Thursday, January 19, 2012

Tools of the Trade

I'm not a real teacher. I play one in Japan. I teach at a public junior high school where there are three grades (called 1st, 2nd and 3rd but equivalent to 7th, 8th and 9th grades back home). I love teaching, and I do think that I really don't suck at it. At least not in this exact role, teaching English to Japanese students. Including the three years back in 1995-1998 that I did this same thing, I'm in my 6th year of doing this kind of teaching. Technically, I'm and Assistant Language Teacher. What this means varies considerably by school and then, too, by individual teachers within a school. In my case, thankfully, most of the Japanese Teachers of English with whom I teach give me free reign to do what I want and allow me to bring to life and practical use that which the students have been learning in our dry textbooks.

Textbook Tangent Start
A word about textbooks, while I'm bothering to talk shop. The ones my school uses are not nearly as bad as some I've seen, but I'm perplexed by some of the choices made in their creation. For example, my first years learn to say "I treasure..." (fairly advanced) before they learn "I can..." (super basic). By the third year, the textbook gets unnecessarily depressing. For example, the topics include, in very basic English (too basic, really, considering the depth of topic): landmines in Cambodia, starvation in Sudan, refugees in Kosovo, the plight of black Americans before the Civil Rights Movement. The way the textbook chooses to teach "could not..."? Can you guess? Here's a direct quote.
In those days, there were many things that African-Americans could not do. There were toilets that they could not use. There were seats on buses that they could not use.
I cringe every time we get to that chapter. On the one hand, yes, this is an effective use of the prescribed grammar pattern to express quite simply something very complex. On the other hand, this is English class. And this is sad and depressing, and I just don't understand the point of including it when there are a million other ways that don't suck any remaining joy out of learning English (joy that is already damn little for most at this stage of studying for high school entrance exams). If we are teaching American culture, let's absolutely cover this topic. If it's just a way to make a grammar point, it seems a bit heavy handed to me. Is all I'm saying.
Textbook Tangent End

I plan about 80% of my classes and lessons start to finish. I would love for this to be more like 100%. Today I found out that there are some things in the works that might bring me closer to this number. I'm not sure how much of it was a vote of confidence in the work they've seen me do and how much of it was just a vote of necessity, but I took it as the former and smiled about it. When I first heard about it, it was mid-class while the first year students were doing an activity I created for present perfect tense (X is Ying.) using character cards. They were goING nuts with it and smilING while speakING, you know, English. I was, too.

4/366 - Tools of the Trade
(Taken on my iPhone, toyed with in Photobucket)
Also, I laminated these. Laminating is my favorite hobby as a (kind of) teacher. I have only laminated about 2 things in the 2.5 years I've been here, but it made me warm and happy both times. If I could find a good enough reason to do it without it being an unnecessary waste, I would laminate the shit out of something every single day just to do it. And then put magnets on the back.

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