Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Update on the Teaching Experience

We are now in January and I am back to sitting on my round rump here in the staff room. At the beginning, I faintly promised an update on how I've adapted to teaching English to my Japanese students (you know? the  whole reason I'm here).

I went back and read my original post on the matter and unfortunately, not too much has changed other than my getting accustomed to it. Sadly, I haven't learned all of my students names. Not even ten to be honest. In something of a defense, they are NEVER said aloud! I could tell you some of their last names though since that's how they call on them. I am though a bit more structured since my first couple of lessons and know what the teachers expect from me now. At my base school, Hikami, I am basically a human tape recorder and someone to bounce ideas between. In most of my classes here, I prepare very little and just do as I'm told in class which includes: writing sentences from the text book, talking about my weekend, thinking of easier synonyms to help the students with a difficult word, having them repeat vocabulary after me, etc. The times I've been able to plan a lesson on my own have been for holidays, my self-introduction, and a presentation on my volunteer trip to Tohoku. My JTE seems to enjoy those times but is content with leaving it at that. When I'm not teaching, I've been asked to grade papers, tutor students, and coach the speech contest contestants. I was also asked to join a commerce class I would ordinarily never go to, but because they were doing a class project on creating a company and dealing with foreign investors, I was the choice foreigner to have mock meetings and practice formal emails with. When I'm not doing any of these things I'm at my desk doing, well, this. Some people would rather be put to good use, but I really appreciate having a lot of down time to catch up with my own interests. My fellow ALTs nearby at ES/JHS have an average of five classes a day while I usually have three.
Where I spend some of my time
Where I spend most of my time
At my visit school, Hikami Nishi (HN), I play a more active role. I'm not sure if it's because the teachers there want the pressure taken off of them a bit or if they were told to use me as much as possible, but I definitely work harder at that school. Again, an average of three classes when I'm there but each one is a challenge on its' own. The school is very small (85 students) and has a low level of English language skills thus I sometimes teach the same kids twice in a day and have to come up with separate lessons while trying to keep it in context with the textbooks. I teach all three levels here as opposed to my predominantly second year (10th grade) students in Hikami. These kids are also... less inclined we'll say...to learning English and are usually disruptive during my lessons to a point. In efforts to keep them interested, I try to mix up my lessons. For Thanksgiving, I even played a Charlie Brown special to do something different but they still talked through most it. They're not bad kids, just a bit skeptical about how practical English will be for them in the future so put very little effort. I had been warned about this attitude before arriving in the countryside. I had been told that these kids are most likely going to stay in their towns and take up their family's business or farm, so they see little value in learning English. Sad, but I'm sure we were all just as stubborn and naive when we were their age.

In both schools, I've added some fun elements here and there where I can. For example, I had them help me make hand turkeys to give away to the kids I was visiting during my volunteer trip. They seemed to enjoy that. I also gave out candy for Halloween and Christmas, making them say 'trick-or-treat' for the former and getting all the answers correct to a word scramble for the latter. I've put stickers on their papers which I then see them remove and attach to their pen cases. I've played pictionary and hangman with a couple of classes. I interact with them when they ask me what movies, actors, singers, anime, manga I like. I visited each of their classes stalls during the cultural festival and bought something. I have no doubt that they are fond of me but I do doubt how much English they're retaining.

So far I would say that this experience has taught me a lot about patience, resourcefulness, and adaptability. I honestly don't feel built to be a teacher but have had my fun experiences during this time. As the school year progresses, I also learn more about the Japanese school system which was somewhat of a gap in all my collegiate studies. In April, the new school year will start bringing in new students and changing my schedule completely. If much changes, I'll update again!

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