Dec 8, 2015
Anyone can write a blog and give advice. It's really easy. Unfortunately, some of the advice I read is terrible. (Obviously nothing on this blog of course!) It's so bad in fact that I've questioned whether or not the people giving said advice have ever even worked in a Japanese school. I've even been given advice by people that claimed to know what life in a Japanese school was like. It seemed like they were just passing on second or third hand knowledge. That being said, here is some advice for you if you plan on being a teacher in Japan. Don't worry, I'm fully aware of the irony.
Don't just sit in the teachers office!
More than likely you will have downtime at your schools. You might have lessons to plan, copies to make, or for in-explainable reasons things to be faxed. While those things are important and necessary (minus the fax machine) might I suggest you find something outside of the office to do. Instead of doing busy work, or finding some storage closet to go sleep in why not do something? Why not invest your time?
The fact of the matter is it can be very easy to "hide" in the teacher's office. I'm pretty sure that's what some of the Japanese teachers do from time to time. But for me, it's that down time that kills me! I'b much rather be out and about. Which is why I like to limit the time I spend at my desk. There are definitely times when I need to be doing actual work in the office. There are also times when you'll just need to sit down or just get away for a few minutes.
I have two reasons why I don't like sitting at my desk. First, I don't like being bored. Being away from my desk helps with that. Second, I also understand that there is some intrinsic value to not being in the office. If your students only see you as a teacher, only see you as that scary foreign person standing at the front of the room, they won't be willing to talk to you. Your job is to teach English after all, so try to be approachable. I guarantee you will see students open up in class and be less afraid of making mistakes. Mistakes are, after all, part of learning.
Let's take one of my students for example. We will call him Kenji (obviously not his real name). By his own admission he is a pretty cool kid. Soccer takes up most of his time. In his opinion English is just an obstacle keeping him from playing soccer. Frankly, he finds English boring. In class he is prone to naps, talking to other students, making far to many requests to use the toilet, or just straight up walking out of class.
This behavior concerned me. So, I took some time outside of class to talk to him. That's how I found out he loves soccer. It's also how I found out he thinks English is boring. I would ask him how soccer practice was going and if his team was any good. Nothing earth shattering, but showing interest in his hobbies. Slowly I started to notice he wasn't sleeping so much in class and his requests for bathroom breaks stopped. I've also noticed he is trying to use English more and his test scores have improved a bit.
Now, let's assume that I never asked him about soccer or talked to him outside of class. Say I only stood at the front of class and walked around with my red pen correcting homework. Would Kenji care about English? Would he even be able to greet me in the hallway or care to for that matter? Maybe, maybe not. But, I'm not willing to take that chance.
So, don't just sit there! Get out of the teacher's office and talk to your students. You'll be surprised in the changes you see and you'll get to learn about your students. Being an English teacher means more than just teaching in the classroom. Get out and invest your time.
Andrew Higgins has been living in Japan full-time since 2012. He is a junior high school ALT, softball coach, lover of okonomiyaki (Osaka style), and all things Girls und Panzer. He makes YouTube videos about living in Japan. You can follow his adventures at facebook.com/HigginsInJapan
Nice sentiment. Couldn't agree more (although I can't say I ever used the fax machine!). In my experience, the teachers room in Japan isn't the sanctuary that it was back home, where it was basically a place you only went when you were in SERIOUS trouble (as a student, I mean)! In my school, I noticed most of the teachers would spend their 'free' time with the students. I followed their lead, and it really helped me in the classroom. I had a better standing with the students, and they were more inclined to listen to me during class (I as you can imagine, I was worth listening to!!!!). You're right, too. The teachers room can be a bit boring and it's good to get out an stretch the legs. I think a lot of people teaching don't appreciate how lucky they are not to be chained to a desk. Nice post. Let's hope others take this advice on board as I think it's worth doing so.
Thanks for the comment! I've been able to be a part of so many things just because I got out of the office. I've helped with stuff during PE, Science and other classes. Most of the time the teachers welcome it...as long as I'm not a distraction obviously.
Some folks use that downtime to study Japanese. Unlike those folks, you feel accomplishment through your teaching post: ideal and inspiring!
Thanks! I`ve tried to study from time to time at my desk. The problem for me is I always feel like I should be doing something.