Time for a quick tour of the Tarumi
branch of Nova, where Japanese students take English lessons from native
speakers. I worked there from November 2001 to August 2002.
Let's start at the Tarumi train
station. Most Nova schools are located just a block or two from the
nearest station for the convenience of customers. The Nova slogan, after
all, is "Study abroad at the station."
Here's a look at the outside of the building. It's sandwiched between
the Tarumi railroad station (right) and a pachinko
This shot was taken early in the morning on Sunday, and just like every
Sunday morning, a long line has formed of pachinko addicts waiting to
get their fix.
Upon entering the front door, a staff member or two will say hello...
...and if you're a student who has already purchased a block of
lessons, you can give the staff your I.D. card and go upstairs to your
Because Tarumi isn't a large school, lessons often have only one or two
students, but on evenings and weekends, there can be up to three.
Teaching all of them at the same time can be quite a struggle, and it
looks like Sam's got his hands full here. Then again, maybe he just had
some bad sake
Lessons last 40 minutes each in the morning and evening, and 45 minutes
in the afternoon. Like all full-time Nova teachers, I taught eight of
these lessons a day, five days a week. That means I taught more than
1,400 lessons in my nine months at Nova! The repetition got boring at
times, but somehow my students seemed genki
no matter how mundane my
lessons were. That's me on the left, but I guess that's obvious.
Nova offers a rather unique supplement to the classroom: the "Voice Room".
This is simply a room full of couches and padded chairs where students
can talk freely in English about anything they want. It's a more
relaxing and natural setting than the classroom, and it lets the
students get to know each other (and the teacher) a little better. In
this picture, only two students showed up for Voice, but on the
weekends, the room was often packed with students.
Students can book lessons any day of the week, any time of day from 10
AM to 9 PM. They usually call a few days ahead of time and speak to one
of the Nova staff, such as Noriko here, to reserve a time slot.
Nova is not a public school; it's a corporation publicly traded on the JASDAQ
(code 4655). This focus on profit means that a lot of time and effort
goes into promoting, marketing, and selling English lessons. Here, a
potential customer watches a Nova publicity video and will soon get a
sales pitch from a staff member.
Now let's go behind the scenes to the teachers' room. This is where we
planned lessons, ate lunch, and gossiped. In this picture, Heather (from
America) is planning a lesson for one of her kids classes.
Nova has hundreds of branches throughout Japan, and when a teacher goes
on vacation or gets sick, another one takes up the slack by working
overtime. The branch with the vacancy faxes a request to all the nearby
schools, and those schools post the request in the teachers' room. On
one particular month, when teachers seemed to be going on vacation,
quitting, and getting sick all at the same time, the overtime requests
came in so fast that there was no more space to put them.
Kozue, a staff member, posed with me for a picture on my last day at
Just in case you really
to get to know Nova, I've put together an 80-second video tour of the
Tarumi branch where I worked. There's no sound, and the quality isn't so
hot because of the compression, but at least it'll give you a good idea
of what a typical Nova school looks like on a typical day. You'll need
the RealMedia Player
and a fast
Internet connection in order to view this video:
A Tour of Nova (Tarumi branch)