Before I came to Japan, I knew that I wanted to teach English for my CIP activity. When I finally arrived in Japan and started the CIP process, I encountered no difficulty in deciding where I was going to teach; everything was easier than I could have hoped for and KCJS already had well-established connections with schools. I started to hit a few bumps in the e-mailing stage, but only with respect to waiting for responses. So, after practicing my written 敬語 for the first time in Japan, I finally started my dream CIP of teaching at Kaisei Middle School (開晴中学), located near Kiyomizu-dera.
As I explained in my first, Japanese blog post, teaching on my first day at Kaisei did not start out so smoothly. The seventh graders, contrary to my ideal expectations of Japanese middle school students, were incredibly raucous and disrespectful to their teacher. Throughout the entire fifty minutes some of the students did not stop talking, and others were running around the classroom or sleeping. To my greatest surprise, however, was that the teacher did absolutely nothing about the chaos. I stood in the crowded classroom, jaw-dropped, and waited for her to explode in a disciplinary rage at any second. I myself considered telling one or two boys to sit down and be quiet, but before I knew it the clock struck 3:20pm and the students were free. When I returned home after my first day, I thought to myself, Do I really want to teach here? Can I actually make a difference in this kind of hopeless environment? Luckily, I decided to do my best and be patient, and I am extremely glad to write that I am thankful I hung in there.
As the weeks of my study abroad experience passed by and I commuted every Monday to Kaisei Middle School, the classroom setting seemed less and less harsh. I acquired a second class to teach as well, meaning I could practice my week’s teaching with better-behaved eighth graders before facing the rowdy pupils of room 7-2. So, each week I asked individuals questions in English, helped answer students’ questions about worksheets etc, and tried extremely hard to encourage students to participate. Eventually I started practicing my Japanese as well by trying to better explain things to students who were not as skilled at English. Meanwhile, little by little I was becoming more familiarized with who the students were and the dynamic of their relationship with the teachers.
This leads me to what I gained the most from my CIP. Contrary to my original dream back in the United States, I did not learn how to fluently speak Japanese and teach angelic, diligent middle schoolers how to speak English. What I did learn, which falls in line with my personal theme of studying abroad with KCJS, is that there is way more than meets the eye during first encounters. The Japanese students were incredibly unruly the first time I met them, and they proved to change very little week after week. However, every time I spoke 「英語アシスタントでございます」through the gate’s doorbell and stepped foot into my slippers at Kaisei Middle School, I was about to witness the students surprise me in some way. I started to see that some of the most misbehaved students were actually the ones who were participating the most, albeit in decibels higher than what is safe for human ears. Furthermore, I saw that many of the students truly cared about learning English, and even more so about learning in general. They were excited to start class with personal questions for me in English, and they always asked their teachers to chat with me in English so they could observe. I quickly came to realize that I misjudged my students on week one, but I was happy that this was so.
The CIP component of KCJS may seem like another task on a checklist of “things to do,” but it actually was a crucial part in making the theme of my time abroad become whole. Teaching English at Kaisei Middle School helped me learn even more not to judge people based on first impressions, stereotypes, and preconceived notions. It taught me that everyone needs an extra chance or dose of attention in order to see his or her true personality and potential. Upon realizing this, I was able to conclude that while Japan’s culture and language are very different from that of the U.S. in many ways, the people of each country are at the core very much the same. I truly hope that I was able to teach many students at Kaisei Middle School, or maybe even just one or two. However, I can say with conviction that I entered the building as “Denton-sensei” determined to teach English, but I will be flying back to America as a student who was taught the universal language of life.
I understand your initial feelings so well!
I, too, volunteered as an Assistant English teacher, and I encountered the same problems with the atrocious student decorum that the teachers practically ignored. I also had second thoughts about committing 10 weeks in a teaching environment where the students were not only hard to keep engaged, but in which the textbooks and learning progression were rather poor.
Similarly, I also realized my first impressions were rather extreme, and that underneath the surface of the ‘rowdy’ image were students who were interesting, inquisitive and downright charming.
And then what finally sealed the deal for me is when I thought, “Wait. Didn’t I act the same way in middle school…?”
I’m glad that you also managed to find your niche in the teaching environment.
I can guarantee you that, definitely, more than “one or two” of them will remember their time being taught by you.
Question: What values or merits do you see in the teacher-student dynamic (ex. how teachers run/control the class, how students behave in front of their teachers, how teachers react to/treat students who are struggling or don’t appear to care, etc.) in Japan as opposed to in the US?
Thanks for your response Carolyn! Yeah maybe it is true, maybe we were the same when we were their age! In terms of merits I see in the teacher-student dynamic, I think the close, familiarity of the teacher with their students yields participation on the students’ part, especially from the rowdier ones. However, because of this closeness I do think that other, quiet, more-behaved students can sometimes be overlooked. I particularly remember one smart girl who sat in the back and said nothing, and I thought that the teacher should encourage her to participate. Another good thing about the dynamic, however, is that school definitely seems fun!