Cecilia Dolph: Assistant English Teacher

In class, Fukai-sensei asked if we thought we had become a member of the group we were participating in for our CIP. I couldn’t think of an answer, so I thought about it the next time I went to Ohara to teach and I came up with a lot of reasons why I think I have become a member of the teaching staff at Ohara. It happened so slowly and in such small, subtle ways that I hadn’t noticed.

The first day of my CIP I received my own desk in the teacher’s room where all the teachers have a desk to do work between classes or during off periods. When I go back to my desk between classes, all the other teachers are there taking a break as well so I’m presented with many opportunities to have conversations with them. Some of the time we talk about the school or the students or the days classes, but most of the time it’s relaxing conversation about an event someone went to over the weekend or a TV show someone watched the night before or an article in the newspaper or a picture someone took on a trip. Through complicated examples and a long discussion, I learned the breakdown of the meaning of the word for the structure of a specific kind of Chinese poetry, which all started with a conversation about a comic in the newspaper. I really feel like a part of the group when I can have comfortable conversations like these with a group of people I don’t know very well and who are all much older and wiser than I am. In front of the students I’m only supposed to speak English, so these conversations with the teachers give me the chance to practice my Japanese, especially honorific forms.

There are so many small things that make me feel like a member, like being able to get up during a break and make myself coffee or tea or hot chocolate in the kitchen whenever I feel like I need some, or the students and teachers calling me Cecilia-sensei, or being invited to the end-of-the-year party exclusively for Ohara teachers. Every week after school gets out, I’m driven to the train station by one of the teachers and we have casual conversations about Ohara or Kyoto or America. I think being able to relax and not feel nervous while I’m helping teach classes or talking to any of the teachers is a good sign that I feel like a part of the staff at Ohara.

Even though everyone at Ohara has helped me out in so many ways, like letting me get a feel for what it’s like teaching and showing me how a Japanese school works, I suppose coming to the school and letting the students hear English the way it’s supposed to be spoken and letting them hear a proper English accent is a small way of giving back to the school. I might read through a conversation in one of the textbooks and notice something that doesn’t sound quite right. Being able to fix that and teach what sounds right to the students is beneficial for the kids. Because the students don’t get the chance to meet and talk to a foreigner very often, being able to go to the school and play with the kids is a great opportunity for them, so I’m happy I’m able to provide that opportunity and see the students be excited to learn English.

Japanese and American schools operate in very different ways. The way the day is broken up into periods and the subjects students learn are very similar, but there have been some large differences that I’ve noticed while volunteering at Ohara. For my elementary and middle school in America, all the students went to the cafeteria at lunch time and picked up their own tray of food to bring back to their classroom to eat. At Ohara, the students go to the kitchen to pick up their lunch, but it comes as a tray of rice and several pots filled with the day’s lunch that need to be divided up and put into bowls. The students work together to make sure everyone gets a bowl of each item on their lunch tray, along with a carton of milk and a straw, with the work being done by the students and the teachers overseeing, making sure that everything goes smoothly. I usually eat lunch with the 1st graders, and it’s great to see kids so young learn about teamwork and responsibility without even realizing it.

A similar situation was when the students were preparing for their culture festival. The students did all the preparations for the gym, like rolling out mats, setting up chairs and bringing in instruments, with the teachers only supervising to make sure there weren’t any problems. Thinking back to the time when I had chorus concerts or plays in elementary or middle school, there were no students involved in doing any sort set up; everything was done by the teachers and janitors. Also, Japanese schools incorporate a cleaning time where all the students get involved in cleaning their classroom and the hallways by themselves. In America, the janitors do the cleaning of the entire school. I think it’s great that the students have to do this sort of thing themselves because they learn the importance of organization and teamwork and cleaning, valuable life skills, starting from when they’re very young.

I’ve learned a lot from my CIP at Ohara. In the future I plan on applying to the JET program to be an assistant English teacher, so the practice I’m doing by working with the English teachers at Ohara and occasionally teaching a class solo is very valuable. I’ve been learning how English is taught as a second language in Japanese schools, which I can work off of when I go to a different school to teach in the future. Not only have I learned valuable information and skills from the teachers at Ohara, I’ve also learned a lot from the students I’ve been working with. Being able to help them with homework or watch them learn English or just playing with them after school has helped me understand what they like and the ways they like to learn.

Since I’m studying abroad for a full year, I have the opportunity to continue this CIP next semester. I’m really looking forward to working with the teachers and students at Ohara and learning more from them. I have a lot of fun each week when I go to volunteer, so I’m happy I get to see more of the people I’ve met since I’ve started my CIP at Ohara.

2 thoughts on “Cecilia Dolph: Assistant English Teacher

  1. I didn’t know you were also a teacher’s assistant for your CIP! I enjoyed reading about your experience, especially about the different lunch and festival systems since I wasn’t able to see my students at my CIP during those times. You seem to have gained a lot, and I’m happy for you. Good luck next quarter too!

    • I didn’t you know you were teaching either! I read your post. Seems like you had a bit of a rough time. I know some of the other students teaching English ran into some of the same problems you had. I also got the sense sometimes that I would show up some weeks and the teacher’s remembered that they had to do something with me, especially when there weren’t any English classes in the afternoon and they stuck me in random clubs. But in the end I’m glad you got more of a sense that you belonged there. Thank you for your comment and good luck at Stanford next semester!