I bet a lot of you have often found yourself wondering what a typical day is like in the life of an ECC teacher in Nagoya, Japan. No? Well I bet the vast majority of you are now! And, well, I’m sorry to disappoint; but no can do. As I work at a different school every day of the week, teaching different classes and interacting with different individuals, if you’re looking for any more than the bare bones (snooze alarm seventeen times, get up, procrastinate, realise I don’t have time to get anything of value accomplished, get ready, go to work, come home, go to bed, repeat) then I’m going to have to select one day and get right into all those juicy details I know you’re itching to know. So while this might not be what happens every day, or even every week, it’s what happened today. I guess it’s a start.
An only slightly atypical Monday
For the past year or more, I have been taking Japanese lessons most Monday mornings. The classes are run by a group of volunteers and because of that are incredibly cheap. The last few weeks I have been really slack, sometimes arriving as much as 45 minutes late for the 90 minute class. I decided this morning I was going to step up my game and change that habit. And I did it!! I was only like 5 minutes late! Woohoo! Go me!! I know you’re all very proud right now. The class can be a little mind-melting at times, especially given that I’m at the bottom of the top level class, but overall it’s quite fun. At the very least it’s a good opportunity to hear a lot of people from different countries and backgrounds speaking Japanese as a common language.
Once class finished I went with a few friends and had lunch as per usual. After that I went with one of those friends to the book shop floor in a department store. There we found DIRTY JAPANESE: an awesome book which details a wide-variety of words and phrases for use in an enormous number of varying situations. I’ll let your imagination take over at this point, but if you want to learn Japanese I’d say it’s an excellent choice of book to start with. My friend and I perused our new purchases (yes, we both bought a copy) with much mirth, as we formulated plans for the ultimate usage of our newfound knowledge, as well as who our potential victims/banter buddies could be.
From here our story takes a leap and a bound into a new setting; that being the school I work at on Mondays. I could take you through each step of the process of taking the train from one station to another, but as I have the ability and desire to regularly use creative licence, I will do my best to skip over the duller portions of the day, and treat you to just the snippets of splendiferousness that each and every day I live out is liberally sprinkled with.
My first class on a Monday is a group of 5 adorable three year olds, accompanied by their guardians (usually mothers, but I have a grandfather in this class as well), and in the case of three of the kids, their baby siblings. So cute! Some people might wonder why we bother teaching English to kids so young, but it is truly incredible how much they absorb. Plus they’re loads of fun to teach. They will do pretty much anything for a high-five, so they know their colours, alphabet, and animal vocab pretty well! This particular Monday (yes I am aware it is no longer Monday and I didn’t finish and upload when I planned to, but it’s probably Monday somewhere) I had a very proud moment when almost all of the little darlings were able to jump for high-fives, without falling over immediately afterwards! They grow up so fast. (NB: It is super freaking adorable and hilarious when they do fall over; they just jump right back up again demanding another high-five).
One of the more challenging aspects of teaching both kids and adults is learning how to adjust your mindset in the few minutes between classes, from the super genki, high-energy kid mode, to the somewhat sensible, clever conversation mode you need to deal with adults. The Emma that is liberal with high-fives and praise (“Good job, Hinata!”) for the simplest of things, and the Emma that can have in-depth discussions about classic Japanese art, the difficulties of living in cramped quarters, etc, occasionally overlap. Fortunately for me, my adult students are understanding of this dilemma; even finding my quirky, post-kid class enthusiasm endearing.
Aside from giving the awesome advice to one high school girl that she chat in English with her school friends in order to improve her speaking skills – explaining how I used to occasionally do the same with Japanese when I was in school and pointing out that having a secret language that other people don’t understand is AWESOME – my adult classes weren’t that exciting. Although I did end up chatting for forty minutes with another high school girl, without her realising how much time had passed until I pointed it out, to prove that she was indeed in a level too low for her ability.
Teaching junior high kids can be incredibly dull, or all kinds of awesome. It depends mostly on the bunch of kids you get, but the atmosphere of a class can vary enormously depending on what kind of attitude you take with them. This is my first year teaching J-level classes right from the start of the school year (I’ve only taken over shifts with Js part way through the year in the past), and with one class in particular I have been exceptionally fortunate. They are intelligent, enthusiastic, and most importantly, willing to jump on board with any craziness I throw their way. This week we were practising possessions as well as ‘these’, ‘those’ etc. I decided the best way to practice was by stealing their stuff and having them have rock paper scissors battles to see who got to keep it. I would grab something randomly off the table (the student often making their own futile grab at it as it was swept out of their reach) and I would ask the class “are these your pens?” or something of the sort. Whoever said “yes, they are” got to janken and I would hand whatever it was over to the winner. With the classes being centred on pronunciation, endless listen-repeat, and only being 25 minutes long, you have to make fun where you can.
At the opposite end of the fun-scale was the harrowing, near-death experience that threw the school into chaos and deeply affected the staff, teachers and students remaining in the school at around 9pm. It was big. It was black. And it was out for blood. The monstrously massive creature from hell buzzed in and out of classrooms, causing havoc and screams of anguish and terror wherever it went. None of us felt safe. Fortuitously, I had finished my classes for the day, as had some of my colleagues, so it was just a matter of making our careful way to the staffroom in order to collect our belongings, and depart for the day.
Tension was high, hearts were beating rapidly, and we felt trapped. The beast could undoubtedly sense fear, and we felt woefully unprepared. I decided it was time I stepped up and showed some morsel of courage. As our 6-legged adversary explored new territory and continued its solitary war-council, I darted in and slammed the door, trapping it within the confines of what was once a place of peaceful learning. Bidding farewell to my classroom I went with the others and got my things. Our peace, however, was short-lived. The freak of nature had managed to escape through the tiny gap at the bottom of the door and was once again on a path of terror, sending students squealing in fright.
I took a moment to consider if anything could be done – it couldn’t – and bid farewell to my doomed comrades, fleeing into the night with just one new friend by my side, our heads darting back and forth to ensure our path to freedom had no damn bugs. We then spent a lovely time on the train, bonding over my new book and giggling hysterically over all the words and phrases that were oh so naughty.
There are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other, and escaping from a gigantic bug before learning how to pick up in a different language is one of them.