless I find it is absolutely vital to the event. If it isn't vital, I make a note of it, but I skip it until the next time.
Plan ahead. Don't wait until you announce your event before you start planning. If you do, you may run out of time, supplies, money, or ideas.
Make lists. Write down what supplies you will need; the estimates for your budget; what preparation you have to do; and what information you need to get and give out.
For ideas on themes, games, and other activities, searching the internet, if you have access to a computer, is always a good idea. Or try our ETJ-Aichi website discussion board, or holiday and game books. Occasionally it takes time to find exactly what you want, so start early. Once you have your ideas you will still need to have time to prepare.
Buy ahead. When you are shopping for supplies, trying to do it all at once can be more trouble than you've imagined. When I am shopping for my family and I see something that is on my event supplies list, I will buy it then if the price is right.
If you see something for an event that will be held soon or even the next year, buy it if you can. If there aren't enough of an item, ask the store to order it for you instead of going from store to store hunting for more. And if you are buying a lot, ask the store for a discount. You may not get it, but it doesn't hurt to ask.
Don't forget the many discount stores and 100-yen shops that are out there. Many now sell fresh food items as well as holiday decorations. The Foreign Buyer's Club in Kobe sells turkeys, hot dogs, buns, and many holiday food items, but unless you want everything to be "authentic," it's really OK and often less expensive to improvise or substitute.
For example, at Easter many people decorate hard-boiled eggs. But preparing real eggs takes a lot of time and money. Instead of looking for and buying plastic eggs, ask your students to give you the plastic capsules they already have from toy vending machines. Use stickers and ribbons to decorate, instead of paint and dyes.
Or, if you want to serve cupcakes or doughnuts, and don't have the resources to make them, buy packages of them in the bread section of supermarkets and put a handmade, stamped flag on top for a decoration.
If you have the chance to shop in a different country, you may find prices for some items are less than they are in Japan. You have to bring or ship everything back, but the cost may be worth it, and you may be able to get more culturally different items that you want to share with your students. When I go to the United States to visit family, I always go to discount stores and buy as many books, toys and sports equipment as possible for future prizes and gifts, and I also buy decorations and craft items for Christmas and Halloween. This summer I also bought dreidels for my students so we can celebrate the Jewish holiday of Chanukkah.
Make ahead. If you plan on making decorations, have your students help during a class, or set up one extra time period on a Saturday or Sunday, to let interested students come and play as they help you.
If you plan on making gifts for all your students, don't wait until it's too late. Make one item and see how much time, materials, and money it takes, so you can start soon enough. I really like making things by hand, so for one Christmas I made reindeer clips for my 65 students. I knew I was going to the US during the summer, and had a full schedule between September and November, so I started making the reindeer in the summer before I went to the US! I could work in my spare time, while watching TV or helping my children with their homework. I did not have to rush, because I planned ahead.
Where possible, I encourage you to get your students to bring some of the supplies. This will give the students a sense of participation and a stronger commitment to attend. It will also help spread the cost of the event evenly, and give you less to prepare. You may want to supply paper, glue, scissors, colored pencils and the like for projects, but you can have the students bring some of their own supplies and you supply what they forget.
If you want the attendees to bring something in particular to share with others, such as for a potluck party or a craft day, assign a specific item to each student and tell them the number of people they should bring for. But make sure you reconfirm with the students' parents, and have some back-up food or materials in case a student forgets to bring what they were assigned.
Keep records of everything you plan and do: estimates; actual costs; fees; dates; venue names, contracts, addresses, telephone numbers; names of actual attendees; supplies used and lacking; where you purchased your supplies; preparations; photographs of students at the event and decorations; invitations and reconfirmation notices you hand out; and any problems encountered along the way. The next time you hold the same event, or a similar one, your preparation time will be greatly reduced by following your plans for previous events. In addition, throughout the year you may hit on an idea for your next event; write it down and keep it in a file with your records. New ideas are always helpful to improve your events.
The Invitation and Reconfirmation Notice
When making the invitation about an event, it is best to do it in writing even if you also do it orally. Students and their parents tend to remember better if it is written down.
To avoid problems in communication, write the invitation in Japanese if possible, even if it is also written in English. If you do not know enough Japanese, recruit one of your more interested parents to help. Or one of your less interested parents -- it may get them more involved!
Make sure your invitation contains the date, and alternate date if there is one, place, time for drop-off and pick-up, how much the attendees need to pay and by when, and whatever the students need to bring to the event. One other important item you may have your students bring, especially in the summer months, is a thermos of tea. You may be planning to serve drinks, but before snack time, the students may become thirsty. A thirsty child is a complaining child, and multiply that times how many children you have attending!
Many teachers worry about the collection of fees for events, especially after the event. One way to solve this is to set a cut-off date for registration, and state "fee payable with registration" on the invitation/registration form. If you want to have all the fees first in order to pay for supplies and the venue, do not accept late payments. By paying with the registration, this usually prevents the "I forgot" students by allowing you to say, "Oh, that's too bad, but please join next year." I've had to start doing this having had to pay for everything out of my own pocket first and then having some students decide not to come. Now I accept only those who get their registration and money in by the deadline.
Also, I always put a cutting line on the invitation and make the bottom part the registration form.
I advertise an event at least a month before it and give two weeks to register. That usually gives me enough time to gather and order what supplies I haven't already.
The week or two before the event I hand out a confirmation/reminder to those who are going to attend. I re-list the time, place, supplies to bring, and a map, if necessary. It is surprising how many students and parents forget about events they have signed up for, but having a reminder reduces this problem.
One item you may not have considered is liability insurance. You may think, "Oh, nothing is going to happen. No one is going to get hurt." "It's never happened before." Well, maybe not, but there's always a first time.
If an attendee is hurt at one of your events, you are technically liable. Without insurance, the parents may or may not make you pay, but the responsibility is still yours.
"Just in case" is what insurance is for. And in event situations, insurance is not expensive at all, and very worth the cost. For example, Mitsui Marine charges about 1,500 yen to cover a group of 40-50 people. Other insurance companies may charge more or less, depending on the ages and number of attendees.
Your car, house, fire, or building insurance company should be able to help you.
Finally, expect the unexpected. Murphy had it right; if something can go wrong, it will. The venue you have chosen may become unforeseeably unavailable. The sandwich shop you always use is going to be closed the day of your event. Students will suddenly get ill and not be able to come, which may put you in the lurch because you grouped students by equal numbers, and now you have to suddenly rearrange bodies. Other students' parents will call up at the last minute and beg you to let their child join in because "they didn't know about the event." Or, two children, one signed up but ill, the other not signed up but in a different age group, want to change places. Someone is going to forget his or her supplies.
Don't expect everything to go as planned. But, by having alternate venues and group assignments, and extra materials on hand, you can make these kinds of problems disappear as quickly as they show up. Decide beforehand who will be able to attend, and what will happen if students want to switch with each other. Also, will you refund money to the parents if their child is ill the day of the event and cannot attend? If I have spent money on prizes and snackbags, I will refund the portion not actually used and give the snackbag and remaining prize to the absent student at the next class. Otherwise, I will return all of the money. This helps keep the parents feel happy about not losing money.
We all like our students to have a good time and remember their classes and
teachers fondly, but we don't have to go out on a limb to prove anything to
them outside of the classroom. But in case that's your pleasure, remember
the event you hold will be more successful with careful planning. Good luck,
and let me hear from you about your adventures in the world of extracurricular
Publicity Director, ETJ-Aichi