School = Fun. Seriously.

It has occurred to me that I rarely go into the specifics of my job and what it entails, and considering that some of the people who read this blog are likely thinking about applying, have been accepted, or are already working for the JET Programme, this might be a good time to give you a bit of an idea of what it’s like. Contrary to what you might think from reading some of my other blogs, I do actually work here as a teacher (yes, believe it or not, I don’t get paid to skip around Japan with a notebook looking for opportunities to take the piss), so here’s what it’s like to actually teach…

This term I’ve been given a total of 16 lessons a week (3 more than before) along with quite a bit more responsibility and room to move within the syllabus. Firstly, I have 8 classes of “English I,” a class for which I pluck a topic from thin-air and create relevant lesson plans, and I do that same lesson plan for all 8 classes. Wonderfully, because I’ve already created 2 terms worth of materials, I have only had to prepare 2 or 3 lessons from scratch for the next three months; the others are all the best ones (i.e. most enjoyable/important) from last year. My topics are as follows:

Self-intro, Classroom English, Syllables, Pronunciation, Numbers, Telling the Time, Opposites and Rhyming, Directions and TXT Language. That last one is just a bit of fun for the end of term. Again, I have total control over these topics and could have chosen Tiddlywinks and Extreme Ironing had I deigned them suitably important for the kids to learn about. I might change a couple of these before the term is out but we’ll see.

My school, Kagaku Gijutsu High School, is a fantastic place to work. I’ve come to realise this more and more as I talk to my fellow JETs about their schools and the restrictions in place there. There is no such thing as a standard experience on the JET program; some ALTs will simply have to work from a text book every lesson – no arguments, no deviations – some will have to use the themes in the text books but can adjust the lessons to make them better/more relevant, and the unlucky ones will simply assist in lessons, reading passages from text books, acting as glorified CD players.

The freedom I have makes my job 100 times more enjoyable for me and my students, and every time I have a great lesson I get an ego boost from the fact that it was my content that helped to create the atmosphere. There’s nothing quite like coming out of a lesson full of whooping, cheering and laughing, knowing that they learnt and understood all the materials and had a great time in the process. It makes you feel pretty bloody good, and is more or less the kind of feeling I was trying to generate by coming out here in the first place.

(N.B. I’m listening to ‘Lower Your Eyelids To Die With The Sun’ by M83 at the moment so if I get a little emotional then that’s why. Check it out here. It’s majestic.)

Along with the freedom comes the great students. Many people (including myself before I came here) would consider the idea of teaching four hundred 15/16 year old boys (10% girls) rather daunting; perhaps even terrifying. Certainly, if my old school was anything to go by, then I would’ve expected by now to have been hung, drawn and quartered; my bleeding remains staple-gunned to a blackboard and a board rubber wedged in my mouth. My students are good kids. There’s plenty of camaradarie and messing about, but there’s nothing vindictive or nasty going on. Most are enthusiastic and willing to learn, which is particularly impressive considering the sheer volume of school work, tests and club activities they have to do every day. Some of these kids get to school at 7am and won’t leave until 9pm thanks to compulsory membership to an after-school club of some sort or another.

There’s also the lovely JTEs, the kind staff, the laid-back vice-principal, the heating and air-conditioning (non-existent in older schools). It really is a good place to work.

In addition to the 8 English I classes (1st years only), I have Writing classes with the top sets of the 2nd and 3rd years, an additional Writing class with some 2nd year students who chose to do English as an elective, and an Oral Communication class with the top set 1st graders. The first two are a bit stale (there is some of that human CD player nonsense I described earlier, along with some sentence correction and that’s about it) but the elective and OC classes are, quite simply, awesome. For my elective class I am teamed with Yukari-sensei, a great lady who is always helping me out with my Japanese; she’s easy to chat to, and respected by the students as a knowledgeable and thoroughly likeable teacher. In addition, the students there all want to learn English, and it makes a big difference to the morale in the classroom.

I have, of course, saved the best until last though. Last term the OC class was wholly textbook-based and contained 41 students. You try teaching a speech-based lesson to 41 people at the same time. It doesn’t work. The JTEs obviously realised this, and split it into two; more work for us, but a much richer experience for the students. I teach this lesson with a 23 year old chap called Kudou-sensei; a very nice, hard-working, energetic guy fresh out of uni. We use the same textbook as before but are free to choose the subjects we think are most useful and change them as much as we like. “Have fun with it,” was the objective we were given, and so that’s what we have set out to do. Without changing anything, it’s just a lot of ultra-boring reading, repeating and listening quizzes – hardly inspiring stuff – so for the last lesson I decided to take the theme (numbers and fractions) and completely rehash it using a combination of some stuff I’ve used before and a couple of new ideas.

First, some pronunciation practice; I’ve already written about this here so I won’t bore you with it again. After they were suitably warmed up to the idea of speaking we introduced Japanese numbers briefly to show that they are grouped into fours rather than threes (1,0000 is 1 man, 1,0000,0000 is 1 oku, etc.) and then introduced the English number system as far as billions. Many of them had no idea how to say/write a large number in English so I told them to use the commas to represent the words ‘thousand’, ‘million’ and ‘billion’. I also said that an ‘and’ is necessary after you say a hundred. After checking with Ashley I was told that they don’t actually use the ‘and’ in America but it’s what I was always taught in school so I decided it was important; to make the words flow into each other better if nothing else. After we’d covered the basics we played another game; Kudou-sensei or I would write a long number on the board and they would take it in turns to say one word at a time (i.e. “One,” next person, “billion,” next person, “five,” etc.). Every time someone messed up they would have to stand up and start again from the beginning. At first there were quite a few people standing, but slowly, they were able to sit back down after they got it right and eventually, they finished the first number. It had taken so much effort to get it, that when the last word was announced correctly, the whole class, Kudou-sensei and I erupted into a simultaneous cheer so loud that I’m pretty sure all the classes on the top floor heard us. It was totally spontaneous; like watching your country score a goal in your favourite sport after a long and difficult 0-0 stalemate. After that they had it; the next two numbers were recounted perfectly and resulted in similar cheers that stirred the cicadas from their slumber.

So there you have it… A wonderful reason for me to look forward to Fridays other than the obvious bonus of it being the beginning of another undoubtedly great weekend in Japan.

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