Essay 4: Life Working in a School

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When I taught in Japan, I taught at 2 schools. My host school was an academic boys senior high and my visit school was a fisheries school.

I taught between 2 and 4 classes a day, with the rest of my office hours spent developing the English communication course or studying Japanese.

A normal day would start at about 7am, where I would stick on the rice-maker and get myself dressed in a short sleeved shirt that would probably prompt at least 5 times the concerned question "Aren't you cold with such a thin shirt?" during the following day. After taking a bit of rice for my lunch I'd hop on my small green basket-bike or Mamachadi and head off on the half hour cycle to my school for the day.

On arrival I'd stick my footwear in my locker by the door and put on the (slippers that everybody must wear inside the school), say good morning to the office staff and then head to the Staff room. In Japan, instead of the students going to each teachers classroom, like we might be used to, the teachers go to each class's classroom so the teachers do not have a room of there own. Because of this, staff rooms in Japanese are not the relaxing spaces that western staff rooms might be, but are more like a chaotic library of reference and study material, crammed with teachers and their individual work places. The only person who has his own office is the Head teacher.

At the ring of the bell at 8am, everybody bows, says "good morning" then the head teacher or deputy head makes the mornings announcements then those teachers with home room classes head off to take registration while everybody else sits and gets about their business.

I would start by reviewing what classes I was having over the next few days and start planning the lessons. I always tried to make the lessons as practical as possible and involve props as often as possible. So with an outline plan I would go over to the team teacher and check to see if there was anything he wished to change which there normally wouldn't be and I'd then get making props and handouts etc.

When it came time for my class, I would be collected by my team teacher and we would head off to the classroom. On arrival, the students (if they weren't asleep!) would stand to attention and we would bow to each other and the lesson would begin. I preferred to start the lesson with some sort of game like Criss Cross, hangman etc. to waken them up and become used to thinking about English. The class would then start with a run over of the grammar and vocabulary they would be using in the activities for that lesson followed by the lesson itself then a warm down. Sometimes the students reaction would be excellent, but often the students had no confidence in using English in front of their other class mates for fear of making a fool of themselves. Often this would spread through the class and leave a silent class, especially at the end when asking questions about the activity they had just done. It was often hard work to keep them relaxed enough to speak in front of each other and I used humour to combat this as much as I could.

Finishing the lesson with more bows, I'd head back to the staff-room and study a little Japanese before lunch and then head off to the cafeteria for a bite to eat. I liked to time my arrival with the students lunch break. The reason for this was that I was far more likely to get enthusiastic English usage while they were relaxing over lunch than in the classroom! If a conversation was struck up I'd be asked all sorts of things that teenage boys were interested in. Did I like Japanese women, did I have a car, what did I have for breakfast, could they see my house, they asked how big I was, did I have a girlfriend, was she western or Japanese etc. Out of common courtesy I returned most of the appropriate questions of course. I really enjoyed this time with the students. You get more back from them when they don't think that they are being forced to learn something.

After lunch would be more of the same kind of work I did in the morning. Sometimes I would get chatting with the other English teachers or would go and research material for Japanese language or English teaching on the internet then at about 4 or 5 pm my day would finish and I'd head back home on my mamachadi.

I was very sad indeed to leave the schools I taught at. I had unawaredly become very attached to the students. All the classes signed their own class plaques with messages and presented them to me on my leaving day. Some kids were very upset indeed. I still keep in contact with some even 3 years on.

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