Yeah, I probably have one of the best jobs in the world. Teaching English to elementary school kids! There’s no pressure to perform academically on tests or homework, plus we get to sing songs and play games. The point of elementary school English in Japan is to expose the kids to a new language and its culture in a fun way and hopefully get the kids interested in studying English before they start the drudgery of middle school.
So, I’ve been here for two semesters so far, and here are all the things I love about working at elementary schools in Japan:
1. The kids! Of course! I’m going to say here that the kids at my schools are fantastic. Super 仲良しくて、やさしくて、and 元気!!! I’m not kidding! Of course, there are always going to be like.. those 5 kids in the whole school that think they are too cool for English, but whatever, all the other kids are having fun, so they can go sulk in the corner and not have fun with the rest of us.
2. Days when we get awesome 給食! Yes, I definitely put this down at number 2, because I honestly look forward to kyushoku… it’s always a surprise to me, mostly because nobody ever decided it might be a good idea to give the English teacher the monthly menu. Maybe they just assumed I wouldn’t be able to read it. In any case, days when we get tonkatsu or a cool dessert or something fun like the little tube of Meiji cocoa that you squeeze into your milk box to make chocolate milk with, are fantastically awesome days. The kids have fun, and they like asking me if I like such-and-such food, and they like showing me how to eat certain foods. Lunch times are awesome times.
3. Getting to decorate my own classroom! When I was a kid, I always thought it was so cool how my teachers decorated the bulletin boards and stuff at school according to holidays and seasons. I also really liked how they got to decide what posters and stuff to put in the classrooms… well now it’s MY turn! I get to have my own cool classroom and bulletin boards to fill with awesome stuff! ha!
4. Teaching the 6th graders “cool” songs. Seriously. If I had to sing “the days of the week” or “row, row, row your boat” with ALL of my classes, it would absolutely drive me up a wall. Luckily, my 6th graders are fantastic kids who know enough English and will try very hard to learn “cool” songs. We’ve already learned “Sing” by the Carpenters, “1,2,3,4” by Feist, “Hey Jude”, and this month we are singing “Feliz Navidad” at one school and “Christmas time is here” (from the Charlie Brown Christmas special) at the other school. Yeah, my 6th graders pretty much rock.
5. Speaking of songs, I thoroughly enjoy the 歯磨きサンバ (ha-migaki samba). Yeah. It lets me know when lunch is over and when it’s time to start cleaning time. It’s pretty catchy, too.
6. Drama time! Drama time is that time that comes AFTER we’ve reviewed last week’s lesson and BEFORE we start this week’s lesson. I get to act silly with my homeroom teacher (HRT) while we introduce this week’s target phrase in a little conversation that we call a “drama.” I guess they called it drama time with the last English teacher (ALT), and I loved the name, so it definitely stuck. We do all kind of crazy things in drama time. Here is one drama we did a few weeks ago to teach the kids “who is your teacher?” and “what grade are you in?”
HRT: I love 遠足 yay!! Wow, what a beautiful temple! Oh no! Where is my teacher?! Where are my friends??? WAAA!!!! (>.<;)
ALT: Hello there, are you lost?
HRT: Yes I’m lost and sad…
ALT: What’s your name?
HRT: My name is ________ (*choose someone… from your class.)
ALT: What school do you go to?
HRT: I go to なんとか elementary school.
ALT: What grade are you in?
HRT: I’m in 6th grade.
ALT: Who’s class are you in?
HRT: I’m in Mr./ Ms. ________’s class.
ALT: Here, have some candy, and get in my car!
HRT: Oooo! Candy! Wait… are you a不審者?! I’m going to the police!! Good bye!
ALT: Hey, wait!!
The kids enjoy it, especially when the HRT and I ham it up. Sometimes they are like, “do it again! do it again!” “You and sensei are like a combi (a pair of comedians)!” Reactions definitely vary, we have some boring, straightforward dramas, too. Nevertheless, drama time shows them that English is fun, and has practical uses. If the homeroom teacher is into it, then the kids will be into the rest of the lesson!
7. The other teachers at school. They are pretty awesome people, if I do say so myself. They work basically 24/7 for these kids. I have no idea how they have a life outside of school. I actually feel really bad when I leave school and they are still in the teachers’ room correcting worksheets or doing whatever they are doing. I’m serious. These teachers are always working hard, and it shows. Their students are unbelievably bright. They also take care of me if I have problems… (like when I got in a bicycle accident, or when I got a flat tire) and they give me fruits and veggies (tomatoes, cucumbers and umeboshi in the summer, apples and mandarin oranges in the fall). Not only do these teachers work hard, they know how to PLAY HARD, too! Faculty drinking parties rock the house. I’m serious. Every time I’ve gone it has never been a chore. Everyone ends up having a great time and not wanting to go home. End result, fantastic co-workers.
8. Not having to have a car to get to school. I really really love this. Like.. a lot. I live close enough to both schools that I can either walk or ride my bike. I actually feel much healthier here than I do back home in the U.S., mostly because of this aspect of my lifestyle.
9. Telling the kids about the United States. My students never fail to be fascinated with all things American. I guess because it’s so different from Japan. When they ask me questions about the U.S., I tell them the way it is there (for the most part) and they are just absolutely amazed. Once, my 3rd graders asked me if it was true that kids in America go to school on a big bus, and how did the bus know where to pick up the kids, and how were the kids divided in the bus? Was it boys on one half and girls on the other? Divided by grade? How big is the bus? How many buses are there? Where do they park all the buses? Who drives the bus? Etc.
I showed them pictures of a big American school bus and told them about neighborhood bus stops and basically everything else. I also had to explain that you have to sit wherever there is a seat on the school bus, and it isn’t separated by boy or girl or by grade - apparently this was shocking news.
10. Getting to go home earlier than the rest of the faculty. It’s a pretty nice thing, especially since everyone else stays till 7 or 8 o’clock (or later) at night. Since I am not a full-time teacher, I get to school at about the same time as everyone, but once my meetings are had, and my flashcards are ready and my interview sheets are copied, I'm ready to go home. It’s nice that I don’t have to abide by the same rules as the rest of the faculty… but then again, I simply do not have as much work as they do. I plan my lessons and most of my materials are already made. If not, I make them myself in my free periods. In truth, there is quite a bit of downtime as an ALT and sometimes I have to make myself just look busy. I don’t mind though, I usually end up with kickass flashcards and classroom decorations as a result.
SO, that’s what I love. How about YOU?! What do you love?