Christine La: Assistant English Teacher at Kamigyo Middle School

As my CIP, I chose to become an Assistant English Teacher at Kamigyo Middle School, near Doshisha University. I met with students interested in learning and improving their English once a week for an hour, and helped them read English more naturally and practice speaking.

The main idea I had behind choosing to teach English was to gain experience for the JET program, which I intend to apply to after I graduate. At my home university, I would often attend exchange lunches with Japanese students and we would help each other with learning about our respective languages and cultures. In that time, I found I really enjoyed teaching English to others, though being a teacher never really crossed my mind. However, after coming to Japan, I wanted any chance to return, and was reminded of my love for teaching when we talked about CIPs.

In that regard, I suppose it was a natural procedure from there to try out being an English Assistant, before I really decided on whether or not I would devote up to five years of my life to teaching my native language. When I first entered Kamigyo Middle School, I was pretty nervous; I was an A class student, with the bare minimum language ability to enter KCJS, and had a bad habit of using casual speech regardless of my listener’s social status or familiarity with me. With that, my journey started with five young girls of varying English-speaking abilities, and five odd little readings. I was told to listen to the girls recite the passages, and then to well, fix them. The rush to start was daunting, but the hour and a half passed by almost too quickly. I hardly felt prepared enough, and I probably wasn’t as helpful as I wanted to be. I couldn’t even remember all the girls’ names. Yet as discouraged as I was, I remembered one of them telling me when our fifteen minutes were up:

“Your help was really clear and easy to understand. Thank you.”

I suppose that this is the reason all teachers can put up with the frustrations of their work. Over the next couple of visits, I began to notice that perhaps, just the slightest, I was making a difference. Not only to them in regards to their recitation, but in myself by being more prepared, by knowing what to do, how to help, and being more confident in myself. I found ways to make the experience more fun, even if it was just rainbow colored pens, and I found ways to tweak my teaching style to the student, such as speaking quieter to the shyer students or being excitable about accomplishments for the outgoing ones. I started to realize that Japanese students needed a lot of positive reinforcement for their abilities, probably because of the modest culture and strict school structure they were raised in. Teaching, even in such brief intervals for each student, had a strong impact on me.

However, I also felt a lot of frustration during my CIP. Because I only had about fifteen minutes with each student, I never got to know each individual very well. Some of the students seemed interested in learning more, but they were quick to leave because of the teachers coming by at the end of the time limit. I think I would’ve been able to help a lot more had we had more time together or to be working on more broad English conversational skills. I was also quite surprised to learn how drastic the level of English ability could change between school years. A lot of my second year middle schoolers were a lot more capable of general conversation than the first years, who hadn’t even learned past tense yet. I would’ve really liked to see how English was taught in the classroom, as well as maybe seen what would’ve happened if I met more often or for longer with each student, and done different activities with each of them.

Though at times my CIP was frustrating, I really gained a lot of valuable experience from it. Teaching, while difficult at times, continues to interest me as a path I hope to take in the future. I wish the best for my students as well, in school and in learning English.

3 thoughts on “Christine La: Assistant English Teacher at Kamigyo Middle School

  1. It’s great you got a chance to work with some students as an assistant teacher before stepping into the JET program! While it’s easy to decide one wants to do something based on the way it sounds or what one has heard about it, there’s really no substitute for actual experience, is there? Out of curiosity, do you know how long the students you’re working with have been studying English for?

    • Definitely no substitutes as far as I’m concerned, there were a lot of difficulties I didn’t expect or ever hear about, so I’m glad I got to face them head on and learn first hand about them.

      I don’t know individually how long they were studying English for, but I did hear a couple stories from Fukui-sensei, who was in a sense ‘hosting’ me as an English Assistant. One of the students I taught had actually come in 2nd place in an English speech contest last year, and was probably studying English longer, or more often than the others (her accent was really impressive as well). For the most part though, it seems like the students started learning English only recently, as first years in middle school. They were mostly aiming to improve their speech patterns, and I’m not quite sure if all them actually understood what they were reading without me translating it for them.

  2. It is good to know that you can have a chance to communicate with usual school students, which I think it is really meaningful and helpful for both of you and student. I know the time for each student is limited but at least they all gained something from you. Do you find anything hard during the teaching process?