Jun 10, 2024

Normal Week Eikaiwa Triptych

This week at my normal job of teaching at a small eikaiwa or English conversational school, I was witness to three distinct events that were out of the ordinary for me but exemplify what this job can look like really well. 

Normal Week Eikaiwa Triptych photo

Head Shoulders Knees and Tears

The first event came in a weekday afternoon kindergarten-aged kids class with four students, all girls.

Two of the girls had great attitudes about participation and were really on the ball. The other half of the class was so new as to require their parents direct observation in order to participate.

One spent 90% of the group participation portions of the class staring silently. She did write and she has been in class long enough that we know she is capable of play when she feels like it, which apparently she didn't on this day.

As we transitioned through a performance of Head Shoulders Knees and Toes with variable speed, she stared on. At round 4, the super slow round, she still stared. At round five, the ridiculously fast round, she began to wail.

Her mom did a great job by taking her to the side and letting her calm down. She is going to try a weekend class from next week.

A less experienced teacher might blame themselves for not catering to the student enough, but in this case, it's a personal exhaustion issue more than a teacher issue.


The next day, a kid who has been with the school for a while and has had disciplinary issues in the past came in for a class fifteen minutes early. We ask him to sit and relax while we prepare. He then shouts random words he tries to pick up from my conversation with the other teacher. 

I can't tell if he is completely attention starved at home or if he's so used to getting all the attention all of the time that he feels insulted by not having someone pander to him for fifteen extra unpaid minutes.

Either way, when we don't rise to the bait of random shouts, he doubles down by taking the payment envelope from his bag, pulling out the 10,000 yen bill and waving it over his head, yelling "Money! Money!"

In Japan, the use of envelopes to conceal cash for payments is for politeness sake when engaging with small businesses and pre-arranged payments. Taking out the money and waving it around told us that this kid was eager to be the most rude he felt he could get away with. We told him to put it back in the envelope and take it to the owner of the school himself.

The kid later even frustrated our fun-loving Canadian teacher to the point of loud words. I guess that kid just needed to get some negative attention that day.

Panic Attack by Phonics

The last trial student of the week came in on Saturday morning in a class of intermediate children. We were told he had been studying English for five years but experience tells me that this information means nothing. 

In some eikaiwa, five years could be long enough to achieve basic fluency and have conversations almost freely. In others, it might mean knowing a lot of kids songs in English, but not how to write the alphabet. In this kid's case, it meant knowing what sounds the letters make but not how to write them lowercase or combine them to form words. The act of applying phonics to spelling was so overwhelming that after about thirty minutes of trying, he began having what looked very much like a panic attack and left the room with his mom who later came back for her purse.

I recommended getting that kid private lessons for a few weeks to get him used to using the phonics slowly. He might instead be placed with another newer kid who is about the same age and also has issues with phonics.

Just a week in the life of a conversational English teacher in Japan



A working mom/writer/teacher explores her surroundings in Miyagi-ken and Tohoku, enjoying the fun, quirky, and family friendly options the area has to offer.