Being a teacher certainly has its ups and downs, but I guess you get that with any job. One of the things I love so much about my job is all the interesting people I get to meet. The fact that I am being paid to converse with such an amazing mix of people really is a marvellous, wondrous thing. Every day I am learning more about Japan, about life, and most interestingly about human nature.
I have heard it said by a few different people that as an English teacher, you are more than just a conversation partner; you are an entertainer. While some may find this taxing, and many probably struggle to remain interested in what their students are telling them, I relish in it. Maybe I was just born to be an entertainer; however, lacking the required physical prowess, or confidence to take to the stage, teaching became an obvious outlet for my comedic genius (I have always found modesty to be one of my best qualities). From this perspective, maybe there is a (miniscule) grain of truth to that terrible old saying, those who can’t do, teach. All I know is it brings me much needed joy to bring a smile to the faces of those I come into contact with; getting a hearty chuckle makes my day.
I find taking a light-hearted approach goes a long way towards the success of a lesson; as I believe that those enjoying themselves are much more likely to retain the wealth of knowledge that I impart. It isn’t, however, a one-way street; those same students to whom I teach so much, in turn have plenty to tell me. The variety of conversations I find myself having on a daily basis is astounding, with some certainly standing out above the rest. On this blog so far I haven’t really gone into much detail about what I do while I’m at work; preferring to regale you all of details of my adventures while travelling around this beautiful land. However I feel that should change. You deserve to know more. So today I will give you a sneak peek inside my world, with a few of my favourite moments in recent times. (My memory not being sufficient to traverse too far back in time)
One of my most memorable adult students was an elderly gentleman with a wicked sense of humour and a love of conversation. He was less interested in textbook English, and more keen on gaining insight into the lives of his conversation partners (sometimes me, oftentimes other students), and on knowing the right questions to ask that could get him to that stage. I was constantly amazed at his ability to memorise and retain new words and phrases, week to week. One particular phrase stands out, which I used to help him remember the different forms of the word ‘forget’, I am so forgetful I forgot how to say forget. However, it is a very forgettable word, and so it is easily forgotten. Or at least I think that was it; I might have forgotten. But either way, he managed to spout it back at me the following week, and sporadically after that.
One thing about my job that is practically unavoidable, and therefore pointless to worry about or concern myself with at all, is being compared with other teachers. Students of free time lessons, which is the style of almost all of my adult lessons, tend to take the lessons of multiple teachers, depending on who happens to be teaching in the time slot they choose, which in turn depends on their own schedule. So it was a somewhat unique experience when this year I started teaching a private student at the beginner (Challenger) level. He had studied English in school, and in his own time, but this was his first time taking lessons at ECC (or anywhere similar). Throughout the last few months I have watched his speaking, listening, reading and writing abilities absolutely skyrocket. Knowing that I am his only teacher, and that he takes on board everything I am teaching him with such enthusiasm is quite a special feeling. Lately we have been focussing on using the phone at work, and each week I give him more complicated phrases he can use himself, as well as teach his colleagues to say when he happens to be away from his desk. The amount he has grown and changed as an English speaker in the reasonably short time I have known him is truly inspiring. He went from barely comprehending a word I said, and taking his time to sound out written words, to being able to understand almost everything spoken at normal conversation speed, and he is slowly but surely becoming able to respond in kind. Given his lack of confidence at the commencement of his study at ECC, it is remarkable what he is now capable of. He makes me feel so guilty regarding my own pitiful attempts at studying Japanese.
Of course a post about my teaching wouldn’t be complete without something about the kids, so here’s a couple of stories about those little terrors/angels that leave me completely indecisive as to whether I want to strangle them, or give them cuddles.
One of my favourite classes to teach is a group of four kids, all about 7 years old. I have been teaching them for a little over a year now and as you can imagine, we have gotten to know each other quite well. I know exactly what will annoy, frustrate, excite and amuse them, and I’m sure they know just as much about me. They are a great bunch. Their level of English is quite impressive, and they have managed to pick up so much incidental language from me that now we can have entire conversations (almost) completely in English! If they don’t know how to say a word they will ask me, and if need be they will draw detailed pictures or do elaborate gestures. It’s adorable. The best part about this particular class is how much fun we have together, all while communicating in English. Today (at time of writing, not necessarily posting) two of the girls arrived to class a few minutes early, and I greeted them both with the standard ‘hello, how are you?’ and an accompanying cushion, carefully aimed. What followed was a rather intense game of cushion dodge ball, in which the girls ganged up on me and mercilessly pelted me with cushions (that I naturally aimed straight back at them) until I decided it was time to call it quits. I let them have a few last tosses (they coordinated their final attack with military precision), and slowly collected the cushions thrown to form a throne. They were notably impressed, and so dubbed me “Cushion Queen”.
Another class I teach on the same day is one I definitely had reservations about when it first began. They were (and still are) an unruly bunch. Although, let’s face it, what 5-6 year olds aren’t? At the start of the school year they were practically uncontrollable, and left me in a state of utter distress on more than one occasion. Up until recently I was beginning to think there was no hope to be had, despite assurances from the staff that the kids and their parents all loved me and thought I was great! Then something miraculous happened: they started to make me smile more than cry. It’s difficult to tell when the change first began, but I distinctly remember the moment I first noticed that I didn’t quite despise them as much as I used to. It was a day when the naughtiest boy was absent. They were still quite mischievous, but comparatively speaking, they behaved like angels. It felt as if they had suddenly taken off their monstrous masks and I was seeing them clearly for the first time. Now, even when two kids are crying, one is sleeping, and the rest are fighting over who gets to play with the cardboard clock next, it all seems a lot more manageable.
So hopefully you enjoyed reading my little tales of teaching; who knows, I might even do this again sometime. I certainly amass enough material! People are the most interesting creatures; the little ones especially. If you are a teacher and you happened upon this, then maybe it will make you feel a little less overwhelmed, and maybe even a feeling of camaraderie; you are not alone in your angst, and there is certainly always hope. Even the most evil seeming children cannot be all bad, and one day maybe they will brighten your day, like my little monsters brightened mine.
All images included in this post are from a walk I took from Nagoya station home one Autumn night.