Posts Tagged ‘teaching English in Japan’

Mr I and the classes of doom

Now that I’m a safe distance from my job as an Assitant Language Teacher (ALT) at a Japanese public junior high school, I’m feeling inclined to share some of my stories from that time.

Don’t get the wrong impression from this post, I do also have lots of really good stories from that time, but I’m afraid the first thing that comes to mind is Mr I and the classes I had to take with him.

A lot of ALTs have to travel between 4 or more schools each month, but I was lucky enough to be stationed permanently at one school. And it was a good one. The students were generally well-behaved and friendly, and they had four and a half Japanese English teachers and one ALT (me). Mr A and Mr T (heh) were the best teachers in my opinion, and were really good to work with. They were good at building rapport with their students, and making the classes interesting, but were also quite strict and didn’t accept any misbehaviour in their classes.

But unfortunately Mr I turned out to be a really awful teacher. He was incredibly uncharistmatic, his classes were boring, he never even attempted to discipline his students, and last but not least… he’s really bad at English. He would actually speak to me in Japanese instead of English most of the time, and my Japanese sucked so it’s really telling that communication was smoother that way. His lessons were riddled with mistakes to the extent that I wouldn’t have known where to begin correcting them. And his teaching style was horrendous. Here are some examples.

At the beginning of every class, Mr I would put on an English language song. Of course, his choices were always daggy and ancient. Examples: “Top of the World” (The Carpenters) and “All I want for Christmas is You” (Mariah Carey). (I will not provide links! Count yourself lucky if you’ve never heard them!) He handed out the lyrics and made us all sing along (/shudder), but even though we were doing the same song every lesson for weeks, he never actually taught them what the song meant! There was no discussion at all of the lyrics, no translation, no summary, not even help with reading and pronunciation. Did he actually not notice that he was the only one in the room singing? Who knows!

This is a dialogue from the textbook that we had to teach.

After teaching it, he tested the students’ comprehension with some questions. Here’s one of them: “Does Yuki like her sweater?” Answer: “No.” … D:

But wait, there’s more! Yuki’s story continues over the page…

This time, to check their understanding Mr I made some True/False statements. Here’s one: “Americans always say nice things to each other.” Answer: “True.” I tried not to laugh but it was hard.

The thing is, this really needn’t have happened. Mr T is actually not terrific at English either, but he can recognise his own limits so he used to get me to make up 3-5 True/False statements for every dialogue. It’s harder than you’d think to come up with questions that are actually challenging from such a short dialogue, but I was actually quite good at it, if I do say so myself. Using your ALT for this sort of thing is exactly what team-teaching is about, but Mr I really didn’t get it. Guess what sort of things he did use me for though… Well, one time when he was teaching the word “encouraging” he got me to say it for the students 5 times in a row as fast as I could! … …yeah.

Which brings me to another one of his crazy teaching techniques. I can only guess he felt that speed (however unnaturally fast) is what makes you good at English, because after “teaching” them the dialogue from the textbook (read: getting them to repeat it after me a few times) he would “consolidate” it by getting them to stand up and, all at once, read it out loud as fast as they could and then sit down. The first to sit down “wins”.

OK here’s one last example. Mr I was telling the kids one day about how westerners appear older (for their age) compared to Japanese people. Why he felt compelled to teach them this offensive stereotype, I really don’t know. But he told his (14-year-old) students that if they were to meet an American their age, they would think the kid was 20 years old. And conversely an American would think they were 10. And as if saying all this in front of me wasn’t a big enough insult, he went on to give the example that when he had first met me he’d thought I was 30! (I was 27.) Thank you.

I felt really bad for all the students that got stuck with him. They were much too well-behaved to ever complain, but I could tell they hated his classes as much as I did. And if they learned anything at all that semester, it could only be due to their own merit.

Anwyay, it’s a shame that teachers like him exist, but as I said they weren’t all this bad. Next time I’ll write about some of the good stuff that went on at my school…