The Challenges of Junior High 2nd Graders in Japan

It’s that time of the week again, the day where I have to teach the second graders. Now, when I started teaching at junior high schools (JHS) this year, I really had no idea what I was going to get into. At my previous placement I had only taught at elementary schools (ES), a completely different domain. Occasionally the local ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers) would participated in International Days where we’d go to a JHS and do cultural activities based on our nationalities. I taught cricket once while my Irish mate showed off his hurling skills. But from these one-off events you’d get hints and glimpses at what students were like.

The day before I moved closer to Hiroshima, I delivered my lease car to its new owner, the guy I was trading positions with. After repeatedly knocking on his door at 3:00pm, he answered in his pyjamas. Anyway I gave him the keys, told him that it had about half a tank of petrol and proceeded to chat about my new location. Apart from not being able to understand his broken English, which seems a bit of a problem when teaching English, this guy was an absolute c••nt. Not only did he fail to say “thank you” once, but he started slagging off my prospective schools and teachers. But the one thing that really stuck was when he said “Good luck with the second graders, they’re a real bunch of a-holes”.

Now with ten months of teaching at JHS level under my belt, it’s safe to say that teaching second graders is a difficult challenge. The third graders are mostly stressing over their high school prospects. And the first graders are freaking out because they’ve been thrust into a new environment where they’re at the bottom of the food chain. Meanwhile the second graders are under no real pressure. They’ve settled into school, they don’t have any significant tests and “puberty” is in full swing. Their behaviour in particular is an issue that all the teachers seem to struggle with. So I’m glad it isn’t just me. 

In regards to English, their English level is below average. It’s pretty rough teaching new grammar or vocabulary when they’ve barely grasped the basics. Some can barely read the alphabet phonetically, while others evade the challenge of writing by using squiggly lines as a ruse. I reckon it stems from a lack of motivation in class, which in turn affects their behaviour. Most don’t care about school, and when pushed for an answer even in Japanese, they’d rather read a novel or sleep. There are some really bright students who understand the lesson material, but they’re overshadowed by those that couldn’t really give two s••ts.

One student has become notorious in the local school district because of his “personality”. During the last lesson, he proudly exclaimed “f••k you, f••k you” as he added extra detail to a masterfully drawn penis on his notebook. I was so impressed by his drawing skills that I completely ignored the profanity and carried on walking around the class as usual. However as I’m actually writing this, the teaching staff are having a emergency meeting after finding two craft knives in his possession. That pretty much sums up the worst of the worst.

In the end, it’s not exactly easy to teach them nor is it rewarding on an assessment level. I’d guess that less than fifty percent of them genuinely understand what’s being taught. So in that case, do I enjoy teaching them? Yeah. For all the issues, it’s pretty funny to interact with them and witness their questionable English skills. For example, after collecting their answers for a writing activity I noticed that one student had written “Studying Math is POOP”, which is something my younger self would agree on. I’ve learnt that if you try and play it serious, you’re going to quickly fail and give up. But if you joke around and trick them into learning something through games or orthodox activities, you can be somewhat successful. Well….sort of. 

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Author: lostcynicinjapan

A twenty-five year old, British male living in Hiroshima, Japan. I'm an ALT who works in a number of junior high schools. I like to criticise about random things and I like to take photographs.

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