These past few days have been a lot of fun, mostly because of the young man I work with. I landed my current job as an ALT(Assistant Language Teacher) for the Saiki Board of Education through some fairly amazing circumstances….last December while I was here for the funeral of Jiro’s father, Jiro and I went out to listen to music at a small “livehouse” called Shotgun. One of the young musicians playing was an American so I invited him over to our table to chat for a bit between sets. I discovered that he was also from Oregon and that his high school Japanese teacher in Salem is a good friend of mine. He also told me that he was planning on leaving Japan at the end of summer and that his employer would soon be looking for a replacement. We exchanged contact info and things fell into place after that.
I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to shadow him in his job for the past month. I have learned so much from watching him teach and interact with students. The job is an impossible one, but he has taken on the challenge of teaching English to almost every child at the 33 elementary schools of Saiki with enthusiasm, a huge amount of optimism and an arsenal of effective activities and teaching strategies. Each day we head out to a different school and he often knows the names of the students and teachers, pretty remarkable considering he only visits many of the schools once a month or even once a term.
When I left my middle school teaching job and moved into teaching “one-shot” sessions in the library, I found the most difficult aspect to be establishing classroom rapport and to feel a strong connection with the students. I also felt that with only one opportunity to meet face-to-face, I had no chance to follow-up or expand on ideas and concepts that were introduced in the session. Over time I realized the importance of keeping the focus narrow, to make sure that I had the “hooks” in place, and to give the students time to practice the skills introduced. After the first term, teaching the one-shot felt more like performing than teaching, but also different from a performance because there were always questions and responses that veered from the “script”.
School HallwayThis teaching job here is all about performing. We visit each class for 45 minutes with two language objectives and run through an introduction, an activity to practice and a game that gives them more opportunities to use the language. There is definitely a script and we can run the same lesson in 5 or 10 different classrooms in one week. We make adjustments depending on the number of students, it ranges from 2 students to 40 students…..I know the biggest challenge will be the pacing of the activities and I’ve learned to have one extra activity if things finish earlier than expected. This week I start my solo performances. I will teach six classes back-to-back with a break for lunch.
Our living space is almost ready!