Friday, 17 October 2014

Leave it to Richard Teacher

Yesterday began like any other day at elementary school. I was inevitably 5 minutes late, stuck at a red light, and desperately wishing I knew what I was supposed to be teaching in a matter of minutes. I was especially anxious, as the night before I received the most cryptic email from a teacher to date (although I have a sneaking suspicion that if you put the email into google translate you get perfect Japanese out the other side):

"I'm sorry Richard teacher, reply becomes slow.
 Game of grade 3 and 4, and then leave it to Richard teacher. 3 grade, thank you to the center (at the school card) how to pronounce the game and story, of the alphabet about the culture of Halloween. When the time left over, I will or "Mission Game", the "Alphabet Song". In fifth grade, in charge has changed. It is Miss. M

Thank you
Miss. T"

The Culture of Halloween

I`m not complaining. I truly do appreciate being somewhat kept in the loop. It shows how hard the elementary school teachers try to communicate with us. They could have sent an email in Japanese, or no email at all. Ill take what I can get. My favourite bit is "thank you to the center." The Japanese can be so unintentionally earnest in their phrasing. I'm gonna start using that all the time.

Turns out that the usual fifth grade teacher was ill. Miss. M is a brand new support teacher that doesn't speak any English or particularly know the children in the class. So what the email translates to in practice is,

"Please teach the whole of the first three lessons on Halloween, countries, and the alphabet. You will do this alone with minimal aid. Thanks a bunch."

The panic sets in. I try to remember my training. I remember I've had no training. I look for resources. There are predictably only flashcards. That's OK, there`s only ever flashcards. I chug a cup of coffee. What is Halloween about anyway? And why do we dress up as spooky things? Is it to scare away ghosts? Surely ghosts like spooky things. If we really want to scare them we should dress as comforting things like duvets or the smell of freshly cut grass. Suddenly I hear a small child`s voice at the door of the teacher`s room. "Lichaado Sensei....Eigo.."

It's time.

Teaching Japanese Elementary School Children

This is not an isolated event. Before I came to Japan I imagined teaching would be about planing lessons, making worksheets, keeping organised, and well... remembering how to speak English. While this is partly true of Junior High School, Elementary school is a whole different ball game.

The main stumbling block is there are only a few teachers in each school that talk enough English to even let me know what's going on. Not that it's their fault. Most of the staff became teachers before English was on the Elementary School curriculum, so they are having to teach a class they`ve never had training for. Just like me. Add to that some foreign guy who can only say "Ohayo gozaimasu", "Wakarimasen", and "Toire wa doko desu ka?", and you`ve got a real party.

                                          A general morning conversation:

Lichaado-Sensei: "Ohayo gozaimasu"
(the morning greeting that literally means... it is early. Very efficient. Very Japanese)

JTE: "Ohayo gozaimasu, '&#%!)#$="!#'"&!%$=...etc"
(Some apparently random collection of Japanese syllables.)

Lichaado-Sensei: "Gomennasai, Wakarimasen."
(Sorry, I for some reason thought it wouldn't be an issue coming to japan with next to no Japanese)

JTE: "Colar gaamu preasu."
(Please teach a 45 minute class on colours. Thanks a bunch)

Winning at Japan


The Japanese 8 year olds and I still have no idea what Halloween is actually about, but they had fun pretending to be ghosts, witches, and Frankenstein. The lessons went well in the end, in large part because the senpai ALTs are kind enough to share their wealth of experience. Thank you to the center.

Turns out teaching in Elementary schools is about three  things: have a bunch of flashcard games, give simple graduated explanations, and smile till your face falls off. You have to be careful playing games with definite winners and losers. It all gets a bit too much for some of the kids, who tend to break down into tears. Which is strange, because I don`t remember crying at all at school. Guess I must have ALWAYS BEEN A WINNER.

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