Wednesday, 8 September 2010

A Day in my Elementary School

I realised that I have talked a lot about my Junior High Schools, but not mentioned my Elementary School, which is in fact my favourite place to go. Once every two weeks, I am summoned to the elementary school down the road from my favourite JHS. Some of my TJHS students used to go there, so we had some fun today talking about the teachers.

So, KES is a 20 minute walk from TJHS. I will arrive at TJHS in the morning, and kill time until 8.40. Then, I start my walk over to the Elementary School. I've only been there four times, but 3 out of those 4 times, it has been raining heavily, which of course makes the walk extra fun. When I arrive, I am greeted by a cute, happy sign that says "Welcome Gwyneth Jones! Please come to staff room and enjoy with us". This brightens my day, so I put my umbrella in the stand, change my shoes and make my way upstairs to the teacher's room.

Firstly, I go and say hello to the 校長先生(headmaster), who in this school, is a woman. She is lovely, but communication between us is limited. She knows some English, and I know some Japanese, so we have thus far managed to talk about my summer holiday, the weather, the differences between elementary and junior high students, my other school, and the UK. I sit down and am given green tea, trying to be as polite as possible (and not to drop the tea). I feel that most of my bows and "しつれいします(shitsureishimasu)" is wasted, as when I left the room today, I heard her and another teacher exclaim "かわいい!(kawaii!! = cute!!!)"... thanks ;).

My lessons start at 9.15 and I pretty much don't stop until the end of the day. I teach four classes; two fifth grade (age 10-11) and two sixth grade (11-12). When I walk down the corridors, I meet loads and loads of TINY adorable children who I don't get to teach. They smile shyly at me, while some wave and say "hello!"... to be honest, I don't think I could teach them because I'd be too busy fawning over their sheer cuteness.

Lessons follow the dreaded Eigo Noto... possibly the worst English textbook ever created. Well, to give it its dues, it is good if used as part of a lesson - not as the sole lesson plan. It includes fun games such as "find the letters" and songs like "30-100" (to the tune of London Bridge is Falling Down). One of the teachers likes to obsess over these numbers for half the lesson, not resting until the students have pronounced each number... from 1 to 100. The poor tykes look so bored that I want to jump up and introduce a game, but being a girl working with an older, male, teacher... well, it's usually better to smile and do what they say, unfortunately.

When not being bored to death by numbers, these children are a lot bouncier and more "genki" than their JHS counterparts. Perhaps it's not wearing a uniform, not having to learn to spell and being able to play such fun games as the "key word game" (I'll explain later). Lessons aren't always done to a set plan, either; I have been entertained by traditional Japanese dance, a recorder performance (yes, even kids in Japan are forced to learn to play that whiny, wannabe flute) and I have been asked to sing Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star in front of a class of 12 year olds. Twice. That's when you know that your career is at a high point...

While some ALTs are asked to devise their own lesson plans, I am faxed them a week ahead of time, with Interac's translations. I go along with these plans alongside the homeroom teacher. Now, in Elementary School there are no designated English teachers - each class has a homeroom teacher, who teaches them all subjects. So, most of these teachers have a very weak grasp of English, meaning that I utilise my Japanese (quietly) whenever possible. We usually do greetings, sing a song, play some games, drill some words/chants and perhaps play another game. The children also fill in some review forms at the end of the lesson, and some read them out, and I clap... although usually I have no idea what they said.

At lunchtime, I sit with a selected class to eat. Most eating is done with awkward silences and smiles, while I point to things and say the English words, or perhaps show that I know Japanese characters like Kitty and Rilakkuma. Every child has their own chopsticks, and their own little napkin that they put under their lunch tray, usually adorned with characters. They were surprised when I knew Spiderman, Stitch and Pingu.. apparently having no idea that they weren't Japanese characters! Although, to be fair, I probably didn't know that Nintendo was Japanese for a long time.

After lunch I am usually asked to join in with some activity. The first time, I played basketball with some of the girls. I scored one whole basket in half an hour... win. The second time we played "fruit basket", which is where someone in the middle says something, and everyone to whom the statement is true stands up and manically swaps chairs, until one person is left in the middle again. This was played in Japanese, so that was a challenge. Today, the whole school gathered in the gym to hear the fourth graders singing... so cute!!

When the fourth and final lesson is done, I collapse in a big sweaty heap and sleep for ten hours. I wish. I usually get escorted by a group of excited children back to the principal's room, where I will be given some more tea, and I can chill and talk for a while. Then, I head back to TJHS and kill another hour...

Elementary school is a lot of fun. One boy brings me origami gifts every time I arrive - today's looked like a dog. I have been given cranes and swans in the past! Sometimes, hordes of children clamour to collect my autograph - I feel like such a celebrity! Today, my final lesson was viewed by fifteen other teachers - scary.... but we carried on as if they weren't there, and the children all seemed to have fun. 楽しかった(tanoshikatta = it was fun)!

living in Japan

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