I joined another KCJS student as an English assistant at Kamigyo middle school. The CIP met once a week every Tuesday, the starting time changing depending on when we were needed. Each session usually lasted about 1-1.5 hours, varying, again, on when we were needed.
Every week, the students worked on reading out loud a specified passage that they’d been working on. In the later sessions, after the contest was over, I helped students with a mock exam. The students had a set amount of time to read a passage, where they then had to answer a few questions not only about the passage, but two personal questions about their thoughts based on some aspect of the readings. I was then required to write down feedback for the students, and suggest areas they should work on, as well as ways to improve on those sections.
When working with the students on the speech contest, it was really interesting to see how each student responded and interacted with me. Most of them were shy at the beginning, but I had one student who was very enthusiastic. I had a lot of difficulty trying to get to know them better. The main hindrance was that I was on a very strict time schedule. I had about fifteen minutes with each student, and if I went overtime, the English teacher would come in and have the next student come in. This made it exceptionably difficult to ask personal questions, because I had to focus on their speech contest first and foremost. What further compounded this problem was that the students had difficulty answering my simple English questions. I would ask them about how their weekend went, or what they like to do as a hobby, and for the most part I got blank stares. I tried some advice I got from other students and from my Sensei, to stick to just present tense and to make the sentences as simple as possible. This worked better, and I got at least a basic response, if not overly-shy and hesitant. It was really interesting, though, to see what problems were common throughout the students’ English. Most of the big problems were pronunciation, but they were able to read everything they were assigned. As for if they understood everything, I do not know. Each student’s level of comprehension differed slightly, and some seemed to understand more than others.
When I had the opportunity to do the mock exam with the students, it was even harder to get to know them. Because it was a mock exam, I had absolutely no time to do anything personal, and from greeting the student to writing up a quick report, it was also extremely formal and timed. Everyone was able to read the initial passage just fine, and had little difficulty answering an almost word-for-word question from the passage. However, when it came to the next sections, all students except one had major difficulties. The situation required the students to look at a picture and describe to me what each individual was doing. Many of them did not understand the question I asked them, and needed me to repeat it multiple times for them to understand. After the first two repetitions, I changed the wording of the question to make it as simple as possible, and in one case, I had to point to the pictures to help the student understand. The last section had me ask two ‘personal’ questions about the student’s thoughts, the subject for which originated from the passage they had read. All of the students were able to answer these questions, albeit some more explicitly than others. At the end of this task, I had to complete a short evaluation form and provide feedback and comments. This was extremely difficult for me, because at that point time was almost up, and I was only able to provide the most minimum of details.
During the mock exam, a major concern I had was the presence of the English teacher in the room. At the start of the test, she would leave us alone. But as I was getting towards the end, the teacher would come into the room and watch us. This not only made me nervous, but I could visibly see the students freeze up. Most of the time, she came in towards the very end when I was leaving my comments, which I would then explain to the students. But the last student I had was having a lot of difficulty answering the questions, and he took some extra time. As such, the teacher came in while he was still answering questions, and then he became even more nervous and especially reluctant to speak in English. I was actually quite annoyed by this, but I was not able to say anything. The teacher even came over and helped him understand the questions, except she used Japanese to do it. Even though this was a mock exam, I think it was important to not use any Japanese at all, which I took care to do so. Using Japanese would have created a fall-back for the student, and should have only been used to explain once the test was over, not while it was still ongoing. Despite his difficulty, this student was actually the most enthusiastic of them all, and at the end he was really interested in asking me what I thought about how he did.
Overall, I learned a lot just by observing the students, even if I wasn’t able to get to know any of them personally. I was able to observe the general difference in the second and third years’ English, how they interacted with me personally and respectfully, and how the teacher interacted with the students. This was a very valuable experience for me, mostly because I am considering the JET program. I was initially unsure about this CIP because I was never in a situation where I tutored or taught someone other than a close friend or family, so this was an entirely new experience for me. I was extremely nervous at first, and was unsure about how to do this CIP successfully. However, once I met the students, my initial apprehensions faded, and I started to look forward to visiting the students every week. This opportunity has definitely made me more interested in pursuing the JET program, though it is still more of an idea than anything.