Teaching English in Japan

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It hit me as I woke up on Monday, the realization that now my grace period was over; orientation had come and gone, and I had a week of new classes and an internship ahead of me. My classes this semester are all on Tuesdays and Thursdays, leaving Monday, Wednesday, and Friday free for me to catch a train down to Kanagawa Sohgoh High School, where I’m interning as an English teacher.

On Monday morning I woke up early, at around five am, in order to build a few cushion hours into my schedule, as I knew there was no way I would be able to get to Yokohama without getting lost on my first day. However, things went smoother than expected. Shinagawa station is about a thirty-minute bike ride from my house, and then the high school is another twenty-five minutes by train down the line. The Tokyo summer is more humid than anywhere I’ve ever experienced, and by the time I got to the station I was sweating as if I’d sprinted there with weights strapped to my legs.

Kiichi-sensei, the English teacher at the high school with whom I’d had done my interview, met me at the station, and walked me to the school, where I was thrown right into the middle of things, helping him in his first period English class. The students were seniors, who were all actually about to graduate; the Japanese semester system works very differently than the American one, and their semester is about to end. In class we read an article from the Japan Times, the English language newspaper here in Tokyo, about how business are beginning to alter the layout of their offices to promote more cooperative thinking and bottom-up decision making. We talked about the various advantages and downsides to such a system, which, while slowly taking hold in some Japanese companies, remains rare here; business in Japan is still conducted in a very traditional way, with heavy emphasis on seniority and obedience.

The students’ English was fantastic; many of them had studied abroad in exchange programs. My role in the classroom was to walk around during their group discussions, stopping in at each group and asking questions designed to get them to formulate and articulate their own opinions about the material in English. I would also occasionally clarify an English idiom for the class or help come up with a less-clunky synonym for a word.

Later in the day I helped to administer oral exams, where the students would come sit at a table and I would ask them questions from a list in front of me, and then grade them on confidence, fluency, vocabulary, and grammar; I had a really good time getting to know the students by asking them questions like, “do you think that children should be more obedient to their parents?” and “should the Japanese government work to make the trains less crowded?” I was highly impressed with the student’s English abilities, and look forward to working with them for the rest of the semester.

The first week at my internship ended quietly; as it’s finals week here in Japan, there were no regular classes, so I sat at my desk grading student’s English assignments. I’m so glad that things went well this first week, and am honestly very excited to keep moving forward.

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