日本FLASHBACK: Keepin' It Real - Teaching at an Eikaiwa Part 2

5.9.11 ShaSha LaPerf 1 Comments

Part One: The Interview, the Acceptance, and Getting to Japan

The Typical AEON Amity Week
Amity worked on a schedule somewhat similar to the Japanese school schedule. Although students could join at anytime the "semester" began around the fall. I came into teaching in near the end of a semester. Anyway, you would teach 20-35 classes a week depending on the school's location; schools in decent size cities with little competition from other eikaiwa got more students. I got bonuses based off the number of classes I had but I don't know if this still happens today. There was time for lunch of course. I worked Tuesday-Saturday. At first I hated this idea because I was so used to free weekends, but I used Mondays to get my hair done, which actually worked well for me. 

I got major Japanese holidays off like Golden Week and The Emperor's Birthday, but for religious folks, don't bet on getting Christmas off. My first year in Japan I worked on Christmas Day (it was a Saturday). There would be some days left for makeup days. These days were when a private student missed a lesson, or you got sick and needed to cancel a class. Sometimes you would have a demo(nstration) lesson in these days which I'll explain later. There was lunch of course, usually an hour. You didn't have to keep records or anything, that was all on the manager and Japanese teachers. In facts I wasn't required to clean the lobby or anything either, but I did when I had free time just to be nice.

The Basic Set Up
So the Amity schools are designed more like office buildings than school. The room you worked in was small--I'm talking half the size of a dorm room. Sometimes I only had one student in the classroom and other times I had about eight. So I had to put tables up or down depending on the age level. Another thing about the school is that there are Japanese teachers and 2-3 foreign teachers. At my schools, we were seperated by the lobby. The Japanese teacher classes were structured differently from mine, including the books, songs, and other materials. Students could choose either class or both. When I was with AEON they were starting to integrate some of the things from the Japanese classes into the English ones. The biggest shift came in classes for the junior high students. The original JH books we used focuses mostly on English grammar (last "past participle" and whatnot), but the Japanese book seemed to focus more on vocabulary. The Japanese teachers had to train us on how to teach in their style. It was jarring because there were no changes to the other classes.

Classes were not based off grades or English levels; it was mostly based off age. I had classes with students aged 3-5 and some with 7-9. It's trickier when it came to English levels though because you had to find ways to accommodate for everyone, so sometimes it meant you had to slip an extra review in the lesson but not so much that the other students couldn't learn anything new.  I did have some classes with bilingual students. They'd lived in English speaking countries for a while and had returned to Japan and wanted to keep speaking English.

Another thing about AEON compared to JET is demo lessons. You would have to have a lesson with a prospective students, usually about 20 min. Sometimes it was a groups, sometimes it was just one student. On occasion the prospective student would sit in with other classes, which could ruin the dynamic of the class if a student was too shy or too outgoing. I had some disastrous demos and they student joined the class, and other cases I had some I though went well and the student didn't join. You don't have a say over when the demo lessons came but you always needed to be prepared for them. On occasion I did a demo and the student was put into other classes. It's not necessarily because you did a bad job, but can solely depend on schedules.

The Students
The thing with kids is that for the most part, no matter what country they come from, they'll have similar personality quirks. But at that the same time, keep in mind that eikaiwa are a business; parents pay for their children to go to them. Students often come to eikaiwa after their regular school day or on Saturdays. These students will more less likely to take learning English seriously because they know that they'll have few consequences compared a JET class. Which means that you can have more kids that act like a mess. It doesn't mean all children act this way but just that you can expect more craziness from them.

When I first started at the school, I expected the kids to be scared of me because again, an actual black face in Japan is rare, especially outside of Tokyo, and my height. I towered over all the teachers including the other foreign teacher. I had some students that were so scared of me that they refused to be alone with me in the classroom; they needed to see a Japanese face. With those kids I had to make sure I was extra silly and got them moving around with songs. The older kids were always "over" everything so I needed to create more complex activities. This was especially true with my middle school boys. Most of the time they were time and coming in from school and cram school. So I needed to liven them up with a game of balloon volleyball.  Of course they did get some real time with learning, usually with some flash cards, repeating, and some writing.

Dealing with the Rowdy Ones
Unfortunately when it came to rowdy students I was at a lost. If a kid is rowdy, they usually aren't kicked out of the school because the eikaiwa doesn't want to lose the money. For a year and a half I had to deal with an extremely violent student. I know shouldn't diagnose people, but, I think his behavior was not a typical "rough little boy." When he was in class he would throw things, rip posters off the wall and not only did he attack me, he attacked my other students. He even went after the manger! I spent most of that class trying to coax the other students in the classroom or gently restraining him from attacking the students. My manager knew there was a problem and even when some folks from Okayama came for a visit I told them about the boy; they actually saw him in action. But they more or less just told me to deal with it. He wasn't the only rowdy students. I had some older students that would tease other kids and make them cry. Another student wrote "die" in Japanese in his workbook. Yeah, those were the frustrating times.

But There Were The Great One Too
I had a lot of great students. Some students were very serious about learning English and came to the class focused, even the little ones. One little girl I had took a nap right before the class and it made me nervous that she would be groggy during the lessons, but she woke up and was on point everytime. I had a group of elementary school girls, but loved participated in everything.One of my fave students was a bilingual kid who had lived in the states and LOVED Pokemon. He was a bright kid and his level was well above the books we had for his age (he was elementary) so I used our old junior high books with him but also bough some English language manga for him to read. LOL and I let him talk about Pokemon...a lot.

The Wacky Moments
I had other wacky moments too. I had a 4-year-old diva who would not come into class unless she had her purse. She was hilarious! Parents were allowed to sit in the class with the younger students, and both her parents were label chasers. When her mom was in the class, the "diva" would do the work, but when her (very HOT) dad was in the class, she'd put on this cutesy act and pretend she didn't understand anything so her dad would do things with her. It was a little disruptive to the class, but I had to laugh at this one.

It's Fun To Throw The Kids For A Loop
In many cases my knowledge of Japanese pop culture were very helpful, especially anime. In Japan, anime is mostly viewed by otaku and kids. NarutoEyeshield 21, Kirarin Revolution, Crayon Shin-chan, Doraemon, Pretty Cure etc. I would go out to Akihibara or Ikebukuro to buy stickers/merchandise from these shows to give to students doing a good job. Even some of the rowdy ones would calm down when they saw this stuff and were like, "why do YOU know about these things!?" Disney was also very popular with the girls so I loaded up on characters. With older kids, I would relate to them by talking about Johnny's Entertainment, NANA, Water Boys, and HEY!HEY!HEY!Music Champ.

The Parents

Ahh parents. Yeah they could as annoying as their bratty kids. For the most part I didn't have a whole lot of interaction with the parents. They would come pick up their kids and I had to explain to them what the students learned. However you're not supposed to use Japanese, because if the kids heard it they would try to talk to you in Japanese. So you mostly point to the book pages and would have the students repeat what they learned. Occasionally there would be parents' days where the parents would sit in on a class. Of course this was a serious issues with the little classrooms. I did have some younger students so the parents, would sit in the class with them at all times. With the baby classes, it was your job to work with the mom teacher how nursery rhymes and what not in English.

Most of my fave parents were from my baby classes. They were willing to participate and kept a close eye on their kids. When I first found out I would be teaching baby classes Iw as freaking the fuck out. I'm talking about kids that were like 6 months old. I am fucking serious. When a mom brough her kid into the class I think I actually started sweating fear. But it turned out to be a favorite class. The baby actually learned how to crawl in my class and I almost started crying. He loved it when I'd pick him up and "fly" him across the room. 

But not all moms were fun to work with. I taught a group of three little girls and they're moms were always in my class. The moms got upset with me because apparently they didn't like the fact that we would sing the same songs all the time. Or that I would repeat some activities. So they threatened to quit the school. The manager didn't make a big deal about it, but I felt bad about it and frustrated that I had to stick with AEON's teaching model. Another mom had a son who was pretty rowdy in class and I'd told my manage on several occasions about his behavior. Yet the mom was upset with me because he wasn't learning anything. The manager only mentioned it to me, but seemed to have sympathy on my side. On the flipside, some parents knew their kids were crazy and would apologize to me for it. But this wasn't so helpful to me since the kids would still act up in class. When it came to the "die"-in-book kid, I stopped the class to go get his mom and she did make him apologize to me for his behavior

Okay I've done enough yammering for this bit. Part Three will be the last part, which I'll post a bit later.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the info. I am looking forward to part 3. I have been toying with the idea of teaching overseas and your posts are giving me a perspective of what to expect.