Having a Baby in Japan.

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” – Pablo Picasso quotes from BrainyQuote.com


I am a father now.

Nearly three weeks ago my kid was born here in the Hyogo region of Japan. The following is what I will remember:

Japanese maternity wings are a hoot. The nurses worked so very hard to make sure that my wife was comfortable. Each person we met was thoroughly professional.

My mother-in-law and I put aside our cultural differences and language barriers to work as a team. We rotated rubbing my wife’s back for over twelve hours of labor until the decision to go with a cesarean section.

My wife never screamed. She relaxed as she headed into the operating room for her pain was finally coming to a halt. Her toughness impressed me no end. For some reason, pain medicine is not an option in Japan.

Our maternity ward still uses rotary phones. The hallways were dark and the aircon was kept at a minimum to save electricity and to help the environment. The hospital was old but exceptionally well-maintained. At no times was I a bit worried about my wife’s care.

I loved hanging out in the waiting room with the grandmas to-be. They were so patient with my atrocious Japanese language ability.

My wife timed her feedings like a Tokyo train conductor.

The nurses constantly go from room to room delivering tea from gigantic jugs. Tea is an all day affair.

I got to ride a bike to the hospital for eight days straight to visit the kid. Each visit, my wife asked me for the latest World Cup results. This made me strangely proud.

My wife came home well-trained. She was totally confident in her ability to raise her baby. The nurses were outstanding. My mother-in-law woke me up at 6:30 in the morning to make final preparations for the baby’s arrival. I scrubbed like a madman.

Sleep deprivation is no joke. My wife has lost the ability to add double-digit numbers. I have forgotten to brush my teeth and use deodorant, at times.

My mom’s phone calls are always appreciated. She gave birth to five boys and a girl so I heed her advice. Each time she calls I feel better. She reassures us that we are doing great.

The kid is healthy and growing. So many of my worries from the last ten months have gone by the wayside.

My kid acts like a some sort of urine sniper. He has bagged me seven times already.

Time to breathe!

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Spring Breakdown

First day of Student Led Conferences are over and I am happy to report that the parents and children were generally very happy with the results. Alas, I have to admit that Spring is upon us and I am have to adjust my teaching practice to accommodate to my current situation. The students are all lovely children, however I need from time to time pause for off task behavior. I still will value their personalities. I just need to keep my sanity and offer a more brain friendly environment that does not interfere with my teaching philosophy.

The following is a body of thought on how I hope to make the necessary classroom management improvements. I hope they prove helpful:

  • Discussion- It is time for me to have a talk with the students about “March Madness” and how this time of the year brings out the hyperactivity in children. I will talk with them about it each morning for two weeks.
  • Smile (even more) I find that this helps.
  • “Let go of the reins.” The kids are more developed and independent than they were in August. I will give them their deserved space and choice.
  • Meditate at home. I tried to schedule this at school but I am simply too busy. Teachers will understand what I am talking about.
  •  Brain Rules: I will check my copy of Brain Rules by John Medina for tips on coping with stress.
  • Library visits:I will encourage more library visits and errands. ( This tip is from Dr. Michael Thompson) Watch this documentary video!
  • Ukulele/Chess Lessons– I may offer lunchtime uke and chess lessons in return for more engagement and class time focus.
  • Banana dance: Whenever the students are sitting too long, we do the “Banana Dance” Basically, we get up and dance as silly and stupidly as humanly possible. If the kids only knew I stole this idea from Chris Elliot.
  • Brain Breaks: These look encouraging.
  • Be happy. Keep your problems at home.
  • Inspirational Quotes: Last year, we had a kid bring in an  inspirational quote to share then post on the door. Amazing how this renews a sense of community.
  • Future Focused: I plan to constantly talk about their future.
  • Make note of our remaining days together. This will help them stay on task to get the most of their time left together.
  • Plan shorter intervals of teaching, longer intervals of student thinking.
  • Dojo: I usually abhor behavior reward systems but Dojo looks like it might work.
  • Watch Ken Robinson’s video at home: This animation is good as it gets in reminding me of the overwhelming amount of distractions in this generation of kids. I gain new insight each time.
  • Review the class agreements from the beginning of the year and let the kids make new ones.


Teachers; What do you do to combat boredom in the classroom?

Please share your thoughts. I am always looking for new ideas.

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Parent-Teacher Conference Ideas for International School Teachers

Having completed my Hong Kong school’s annual Parent Teacher conferences, it is time to reflect and celebrate. After twenty-three years of teaching, I find that I still get butterflies. Below are some thoughts about how I approach each individual Parent-Teacher Conference. If you are a new teacher or new to the international school scene, I hope this helps.

My administrator asks each teacher to focus on emotional, social, academic growth. I do this by inquiring what changes they have seen in the child in these areas. Specifically, I ask parents:

  • “Which kids in the classroom does your child consider to be friends?”
  • “How does your kid feel about school this year?”
  • “What changes in study habits have you seen this year?”
  • “What do I need to know about your kid?”
  • “What would you like me to do for your kid?
  • How has your child handled the move to Hong Kong?
  • How has your child adjusted to the classroom?

Few challenge this approach and I find that even fewer parents are hesitant to speak about their kids. This helps gets the conference started in a positive direction. It also, signals to the parents that I consider their partnership to be a priority.

I rarely set any predetermined goals for any of my students. Rather, I set goals with the parents while in the midst of the discussion. This tends to be more authentic and allows the parents to directly impact their child’s education.  I notate all agreements immediately after our talk and act on our shared plans as soon as possible.

I intentionally keep student work nearby but do not let it become a focal point of the discussions. The work is important and should be presented. However, I have found that it is easy to get bogged down on minutia when I rely too much on kid’s work.  Rather, I keep the conversation flowing by talking about the curriculum and the student’s positive reaction from my teaching.

I offer advice but I always ask before doing so. I have no kids of my own so I tend to stay away from trying to give advice to parents. Conversely, I view that it is my duty to support and to affirm their good work.

I give a “temperature check” of the parents’ emotional state as they enter the room. I sit in a comfortable chair and position myself at a slant in order to be as non-confrontational as possible. As parents leave, I bow, shake hands or give a hug depending on the situation. I always say thank you and plea for the parents to keep me updated on any pending changes or transitions that I would need to know.

Finally, below are tips that I have found to be useful:

  • Offer professional books to read.
  • Acknowledge the difficulties of living overseas.
  • Provide evidence of learning.
  • Stay balanced and fresh. No blogging, paying bills, or vacation planning.
  • “It is not about you.”
  • Be punctual.
  • You are an ambassador of your school, you are a professional, be true to your school’s mission.
  • Be quick to forgive.
  • Be reassuring.
  • Do not recommend outside tutoring ever.
  • Be realistic.
  • Brush your teeth after lunch.
  • Have a blast and appreciate the moment.

Watching your Parents age from a Distance…Saying Goodbye as an Expat

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Each summer, before returning to Asia, I have to say goodbye to my parents. It is an awful ritual. It is increasingly difficult as the years go on. This summer was nothing short of torturous in that my mom and dad are struggling so mightily to live. It kills me to see them in pain.

I wrestle with self-centeredness, by balancing the thought of my mom and dad’s exceedingly dwindling quality of life versus my need to learn from them and enjoy their company. I am often times needing to tell them that I have a really good life and that I am happy. Each year, I find myself playing the loser’s game of wishing that I might see my parents just one more summer. I find myself wondering if I am living a life of meaning if I cannot even take care of my own parents’ basic needs. Each year I try to reconcile my conflicting emotions. “Should I stay or should I go?” Should I risk taking a real pay cut to return home? Can I eek out one more year?

Would I be  an added burden if I finally did decide to return home?

In writing this piece, I think of a quote from Confucius that I read somewhere. To paraphrase, “a man is not a man if he leaves his parents’ hometown before they have died.” This quote slays me each time I think about it, knowing that I have left my parents when they need me most. This quote is especially gnawing in that I feel like I have left my siblings holding the bag.

I am sure that I am not the only expatriate dealing with these thoughts.What helps me is to remember and share the advice my parents sent my way,such as:

“Live simply, boring is good.” “Have a good life, enjoy your time with your wife.” “Be happy is all that I ask.” “Don’t live to help people. That is egotism. Simply live to not hurt others. That is enough.” “Whenever in a hospital, you got to eat.” “There are not a lot of people who have a relationship like we do.” “Life is incredibly humbling.”

What also helps is to organize their lives as much as possible to set them up for survival. I did this with my mom by writing a financial, mental, and physical health plan that is achievable. I aided my dad by showing him all that he can still do, and not tell him what he should do.

Finally,below are ten ideas that help me live overseas while my parents age:

1.Accept that you cannot stop the aging process, even if you are living nearby.

2.Appreciate the kindness and positivity of your parents as they look upon their lives. Listen to them.

3.Thank them incessantly in for all that they have done for you.

4.Empathize with their plight, but do not allow yourself to wallow in pity.

5.Help your parents adapt to technology and accept the tools that are just too overwhelming.

6.Do what you can, whenever and whatever.

 7.Continue to make memories.

 8.Listen to them…just sit by their sides.

9.Trust caregivers and hope for the best.

10. Pay it forward and volunteer to work with the elderly in your newly adopted country.



 Expat reader, I sincerely wish you luck as you watch your parents age. Off to Hong Kong.