Those first terrifying steps

When I first walked into that classroom of twenty-eight students I knew instantly that I was not properly prepared for what was to come. I was fresh out of university and, like many of you, not from a teaching background. I had no idea what to expect and because of that I was grossly under-prepared for what was to come.

When you first come to Japan everyone tells you to overly prepare your introductory lesson. I made the mistake of not really heeding these wise words – not listening to good advice seems to be a trait that runs in my family. The awkward silences in amongst the “Eeeeh? Nani?“ were enough to make me wake up and smell the beautiful peach scented air. I realised that I couldn’t just walk into a classroom, at least at this stage, and just make something up on the fly. That came later after I’d had some experience in the classroom and had started to build up a portfolio of activities that worked and that the students enjoyed.

One of the things I have realised in my eight months of teaching here is that we aren’t necessarily the best people in the world to teach the finer intricacies of the English language. There’s been many an occasion where a JTE has asked me a question about English – why something is said this way but not that – and I’ve only been able to reply with “English is a messed up language – it’s got a ridiculous amount of irregularities.” Not the best answer, I know, but it has made me realise how little I actually know my first language and thus the difficulty I could potentially face teaching it grammatically.

Our job as an Assistant Language Teacher is, in my eyes, more to stimulate students’ interest in English and get them to use it outside of the box than to teach grammatical points. It’s important for the students to realise that English isn’t just about what’s in the textbook. This is obviously more difficult to do with first years than with the third years but it is possible. With the third years it’s much easier to get them to express their creativity and to stop writing and talking about playing baseball with their neighbours. It’s possible to be hearing or reading about cross-dressing, holidays in the Bahamas and drunken aliens in no time.

My teaching experience is entirely within the elementary and Junior High sphere with a some one-on-one teaching of older elementary students as well. Most of what I write about lesson planning and ideas won’t be hugely relevant in Senior High Schools but some of what I’ve done previously has transferred with some (limited) success to SHS.

My aim with this column is to provide ideas and tips which will help you become more comfortable with teaching, be it with a JTE or by yourself (this wonderful event only happens once in a blue moon), planning a lesson in five minutes, planning a lesson in forty-five minutes, and keeping the classroom interested in what’s going on. If there’s anything specific you want covered, any problems you’ve had or any ideas you think work drop me an email at awnwhitters@googlemail.com and I’ll see if I can incorporate it.

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