Sabrina Bidus: Assistant English Teacher at Kyoto Bunkyo High School

This semester, I had the opportunity to volunteer as an assistant English teacher at Kyoto Bunkyo High School. I wanted a chance to help Japanese students with English because I understand the struggle of learning a foreign language; and luckily, I was able to help this class of students who were preparing to study abroad in Canada. They were making presentations about something Kyoto-related that they enjoy—everything from calligraphy to green tea to the Shinsengumi—so not only did I have the opportunity to help them with written and spoken English, but I also learned a lot about Japan and Kyoto along the way.
Because they were preparing to study abroad, these students were enthusiastic and willing to learn—I was concerned that I would be in a class full of kids who did not really care about learning English, but this turned out not to be the case. I was also extremely surprised to be placed in a class of high school students; I expected elementary or junior high students, but not students much closer to my age. I thought that maybe I would get more attitude, less respect, and little cooperation from some students of this age. But as mentioned before, these students want to learn English and as a result, appreciated my help. There were times when I thought the students did not want my help or did not enjoy my presence in their classroom. Again, I turned out to be wrong. These students were just a bit shy or timid, and when I tried talking to them about their presentations, they often eagerly accepted my help. Whether it be listening to them practice, helping them with PowerPoints, assisting them with their pronunciation, or fixing their English presentation scripts, they usually listened closely and the changes they made reflected my commentary.
The last day I volunteered was particularly interesting. I finally got to see the final product of weeks of practice on the students’ part. But before that, I met another group of students and helped with their class. These students had studied in Australia and likewise were very motivated. I assisted with and judged a debate the students had—about the pros and cons of the internet and smartphones! I remember having to write on a similar topic for my Japanese class back home and therefore understood how difficult it could be. After the debate, they had to make up alternative endings to fairy tales and present them. Again, I was impressed, and their humor and personalities came across even in English. My favorite story ending was created by a couple of girls who had to write a new ending for Pinocchio. They said that Pinocchio and his father were spit out of the whale’s mouth—but into another whale’s mouth! (The End.) I was also amused by an extremely vocal female Japanese student who was playful with the teacher and the JET assistant; far from being the stereotype of a quiet Japanese student, she spoke her mind and asked me multiple questions. I appreciated her enthusiasm and it was a change from my encounter with the other class, where I had to ask the students questions to get them to speak with me.
My CIP was a great experience; I only regret that I was not able to help out more. Due to the conflicting schedules of KCJS and the Japanese school system, I could only volunteer at Kyoto Bunkyo High School a few times. Yet this time allowed me a new perspective on Japanese school life and a chance to help motivated students—students who, like me, will soon be studying abroad and living daily life in a foreign language.

4 thoughts on “Sabrina Bidus: Assistant English Teacher at Kyoto Bunkyo High School

  1. Hi Sabrina! It’s so nice to know that your students like you very much. One thing i also found in my daily life was that unlike the common perspective (no offense) that Japanese people hate learning english and don’t want to have interactions with foreigners, Japanese people (especially students) are actually willing to learn English and talk to foreign people. Besides, certainly it’s a hard thing to learn a foreign language. But i’m glad those kids could actually learned from you and have you to help them with their studies in details. As a non-native English speaker, i feel like you gave them the help that they need foremost, since high school is the time that they have a foundation in English but are not familiar with how to use it practically. Also, just want to ask, have you ever encountered any difficulty in your teaching? And what do you think is the most important thing to teach a language?

    • Hi Bohan!

      I also noticed that Japanese students–both young and university-level–are really interested in learning English and speaking in English with native speakers (even if they are a bit shy like my students were). I hope I helped the students even a little during my short time there; I know how hard it is to learn a language! I definitely encountered difficulty explaining some words or phrases in English. For example, they would look up a word in the dictionary and it is a strange English word no one uses, but there was no “pretty” way to express their idea in English and I had to use a long phrase instead of a word (I can’t remember the concrete example, sorry!). I think it is most important to make sure all the students understand what you are teaching and that they aren’t just nodding their heads, etc. It is also crucial to work with every student one-on-one both to assist their learning and to give them motivation!


  2. Hi Sabrina,

    It’s great to hear that you had such an engaging group of students to work with. Often times, I hear it’s hard for teachers to get their students to be motivated for learning. Do you think that the study abroad aspect of their education added to the students’ motivation when learning English? Also what were some of the more salient things you expected from teaching middle or elementary school students versus high school students? Do you think this CIP will influence you to become a teacher for other programs such as JET?

    It must have been exciting to get an insight into school education in a different country~

    – April

    • Hi April,

      I think the study abroad aspect definitely gave them motivation to study English–I know that looking forward to our study abroad in Kyoto helped motivate me through the difficult time in my Japanese studies as well! I expected middle or elementary school students to maybe be more cooperative or respectful, but I found I did not have issues with the high school students. It was a great experience to work with students that far along in their education! I think this CIP would be a great experience for anyone considering JET or a similar program, but since English teaching is not the career I am aiming for, it does not really impact my decision not to take part in those programs. Still, it was a beneficial and enjoyable experience!