First week of work

If you can’t tell by that Excel spreadsheet, I’m a total nerd/over planner.  I must’ve spent at least 6 extra hours down in the school preparing for my classes… reading through lesson plans, checking readings, making copies, finding things, writing out Post-its for each class file folder saying what books and supplies I needed…  It’s a problem – my over-organization – I know.  I’ll redo a whole handwritten page if I don’t like the way it looks or I screw up somewhere, but that’s not what you came to read about.  Get ready for a beast of a blog entry.

OVERALL the job is really great.  I love it.  I have a lot of fun, and it actually feels pretty rewarding.  I don’t resent the extra work (since it is self-imposed), but I do look forward to the time when I’m comfortable enough that I don’t need to itemize 15 to-do lists a day.  I didn’t screw up nearly as much as I thought I would, and all of my students are really nice.

Here’s what the classes are like going from youngest to oldest:
Kinder classes are exactly what they sound like… kindergarten level kids.  We play a game where they slap little copies of vocab photos they have, we watch a video and sing, they practice their handwriting, some listen to tracks in Japanese then in English while they color, and we play a game at the end.  They’re actually some of the more difficult classes because the kids know really no English and there are so many elements to the class that I’m bouncing around a lot.  Some of the kids are still shy because they don’t know me, some are rambunctious, but they’re all pretty sweet kids.  These classes are 50 minutes long, and the moms are usually in the hallway watching.

Then for elementary level classes get a little more complicated.  Depending on the students’ levels (they can be private or group classes.  My largest group class is 6 kids – 2 boys and 3 girls) we use different books, but generally we review a dialogue book (It’s time to get up!, etc.), then review the previous week’s lesson (usually vocab words with photos next to them, like fruit or musical instruments).  I hold up flash cards in English & read the new vocab words, the students repeat, and I flip the card to show them the Japanese.  Then I read the new lesson & the kids repeat.  For the less advanced kids, we do workbook pages (match this picture to its definition, practice handwriting), recite phonics (“A says a,a: apple, bag, ant), we play a game and it ends there.  Those classes can be a half hour or 50 minutes.

In addition to the above for more advanced elementary,  the students do word order where I read the new lesson a second time at a slower pace while they try to transcribe.  They have a workbook to refer to for this with the Japanese translation, but the words in each sentence are jumbled up (Ex: store her went to Jill car the in).  This is incredibly time consuming.  The students are all at different levels within the class, so some are quicker and some slower.  Some need repeating.  Some make mistakes, so I need to pace back and forth, look between there books and mine, keep my place and my pace (always one eye on the clock or my watch).  Some also like to drop their pencils or jabber in Japanese.  If they’re close to junior high, we have an advanced expression book (“I think I’ll have a nightcap.”  “I need to send this by registered mail.”) and a play about a Japanese foreign exchange student.  These classes are also 50 minutes, which is a lot less time than it seems.  They also tend to be groups of 3-6 students who like to procrastinate (the younger ones).

Junior high classes are only 20 minutes long with a pretty hefty workload.  They keep a diary, some transcribe from MDs of popular movies they listen to at home (Narnia and Harry Potter are very popular).  Abbreviated as JH, you can see that some are group classes (no more than 4 students), but more often than not are private.  This may be because junior high students in Japan have to cram for an English exam they need to pass to get into high school.  High school starts at the age of 15 in Japan, and is actually optional (though 94% attend). The best schools are public and free, so my junior high students have something called juku – cram school in addition to their regular school, English school, club activities, and personal hobbies (karate, abacus, caligraphy, dance, etc.)

We review their diary and MD if they have one, the students read last week’s reading to me, then new flash cards, reading & repeating the new lesson, and word order.  No game for these guys, but I try to be as cheerful as possible with them.  I think they need it the most.  I only have two high school students, and they follow the same pattern as junior high classes, but with a more advanced book.

Once they’ve finished it all, the students move onto the authentic level.  These kids are the most fun for me to teach.  Unlike the majority of my students, they actually understand English.  For some classes, asking “what is your name?” gets a dumbfounded look as an answer.  And most of the time I can’t ask the kids general questions about their book, school, or life because they just don’t understand enough.  SO, authentic classes are great.  They also keep a diary and transcribe from MDs (one girl is doing Full House) and read & answer questions from books they’ve chosen.  In addition to being able to actually communicate, these classes are fun because the students WANT to be there.  They like English, they’ve studied extensively so they’re not struggling (and I actually get to explain things instead of reading monotonously), and they want to be there.  It really does make a difference.  Only one-to-one, these classes are 20 minutes.

Finally, there are the adult classes.  I have two private adults, one is my doctor who brings in copies of a textbook on Japan, reads them to me & I correct his pronunciation/talk about things.  He’s a really interesting guy… doctor by day & opera singer in his spare time.  He studies English for himself.  The other works for an agro-chemical company and takes English to increase his job performance.  Like Dr. Terakado, he’s there for about an hour, but I supply an article to talk about.  This one’s a bit tougher because I don’t know much about business or him yet, so hmm… what to talk about?  The adult classes can be really tough because they’re there for an hour and if there’s nothing to talk about, well, there’s nothing to talk about.  I also end up speaking in a sort of spastic, over-enunciated, punctuated, and very expressive way (LOTS of hand gestures) that’s tough to break out of for like a half hour when I go back to the apartment.  It’s been making Mike a little crazy.  Their English proficiency (and willingness to talk, or even talk about themselves… some can be shy) varies.

The other two are group classes.  My Tuesday night group class is two women in their 30s who’re pretty shy and quiet (though the father of two of my kinder kids will be joining next week).  The other are a group of three women on Wednesday who are an absolute ball.  They’re all very good at English and just want to chit chat.  I actually stayed 10 minutes late because we were having so much fun.

The one exemplary student that comes to mind  that I’d like you to know about is Soichirou, a very sweet boy who is 6 years old and studying from the high school level books with his 12 year old brother.  Soichirou is especially cute because sometimes when we do the flash cards he needs his big bro to explain since he hasn’t learned the difficult Japanese kanji yet.

our building - top right apt. is ours

There’s also one day a week where I travel 40 minutes west by train to our alternate location in Ashikaga.  That day’s kind of stressful for me because I can’t go in early to setup and prep, I still don’t quite know where everything is, the students come early so I juggling to put things away and setup at the same time (at the Oyama school, if I don’t have time to put things away I just stash them on my desk… I can’t do that at this school because it’s really small.  I’m in one room all day).  And… since it’s one room I don’t get a break.  There was one originally scheduled, but there’s some Japanese slang word I can’t remember for Ashikaga that means “closed door,” because it’s kind of a run-down area.  All the storefront shutters are closed because businesses have moved out altogether or close really early.  As you can imagine, I wasn’t to eager to have an hour-long break (by myself, away from my apartment) in this area.  AND, I get to Oyama at almost 10 then have to bike home in the freezing cold before waking up for my busiest day of the week.
Alas, don’t be discouraged!  Like I said, the classes are a lot of fun.  If I think of it, have time, and feel a little more prepared, I may try to make a little video of the trip to Ashikaga next week.  We’ll see, though…

I hope you enjoyed this blog post! I’ve been wanting to write about it for a while, I was just really tired all week.  Wednesday night I stayed an extra two hours (until midnight) to go through things, and I was in early almost every day.  It’s not particularly difficult or tiring work, but I felt like relaxing for what little time I could.

Today we went to a million places in Tokyo, so check back maybe tomorrow on both my and Mike’s blog.  Hopefully we’ll get them done.  We had a long day and I wrote so much so I’m really sorry, but I’m just too lazy to proofread.  It’s actually 2 a.m. here, so I’m giving up and going to bed.


About Michelle

I lived in Japan for a year & a half teaching English. Now I'm blogging about learning to cook in NYC.
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