For my CIP this semester, I chose to volunteer at Kamigyo middle school as an English teaching assistant. Kamigyo Middle School is about five minutes away from Doshisha University.
Before I started going to Kamigyo middle school, I had no experience teaching or working with middle school students so I was quite nervous my first day there. When I first entered the classroom, I could tell that the students were very confused at who I was because I wasn’t a teacher and I looked Japanese. I worked in the 7th grade English classes exclusively. The English teacher asked me to read questions to the kids, to dictate conversations from their textbook and to create an English game for the kids to play. At first, the kids were very shy but as I went there more and more they became comfortable with me. I made an effort to try and talk to the kids, which made my time there enjoyable. Despite the fact that many of the students were too shy to speak up in English, they tried their best to when I talked to them. At times I felt that my purpose at the school was to get the students excited about learning English instead of actually teaching them anything because whenever I was there the class would do some kind of game or activity.
This opportunity allowed me to get a glimpse of the Japanese middle school culture that I would have never been able to see. One thing that stuck out to me was the time in between classes. There was always a five to 10 minute break between classes where the students were allowed to do whatever they wanted. Unlike in America the students did not change classrooms for different subjects, instead during the break teachers rotated between classes or returned to the teacher’s room. During the break many students would go to the teachers room and ask for a certain teacher. When they did they always made sure to use keigo or honorific Japanese. However, during class the students spoke primarily in casual Japanese to the teacher.
In the classroom there was a huge contrast between students. In each class there were always one or two kids who were very vocal and on the other hand there were some who never spoke at all or raised their hand. At first I thought the kids didn’t know the answer but in fact many of the quiet ones often had the correct answer written down. This is not limited to Japanese middle school students, many Japanese refuse to speak English because they do not have the confidence in their English ability but in fact, they can understand and speak quite well.
In conclusion, learning another language especially one that is so different from your own is not easy. But getting kids excited to learn a different language and to see the benefits that it holds can go a long way. I highly recommend volunteering at a Japanese school as an English assistant because the kids are so lively and it allows you to see a part of Japan that few tourists get to see.