I wrote part of this entry in the office at Kanbe Elementary, having just finished my third partial day of elementary “English activities.” That day, I worked only with 2nd and 3rd grades, because the schedule was all screwed up here in favor of Sports Day, much as it was at the middle school pretty much the previous two weeks.
My elementary teaching experience has been similar to the elementary substitute teaching experience in some ways (I’m totally exhausted by the end, for one), and completely different in others. I remember very clearly deciding that I am not cut out to be a teacher of very young learners (ages 5-7, thereabouts). But, if all you want me to do is sit on the floor and play English games with them, then I’ll be okay.
In reality, being an assistant language teacher in elementary school is totally different from subbing. I design the lessons myself, and am basically left to my own devices on that. The aim of including me at the elementary level is not actually to teach English hardcore. There aren’t tests, and for the most part, no textbooks.
The 5th and 6th graders have textbooks, and that started just earlier this year (school year starts in April). So they may actually have English grades, but even in that case, my job is merely to do “English activities” which will hopefully make the kids more receptive to English for their upcoming middle school (and eventual high school) careers.
I’m not responsible for discipline in the classroom, and so far I’ve relied pretty heavily on the homeroom teachers (or in the case of 5th and 6th grade, the English teacher) to know the students. For all of my elementary lessons, I’ve planned at least three activities. We normally finish about one game in addition to my “self-introduction,” which has become more interactive over time. Instead of just telling them stuff, I hold up my photo cards (and I’m glad, by now, to have laminated them) and ask “What’s this?” or “Who is this?” and have them guess. Usually they shout it out right away in Japanese (I hold up Karma and they say “INU!”) and I try to coax them to say the English word. “Dog.” “Great! Very good. Now, what color is she?” If they don’t know what “color” means, or don’t understand the question, I say “She is shiroi, right? What is shiroi in English?” …Someone will eventually say “white!”
It’s pretty hilarious that almost without fail, every time I get to the second photo (the first being of me and my parents) and ask “Who is this?” there is a huge chorus of “KARESHI!” (boyfriend!).. “No. Family.” Today they were obsessed. This denial was followed by “Koibito?” (another word for boyfriend) and then even “Boifurendo?”
They all think he is really cool. And don’t really believe that he is younger because he is so freaking tall.
Only a few of the classes have shown the proper amount of shock appreciation for how many cousins, aunts, and uncles I have. The best reaction was today’s third graders.
Their number one favorite picture of all time has turned out (so far) to be this one, from GHP:
They just freaking love Harry Potter and all gather at the front desk once class ends to identify characters and to find me hidden in there as Hermione.
After the self-intro I let them ask questions, and they’ve asked a lot of “what is your favorite…?” types of questions. Usually in Japanese, but I would just reply in English.
After my entirely photo-driven self-intro, we have played a game called “pass the ball.” We all sit in a circle on the floor and pass around this soccer ball thing I got at the hyaku-en (see: dollar) store. When the music (because there’s music playing.. Disney Hits, of course) stops, whoever is holding the ball has to stand up and say “Hello, my name is [your name here].” This is more complicated than it seems, because I have to convey that I want them to say their personal name, the one I will call them.. in America, the “first name.” I sit in the circle and play too, and have the teacher man the CD player. This way, they can control where the ball stops, and maybe have the more outspoken students go first, but also make sure everyone gets a chance to speak.
The kids, regardless of age, have basically freaked out during this game. Whenever the ball stops, they get really excited and laugh and point and often shout out who they think was holding it at the exact moment the music stopped. So, usually I get to hear the kid’s name chanted before they have to say it to me. But on the occasion that I can’t hear them (they tend to say “Hello, my name is” fairly slowly, then their name at like freakin rocket speed) I do have them say it again. It was planned as an attempt to learn their names, but I admit the success rate of my personal mental retention has been really low.
So generally, this game has taken the rest of class. In the first few times I did this, where it did not, we would play a game of changing seats based on the kids’ birthday months. 6th graders have recently (in their textbooks) learned months and birthday information, so we played fruits basket, only it was “months basket,” and if the center person called out the month in which you were born, you had to stand up and try to find another seat.
And that’s been my lesson in elementary, so far. But that’s only part of the experience.
I’m assigned to two different elementary school, which vary vastly in size. Somegochi, which is more remote, has 60 students. This is only six more kids than Kanbe has in the 5th grade alone. Somegochi students, therefore, tend to receive a little more personal attention, as the average class size is about 10. I managed to learn almost all the first graders names within the first five minutes (there are seven kids in that class). On the whole, the student population at Somegochi felt a lot calmer, but that could have just been the sheer overwhelming numbers of Kanbe.
My only day at Somegochi, I taught combined classes (1st and 2nd grade together, 3rd and 4th together, 5th and 6th together). The dynamics of any games I plan for them from here will have to take into account the smaller class size, though, as from here forward, most of them will be taught individually by year.
At lunchtime, I ate with the 5th graders, and played a pick-up game of volleyball with them afterward. The afternoon was slated for Sports Day practice (tell me you’re seeing a theme, here), so after my three classes, I got to watch their preparations. Different in scale from the middle school, of course.
All the classes I had at Somegochi were well attended by the HR teachers, who played along with my games and interacted with the students and me together. The first grade teacher there speaks English really well, so if I ever need language help, she’s my go-to. My English-teaching partner, however, being less proficient in English, kept apologizing for not knowing my language. I wanted to be like, “Whaaat? Listen, I came to this freaking country. I should have learned better Japanese first. This was my responsibility, not your fault.” ..but alas, I do not yet know how to say such things in Japanese. You see the irony, I’m sure.
Kanbe students, being more numerous, are also often louder. I still had all the teachers participating, although some of them were more involved than others. The kids’ energy helped carry the introduction forward at a good pace and made the games really fun, though.
My schedule at Kanbe is a bit different. I go in just the mornings on some Thursdays, to teach just 5th and 6th grade. Tuesdays are for grades 1 – 4. So I’ll be there more often than at Somegochi, because there are so many more classes to meet.
Both times I’ve been there so far, this ridiculously adorable first (?) year girl has come up to me in the teachers’ office to tell me I’m cute. The first time she introduced herself in English with the full my-name-is sentence. The second time, which happened to be shortly after the JET upstairs cut my hair, she pointed at my hair and kept saying that it was cute, saying “cute hair,” in Japanese. I had no idea what to do. … “Whaaat? No, man, no. YOU are cute. Not me, you.” Since Kanbe is right next to Minamichu, I have also seen her when I was on my way to the middle school. She said, “Emi-sensei, where are you going?” in Japanese. She is one of the highlights of my plane of work existence.
I’m still not in the flow of elementary school lessons, since I just started and have only done my self-intro thing. I am thinking about trying to create an overview plan of what themes to build into the lessons each month across the board.. like “colors,” “numbers and counting,” “family,” “animals,” “food,” etc. Games for learning vocab, songs, and other such activities to be devised (and/or pirated from Lara’s old plans, the interwebs, and that sweet Planet Eigo book) based on the theme.
I don’t know. Suggestions welcome.