Learning to be a Teacher

Before I begin, OMG my computer is going crazy!  Well, Word is going crazy.  Randomly it shows this “C++ runtime error, abnormal termination” silliness and then won’t let me open or save any documents!  AGH.  I thought I’d fixed it by deleting a couple gigs off my computer then defragging, but nooooo.  HELP ME.  I am so le scared that my computer is going to burn out and die.  This will completely upset my loan repayment plan.

Anyway, onto the topic of discussion.  (Which I had typed in Word but now cannot access.  So I am typing it again.)

I have now been a teacher for four weeks!  Though, I count it as more like three.  As the first week was either, “Oh, the students are taking tests so you don’t have any classes,” or “Hey kids!  Lets learn about ME!”.  And since then, my class burden has varied because of Sports Day practice (see next blog entry once I edit the photos).  However, I have started to teach classes. 

The level of my involvement in planning varies from school to school.  At Naka, Adorable-sensei is very consistent with what she expects: she organizes the lesson and teaches the grammar, and I’m in charge of a game.  I find this very helpful right now in my learning stage of teaching.  I get to see a good teacher in action and learn how she manages the classroom while still gauging myself what tactics work and what don’t.

At Hatsuyama, my amount of participation varies.  Sometimes, Tomato-sensei (her real last name sounds like Tomato.  No, she does not look like one) plans the whole lesson and I act mostly as back-up/a tape recorder so the students can hear English spoken by a native.  Other times, I plan games.  And yet other times, the whole lesson.  This has only occurred once, though.

Muchuu, my largest school, represents my greatest challenge.  Each class I am responsible for the whole lesson which I have broken down thus: Greeting, Warm-up, Review (generally a game), New Grammar/Vocab, Game (or two) for New Grammar/Vocab.  It’s testing my ability to organize, be creative, explain (to both the JTEs and the students), and keep control of a class.  So far I think I’m doing ok, as well as can be expected since I started out with NO IDEA WHAT TO DO, but I’m definitely still learning.

As I go, I discover certain tactics to make the students more interested and have class move smoothly.  Here are my best tactics so far:

  1. Competition — The students love to be set against each other, particularly when this occurs in teams.  It makes them more interested in participating and more likely to participate because they aren’t so afraid of being singled out/making a mistake.  It’s the rare student in Japan who will consistently offer an answer to a question all by his or her lonesome.  It takes a lot of cajoling.  Team competition solves both problems.  I try to do it whenever I can, but it’s not always effective for the grammar/vocab.
  2. Active activity — Getting the students up and moving makes them more interested in what’s going on and, obviously, less likely to be asleep on their desks.  Even if its just walking around, it’s better than having them sit at their desks doing an individual worksheet.  Though that’s one of the activities I have planned for tomorrow…
  3. Be silly and Genki — The students love it when I act like an idiot–it makes them laugh, which in Japanese school doesn’t happen often.  It also focuses their attention on me, which is important being as they would much rather chat with their friends or sleep on their desks.  It’s especially good when I use my fledgling Japanese.  Because I make (a lot of) mistakes, I think they become more comfortable trying and potentially making mistakes in English.
  4. Demand more — Students English levels are lower than one might hope because the teachers dumb down the material for them.  I think they can do whatever the heck I ask them to as long as I move slowly and carefully.  As such, I try to make each lesson and, within each lesson, each subsequent activity more challenging.  Combine this with loads of encouragement and compliments, and they’ll realize that they really can do it.
  5. Be firm — Because I try to make class more fun with games and competition and silliness, often times the students become a bit too excited.  I’ve learned that I have a very good teacher voice and teacher silence.  When used sparingly, they get the students to calm down and pay attention.  So far, using them, I haven’t had any troubles.  But, if the students do go really insane one day, I have a few planned tactics up my sleeve to deal with it.  Hopefully they’ll respect me enough to never get to that point.

As I said, still learning.  I’ve got a long way to go before I can feel truly comfortable in this job, not least of which is that I really need to start studying Japanese more so I can communicate with the other teachers more effectively.  Still, the more I ganbatte, the more I’ll get out of it.

A few of my winning games, so you can get an idea of how I capture the students minds and interest:

  1. Secondary Color Scramble — Split students into teams of five.  Have them push aside the desks and move to the back of the class.  Hand out to each team five colors (black, white, red, yellow, blue).  Yell out a secondary color.  The first team to attach the colors to the blackboard in the front then say “COLOR plus COLOR makes COLOR” correctly gets two points. 
  2. Naming teams — Not precisely a game, but really creates a good atmosphere.  Give the teams about two minutes to choose a name for their team using the day’s vocabulary.  For instance, when studying the zoo we had “Team Tiger,” “The Donald Ducks,” and “Team Alligator.”  My favorite, so far, was “Adorable-sensei Yellow.”  (That day Adorable-sensei was wearing yellow.)
  3. Mad Libs — Though its not as active as most of my other games, it’s a surprisingly effective way for the higher-level students to learn new grammar points.  Also creates general hilarity when they read the passages to one another.  (I’m amused, at least.)
  4. Switch! — Ok, I didn’t actually make up this game.  My Planet Eigo book had it–so all props to the Association of JETs for putting out a great book.  Essentially, the students read a passage in partners for say one minute.  Then they switch partners and have less time (45 seconds, 30, 20, 10) to read it.  Even the first years could read a passage that took me about 10 seconds in the same time.  They didn’t know they could do it, but they totally did.

I’m very much enjoying myself so far.  I like seeing how far my creativity can stretch and learning what works for the kids and what doesn’t.  After each class I try to refine my technique to create more effective lessons.  I haven’t learned too many names (sad…), but I try to interact with the students as much as possible and appropriate.  I need to buy some running shoes, though.  I want to hang out with the Elementary students after lunch and all I’ve got are my Keens.  Sand gets into them. 

Next blog, when I finish editing the photos, will be on my THREE Sport’s Days.  I had all three schools on the same day.  It was quite the (occasionally terrifying) experience.  Following that, probably ekiden (an island-wide race), which is happening this Thursday. 

Let me know what you think, or if you have any ideas for lessons!  Next lesson to plan is teaching first years (only learning English for three or four months) “Do you have/want/play/like ~ ?”.  No brain waves so far.  We’ll see how it goes.

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