I know I haven’t written much about teaching. I’ve done most of my storytelling and ranting and laughing about my job with other human beings here. I forget that teaching English in Japan is a topic many people are interested in finding more information on. I have no shortage of things to say about my students after spending the last 8 months working with them.
I mentioned in posts from when I first started teaching that I teach a wide range of ages and levels. As an eikaiwa (english conversation) school teacher, I see my students for about 50 minutes a week, and I have only this tiny block of time each week to impart all my English-y wisdom (or lack thereof) into their young, spongy brains.
I want to explore my little kid’s classes first. I’ve recently added one more class of tiny folk (which brings my total number of their classes to 2), and I declare myself to be at child capacity. These classes are 40 minutes long each, and the curriculum is a planned one our company has put together. It’s called American Little Kids (ALK for short) and it is my weekly chance to remember in fleeting instances what life was like at 5 years old.
My 2 ALK classes are back to back on Wednesday afternoons. When I first heard about this addition in my schedule, the thought of stabbing myself in the neck with a fork may have crossed my mind, however briefly (especially when I found out my new class would be composed of three 5 year old boys).
What I’ve found is that the schedule works well, and if anything, it’s easier to teach a second ALK class after I’ve already shifted into cat wrangling mode.
From 3:30 to 4:10, I teach 3 boys. Shun, Kouki, and Ryo are very fast learners and are generally good kids. However, this does not exempt them from being 5. year. old. boys.
They listen pretty well and repeat after me with big smiles. They’re usually happy to give me a high five after a correct answer, and inevitably use our end-of-lesson coloring activity to create a colorful, Salvador Dali-vomit inspired piece of art. When all three boys are present for the lesson, they typically spend 90% of the class paying attention to me and about 10% of the time quietly beating the crap out of each other (while smiling). I can’t decide if this is a sign they are the offspring of Satan, or if I should inform their mothers of their obvious proclivity for pro wrestling.
I plan activities that involve minimal time for ass kicking and maximum time for fun, which they seem to like. For the most part, they like me, which they have confirmed in the past by repeatedly telling me how “kawaii” (cute) my Halloween costume was, and running past me while administering drive-by ass slaps.
Class two, from 4:20 to 5:00, is with two girls I’ve been teaching the whole time I’ve been here. Nana is 5, Ako is 4, and they are both sickeningly adorable. They are giggly, silly girls with a deep seated love of the color pink, and an extraordinary ability to be surprised week after week by two small dents in the carpeting of our classroom. I spend a couple minutes in every lesson listening to them yell “there’s a hole!”. Someday they’ll figure out they’re there in the same spot every week. I hope.
This class typically utilizes lots of songs and flashcard games. The girls like to sing, do motions to music, and act things out. I invent flashcard review games like jumping to a card on the floor and saying “It’s a [whatever]!”, and they eat it up. Amazing what adding hopping does to life – wish it always worked that way.
These two also really enjoy thinking they’ve tricked me. Most of my students do, in fact. We’ll review a set of flashcards, and as they give me the answers when I say “what’s this?”, I hand them each some cards. I turn away from them, and reach my hands out behind my back, asking for a specific card. They will give me every. single. card. other than the one I have asked for, and giggle crazily every time. I tell them regularly how “hilarious” they are, but I think my comment flies over their heads.
Both ALK classes finish with a coloring activity. We have a coloring sheet tied into the lesson for the day, and usually a letter of the alphabet or a connect the dots activity. The students practice color words, and learn to write their name – they practice it each week by writing their name on their coloring page at the end of class. I color along with the students – some days they want to copy what I do, most other days they want to make their own design, and have sensei follow along. Here’s an example – this insect (for the letter I) was brought to you by Ako. I have no idea why she felt our insect needed black face. This was not my doing.
Teaching these classes was originally one of the hardest parts of my job. I would groan to myself when I thought of the 40 minutes I’d spend trying to lasso children and force some information into them. Once I stopped trying so hard to control it, things came more naturally. Of course, disruptions occur now and then – Ako randomly bursts into tears from time to time because she misses her mother, or is sleepy. They’re children.
The classes are a challenge in their own way, but I usually enjoy them…once they’re over. Inevitably, once they’ve finished on Wednesday afternoon, I breathe out an enormous sigh I feel like I’ve been holding for two hours. While the class does feel like herding cats a lot of the time, I remember:
I get to hand them back to their parents after their 40 minutes is up, head home, and take care of nobody but me.