For my CIP this semester I have been working as an English Assistant at Kamigyo Middle School, just a ten-minute walk from Doshisha’s campus. Since our semester does not quite fit with Japanese middle school semesters, it has been about one month since I last volunteered there. Since then I have stayed involved with Japanese communities on a smaller scale: going to events with my host family, meeting with my language partner, and making new Japanese friends through other KCJS-ers. Though my CIP has been less active this semester than last, I feel that I’ve been a more active Kyoto-an this semester than last.
My job at Kamigyo Middle School mainly involves doing practice interviews with students, though I have also been asked to help out with homework. During the time I was volunteering the school year was coming to an end, so I believe the students had important tests that they were preparing for.
The way we practiced interviews was as follows: I would tell the student to come in and tell me their name, they would read the passage, I would ask them to read the passage aloud, and then they would answer questions. Though most of the readings and questions were quite useful, covering important basic topics, there were a few that I found responsible for carrying stereotypes—those that generalized facts or compared cultures in a light that made the Japanese reader clearly side with the Japanese custom.
Unfortunately, because I only got to volunteer a few times, I didn’t get to know the kids as well as I would have liked (I would have loved to go twice a week!). However, I have learned a few things I hadn’t thought of that would be useful when teaching English to Japanese middle school students. First of all, it helps to be up to date on the current popular movies, anime, etc. – media is one of the easier things for the students to talk about in English and I remember missing out on a conversation with one student because I didn’t know anything about the movie she was excited about. I also found that – despite the idea I’d heard that English teachers should never speak Japanese so as to maintain their English-only image – Japanese was helpful if not necessary for teaching English. If I hadn’t known Japanese I wouldn’t have been able to help with Japanese-to-English translation homework or been able to explain the meaning behind small grammar corrections.
I am glad to have gotten the opportunity to work at Kamigyo Middle School, and I hope I get to go volunteer a few more times before I leave Kyoto!