My English Teaching Experience in Japan
2019-08-21 Elizaveta Pachina Alumni Experiences
About a year and a half ago, I began a part-time job teaching English in Japan. The school I taught at, Sunny Club, was a small cram school run in the first level of a two-story home. The physical space could accommodate only 20 students at a time, and it meant that there was very little room to breathe during lessons. While the small size was a hindrance at times, working for Sunny Club was one of the most fulfilling experiences that I have had.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate MARY T. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
At Sunny Club, I taught students whose ages ranged from 5 or 6 to 40 years of age. Working with these students taught me about being in teacher in more ways than I could have imagined. The main things that I learned were that rapport is one of the most important things in a classroom, drilling students does not accommodate true language mastery, and admitting your own mistakes leads to students who are more comfortable with making their own.
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Many people do not realize just how important the relationship between student and teacher is. This was something that I thought I learned through my mom, who is also a teacher, but the concept did not fully sink in until I had my students. In an environment where you may not be able to communicate with students in their native language, being able to understand your student’s body language is especially important.
Recognizing my student’s emotions gave me both respect from and friendship with them. This proved to be essential in getting my students to participate in the lessons, I was facilitating, and also allowed them to feel comfortable practicing their English. Also, contrary to the book provided in this program, I noticed that using the student’s native language with younger students to explain the rules, led to higher engagement and less frustration among students.
Secondly, drill work is a common teaching method, in Japan. It is used for every subject, and it was a large part of Sunny Club’s curriculum as well. While drill work does help build vocabulary and can help in learning important phrases, simply doing drills does not build functional language skills. This meant that in the times when we had conversation practice the students were often frustrated, and unable to comfortably use the language they had been learning. This experience just points to how important it is to use a wide range of activities when teaching any language. Using completion activities, as well as, reproduction activities, allow students to learn how to make the phrases on their own.
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Thirdly, I learned that not taking myself too seriously built trust between my students and I. I owned up to my own speaking mistakes, which led the kids to feel more comfortable in making their own. This meant that my students and I grew closer and that my students learned to laugh off whatever hesitation or mistake they would have. Overall, this made for a more enjoyable classroom environment, as well.
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While I learned many things from Sunny Club, I know that I will always have things to learn as a teacher. Each group of students and the classroom environment brings new and unique challenges and hurdles to overcome. Therefore no matter how many years of teaching experience that I gather, it will always be important for me to remain open and flexible.
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