In honor of Black Lives Matter and the protests happening around the globe, I would like to share a free resource to help teachers who have student in the 5th, 6th, or 7th grades for the American K-12 education system.
I’m putting in some materials I used last year with my returnee students in Japan. These booklets ARE NOT BOOK COPIES, but supplementary materials designed to help students get the most out of the book experience. I assigned this booklet as homework for the students to do every week, collecting the booklets to mark every Friday.
I apologize in advance as I used Publisher in order to create this booklet, so I can only add PDF and image files. I’ll have the images below as previews of what the booklets give in terms of content.
I don’t need credit, I just ask that no one EVER POSTS TO A PAY FOR WORKSHEETS SITE! Please don’t profit off this booklet. I’m intending for this work to be used to help spread awareness of really serious issues involving racism and specifically education.
If anyone would like to share feedback or critiques, I would appreciate it. You can comment on this post or hit me at the email firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll try to find a way to convert my Publisher file into Word in a way that won’t ruin the whole formatting.
Printing instructions: I made all of these for the A3 size paper. It’s quite big, but my students tend to write big so it worked out. However, note that pages 5 and 6 are meant to be copied back to back on an A4 size paper!
After printing out the pages, staple them together and give them out to your students. I had a system where if I had to make a whole booklet all over again I took away points, but you decide what works best for you.
I apologize in advance if there are any mistakes or somehow I’ve worded something wrong/offensive. Do tell me if I need to change something. I tried to keep my language simple for kids, and as I don’t have Black co-workers to ask for feedback, I did the best I could with this topic.
Note: this booklet is meant to be used in tandem with the book and it’s supposed to have a teacher guiding students through the complex issues of racism and education in the modern era. Please don’t use this booklet as a substitute for in-depth discussion and learning! Thank you!
Returning to school means changes are everywhere. It starts with the daily commute. Instead of a train and a packed bus, I decided to bike to work in the morning and afternoon. It’s one hour each way in the wet, sticky heat of Japanese summer only just getting started.
On the first day back, I brought a bunch of my cool biz attire and threw them in my teacher locker. When I get to work, I change out from the gross workout clothes to the nice button up and pants combo. I managed to do this new commute from Monday to Friday, but today I woke up with my knees demanding a break.
Luckily, on Saturdays there aren’t many people taking the trains in the morning to my work station in Chiba. People are usually going the other way towards Tokyo for fun and such. I walked from the station to the school. For some reason, today is blistering hot instead of humid. I am worried I have a sunburn across my eyes, leaving the mask part super pale in comparison.
The number one rule is, “Wear a mask!” The school provided two paper thin masks for every teacher at their desk. I bought and made cloth masks to use instead. I don’t want to kill the Earth anymore than I already do with take out food and whatever.
Wearing a mask every day shouldn’t in and of itself feel so strange to me. For over eight years I’ve worn a mask off and on, usually just in flu season to try and stay a little more cautious to not get sick. Wearing it every day for weeks and weeks on end? No, that’s a very different way of living there.
The cartilage on my nose hurts a bit. I don’t wear glasses, so this is a new kind of pain for me. I’ve worn heavy cloth masks all week for over nine hours at a time. I can’t complain much in the face of the medical workers who have to don huge plastic goggles on top of masks with sheets over their body and hair. I’m getting off easy with just the one place with a minor ache.
Other school rules are, “Don’t talk in groups!” and “Stay one desk between each student!” and “Always use the entrance with the thermal cameras!”
We have two thermal cameras set up. If a student is shown with a temperature of over 37.2 C, an alarm will go off and they have to report to the nurse. Problem is, as previously mentioned, it’s summer. Many students are like me, biking or walking into work to avoid the stuffy trains and buses. This means the alarms will go off, and a student will have to get checked out, even though it’s really just exercise heat, not a fever.
We can hear the school announcements in the morning for rule changes. This morning it was just announced that students can take off their masks for P.E. class. Apparently, there were problems with the kiddos getting their masks dirty while playing sports, and to that I say, “No shit, Sherlock.” The solution is kids can take them off or leave them on, but it’s “highly recommended” they keep them off. I’m still surprised we’re having P.E. at all with how hot it is and the AC units are on low.
Still, the the overall caution is appreciated. All the teachers are tense, an underlying stress, unspoken but there in the air. We’re strict on the rules, whereas last year the teachers let kids get away with murder, this year it’s all hard business. “Don’t break the rules! You can be suspended.” Students who don’t comply must be taken out of this system, because all it takes is one.
One asymptomatic student who shared a bottle of water. One teacher who took of their mask and leaned over a desk. One parent with good intentions that brought food for a whole class. We have to limit the risk of exposure as much as we can.
But I can tell just by the end of this week, the students are already getting lax. More are clustering in the halls and in the classroom while on breaks. The homeroom teachers monitor them at lunch time, but even the teachers are feeling the toll of lecturing over every little thing.
It’s awful for bonding, too. Homeroom teachers are often like a second or third parent here in Japan. They have to keep track of each kid in their progress (or lack of) in education, of course, but also their health. If a students gets sick, the homeroom teachers contact the parents. If a student is having mental health issues, too, our school has the homeroom teachers talk with the school counselor. It’s hard to get kids to open up and talking to you when you have to be this level of strict right off the bat.
I’m also feeling a disconnect from most of the students. My new schedule has me essentially starting from scratch, with a bunch of classes full of students who didn’t have me last year. It’s already difficult as a foreigner who is forced to speak to them in only English, but now I have a whole new set of strict rules in addition to a mask covering my face and muffling my voice.
I feel like I’m shouting through the fabric most days. The students can barely hear me in the back of the class, and I wish I could get a microphone set or something, but I know the school would never go for it. My voice gets raw by the end of four classes, but what can I do? Gotta keep going.
The classes are divided by evens and odds with only forty minutes per lesson. While less class time sounds easier, it’s strangely not? Most of the lessons I prepped last year involved fifty minutes of work, also a lot of group work, presentations, etc. Everything needs to be re-done with a new time frame, and I’ve got to cram enough stuff in there in order to make a final exam for my special returnee class.
I don’t know how this can be sustainable with the new active cases fluctuating. I’m predicting in the near future we’ll have a small surge. It won’t be as big as the one in April and May, perhaps, but I’m thinking it will happen. When it does, I need to make a plan for the school closing down again, even just for a few days or temporarily.
Honestly, what even could we do if that happens? I don’t know. Kill off summer break completely? Just work through until December? But with the experts calling for a possible resurgence of COVID19 in the fall, as most viruses tend to change by that time, would we be out for the rest of the year if we get a third wave?
I don’t know, and I’m not alone in the floundering uncertainty of this unknown future. Teachers whisper and chat about it in Japanese all around me, all in hushed voices about what to do, how to plan, should we even bother at this point? We’re all in this “new normal” that feels like at any second it could fall out from under our feet.
These are all struggles teachers are facing on an international scale. We’re trying to fit the students and ourselves into a place where we have to fight against our very human nature to be social, and if we don’t, we’re putting these kids at risk. Without being social, though, we’re sacrificing the bond between students and teachers that makes school life at least bearable. Now, it feels like I’m just fighting against the inevitable tide of another wave incoming.
Regardless, I’ll keep going, just like everyone else. Hopefully the third wave won’t come, and I’ll have these kids for a good two months before the fall hits. I prefer to prepare for the worst while hoping for the best, so that’s my goal for this next week. If I get enough prepped and done by this week, I could do online classes this time that aren’t rushed.
The new normal kind of demands this readiness, the preparation for the eventual (maybe) floor drop. COVID19 has stolen any sense of certainty for the next year or so, but that doesn’t mean we give up or just stop moving. I have to keep going, because these students are counting on me to be there. I can’t let them down, so I’ll be here, however I can be.
I love teaching kids, I really do. Young learners, as in those under thirteen, have in general this complete lack of shame I kind of envy. A good ninety percent of the classes they will just SHOUT OUT LOUD ALL THE ENGLISH and they do not care at all if it’s correct or not. One particular group though is both the most rewarding and the most challenging for me, and that is the toddlers.
I think many people view the toddler age as this maelstrom of violent outbursts and awful tantrums, because that’s what a decent majority of family dramas depict in TV shows and movies. And while, yes, there are tantrums, toddlers do have some positives in teaching them. I want to talk about a few of those as well as some of the challenging aspects.
Let me start off with how I don’t think toddlers get enough credit when it comes to how loving they can be. Toddlers will love you, just because you exist and you’re in their life. Some of my students will hug me on sight, even when I’m not even teaching them that day. Sometimes they’re so excited to start class they’ll line up five minutes early and just be bouncing balls of energy in anticipation. I get adorable drawings and hand written letters that say, “For Jessica teacher!” with my name horrendously misspelled, and I love them all.
Many people see it as being “clingy or needy”, but toddlers really only cling to people they actually like and trust. For me, when a parent ever says the words, “Wow! They never used to like English class, but now my child loves coming to your class.” That means I’ve successfully linked English to fun by extension of me being the “fun teacher.”
But toddlers can be a handful, not gonna lie.
Toddlers have that special in-between balancing act of, “Yeah, I can totally walk and run, but I will also fall right on my face if you look away for two seconds.”
One time, I taught a four year old private student. She was one of the first little tykes I’d ever had just by myself. Previously as a JET Program ALT, there was always a main teacher actually in charge. I just danced and sang songs in the pre-schools/kindergarten classes.
This girl at one point in the lesson looked at me, giggled, and then turned around to run straight into a wall. Just, THUNK! And laughed some more as she fell backwards. I was in shock for a good two seconds, but then I managed to keep the lesson going.
Over time, her head swelled up and I thought her mom was gonna kill me. To my surprise, after I honestly told the mother, “So…she ran…into a wall. She didn’t even hesitate, she just, BOOM, hit it with her head.”
The mother took one look at her daughter, and then looked at me and said, “I believe you.”
Turns out it was a habitual thing.
So as a TEFL teacher I’ve got to try to make my classroom environment fun, but also as safe as possible for little squishy potato heads. I learned my lesson from that previous class, so there is no running in my classrooms. We jump, we skip, we dance but we don’t run in the classroom.
That being said, kids are kids and will find ways to test patience and break rules/things they know they’re not supposed to. I can’t count how many times kids have tried to get away with cheating at games, or tried to change the rules of a game to fit them winning over another student/team.
People ask me how I discipline toddlers and I tell them the truth: I put them in a time-out corner.
A lot of people immediately say, “But that never works with my students! They just get back up.” Yep, I believe that, which is why my response is, “Pretend they’re still in time-out anyway.” In other words, ignore the child, don’t engage with them until they’re ready to behave and apologize.
Some people get intimidated by toddlers. After all, they can (and do) scream or cry at the drop of a hat, especially if they don’t get things going their way. However, it’s essential during a toddler phase to put down strict limits on what’s OK behavior and what’s not in a classroom.
Basically, yes I’m teaching them English, but I am also teaching social skills as part of that communication set.
Also, I see a lot of people try to do timeouts wrong, like put the toddler in the corner for like ten minutes. NO, not even that long! To a toddler a minute by itself is forever. Stick with three to five minute timeouts, don’t hover over them just leave them alone, and make them apologize before resuming play. Tah-dah, you’ve got yourself a kid that understands where the limit is.
Back on the subject of crying toddlers, it’s gonna happen in a class at some point or another. Toddlers are tiny humans who don’t really get how this whole body movement thing works, and they’re going to get frustrated simply because they’re just not coordinated yet. I’ve had kids cry because they’re tired or hungry, and that’s fair enough.
I don’t ever punish crying when kids get frustrated or hurt or upset over stuff they just can’t control. When that happens, I just use distraction methods. Sometimes that means I get out crayons and sheet of paper to let them relax, just draw something pretty for mommy and daddy. Sometimes that means I change the game or start a dance so they’ll kind of just “forget” they were upset in the first place.
Just very recently, I had a class full of three and four year old cuties come back after the New Year’s break. One of the boys did NOT like that Dad wasn’t coming into class with him. He started bawling, crocodile tears running down his face. His Dad was a good sport about it, just told him to “Gambarre!” and he’d pick him up after class.
My little tyke kept crying as Dad left the door. I got out a floor mat piece – we put down soft Alphabet mats as cushion for the floor – and asked him, “Hey [student], what color is this?”
He sniffled, stared at the mat for a second, and then he cried out, “Greeeeeeeeeeeeeeen!!!” He proceeded to take the may while still crying and put it with the other floor pieces. Other students lined up and started taking the other pieces to put it all together into one pseudo- carpet like structure.
Now, you might be wondering, “Wow, that’s a lot of challenges!” Yep, which is why teaching a toddler class will make you a better teacher.
I’m not even joking. Having to teach toddlers means you will learn to be quick on your feet, use more gestures, problem solve, figure out how to use your voice and tone for discipline effectively in a classroom, and so much more. I won’t lie, teaching high school was a breeze in comparison to teaching toddlers, but I know for a fact that teaching toddlers made me realize how I could teach even upper level students better in so many different ways.
So while teaching toddlers requires a lot of work and just so much energy, it is worth while for me to see kids form an early and good relationship with English. I also appreciate how I’m teaching them, but they’re also giving me some hard earned experience to remember for future classes. And they’re just adorable, really, ya know, when they’re not crying and shouting.
Still, I wouldn’t trade all the drawings and hugs I get for the world.
If I was ever to do a “Ten Things I Hate About Japan” video, for the most part I would just spend 8 out of those 10 things complaining about the summer and the summer heat. #1: The fucking humidity, #2: The fucking heat #3: THE HELLFIRE COMBINATION OF THEM BOTH-!
I’d figure it out. But until then, I do know one particular aspect of Japan that drives me up the wall: forcing sick kids to go to school / class.
One my students today came in- let’s call him Nashi – coughing up a lung before he even walked in the door.
“Hey, are you ok?” I asked him in English.
He responded with, “I have kaze.”
Kaze is Japanese for “a cold.”
I sighed and let him in. Nashi coughed and coughed throughout the whole class. He could hardly breathe. Every single time he tried to talk he would have a fit. On top of that, his twin sister – let’s call her Natsu – was in the beginning stages of his sickness getting passed to her. Both of them proceeded to spend most of that class time DYING from coughing and coughing and coughing.
For some reason their mom prepped Natsu with a water bottle, but Nashi got nothing! I actually stopped the class about ten minutes in to grab some water for him so he could at least attempt to get through class without coughing his voice raw.
This is a class of four students, so that meant 50% of my class was sick. Because I’ve been in very similar situations before, I’m predicting the other two kids are gonna get sick. Both of them will still come to class. Fast forward to three weeks later, and I’ll be sick.
As Nashi and Natsu left I asked them, “Where is your mom?”
“Oh,” Nashi said as he sipped on the water I gave him, “she’s at home. She’s making dinner.”
And I couldn’t help it, I got a bit judgmental. So a stay at home mother just forced her sick kids into a closed in space with me and two other much younger kids? And she also forced them to go to school? I didn’t say anything, I just gave them stickers, told them to take care, and off they went.
This aspect of Japanese culture is perhaps the one aspect I cannot tolerate very well. In the United States, if a kid has a fever, they stay the hell home. At least in my generation, anyway. We don’t force kids to fight through fevers and coughing to show up to class miserable. I’ve heard that nowadays some schools have ridiculous absentee rules, but back in my day (she said like a granny) the kids stayed home to get better and then come back to school healthy. This way the germs didn’t spread around to half the school population and take out the whole class with a sickness.
In Japan, if you’re still able to lift your head and not pass out, you’re going to school. Even with fevers, I saw my high school kids come into my classroom with glazed over eyes and obvious red cheeks that signify “I am super sick, yo, someone take me home!” But they would only maybe go to the nurse’s office to sleep for an hour and then right back into the next class!
Technically, if you have a fever of over 40 degrees Celsius you should go home, but I’ve seen kids be throwing up with no temperature to match. It’s crazy to me that at so young an age kids are already being trained to kill themselves for the sake of school and then work. Health should take priority over one day of school, right?
I don’t know, maybe I am “too American” in this mindset, but I feel like science would also support my idea? Stress is considered a strong factor in keeping a sickness lasting longer than it normally would. Wounds are shown to heal slower if someone is stressed versus staying in bed. Not to mention that Japan already has a problem with stressing their children into becoming hikikomori – wherein a person wants to stay inside and never leave their house due to overwhelming anxiety.
In addition to all that, making children go to classes and school while sick is actually the opposite of the collectivist outward thinking of other people that Japan usually prides itself on. The sickness will always spread to another person, regardless of face masks being used or not. Whether it’s the student in class or the teacher or someone on the street/in the train/on the bus, you get the idea.
So really, forcing them to go to class doesn’t really help anyone. It doesn’t help the kids, it just keeps them sicker for longer. The sickness always spreads to other kids, and to teachers. Therefore, it’s not helpful, it’s detrimental in every conceivable way.
The only argument “for it” bothers me. “Well, when they grow up, they’ll have to go to work sick too!”
But once again, science kind of says otherwise. Until you’re about 18-21 years old, your immune system isn’t developed enough to handle viruses like a fully grown adult’s body. That’s why we need kids vaccinated for the flu: they can literally DIE from strands of that yearly virus, unlike a healthy adult that can bounce back from it.
Demanding that children perform to the same expectations as an adult seems a bit of a ridiculously impossible expectation. Kids’ bodies just are not developed enough to handle the bombardment of illnesses and stress all at once.
I don’t really have any solutions to give here, I’m just a foreigner with an outsider perspective, but I worry, I really worry about my kids. Be they Nashi and Natsu who are only nine years old with colds to my high school teens with obvious flu-like symptoms, I worry about what kind of message they are learning from being forced into class and school with a sickness.
Because perhaps the thing that bother me the most is the underlying message, that your well being doesn’t matter as much as what you’re supposed to accomplish. Sacrificing your health, your wellness, your mental strength, all for the sake of…what? What does it really do for kids but set them up to feel like their wellness and health don’t matter? Not in comparison to the things they’re supposed to get done. Tests, exams, tests, exams, studying, studying, studying, all for the sake of the exams!
I don’t know, it just seems like prioritizing exams and tests over kids health is such a bad way to go all around. Once again, I’m coming from a different generation and from another country, so maybe I’m wrong. Still, I think it’s not just a cultural difference at play, there’s also a kind of cultural dissonance too. I’m sure that the kids will be alright, but I worry what it does to them.
After all, I’m a teacher, that’s kind of part of my job.
Now that I’m back in the eikaiwa schedule, let’s talk about a few things real quick, mainly about how the irregularity of these schedules can be maddening.
I understand that everyone gets the warning in the application process that some people will get more hours than others, and that some days will be more busy than others. But holy hell, man, sometimes when I get home I’m just EXHAUSTED. And it occurs to me as I sit at home eating crap food because I feel like crap that these schedules are so freakin’ weird.
I get some of the schedule irregularities. It’s business and customer service oriented, so when we do taiken (trail) lessons then we need to set aside time for those. Alright, fine enough. But then there are times when I’m working a day of back-to-back classes and I go, “Gee, wonder why this turnover rate is so damn high?!”
I can understand wanting to keep customers happy, so you prioritize their time over the employees. But I also don’t understand why you’d fail so hard at scheduling things that your employees end up wanting to quit.
My hard day is Saturday, where-in I teach four back-to-back classes in the morning. This wouldn’t kill me if it weren’t for the following classes in the afternoon, which are all kids group classes. Young kids, as in toddlers and elementary school kids. The amount of energy required to “teach” them, as in play in English with them, is more than the energy I actually have in a week.
This particular schedule has cycled through three other people before me, all of whom based on those who worked with them, also hated the schedule. It was apparently a factor in one person leaving.
And I know for a fact many eikaiwas do this practice of impossible workloads with demanding time constraints because god forbid we pay you a full lunch hour instead of the allotted forty five or actually give you overtime hours for doing extra prep.
Nope, gotta keep them labor costs down.
I get that owning a business is difficult, keeping customers must be a difficult endeavor, but consistently making impossible schedules isn’t going to fix those problems. Making schedules that give little to no prep time means that students get little to no quality in classes, it means teachers having little to no energy to get through the day, it means students leaving because they’re paying for these lessons and they want good quality for what they pay.
In the case of this Saturday schedule, they’ve added more children into my toddler class. I can already foretell a trend of adding more students into other classes of mine. I guess that’s because I do good demos, perhaps because my class times are more convenient for moms. But a really obvious solution, one would think, is instead of adding more students into an already full-ish class or shoving make-up students all into this particular day, would be instead to hire one more teacher for the school.
But we can’t because gotta keep those labor costs down, right?
It drives me crazy to think about how often these schedules happen in eikaiwa work, and they’re needlessly bad. If you can tell on paper that a schedule is causing a turnover, then maybe it might be a good idea to, I dunno, fix it?
Or even prevent it from happening! “Prevention is worth a pound of cure,” is a quote I often think about when it comes to problem solving. If you already tell there’s going to be a problem, then do your best to prevent it from happening, and maybe you’ll be better off for it. It’s simple, but in the eikaiwa industry they often seem to shoot themselves in the foot and ruin good instructors by demanding too much with harsh schedules.
Essentially in giving instructors enough time to plan, enough time between classes for set-up, and that forty five minute break, the quality of lessons will be better. It seems like common sense, and yet I saw this in Coco Juku before this current eikaiwa. Schedules are often designed on some days to simply cram as many students in as possible. Once again, I understand the need for a customer base, but if you have more customers than instructors for classes, that’s an over-extension of resources no matter how you look at it.
Now in fairness I’m actually really, really lucky. My boss chose schools that were close to my apartment, so I’m not spending two hours on a train to go to and from a school. My Monday through Thursday hours aren’t back-to-back madness at all, mainly because I get a full hour of prep on these days. These schedules are well designed to maintain a regular customer base.
But all too often the consistent customer base isn’t a part of the “quotas” and “targets” of an eikaiwa school. Constant customer growth is higher on the ladder. Quotas and targets won’t keep customers coming back, instructors do. Allowing the system to ruin instructors is how eikaiwas go under, just look at NOVA for that reminder. Push people too hard and something will give, be it in the form of a one month notice or a lawsuit or an angry tirade on a blog…
I’m well aware that this post won’t really solve anything. I’ve already spoken with several people about the harshness of that Saturday, and everyone basically shrugs their shoulders and says, “Yeah, Saturdays man,” and go on with their lives. Also, it’s not like one day out of the week is gonna make me quit (lived in Japan for seven years now, please, I’ll be here a while longer).
And yet, I worry about the new people, the ones who came half way across the world to be instructors and might have way worse schedules. I worry about my friends who talk about their eikaiwa work where they get zero personal days, just days without pay, sometimes even a whole unpaid summer. Instructors in the eikaiwa industry have little incentive to stay loyal with any company what-so-ever, scheduling is just one of many factors that bothers me about this work.
Once again, I’m lucky. I work for a company with personal days, paid leave, insurance, so the basic non-slavery-like package deal. And yet, I can already see cracks in this foundation. I can already start to see parallels to problematic system practices. I wish that things could change.
What kind of changes? A cap on back to back classes would be a good start (like perhaps three-four), a minimal ten minute prep before each class, and a standard hour of a lunch break (because come on, everyone uses it for prep time, who are we kidding?). But I know those changes are never gonna happen. A person so low on the ladder is never gonna get the attention of the big administrators and the company heads, there’s just no way that’ll ever happen.
It’s nice to talk about it, though, at least just a bit.
Yesterday, my kids all came to me for a cleaning check. For those of you who aren’t aware, Japan does this thing where it uses children as free labor and makes them clean up their schools. It’s all about teaching them responsibility to their environment and teamwork or something, but that’s not what I want to talk about!
The cleaning crew group are all bunch of second year students. Imagine think of about five like 15/16 year olds in Japanese uniforms, half boys and half girls. Added bonus: imagine all the boys are on their cell phones instead of cleaning like the girls do, and by “the girls” I mean the only two cleaning while everyone else just plays around.
Anyways, a girl tries to leave the room upon my entering it. I stop her to explain in Japanese, “You can’t leave! I have to check the room and sign the book.” Teachers have to put their names in this cleaning log so it’s officially approved. The girl stares at me bewildered, as if I had spoken Russian instead of her own native tongue.
The boy behind her even says, “She’s speaking Japanese! How can you not get what she’s saying?”
The girl says, “Eh? Eh?” And I’m expecting these responses: “Eigo wakanai! (I don’t understand English)” or maybe even “Wakarimasen!” as in I don’t understand at all or maybe even “Nihongo wakanai! (I don’t understand Japanese).”
Instead I get, “I don’t understand LANGUAGES!”
I busted up laughing. I couldn’t stop. I think it was the combination of not seeing it coming and how forcefully she pushed out languages, with such absolute sincerity. I loved it! I shared it with friends, family, all the people.
And then today, I gave one of my first year classes a free study day. Next week the final exams are coming up, so I wanted to give them all an opportunity to ask me questions about the exam and if they wanted to get caught on another subject besides English, sure. This class was ahead of schedule, no problem to be nice and let them benkyousuru.
One of the students, let’s call him Nagai-kun because that boy in long, tall and slim. Nagai-kun had a hard time sitting still, because he’s one of those kids who if you don’t give clear directions and goals for him to meet he kind of can’t accomplish much on his own. At some point, he comes near the front and stands in front of his friend.
I’m only half paying attention because I’m grading notebooks for the class while answering questions kids ask here and there. But then I notice he’s trying to ask for something in English.
“Please help me study!” He half-requests, half-demands.
His friend replies, “Nanio? (With what)”
So I decide to help, “Please help me study for…”
Nagai-kun repeats, “Please help me study for…” And then he looks at me.
I shrug, “Math, English, science.”
Nagai-kun thinks about it and then turns to his friend, “Please help me study for ALL SUBJECTS.”
Once again, not seeing it coming, I start to giggle. I put a book over my face to suppress the laughter, but it’s near impossible. Nagai-kun settles in front of his friend to get some help, meanwhile I’m dying. I eventually peek over the book to see a couple of girl students giggling at my giggling, and we all just start laughing together.
In these moments, I love teaching and I love my students. Even if they don’t have high English confidence all the time, I’m glad they’re at least willing to try. And it totally helps that sometimes their jokes hit my funny bone just right.
There are many teacher phrases out there in the world, such as “sit down, be quiet, listen carefully, raise your hand, Shiori I swear to God if you don’tputyourmakeupbackinyourbagrightthissecond-,” and so on.
But my more recent favorite is this one: “Let’s pretend I know what I’m doing and…”
I through this phrase around especially during exam time. I have to design tests, mark tests, and then put all the points into an Excel file. The points get calculated into the school’s grading system, and then students take those report cards home. I have to check and double check that everything I’m doing is not only correct, but also tallied up in the system.
Last Friday, I said this phrase at least three times. “Ok, Mr. Nasu let’s pretend I know what I’m doing. My plan is for the test to have both a multiple choice format, but also a writing section. I think I might throw in some sentence scrambles, too. It’s a fifty minute exam so…what do you think?”
Mr. Nasu replied with, “Sounds good?”
And with that feedback, I powered through making my test. You would think after six years of doing test stuff I would get better at it, but not always. This year in particular, I was put in charge of the whole Standard First Year Communication Course Curriculum. As someone who never designed curriculum, I felt a little nervous, and I needed to design this curriculum around all new textbooks.
Basically, throw out everything from last year and start from scratch! Yay!
Also, this side-note is neither here nor there, but I still question the logic of putting a person with the least amount of experience in curriculum design a whole division of a school’s English course. I mean, fantastic they all had confidence in me that I could handle the pressure of it, but if I’d been an administrator I don’t think I would’ve done it this way. Once again, notice how my new favorite phrase is, “Let’s pretend I know what I’m doing.”
The fact is “knowing what I’m doing” can only come from these kinds of experiences though. Without getting in over my head and having to figure things out quick, I wouldn’t be able to bang out a final exam in a week like I just did. I suppose it helps that I refuse to give up or throw in the towel for projects I’ve never done before, but instead just ask for help from fellow teachers (or ya know, Google it if necessary). Support systems are always good in times of stress, be they in or out of an office environment, especially for new adventures into the unknown.
As the year wraps up, I’m really glad I ended up being put “in charge” of this communication course. I would like to believe I did the best job possible given my lack of experience in this aspect of teaching, or if nothing else managed to accomplish more than I ever thought I would when given this assignment. My worst nightmare was getting a worksheet out, only to realize I couldn’t finish a lesson in time for a midterm or final, or completely losing a test file! Luckily, I can put those fears aside now.
I’ll be gaining new ones with whichever new job I attain, I’m sure. The odds are high I’ll be saying, “Let’s pretend I know what I’m doing,” a lot in the coming few months. Whatever the future holds, I think it’s a useful phrase, whether teacher or not.
Today, it happened again. A very sneaky girl (let’s call her Ichigo) gave her friend (let’s call her Momo) a looksie at her paper. Ok so, Ichigo and Momo are both good students, and I rarely have any issues with them. Which is why I was surprised when I came around to discover the ultimate sin of my classroom.
Copying someone else’s work!!!
As a person who grew up in the good ol’ U.S. of A school system, I am very much anti-cheating/ copying /plagiarizing. At the particular high school I work at, it’s considered “teamwork” by a decent amount of teachers, much to my absolute displeasure. I’m fully aware that everyone has done this at some point in their high school career, usually for homework, but in class?! No, I will never allow it!
Thus, I walked over to the girls, who froze in their seats with wide eyes. They knew that I knew they had been caught out. Unlike perhaps a couple of boys who tried to sleep through my classes, these two smart ladies couldn’t feign ignorance, they couldn’t protest my next move. Both of them had cultivated a reputation with me on knowing English well, being good students, knowing the rules.
“We do not copy in my class!” I proclaimed, snatching Ichigo’s paper away.
Ichigo and Momo both tried to talk me out of walking away with the half-finished paper, but it did them no good. I resolutely sauntered back to the front of the class, procured a new sheet, and returned to Ichigo. Momo suddenly realized that her paper was fine. That was the point: the person who let another person copy was the one who suffered the most. The copier was left with the guilt of their actions. In Japan, guilt is effective, shame even more so.
Ichigo grumbled to herself as she had to redo her entire paper again. Meanwhile, Momo floundered, realizing she must do this assignment on her own. Bum bum buuuuum!!!
For those of you who might think I’m a monster, allow me to explain the assignment.
The students only had to write their everyday activities. For example, “On Monday I am going shopping. On Tuesday I am playing baseball after school. On Wednesday I’m singing a song at karaoke.” All the way through the week, and that’s it. I allowed them to look into their textbooks for examples (specifically so the two boys in my class who were a bit slower than the rest could get ideas). The assignment wasn’t a Herculean effort to accomplish, Momo was just lacking the confidence to do it.
Cheating as well as copying are often symptoms of a lack of confidence, not a lack of interest, at least from my experience. I have many students who simply don’t understand English because they have this mental block from years of getting “Grammar Rules are God!” things drilled into their heads. They stumbled mentally to connect what they learn in textbooks to real life application because they get caught up on the stupid language rules.
Momo is a “good student” in that she usually follows all the rules given to her by teachers. Today, she was faced with conflicting rules: be perfect at English grammar and no copying papers. She knew she couldn’t be perfect at the English grammar, so she gambled with breaking the no copying rules. The odds weren’t in her favor this time, so now she’s faced with the reality that she might fail in both endeavors. Failure for Japanese students is often akin to shameful behavior, and that sucks for us English teachers.
I need for her to make mistakes, or as she views in her eyes as “failure.” Without these mistakes, I can’t help her to improve. It’s a Catch 22, and I have to toe that fine line between asking too much of her and not. Ichigo is going to be fine, she not only has the confidence, she can very well teach other students what she knows.
I encouraged Ichigo to do so when I said, “You,” I pointed at her, “can give Momo examples, but you can’t give her your paper. Help with spelling too! You can do it. I believe in you.” Ichigo did, brightening up a bit at the praise. She leaned over to talk with Momo, and I did something that might shock you. I walked away.
Ichigo and Momo aren’t the only students who need help in this class, of course. I dealt out my punishment, no need to hover. I move from desk to desk, helping out others with issues translating Japanese to English, some spelling questions, etc. After about ten minutes, I return to Ichigo and Momo.
Ichigo had finished a new paper while Momo was still trying. I could tell their papers were turning out differently, so I was pleased. Even if Momo didn’t finish the assignment today, I was going to be happy she wasn’t leaning on her friend’s knowledge of English. A crutch is only useful when you’re broken, not when you already know how to walk and are moving on to how to jog.
I graded Ichigo’s paper, told her to use it for the speaking test next week. Momo came up last in the class, but I noticed with pride there was only one mistake. I had her correct it, and then she was given full marks. I always give my students a chance in class to correct their mistakes for full points (see, not a monster). She was smiling, happy that she got it done just in time.
And I would like to believe that perhaps, just maybe, she gained one more stepping stone towards English confidence. I don’t want her to fall back on old bad habits, so hopefully she’ll remember how Ichigo had to do her work all over again, and won’t repeat the copying problem. With the full marks in the grade book, she’s realized that it’s better to try at something she won’t be perfect at rather than take credit for someone else’s work.
In university, copying does equal plagiarism, so she could get kicked out of her undergraduate studies. Momo can’t take credit when she gets a job if someone else does the work, she’ll get fired. There have been many a Momo and Ichigo in my classroom, boys and girls (and others who identify as neither). I believe it’s my job to prepare them for all of it, not just the writing and speaking in English responsibilities.
For those of you who think Momo might hold a grudge, at the end of class when I asked for a volunteer to return the classroom key (we use a free room), she was the first one to raise her hand. She also apologized, with a smile, not a single bit of sarcasm or hatred in her tone.
“Thank you!” I said as I left.
Her, being the cheeky one that she is, asked, “Bonus pointo onegaishimasu!”
So as you can see, not only was she fine, but she had the nerve to ask for bonus points afterwards. Kids bounce back from discipline if it’s fair, if it’s not breaking their spirits, and if they understand that they are in the wrong from the get go. Ichigo was with her, laughing as I walked off to my next class. I’m not worried about them getting bent out of shape.
After all, everyone knows it’s a rule in my classroom. They may not understand all the intricacies of why I do what I do, but they also understand I’m not going to be meaner to them for breaking rules. No one gets favoritism, and no one gets more punishments than the others. Everyone is treated with discipline regardless of marks. Momo and Ichigo know it, and I think in time maybe they’ll come to appreciate it.
Or maybe not, at least I tried! Trying is all we teachers can really do, so until I’m blue in the face I’ll keep shouting, “No copying in my classroom!”
You’re thinking right now about becoming a teacher. You were probably inspired by an amazing educator. Maybe it was a homeroom teacher who got you through a bad time in your life. Maybe it was the math teacher who stayed for hours after school to tutor you. Or maybe seeing an ALT in your classroom made you think about teaching Japanese abroad.
Whoever or whatever your inspiration, I wish you all the best in this endeavor. You’ll get through university and training, and someday enter a classroom. And let me tell you, all the training and education beforehand won’t be enough to prepare you for the reality. The real life classroom experiences will be tough, but there is no better way to becoming a teacher than jumping into it headfirst.
I will say though, although teaching is rewarding, it’s won’t be easy. Even after doing it for over six years, there will be days or classes or something that will present a challenge. You’ll have to overcome those challenges as they arrive. Nosebleeds, fights, bullying, meeting paper prep, Saturday work on top of overtime work (none of it paid), it’ll happen to you at some point. You’ll do what you can with the knowledge you’ve got, and that may or may not be enough.
I’ll tell you something no other teacher might: It’s okay to fail. It will hurt and it will be a tearful experience, but it’s okay if you can’t overcome every single one of those challenges. Just remember that you’re not alone. Lean on your co-workers, your fellow educators. They can help you when you need that help the most. And it’s not failing that will be the worst thing that can happen, but failing to learn from those past mistakes will be the ultimate failure. Learn from these errors so you can be a better teacher in the future.
When it comes to students, you’ll have to just love them as they are. You can try and try, but not all students will love you back. There will be times teaching will feel like the most thankless job (especially when you’re marking tests), but if you’re really meant to be a teacher you won’t do it to make students like you, you’ll do it because you want the best for the students.
And what’s best for them will always be a case-by-case basis. Each student is going to need a different approach to get through your class, and each kid will need different forms of encouragement or discipline. Don’t try to make all of them fit the same mold, it won’t work. Your students will have their own personalities, and it would be a mistake to try and change what makes them all unique.
There will be times you’ll wonder if you’re supposed to be a teacher at all. Maybe somebody else could do a better job than you are, maybe the students could benefit from someone with more experience/patience/knowledge/etc. All teachers at some point feel that way, or at least good teachers do, because good teachers are always thinking about how they could be doing better in and out of the classroom for their students.
Teaching is one of those jobs that requires a person give more of themselves, and it can get draining at times. You’ll spend your sick days coming into work no matter the temperature, slogging through the fever and the class hours until you can go home to pass out. After school hours will be spent with kids who couldn’t figure out the lesson or need to get a lecture, because you’ll care. All good teachers care, and because we care, we give too much of ourselves.
For those of you who would teach abroad, you’re giving up the security of your own home and native tongue to pursue a life in another language and culture. It will be scary at times, but usually it ends up being culturally exhausting. You’ll find yourself worn down over time, until you can take a break to return home for a couple of weeks. However, you’ll form bonds with your students and co-workers that are unique in circumstance that you wouldn’t have in your home country. These bonds, these moments, will keep you going.
If you’re going into teaching because you think it’ll be easy, something you can do to pass the time, you’ll never be happy in it. It’s a career that demands too much for you to just clock-in and clock-out. Students require more attention than spreadsheets and meetings, they require care, and you can’t cut off your heart and mind to students. You’re dealing with people, smaller and immature people, but people nonetheless. They will need your guidance, whether they realize it or not. If you come into a classroom ready for a simple job, teaching won’t meet that expectation.
Students who will be teachers, I hope you’ll see that I’m not trying to scare you away from the job. At the same time, I think it’s better to know now rather than later about what it all entails. You’ll be making worksheets, curriculum, checking tests, scoring, in between everything else I just talked about, but then there will be more that I won’t even know to cover. Every school is different and will expect different things from their teachers. All this work will be worth it to see your students improve, even if it is just a little bit.
And that’s all you can do, try your best to improve your students. You don’t need to inspire them to do something groundbreaking, you don’t need them to win medals or prizes, you just want them to be better today than they were yesterday. You’ll worry you didn’t do enough, or that you should’ve done more, but so long as your students do better by the end of your term with them, you’ve succeeded. It might not be your greatest success, but teaching is full of small and big successes. Celebrate all of them, hold them close, and never let go.
It will always bother me that you are called “half,” because to me it almost sounds like you’re being called half a person. It bothers me that you’re not “Japanese enough” to be called Japanese, even though you were born and raised here. I see the teachers and other students treat you differently, because you’re different.
The United States has its form of racism, and nowadays often violent and in your face types of racism. In Japan, racism is generally subversive. It’s brushed off, excused, and even defended by the people who love the country so much they don’t wish to hear a bad word ever said about Nippon. But the way you get treated is a form of racism, and I’d be blind not to see it.
I lost one of you this year to hateful and racist bullying. It wasn’t violent in physicality, but it was awful nonetheless. A group of boys yelled at you, made fun of your last name, over and over in the cafeteria until you cried. Apparently, it wasn’t the first time they’d done it, but it was the last time you were going to take it. You transferred out, moving onto a school that might do better by you. I hope you’re happier there.
I’ll never forget you, the girl who showed me her speech about coming over from China. I read in horror as you told the story of coming into the school (before my time) and you were bullied so bad that you got your arm broken. You were so proud that you eventually became friends with the classmate who broke your arm.
Meanwhile, I was furious for you. I wanted to find the principal and punch him for letting it happen to you, for allowing your abuser to continue coming to this school, for the adults who didn’t make an appearance in your story. Odds are, it’s because they didn’t do enough for you, and thus were relegated to footnotes in your story.
I have an unpopular opinion here in Japan, one I don’t share much because some people would get so offended they’d go into a blind rage. Here it is:
There is no pure human anything. I don’t know how people delude themselves into the idea that genetics works by land mass alone. Neither country of birth nor skin tone dictates anyone’s superiority or inferiority.
None of the people who bullied you were pure Japanese, but they were taught they were by parents and grandparents. And until they take a scientific DNA test to discover the Russian/Korean/Chinese/Taiwanese, hiding within them, they’ll never believe they are anything but Japanese. And it’s so sad you have to suffer through that lie.
I see how even Native English teachers will call the students “ha-fu,” and I know I’ve been guilty of it more than once. I try my best not to feed into this idea, because I’ve seen the hurt it causes. There’s even “positive racism” that comes from this societal misconstruction that bother me.
I see how it’s assumed you’ll know English better, like it’s in your genetics to know English. Never mind that some of you are “half” Russian and Japanese, or “half” Spanish and Japanese, or “half” Mexican and Japanese, etc. Still, you are lighter skinned, and thus the burden of English and foreign cultural knowledge falls on your shoulders. It’s not fair you get that added pressure.
And I’ve seen how “half” Korean, “half” Chinese, and “half” Filipino kids don’t get hold to this same standard. They will “pass” as Japanese, and so aren’t expected to be great at English or foreign languages. They also don’t get picked on as much, don’t get treated differently by teachers, as well as get the added benefits of it being “assumed” they are Japanese.
When these kids get older, they won’t be accosted by cops demanding for a citizenship check. They won’t have to prove to their employer time and again that they “really do” know Japanese. They won’t have to validate their existence in Japan.
Because here’s the most racist thing about it all: If you can “look Japanese,” then you’re not “ha-fu” to most Japanese people. The homogeneity is only skin deep, you might say. If I were to put pictures of a Chinese exchange student, and then of a “half” American and Japanese student, and ask the question, “Who is Japanese?” It’s obvious who they would pick. It’s all boiled down to who looks the most like us, and not “genetics” at all.
It drives me crazy to see it happen to you. I try my best to treat you like the typical high school students you are, like you’re just another kid in class. I don’t put extra pressure on you to answer questions, I don’t force you to do the example sentences, I endeavor each time to just treat you as another Japanese student. Emphasis on the Japanese, there.
I wish I could make Japan see you as Japanese. It would be great to see society accept you better as the years go on, as the “trend” of more and more foreigners entering Japan means more and more intermingled genetics. The definition of “Japanese” is going to have to change, the identity of being “Japanese” having less to do with looks.
I hope it does anyway. See, if I’m still here with a child, I don’t want them to experience this kind of treatment. I don’t want my children to be treated like outsiders my the majority of people they know and meet. I want them to be accepted and loved for all that they are, and I would love for them to be just “Japanese.”
And for what it’s worth, I do think of you all as Japanese, even if no one else in Japan might.