Alumna Experience: ✅How My Teaching Skills Improved Throughout The Teaching Career
For the past four years, I have worked in Japan as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) of English. Before this, I had limited experience operating in a conventional classroom, teaching young learners. I trained adults who were self-motivated and designed curricula for vocation institutions. Now, outside of my expertise, here I am teaching at a junior high school – my base school and an elementary school.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Aeika P. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
The city in which I live is very rural, farming and fishing are traditional careers; and while there is an increase in tourists numbers, more international students at the local universities, and a growing population of native speakers of English employed as ALTs, I am still treated to curious stares and confusion when I use the simplest of English, which have a direct impact on my students' interest in English and contact with it.
This essay will demonstrate how my experience as an ALT has enhanced my teaching proficiency; I will give an overview of my role, students' motivation, and classroom culture. Although I have strived for objectivity, this script reflects my impressions and experiences.
My Role as an Assistant Language Teacher of English
As an ALT, I support the development and improvement of elementary and secondary students' English language skills. I do this by collaborating with Japanese Teachers of English (JTEs) and elementary homeroom teachers to team-teach, plan lessons, create activities, assist and train teachers to improve their English skills and English Language lessons; also, I am in charge of the English Club, and I prepare students for speech contests and external exams. Likewise, I also facilitate and promote cross-cultural appreciation and understanding.
Fortunately, my background in linguistics, education, and cross-cultural training has made my job more manageable. However, it is still challenging, owing to the language barrier, cultural differences, and being an amateur at teaching Japanese students - for the latter. I rely on guidance from Japanese co-workers.
I am typically the leading teacher at elementary school, as many teachers have no formal training in teaching English. At junior high school, I have diverse team-teaching experiences; I am rarely the lead teacher and even rarer the only teacher in the class. JTEs use varying team-teaching approaches depending on the students and the lesson. Team-teaching at my base school can range from: one teach/one support, station teaching, teaming to alternative teaching. As such, I must continuously educate myself on how best to improve lessons by utilizing fun games, engaging activities, and refining my teaching skills to address students' learning needs.
Based on observing and conversing with my students, I have concluded that their motivation for learning English is seldom intrinsic. Especially at elementary school, where English is, for most students, predominantly viewed as extended playtime. For the few students with personal motives for studying English, it is usually limited to love for the language and achieving career goals. As it relates to prospective employment, these pupils are desirous of becoming professional athletes, actors, and singers; the students who love English often aspire to be English teachers, writers, and others only want to travel.
Armed with the knowledge that learning English is seldom my students' personal choice, I am left to provide exogenous motivation. Through research and prior experience, I make English entertaining, engaging, and giving it purpose in their daily lives. I start at the very basic, illustrating that English has an academic function. Simultaneously, there is no English examination at the elementary level, junior high and high school students have English tests. Furthermore, for students to enroll in high school and university, they must sit an English exam. I inform them that Japanese companies such as Rakuten, Shiseido, and Uniqlo, with Honda, set to follow, have made English the official language of their company because it expands their market and earning power. I provide examples of famous Japanese personalities, who they admire, that speak English.
Culturally, the Japanese classroom is a respectful and quiet place; students are too reserved. Additionally, there is an immense fear of being wrong, making mistakes. While this is an issue at elementary schools, students are less self-conscious, thus, more willing to try. The converse is true at junior high school. My initial thought of English classes was a place lacking energy and communication, where teachers taught, and students silently listened and wrote while sitting in precisely arranged rows.
While the classrooms' physical design does not lend itself to a horseshoe pattern, I frequently use the opportunity to place my students in groups to facilitate student interaction. Remembering student names and faces has also been very useful. Not only does it enable me to call on random students, but the students relish being personally acknowledged, often attempting to participate. However, the most defining factor in changing classroom culture has been making it a mistake-acceptable space. First, with the assistance of the JTEs, I revealed my struggle to learn Japanese. I mispronounced words and spoke ungrammatical sentences. Initially, the JTEs corrected me if a repeatedly made the same mistakes, and then gradually, they solicited correct answers from students. Later, I used a strategy that I learned from a colleague; I gave students one-minute segments during lessons to ask questions about what they were unclear; myself, the JTE, and other students could respond. Students were permitted to ask questions using English supplemented by a little Japanese if needed. The process was slow, but eventually, it picked up, students became comfortable making errors, to the extent that they began asking silly questions for fun.
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Teaching in Japan has been an enriching cross-cultural experience, a journey of invaluable skills exchange, professional challenge and growth, and personal development. I am a better teacher because of my experience as an ALT. It has also cemented my belief that teaching is as humbling as it is empowering.
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