My High School Experience

Across Japan, junior high school third graders have started their three years of high school education. And with all this talk about the students entering an important part of their lives, I got back to thinking about my high school days. England’s educational system is structurally different from the likes of America and Japan as you can tell from the table below;

England’s Education System

Grade

School

Age

Nursery

Nursery

3

Reception

Reception

4

Year 1-6

Primary School

5-11

Year 7-11

Secondary School

11-16

Year 12-13

Sixth Form / College

16-18

Anyway my “high school days” found me at a completely new school, surrounded by new teachers and new classmates. Those stressful two years were a nightmare of examinations, coursework and social toxicity. After five years of studying at my secondary school, making close friends and building an attachment to my teachers, I found myself unable to study the subjects I wanted to at a Sixth Form level. My parents were also deterred by the school’s underwhelming test averages and university prospects. Thus we decided that it would be best if I changed schools for my A-Levels. And so it was decided that I would go into private education for two years.

I was overweight, my GCSE grades (Year 11) weren’t as high as everyone else’s, and I didn’t drive to school in a Mercedes. Though these never presented a direct problem for myself, I could tell that there was a divide between those students that were overly-privileged and those who weren’t. My friend was constantly ridiculed for being sponsored to study at the school, as his parents couldn’t afford the fees. And this underlying fact that a private school meant money, was ever present in every facet of school life. BMW cars, Swiss watches and lines of coke in the bathroom definitely didn’t make me feel comfortable. This even stretched to the school’s financial dealings. The Sixth Form building had been funded by some gentlemen whose name I can’t recall. Anyway, he had returned to the school for a visit and had witnessed an impromptu water fight. We got a prompt scolding from the principal who stated that “we should be ashamed” for losing funding for the school’s future projects. None us really gave a f**k.

What particularly stands out was that Sixth Form was a period of adult themes and hurried “maturity”. This wasn’t the group of classmates that discussed The Simpsons or the weekend football scores. Instead sex, booze, calculus and rugby were common topics of conversation. A confusing mix for me. I’d never had sex, drunk booze, studied calculus or even watched a game of rugby before entering high school. Talking about sex was always an incredibly nervous experience as an overweight individual. My innocent minded couldn’t grasp the terminology or justification for bragging about it. Under-age drinking was prevalent throughout the school. In fact the school grounds were surrounded by two pubs, one in particular was the “drinking hole” for many students. I’d never touched a beer or a shot of vodka before and the peer pressure was incredibly persistent, even on school trips.

In terms of actually studying. My teachers were a mixed bag, all possessing unique personalities and foreign teaching styles to what I was used to. I had two history teachers. I always looked forward to my English History lessons purely because of the teacher. She was kind and understanding. Lessons wouldn’t be a lecture, but a discussion of opinions and ideas. Meanwhile, I loathed studying about Bismark and the Russian Tsars. Not only was it uninteresting but our teacher was an traditionalist and eccentric who had studied at Oxford University, something he was overly proud to remind us of. I loathed going to his lessons or handing in homework for the fear of being ridiculed.

In the end all that mattered was that I got the grades I needed to go to the university. I made some friends, enjoyed studying some of the material, but I never felt any connection to the school. I hated the over-privileged atmosphere of under-age drinking, drugs and pampering that was ever present. The phrase “you are an ambassador of this school” was thrown around by the principal, but it wasn’t something I was proud to be associated with. I was very fortunate to have been brought up in a family and I’m grateful that my parents were willing to invest in my education to that degree. But my high school experience wasn’t something I’d like to repeat.

Junior High Graduation

Last Friday was the Graduation Ceremony for the third graders. Throughout the course of the week the students had been practicing the songs and routines. The second and first grade boys had been causing problems and rage-induced rants from the teachers, as per usual. Anyway, on the day it was a mixture of emotions. There were tears, cheers and words of inspiration from students and teachers. Parents all showed up in suits with their camcorders at the ready. I received “Thank you” messages from students and was asked for numerous selfies. I’d only known them for a year but it was a pleasure to have taught them. I wish them the best.

Pikotaro Sabotaged My Students’ Tests!

For most schools in Japan, this week is “Final Test Week”. One thing that I’ve been in charge of conducting is the Interview Test. I’ve chosen a selection of questions from the past couple of months, and have been assessing each student’s responses. One of the grammar points that I’ve included is “I have ____”; “I have a cat. I have two CDs”. It’s pretty simple and it’s taught early on in the curriculum. But about fifty percent of student responses have been frustratingly ruined by a chart-topping song. Continue reading “Pikotaro Sabotaged My Students’ Tests!”

The Annual Migration of ALTs

The month of March marks both the end and beginning of the Japanese school year. As a result some ALTs (Assistant Learning Teachers) will decide to leave, meaning that new recruits will soon start to arrive. Understandably, various companies’ Facebook pages have been flooded with question about visas, training and suggestions on what to bring. But amongst them, as always, have been some bewildering questions or statements; Continue reading “The Annual Migration of ALTs”

Correcting the Teacher, as an Assistant Teacher.

As an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) at junior high school level (JHS), I work with a Japanese Teacher of English (JTE). There really are too many abbreviations in this job. Anyway, this invites a “team teaching” approach to our lessons that thankfully doesn’t make me just a human tape player reciting from the crappy textbooks. We’ll prepare activities, present dialogue to give students a better understanding of “naturally” spoken English, and attempt to create a more involved learning atmosphere. But like anyone who is studying or teaching a second language, mistakes are bound to occur. The students present their own range of challenges, as I’ve discussed, but the teachers also can create some unique situations in the classroom. Continue reading “Correcting the Teacher, as an Assistant Teacher.”

The Joys of Checking Japanese Student’s Schoolwork

The core fundamentals of teaching English at junior high schools in Japan are writing, reading and listening. You’ll see that “speaking” is strangely missing as it’s not assessed through established tests, stupidly. But I think that students tend to find that writing English is the most difficult aspect of learning the language. Anyway, one of my responsibilities is checking students written assignments, which is something that can sink you further into depression or provide comedy gold.

Continue reading “The Joys of Checking Japanese Student’s Schoolwork”

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. Continue reading “The Challenges of Junior High 2nd Graders in Japan”