Jordan LaPointe: Assistant English Teacher at Ohara Gakuin

For my CIP I went to Ohara Gakuin every week as an Assistant Language Teacher. Once a week, immediately after class I would take a train and a bus to Ohara, then a short walk to the school. (On a related note, Ohara is a beautiful place during the fall and has a few reputable walking paths leading into the mountains. I highly recommend exploring the area after your CIP or on your own time. ) Part of my reason for pursuing this CIP was to determine if I wanted to apply for a JET teaching position after graduation. First, I would eat lunch with the students, and then I would either play games or assist with English instruction, ranging from vocabulary to reading comprehension. In addition, I was able to go to a school festival and watch the students perform skits and musical pieces.

I think the Ohara experience was unique in that I was able to interact with a wide range of students, from grades 1 to 8, going to different classes every week. This allowed me to observe how students of different age groups interact with each other and the forms of Japanese they use. I was also able to see the different teaching styles used by the English instructors depending on the age of the students. In respect to my participation, I enjoyed almost all of my interactions with the students and teachers. Although I was initially instructed to pretend to not understand Japanese in the presence of the students, I quickly realized that I would need to utilize my Japanese skills from time to time to coax the students into talking with me. However, this proved to be good practice for me to develop my language skills, particularly when helping students translate what they wanted to say from Japanese to English during our conversations. English Professors Kameda and Morimoto were also very easy to get along with and actively encouraged the students to interact with me during lunch and instruction time.

My main suggestion to students seeking to do this CIP is to have patience. You’ll be interacting with elementary and middle schoolers, with the latter group beginning to deal with the challenges of young adulthood. While a student may be difficult to communicate with one week, it might be a completely different experience the next week so keep an open mind. Additionally, the English instruction, especially with the younger grades, may seem too slow at times, but it’s important to remember that language instruction not just about communication but also about exposing students to a new culture and way of thinking; at the very least, just your presence can have an impact on their lives.

4 thoughts on “Jordan LaPointe: Assistant English Teacher at Ohara Gakuin

  1. It sounds like you had a really great experience being an English Assistant in Ohara! I was also looking for an experience like this in order to consider doing JET or not, and I think you ended up with something much closer to what I had originally intended, and it’s great that you built strong links to the teachers you mentioned. I also found in my CIP that I had to use Japanese to help my students, despite being instructed not to do so, but similarly it also helped me develop my language skills. How has this affected your decision to apply to JET or not? Did you have any struggles with the time commitment and school work?

    • Hey Christine,

      Good to know we shared some similar experiences. In terms of the time commitment, Ohara wasn’t bad. Because it was every Friday, I didn’t have to worry about class the next day so that was pretty convenient. However, next semester I’ll be going every Monday so we’ll see how that works out…

      My Ohara experience has been really interesting and has only served to strengthen my interest in doing JET, making me wonder how much stronger a rapport I could build with a group of students if I was able to interact with them more than once a week.

  2. hi Jordan! Thanks for all your insights about teaching grade school English. Congratulations on your success–it sounds like you figured out exactly what was needed from you and ended up being a really positive influence on the students! I especially love what you said about how cultural interaction and thinking in new ways is just as important as learning the language itself. Even though you went into different classes each week, did you find yourself bonding more personally with any of the individual kids? Also, did you encounter any situations where your preferred method of teaching was at odds with the way the Japanese teachers wanted classes to be run?

    • Dear Eva,

      Thanks for the comment. I suppose the downside to my interaction with such a large range of students is that I haven’t been able to develop close relationships with individual students yet. If I was teaching only a class or two, it might have been possible.

      To be honest, I haven’t really had any deep conflicts with the other teachers in regards to teaching since I haven’t interacted enough with a particular class to be able to gauge how well they are able to grasp the material over time (another downside to being shifted around so often). However, if there were any blatant mistakes in grammar or vocabulary, I was quick to point it out to the teacher and they corrected based on my advice.