(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.
(Written back in November 2019)
It is pretty amazing how much a student can change in the space of a couple of months. High school application season is about to start, so the third graders are starting to get their act together. Meanwhile, the first graders have finally adapted to junior high school life and the second graders are… well… typical second graders.
But there’s a particular second grade student who has shown a massive improvement in her studies and confidence. I taught her older brother who graduated earlier this year. He was very studious but had crippling anxiety issues leading to long stretches of absences from school. During his sister’s first year, she had found it difficult to fit into her class and follow the lessons. So naturally the teaching staff had started to worry about her.
However this past week, during the semesterly English interview test she really showed an improvement. She answered the questions perfectly and with real confidence. She even managed to show a smile. I was a little taken aback by it all. The last time I attended this school was back in early October. Was this the same student? Or was the cold weather getting to me? After the test, I talked with her English teacher who confirmed that other teachers had been similarly surprised with her dramatic change. I hope she continues to build on her newfound confidence going into the next academic year. And I hope she’ll inspire a few of her classmates to do the same.
(Written back in October 2019)
My area’s annual JHS recitation contest took place in the second week of October. Nine students from my three assigned schools participated in the competition. During the past couple of months my lunchtimes have consisted of scoffing down my lunch and then tutoring students.
Each student has a different way of learning. But my “process” is to start off with them reading the text, checking their pronunciation and slowly building their confidence with the material. Then moving onto memorisation and intonation. And then finally progressing onto conveying emotion and body language. My assigned schools rotate on a weekly basis, meaning that I sometimes have a three week gap in-between visits to particular schools. But it’s always interesting to see how far students have progressed after each visit. Admittedly some take it more seriously than others, but on the actual day of the contest they all managed to give their best performance.
It’s a highly rewarding experience watching a normally quiet student dramatically perform Malala Yousafzai’s UN speech in front of a sizeable audience. That particular student managed to claim the top prize in the third grade competition and will be participating in the prefectural contest later this year. Her family and her school’s principal let out a hushed cheer as her name was announced. The win means that her school will retain the trophy and continue its winning streak. In fact, I actually tutored her older sister three years ago, whose name is still adorned on the trophy. Her mother thanked me and the principal shook my hand while enthusiastically saying something along the lines of “Same again next year, please”.
Out of the nine students that participated, four of them managed to get a prize. In fact all the top spots in the third grade contest were awarded to my students. Naturally, a few tears were shed by those that had missed out on a podium spot. But I was very proud of them all. And while their JTEs excessively thanked me for my contribution and tutoring, at the end of the day it’s the students’ own effort and determination that got them on the stage and speaking English.
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.
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!”
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 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”
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”
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,….”