Jaime Craven: Ohara Gakuin

For my CIP, I volunteered as an assistant English teacher at a school in scenic Ohara. On Mondays I took the subway to Kokusaikaikan Station, the northernmost stop on the Karasuma Line, and then rode a bus into the mountains where the school was located. The full trip was about one hour there and one hour back, relative to Doshisha.

My teacher recommended Ohara Gakuin as my CIP because of my previous teaching experience in both America and Japan. However, this was my first time in a school so small. From first through eighth grade, the total head count was just seventy students!

Every week I joined a different group of students – usually two per visit – and helped out with whatever exercises the teacher had planned for the day. My role, which I initially thought would be mostly demonstrating pronunciation, was more participatory than expected. We played games to strengthen vocabulary, and conducted mini interviews to practice grammar. Because of the small class sizes, it was easy to make sure that everyone got a chance to participate. Occasionally, instead of a lesson, the students would rehearse plays, or prepare for the various school festivals sprinkled through the fall semester. Even when returning to a familiar class, no two visits to Ohara Gakuin were the same.

It was fascinating to watch as the students intuited their own language skills over time. Even their mistakes showed instinctive pattern recognition: swapping out “took a bath” for “have a bath,” for example. They worked hard to make themselves understood in class, even if the exact rules or vocabulary for the situation escaped them. In every lesson, the teachers encouraged them to think creatively about the topic at hand, going beyond what was laid out in the textbook.

As an English teacher, I tried to use as little Japanese as possible, as was expected of me. Of course, in doing so, there is always a danger that the students will be too daunted to even respond, let alone retain new information. I also worried about playing into the stereotype of a foreigner who doesn’t speak a word of Japanese. In the end, I compromised by speaking only in English, but also making sure that they knew I was listening when they spoke Japanese. Nodding along and laughing at their jokes went a long way in showing that I understood. This, in turn, made them feel more comfortable when constructing their own English sentences, knowing they could switch back to their mother tongue at any time if they needed a quick break.

In every class, the students proved themselves to be unflappably confident and attentive, and I was fortunate enough to meet as many as possible during my time there. This CIP activity comes highly recommended for any KCJS student interested in education!


4 thoughts on “Jaime Craven: Ohara Gakuin

  1. Hi Jaime! Wow, volunteering as an English assistant must have been pretty difficult, especially with young children. Did you have a difficult time engaging with them or connecting with them, due to the language barrier? Additionally, did you find that they were learning more British structures of English (i.e., have a bath) versus American structures (took a bath), or was it a solid mix of both? Personally, teaching terrifies me! I’m really impressed that you made that commute every week to participate in such a difficult job. 🙂

    • Thank you, Dylan! To be honest, my role was more “assistant” than “teacher,” so it wasn’t too difficult of a job. I was mostly helping the teacher demonstrate the lesson plans for the day. I also got to participate in the students’ cute little memory games (like acting out Aesop’s Fables in English), which was wicked fun.

      What surprised me was that their lessons seemed to be taking American English as default. They did learn British expressions as well, but those were mostly treated as variants and not, as far as I know, tested. This is actually the opposite of what I saw in the English classes at Ichijou Koukou (where the English teacher was England-born) the last time I came to Japan, so maybe it just comes down to teacher preference. That’s just my guess, though; I can’t say for sure.

  2. What a smart tactic you figured out! I’ve seen you have conversations with native speakers, and your responses really do make you seem like you’re almost a native speaker yourself. I’m so happy you could apply that to teaching kids! Great job, Jaime!!

    • Aw, thank you, Fury! I don’t think I’m anywhere near a native speaker’s level, but I do like to talk, that’s for sure. I hope you had as much fun with the kitties as I did with the kids!