Getting Students to Write Fan Letters

(Written back in September 2019)

I frequently find that my main responsibility as an ALT is simply to motivate the students. The majority of my junior high students don’t feel that their future lies with English or in a foreign country. When a student’s dream job is to be a “salaryman” because “it is interesting”, it puts things into perspective.

Getting students to write English is an increasingly frustrating process for everyone involved. But the “Fan Letter” section of the third grade textbook has become a source of motivation and genuine surprise for both teachers and students. Instead of writing a letter and it ending up crammed in the bottom of their backpacks, the JTE and I have made it our mission to actual send the students’ letters. Of course it means extra work to check their letters, find the addresses and write a cover letter explaining why random Japanese students are sending letters to the likes of J.K. Rowling and Brad Pitt. But we felt it would encourage the students to take it a bit more seriously.

The fruits of our labour has been a steady trickle of replies from various celebrities. It might not be the surge we dream of, but the JTE and I are always excited to see who the responses are from. We’ve received replies and postcards from Pixar Studios, Disney World, and various soccer clubs. There have been handwritten replies from the Miffy Museum in the Netherlands and a number of Olympic medalists. Benny Andersson (ABBA), Milla Jovovich, and Johnny Depp have even sent “signed” photos back to our students.

Unfortunately not everyone gets a reply. But at the end of the day, every student manages to willingly do the work and seeing the students’ faces of surprise that “so-and-so” replied to their mail is a great feeling. It seems to puts a smile on the JTE and principal, which is always a plus.

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 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”

Donald Trump and Japan’s Youth

Looking at Japan’s news courage surrounding president-elect Donald Trump, it has primarily consisted of the opinions and critique of educated professors, experts, and the occasional empty-headed “pop-star”. Therefore the country’s comprehension of Trump is mainly from an adult perspective. During election day, I had numerous teachers commenting on why American’s were voting for

Continue reading “Donald Trump and Japan’s Youth”

If you had $1 billion dollars,….

During this week, the school’s dedicated English teacher and I decided to pose this question to the students; If you had one billion US dollars, what would you do?  It’s a question that I sometimes ask my friends while drinking. “A new house”, “private jet”, “2 girls at the same time”, are some of the answers that frequently come up. Heck, when I posted the same question on Reddit, the answers were “burn it”, “buy everyone a donut”, and “2 girls at the same time”, which Continue reading “If you had $1 billion dollars,….”