Even though I had taken a month-long break from my CIP over winter vacation, going back in January was like nothing had changed at all. Once the teachers welcomed me back, I ate lunch with the same students, taught the same classes, and participated in the same activities as I had last semester. Nothing might have been different for the students and teachers at Ohara, but for me, taking the experiences I had last semester and building off of those to reach my goals of becoming a better teacher and learning more from the students and teachers at Ohara, I was able to have a more rewarding experience this time around than I did last semester.
This semester I made it a point to become more active while teaching English classes. Most of the time I teach the younger students whose English ability isn’t at a level where they can understand my explanations of activities or games to learn the vocabulary or expressions I’m teaching in class. The English teacher I work with has to translate my explanations or we have to do an example of the game or activity in front of the class for the students to be able to understand. The point is for the students to be able to hear a proper English accent, but last semester I was still hesitant to use too much English for students who wouldn’t be able to understand what I was saying. This semester, I changed my point of view and made an effort to use English more and teach the class thinking like the students could understand what I was saying. Hearing phrases like “Now we’re going to play a game” or “This is how you play” over and over, the students are eventually going to come to recognize what those phrases mean, and that is that point of my CIP at Ohara to teach English and let the students hear how English sounds. I think this is an important point to remember when teaching someone a foreign language.
Last semester, it took me a while to become confident enough in my Japanese and brave enough to talk to the other teachers at Ohara to be able to have a conversation with them. It wasn’t until the end of last semester that I ended up having some very interesting and informative discussions with the other teachers in between classes or during the car ride to the station. This semester I did my best to talk to the other teachers as much as possible. In front of the students I’m not allowed to speak Japanese, so in between classes in the teacher’s room while we were all standing around the heater, the other teachers would be kind enough to involve me in their conversations or ask me questions. Sometimes I was able to connect some of the conversations to things I was learning in class, so it was nice being able to give my opinion about some of the things we talked about. I was also a great source of information for the differences between Japan and America, and the teachers were interested in hearing how the school system or classes or test taking worked differently in the States.
With such a diverse group of adults, opinions didn’t always agree, but most of the time the opinions I heard were those that I expected. Getting into heavier subjects, like religion or education or family systems, sometimes I would hear opinions I didn’t expect or haven’t heard at all, and sometimes I would hear some extreme misunderstandings of how things worked in America. For example, one of the teachers who sat near me in the teacher’s room had an interest in classical music. I played classical piano for most of my childhood and had an opinion on what music I liked and which composers I thought were good. We agreed on several points, but our opinions didn’t always match up. But having a conversation or discussion with someone is a give and take process, so while we may not have agreed on everything, I heard and accepted their opinion while they were able to do the same for me. On some occasions, I heard assumptions about American culture and the way things worked in the States that were just simply a misunderstanding. On these occasions, I was able to correct their assumptions with information from my own experience and culture. In the end, I’m very glad I made an effort to talk more to the other teachers this semester. It was a chance to learn in a situation that doesn’t come around very often for study abroad students. I ended up learning a great deal and things I would never be able to learn in class or in a textbook and was able to create closer ties with some of the teachers at my CIP.
One thing I noticed this semester was the way the teachers worked together. When teaching English classes, the English teacher would work closely with the class’ homeroom teacher, asking if they thought this was a good way to do this activity for these kids or how they thought it would be best to proceed through the prepared lesson plan. The homeroom teacher teaches most of the classes for the students throughout the day, so they know the students and the way they learn a bit more than the English teacher does, who only comes in a few times a week. Therefore, when teaching English class, the homeroom teacher would know the best way to run an activity or game for their students in order for it to the most effective and would correctly convey that to the English teacher. For individual students as well, the homeroom teacher would know which students needed a bit more attention than others and would let us know who to keep an eye on when the students would be doing individual or pair work. I noticed this happening not only in the English classes, but between teachers of other classes as well. In between classes in the teacher’s room, teachers would talk to each other about their classes, discussing their students and their opinions and the best way to go about teaching a certain subject. It was interesting seeing that a class wasn’t just a class for the teacher leading the lesson, but also for the other teachers in the school. I’m sure something similar happens in America and happened during my own time going through school, but being on the other side of the equation was the only way for me to be able to see it.
I’m very glad I chose this activity for my CIP and continued it into second semester. I was able to gain experience that will help me in the future going towards my career goals. Being able to compare the Japanese school system to my own education, learning what it was like to teach English to a group of kids at the front of a classroom and not just one-on-one, talking to Japanese teachers and learning their points of view on a variety of subjects, all of the skills and information I attained at Ohara will be beneficial for my future studies of Japan and teaching. At the end of six months of teaching, receiving gifts and words of thanks and appreciation from the students and teachers at the school was very rewarding. Even though I learned so much at Ohara and gained so much from everyone there, it’s nice knowing I was able to give something back in return.
It seems that over the course of the year, you really became pretty integrated in your school–deciding to use more English phrases, speaking with teachers outside of actual class time, etc. Although I had fun and became comfortable with my role as an assistant English teacher this semester, I didn’t feel particularly connected with the teachers or the students. Do you have any suggestions on how to bridge this gap?
I think I might have been lucky in that the teachers came up to me in the teachers room to ask me questions. During our first conversations I was able to find out what they were interested in, and after that I would be able to bring up topics about those things or any questions I had about them. If I had never talked to a teacher before, I would start by asking questions about the school or classes or something similar and then the conversation would continue from there. The teachers would always be interested in having a conversation with me, mostly because I was a foreigner and would be able to bring different opinions to the table I think.
For students it’s a bit different. If I wasn’t in front of teachers, I would sneak in a little Japanese to start a conversation going and then mix Japanese and English to keep it going. Talking with the students was a lot of fun because I was able to talk to them about things like music and movies and famous Japanese people, kind of like I was just talking with friends.
I glad you had fun this semester at your CIP. If you ever do it again, I guess my advice is not to be scared to ask questions to the people at your school. Even though it might be a little uncomfortable, the outcome can be very rewarding.