New School Year, New Challenges.

An empty classroom.

“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”
― Randy Pausch

Although I can say that I was very excited to begin teaching English at our elementary school this year, things are already off to a bit of a rough start. This year they made one teacher the team teacher for all of our English classes. I’ve been working with her for the entirety of my time at the elementary school and let’s just say that I disagree with some of her methodologies. Out of all of my classes at the school, her classes have always been the most quiet, as I think the students feel intimidated and/or afraid to speak English. I think that she can be so critical of them that they’d rather not answer and not be wrong than to be corrected by her.

At any rate, due to her ability to speak more English than the average teacher, and her studies into western culture, the school decided to make her the teacher that I will work with for the entirety of this next school year. For the last couple of weeks I’ve been meeting with and sharing ideas with said-teacher so that we can have fun and effective classes. Granted, during our first meeting, she told me how difficult the next year was going to be and how a lot of the things that I was planning seemed “too difficult” for our students. Of course, everything that I placed into our syllabus came directly from the suggestions given to the prefectural BOE from MEXT (the governing organization for all things relating to education, in Japan). She tends to be rather pessimistic about the students’ abilities, as her own students tend to be timid with regards to English, but I’m doing my best to remain as positive as possible. I don’t really know if it’s just me, but whenever someone tells me something is too difficult (in English) that only tells me that I need to be more thorough, creative, and try even harder to find a way to make it easier/more comprehensible. Whenever someone says it in Japanese, however, it seems to mean “let’s give up on this idea and do something different”. As expected, I’m not a big fan of hearing this term in Japanese.

On our first day of teaching together, however, she almost immediately expressed disappointment because she wanted us to plan the classes together. Take note, she never made an effort to tell me this until the first day of class, despite the fact that I was working at the Board of Education the whole entire time. All of our conversations were also in English, so I don’t think it was a form of miscommunication, but-rather a lack of it. The next thing that occurred, happened in class. Despite all of the students knowing her at the school by last name+先生, she asked them to call her Ms.+first name. I honestly have no problem with this, but for no other reason other than trying to be consistent with the JTEs at the junior high school that our students intend to go to (and for the sake of teaching students the correct way to address teachers in English) I think it’s better if they address her by last name instead. ALTs are often called Mr/Ms + first name, so I can understand the confusion, but we’re not really seen as actual teachers in Japan, for the most part (even ALTs who have licenses to teach in their home countries), but we’re rather seen as a type of English ‘specialist’ who just happen to also teach English. Lastly, during another class of ours, she doesn’t give students the chance to think for themselves and immediately tells them what to say; So, naturally they just repeat after her, without having the chance to think, process, and speak for themselves.

This very morning, we came together during 1st period, in order to discuss the plan for our 2nd period class; which I had made 3 worksheets and planned out, because I didn’t want to end up planning the class last-minute. Then, she told me that she didn’t want any ふりがな/読みがな (a Japanese reading aid to help with pronunciation of kanji and sometimes English words) on one of the sheets because then students will only read what is written on the sheet in katakana-form instead of listen to the proper pronunciation and memorizing it that way. Sure, I get it, and I understand what she’s saying, but there are kinisthetic, reading/writing, visual, and auditory learners out there; However, she is only focusing on teaching English as though it should primarily be taught for auditory learners. She also wants to emphasize teaching the correct pronunciation instead of it sounding like katakana, which of course takes even more time and is another thing that I can come to understand, but don’t really find necessary at the L2 beginner/elementary school level. First, get the students interested in speaking and learning English, then worry about whether their pronunciation.

At any rate, I’m hoping that we’re just having a rough start, and I do have plans to talk to her about a few of these things on Friday. I know she’s a teacher and she knows a lot more about teaching and a lot more about the students than I do, but she also needs to trust that I know a few things about English as a foreign language, as well as the capabilities and potential of our students. At any rate, I understand that I can be stubborn at times, but I’m willing to listen and do my best to understand my own shortcomings if that happens to be the case here. Hopefully all goes well during our last class of the week.

Wish me luck!