Anna Andriychuk: Assistant English Teacher

For my spring CIP, I volunteered as an Assistant English Teacher at Ohara Gakuin, a school consisting of grades 1 through 9, in the small town of Ohara. Since I had initially hoped to participate in the JET program after graduation, I thought I would try my hand at teaching english during my time in Kyoto. Even though this experience taught me that JET is not the best path for me to follow, I do not regret the time I spent at Ohara. It offered me a glimpse of Japanese culture that I would never have seen otherwise, and left me with many great memories. The best part is that it allowed me to make friends with some of my favorite people in Japan; that they happen to be ten year olds just makes for a better story.

My volunteer experience in Japan reaffirmed both my love of children and my slight fear of teenagers. It also challenged many of the things that I thought I knew about Japanese schools, students, and the education system in Japan. One think that struck me at Ohara was how self-sufficient that students are expected to be. From my experience watching Japanese dramas, I was already familiar with the fact that students are largely responsible for sweeping classrooms, cleaning bathrooms, and just generally keeping the school clean. I was surprised, however, by the students’ many other responsibilities. I do not know whether or not this is common in Japanese schools, but Ohara Gakuin did not have a cafeteria. The students would carry prepared food from the kitchen to their homerooms and a few of them would take turns serving it to their classmates and teachers. The desks would be pushed together so that everyone could chat together while they ate. After everyone finished, the students would dispose of the remaining food and return all the dishes to the kitchen. I would never expect to see this type of responsibility given to second and third graders at American schools.

However, not all of these activities were tedious. The school also had a PA system which the students were fully in charge of. They would broadcast morning announcements and play music during lunch. To my surprise (and slight dismay), I had to make my introduction speech and say my goodbyes over the loudspeaker. In general, despite having some responsibilities that many American parents would condemn as being too much for small children, I found the degree of self-sufficiency and freedom to be really interesting and new.

As one would expect, many of my observations concerned the nature of English education at Ohara. Unfortunately, I was often frustrated at the teaching style and I now understand why so many Japanese students struggle so much with English. The teaching method is centered on memorization and repetition. While memorizing words and sentence patterns are important, they are useless without understanding the underlying grammar. This inefficiency was made most clear to me when I was assisting the 8th grade class on the day they had a presentation quiz. They had been memorizing a short story (a very simplified retelling of E.T.) for several days, and would have to present the story in front of the class, without the text in front of them. During practice, I listened while one of the students recited the story word for word. After he finished, I asked him whether he understood what he had just recited. He smiled and said no. As it turned out, he was one of the better students in the class. Many didn’t care enough to memorize the story, laughed their way through the presentation while reading directly from the book. Whether the students just didn’t do their work or actively disrupted the class, the teachers just basically turned a blind eye. In America, the teacher would have sent the kid to the principal’s office, called his parents, yelled, or done a number of things. But in my experience, the teacher never simply ignored it. While the 6-9th grades were tough sometimes, the younger grades were really fun to be around. Not only were they often as good or better at English than the upper grades, they seemed genuinely enthusiastic about learning. Although that doesn’t come as much of a surprise.

Ultimately, however, I was only able to observe ten weeks in one school of several thousands in Japan. I can also admit that I was observing it all through an impartial eye. I learned English fairly quickly and efficiently in three or so years because I was already living and studying in America. Learning and teaching English in a non-english speaking country will have its share of difficulties and inefficiencies, and Japan is no exception. As for the 8-10 year old friends I’ve made, I hope I get a chance to meet them again in the future and see how much they’ve improved.

2 thoughts on “Anna Andriychuk: Assistant English Teacher

  1. 短い間にたくさんのことを観察していることに感心しました。

    • 前口先生、コメントありがとうございました!驚いたことには、トイレ掃除という先学期の読み物は役に立つになったですね。実際は、そういうことについて、先生とあまり話さなかった。例えば、ある日、学生は教科書に書いている例文を練習していた。その文は英語的におかしかったので、先生にそう言ったんだ。先生は納得したけど、学生がもうその前の文に慣れたから、新しい文を習うのが無理かもしれないと言われたんだ。ちょっとがっかりしたけど、確かにその学生のレベルは低かった。もしかして高校生とか、大学生の時、ちゃんと治すことできる。