And then she burst into tears – Teaching Grade School

I love teaching Japanese elementary school for all the reasons I don’t much like teaching junior high school. The elementary kids are excited to see me, they ask me all sorts of questions (mostly in the vein of “what color do you like?”), and when I ask for an answer or for a volunteer, 20 hand go up in the air with a deafening round of “Hai! Hai!”

Most of my uncomfortable moments at junior high come when I’m doing a dialog with students. Just the other day, in a 7th grade class, the teacher asked me to pick a few students and ask them “What (something) do you like?”. I asked a girl “What books do you like?”; she responded “I like…” and then silence for roughly 15 seconds before the teacher told her to sit down. Maybe it didn’t bother her very much, or maybe she was traumatized will hate English for the rest of her life. This is the game of chance I play whenever I have to call on students.

Fortunately, elementary kids aren’t quite so embarrassed when they make a mistake. Or are they? Today I taught 2nd graders, “How are you?” “I’m fine, and you?” “I’m fine, too.” After making them repeat it 20 or so times with a partner, I asked for volunteers to present. At first, I have them present with a partner, then I had them do the dialog with me. One little boy really wanted to do the dialog, but his partner sat shaking her head “no”. I said, “OK, just me and the boy” but for some reason the girl stands up.

Boy: “How are you?”
Girl: “How are you?”
Boy: “No, you say, ‘I’m fine, and you?'”
Me: *trying to get the girl to repeat after me. “I’m fine…”

Suddenly, tears are just streaming down the girl’s face. Oh Lord, what have I done?! I stood with a slightly panicked look on my face as the homeroom teacher walks over and does the dialog in place of the girl. The girl recovered eventually, but I can’t help but feel guilty.

And thus are the occupational hazards of teaching English to 8 year olds.

Months of the year

Spelling was hard for me as a native, so I can’t imagine how difficult it is for my Japanese junior high schoolers. Unfortunately, English spelling is very much taught by rote learning here with no emphasis on phonics or even really basic spelling rules. This is terrible for their English education, but for my personal entertainment, it’s hilarious. Today, the 8th graders had a spelling test, and by far the most entertaining was the months of the year. Here are a few of the misspellings:

  • January – Janney, Junwary
  • February – Fvrey, Federey, Fevraliy
  • March – Mach, Match
  • April – Eiprl, Epler, Eiplir, Aplir
  • May – is one most kids managed to get, though there were a few “Mai”s
  • June – Jnu, Jun
  • July – Jaril, Jury
  • August – Orgest
  • September – Sertanbay
  • October – Octorber, Octanbay
  • November – Nobender, Noder, Nadeny (wtf?)
  • December – Deasnbay, Disember

These are just one class, I’m sure many more await me tomorrow.

There were also many non-month misspelling pearls, such as apoo – apple, tachy – teacher, lunt – lunch, and goil – girl, which gets half points ’cause “goil” is correct in some part of the States.

A day in the life of an ALT

One thing that’s frustrating about being a new ALT is no one seems to tell you what you’re going to be doing once you reach Japan. I used to think this was a JET thing, but talking to ALTs in other companies, it seems to be and anywhere thing. It is ESID and all that, but at the very least it’s good to see what other ALTs are doing. So as a service to you new JETs and other ALTs, here is a day in the life (specifically April 25) of me, a typical junior high school ALT. Continue reading

Let’s make us nonsense sentance in bed

I feel incredibly fortunate to have the JTEs I have, they are all nice and I get along with everyone. That said, there is one teacher I somewhat dread teaching with who I shall refer to as Clueless-sensei. He’s a very nice guy, but I’m almost positive he never intended to be an English teacher. The theory I work with is he applied to teach some other subject, and the school said, “Well, we don’t need anyone in that department, but can you teach English?” Most of the time, he seems to be about a lesson ahead of the kids in his English ability, and this year he’s teaching 9th graders. He can also kind of flaky and often forgets to make the handouts he needs, in addition to forgetting he has class with me and leaving me in the teacher’s room least half a dozen times now.

At best, his classes are an exercise in patience. But yesterday, he had an activity that provided me with enough entertainment that I didn’t look at the clock every 3 minutes and wonder when it was going to end.

The 9th graders are learning passive voice (“The chair was made by Jim” instead of “Jim made the chair”) and the activity was to make a silly sentence. The first student in the row would write a person or thing on a piece of paper, fold over the top, and hand it to the 2nd student who wrote a passive-verb and folded it, then the 3rd student wrote the agent (by so-and-so), 4th student wrote the location, 5th wrote when it happened, and bam, ridiculous sentence. One of the phrases in the “Location” word box was “in bed” so I knew I was in for a treat.

Here’s what we ended up with:

A bird was eaten by monkeys at home after school.

Son Goku was made by Mr. Hayakawa at school last Friday.

Okay, nothing too exciting yet, but wait!

Takahiro was lost by the police on the sun last week.

Mr. Ito was made by the girls on the moon 10 years ago.

The kids are really interested in the cosmos.

Now, it finally goes to the gutter:

Clueless-sensei was bought by the girls in bed last year.

Mr. Terata was loved by space out people in bed yesterday.

I initially thought they meant “spaced out people” in which case, I was quite impressed the student knew that phrase. But it turned out he meant “alien”. It’s always only a matter of time until someone gets probed.

And last:

Our teacher was taken by Megumi at home yesterday.

This ended up making me break down and giggle like a Japanese school girl. Clueless-sensei didn’t understand the connotation of “being taken” and was a bit confused as to why I was laughing. Sometimes I’m grateful for his limited English ability.