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New School Life

April 17th, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

March was a month of endless goodbyes and April has been a month of endless introductions, though not as many as the goodbyes. I had 18 classes at Togane Chu, and altogether I now have only 10. I’ve done my self-introduction lesson for 9 of them and will do the last one tomorrow. After that, the only introduction left will be the special needs class at K-chu on Friday afternoon, though I think it might just be one student.

Saturday was my first day of lessons at K-chu, and I met four out of the five classes there. First period was my self-introduction to 3-1, and second was my introduction to 3-2. It was interesting going directly from the elementary school lessons the day before straight to third-year junior high students, but the difference wasn’t as great as I imagined. The older students understand a lot more English, but in terms of enthusiasm it seems that it’s the collective personality of the class rather than the students’ age that makes the most difference. Junior high students are generally less enthusiastic and eager to ask questions, but some elementary school classes are the same way. 3-1 was a bit friendlier than 3-2, but 3-2 warmed up quickly enough and got into it by the end. Fourth period was my introduction to 1-1, who were incredibly enthusiastic and excited but nevertheless had no interest in asking questions.

Fifth period was a lot different, as this was the period where parents could come and observe their kids’ lessons. For some reason, very few parents ever came to watch my lessons at Togane Chu, but this time it seemed that more than half the parents were in attendance. Although it was the first time I was meeting 1-2, W-sensei understandably didn’t want my self-introduction lesson to the be lesson they observed, and wanted to skip ahead to teaching the roman letters so the parents could get an idea of how their kids were learning English. I was surprised that she left the entire thing up to me, but I wasn’t going to object.

I started with a short self-introduction—the same routine I did at the H-sho opening ceremony—and that went over quite well. You can’t go wrong with “Yes we can”. After that I jumped right into the letter lesson, starting with the five vowels and the long and short sound for each of them. The students have no trouble at all with the long sound (it’s the same as the name of the letter, which the kids already know) but they’re not at all familiar with the short sound so that was the biggest struggle to teach. I think it also has to do with the accent—they’re used to hearing English from a Jamaican girl so my pronunciation sounds different and confuses them.

I split the class into three teams and had each team try to pronounce the letters on their own, giving them a score from 1-10 based on how well they did (7 being the lowest score I’d actually give). I then put cards of the letters on the desk in front and had students from each team stand around it. I’d make a sound of the letter and the first student to touch that card would get five points for their team. We’d do that until of all the students had a chance, then I’d go on to the next group of letters.

I split the other 21 letters of the alphabet into three groups, but not by alphabetical order. That’s too obvious. Instead I arranged them by similarity of sound, to make clearer the subtle differences between sounds like B and P or F and V, or to show that certain letters can have a sound of their own or the same sound as another letter like K and C or J and G. I repeated the process of giving each team points for pronunciation then playing the letter card game for each group, adding the new cards to cards that were already on the table. The timing worked out well, with the last round of the game finishing up just as the period was ending.

W-sensei had been caught off guard by my not teaching the letters in alphabetical order, but she understood what I was doing and explained it to the class at the end, more for the parents’ benefit in case they hadn’t understood. Otherwise, I think she was pleased with my performance and thanked me afterwards. The students had clearly been having a good time, and I got plenty of smiles and nods from parents on my way out.

I met with 1-2 again yesterday and did my self-introduction lesson then. That leaves only the second-graders, and I was surprised to find out there’s only one second-grade class in the school. It’s strange how that works out. The third-grade classes have 16 students each and the first-grade classes have 24 each. I assume the second-grade class can’t have more than 32 or they’d split it into two.

This morning was my first day at M-sho, the really small elementary school 10 km away. I took a taxi to get there and Interac hired one to take me to K-chu after lunch. The journey is about $30, which four times a month still amounts to less than the cost of a car.

I teach only two classes there, a group of about 20 fifth-graders and a group of about 20 sixth-graders. I was surprised to find the situation flipped from H-sho, where the fifth-graders were far more enthusiastic than the sixth-graders. The fifth-grade class at M-sho was very shy and quiet and barely asked any questions at all, but the sixth-grade class was extremely enthusiastic and eager to ask questions.

I had school lunch with the sixth-grade class, and while I’d thought of a few ways to interact better with whatever lunch group I was with, that turned out to be unnecessary. The students’ desks were all arranged in a circle, and I was seated at the big desk in the front of the class, making me feel somewhat awkward at first. At least there was no pressure to chat within my group. During lunch the class played “shiritori”, a Japanese word-game where you have to think of a word that starts with whatever syllable the previous word ended with. The twist was they attempted to do it with English words only, but that basically just means words that Japanese has taken from the English language and Japanized. It would have been far easier for me with Japanese words, as while I know plenty of English words (maybe even most of them), it’s hard for me to think of words common to both languages. Luckily the game moved slowly enough that I only had to go twice.

I want to finish this entry with a brief comparison of K-chu and Togane Chu. The size is the biggest difference, but there are many small differences as well, the uniforms for one. At Togane Chu all the boys wore a special kind of black jacket over a white shirt with no neck-tie, while the girls wore a blue skirt and blue jacket over a white shirt with a red neck-tie. At K-chu the boys and girls wear the same gray jacket, so it’s not as visually distinct. The only differences are that boys wear pants and girls wear skirts, and the boys wear a neck-tie while the girls wear a bow-tie, though the pattern is the same.

At K-chu they play music over the loudspeaker during school-lunch, just a pleasant melody like you might hear from a church bell-choir. I wasn’t sure I liked it at first, but it grew on me quickly enough and I guess I prefer it to eating in silence.

One major difference in terms of my experience here is that there are only two JTEs and they’re both full-time. The one in charge of the ALT, S-sensei, is also a Japanese teacher so she’s almost never in the teacher’s room. Last year, O-sensei was part-time and taught every class with me, so she was virtually always there in the teacher’s room and available to answer my questions. Now I don’t have that luxury anymore, and have to wait for rare opportunities to be able to ask anything.

But the most significant difference has to do with my lessons. At Togane Chu, each grade had 5 or 6 classes so I’d plan one lesson and do it 5 or 6 times. At K-chu I’ll meet with each class twice a week, so I’ve got to plan two lessons per week and do each of them only twice, and with the second-graders only once. That means a lot more work, but it also means I’ll have much more familiarity with each class than I did at Togane Chu. It’ll be a challenge to keep coming up with fun ideas every week, but I think I’ll be up to it.

And that’s how things are looking as of now. It’ll take me a few more weeks to settle in, but I expect it should go pretty smoothly.

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