Jiayi Huang: Assistant English Teacher at a local elementary school

For my CIP this semester I worked as an assistant English teacher in a local elementary school. I chose this CIP because I wanted to know what is the nature of Japanese schools. Also, I grew up taking English as Second Language courses so I wanted to compare the English classes taught in Japanese schools to the classes I have had.

I go to this elementary school every Wednesday or Friday afternoon and rotate between four classes of the six grade. I was surprised to find out that each class has one teacher who teaches all the subjects. As a result, the progress and difficulty of the English classes are largely depended on different teachers. For example, one class is more advanced and is learning things outside of the textbook while another class sticks to the same page for two weeks just because they have different teachers. Another thing that strikes me is that even though it is an English class, most part of it is still conducted in Japanese. For instance, the listening comprehension has Japanese translation following right after the English part so the students would wait for the Japanese part and ignore the first English half. Also, students do not practice writing in English at all and they write answers in Japanese on the textbook. There are a lot of differences between the Japanese English classes and those that I took in Chinese elementary school. Japanese elementary school starts learning English in the fifth grade but we started learning basic English such as “A for apple” since the first grade. And the teachers are in charge of teaching one subject in about four classes and make sure that everyone are on the same page.

Japanese elementary students are a lot louder and in disordered than I expected. Japanese students talk among themselves during classes and the teachers will just look at them and wait for them to quiet down. When I am reading the listing comprehension materials out loud I have to raise my voice so that the students would pay attention to me. Sometimes the teachers will apologize to me after class for that. I discussed about this situation with my host family and they told me that if the teachers do anything aggressive in correcting students they would often get sued by parents and lost their job. I also learned that Japanese elementary students wear short pants even in winter. When I talked to Nakamura sensei in class she told me that there is this concept in Japanese that “子供は風の子,” or kids can still play around even in cold wind. However, in terms of language, the Japanese students are more polite. For example, after Japanese students finish cleaning classrooms and when they return their keys they say “〇年〇組の〇〇です。〇〇室のカギをお返しに来ました。”at the door of the teachers’ office. Another example is that when students finish answering a question they will ask the class “どうですか。” and the class will answer “いいです。”

Overall the students and teachers were very nice to me and it was a great experience to see how Japanese elementary schools actually are. And I was able to compare the English classes taught in Japanese schools to the classes I have had. The students sometimes come talk to me after class and after I dyed my hair they taught me the word “イメチェン” which means one changed one’s image. I learned more about Japanese culture and made friends with six-graders and I hope I can meet those students in the future.

10 thoughts on “Jiayi Huang: Assistant English Teacher at a local elementary school

  1. It’s really interesting to compare aspects of societies and see how education and specifically language classes are conducted in different countries/settings. Given that you interacted with such a wide range of kids and teachers, you really got the inside scoop into how schools work in Japan.
    Did the six-graders ever teach you anything fun?

    • Thank you for your comment!

      I feel like students/kids in Kansai area love jokes from Japanese variety shows. They taught me a joke that’s about flies in China fly really fast, even though I didn’t really get the joke it’s very interesting to interact with those students ^^

  2. For a long time, I have wondered how it is that the typical Japanese person can speak such terrible English, given the focus it is given in the education system. The typical American curriculum for a French or Spanish class, which is incidentally itself infamously bad and inefficient by international standards, seems to achieve in two years more than the Japanese education system does throughout. This might apply not only to disciplinary issues, but also allowing Japanese conversation and writing in the class. The biggest difficulty in picking up a Western language from Japanese is due to learning things that the Japanese language lacks, such as articles and sounds beyond the Japanese syllabary. If they let students stick with Katakana and otherwise fail to get used to it, that could explain a lot of those issues. Your experiences are interesting in that they cast a few of these issues from the perspective of a foreigner and of an ESL student, and its great that you had such a fruitful CIP.

    • Thank you for your comment!

      I agree with most your comment. Japanese students start learning very basic English from the fifth grade and the progress is very slow. Also from my experience, they are not expected to learn spelling or speaking in complete sentences.

  3. Sounds super fun getting to teach young kids, but really difficult too! Did your kids have to do any homework? And during class if kids were too disrespectful or rowdy were there any consequences (like timeouts) that the teachers used?

    • Thank you for your comment!

      No the kids didn’t have to do homework for the English class but they have to hand in in-class work after Japanese and math class.

      Usually there are no consequences when kids are being disrespectful because the teachers may get sued by angry parents. However, one of the teacher will tell his students to sit down when they suddenly stand up, but he doesn’t say it in an angry tone either.

  4. That’s sounds fun and quite different from my school. It is nice that the students talk to you after the class and that you see the same students over again.

    My English class also most talked in Japanese, but my classes are really small, so everyone still gets a chance to speak English. Do you think the larger class affected them learning English in any way?

    • Thank you for your comment!

      The larger class definitely affected them learning English because a lot of Japanese students don’t talk in class. Also it happens quite often when one student started talking in English, other students just follow him/her and start talking in Japanese.