Friday, December 5, 2008

Japanese Schools and Teaching English

1st grade jr. high students.

Teaching is getting easier for me. I am getting used to each of my JTE’s (Japanese English Teacher at the jr. high schools, 3 JTEs total) teaching styles and the classes are becoming less awkward and more productive for my students. I have mentioned my elementary school that I have dubbed “my baby”; the classes at this are getting better and this school is becoming my favorite. I am only at this school 2 days every 3 weeks. I have planned 3 lessons: “Halloween in America”, “Body Parts”, and “Big vs. Small and Other Adjectives”. I am lucky in that I can typically make a single lesson plan per visit and adapt it for each of my 6 classes held at this school.

Japanese schools are pretty different from American schools. One of the major differences is school discipline. It pretty much does not exist in Japan. There are no detention, suspension, or write up systems in place. If a student wants to talk and disrupt the entire class, too bad for the other students, but they can talk away without the teachers stopping them. The students can sleep in the classes without any consequences. Students do not have to participate in their classes either. That being said, the student’s at all of my schools (over 200 total) are very well behaved students. I do, however, have a fourth grade class that is very excited and loud that I have a difficult time with. It’s not that they are bad students, I think that they’re teacher does nothing to control the class and when the famous foreigner (me) makes an appearance, it is similar to the puppy and the wet floor when the owner comes home from work.

Another difference is that the student’s are always at school, especially at my jr. high schools. There were a few times over the summer break (no classes) that I stopped into my schools and some of the students were sitting around their classrooms. When school is in, my students arrive around 7:45-8:00 AM and go straight to their classrooms. Their first class doesn’t start until 8:45, but somedays they organize highly formal assemblies before school. They have a regular load of 6 classes throughout the day and they finish classes around 3:20. After school, the 1st and 2nd year jr. high students (7th and 8th grade to Americans) are forced to participate in a school club. The clubs at my jr. high schools are basketball, volleyball, baseball, tennis, and table tennis. The 3rd year students (9th graders) are required to stay and study for their high school entrance exams. It is pretty common for the students to stay past 5:00 PM. The jr. high students are rarely under supervision. Similar to in America, they have different classes at different time periods. Dissimilar to America, the student’s stay in one room and the student’s visit them in their classrooms.

School lunch in Japan is totally different than in America. A few students from each class put on “sterile” clothing covers, masks, and a type of hair net and retrieve classes’ lunch from a serving area where one school employee rations out the proper amount of food. The students then take the food back to their classrooms and serve their classmates. Before the students can dig in, they must say the phrase “i-te-dak-imas” in unison, which is basically saying grace with out any religious connotation. The students are given 15 minutes to eat their lunches and they eat in their classrooms. They finish their lunches with the phrase “go-chiso-sama-deshita”, again, giving thanks for the food. After lunch, they must take all of the serving dishes back to the food distribution area. The students are not allowed to bring their own lunches.

The students are also required to clean the schools. There are no janitors at the schools , so the students are in charge of the cleaning. They organize into groups of varying age and grade levels (again with no teacher supervision) and the go through a checklist and clean their designated area of the school. I am thankful that there were janitors at my schools when I was a student because I know that they would have been absolutely filthy, but my japanese students do a really great job.

My jr. high student’s are always taking tests. It is pretty common for them to have a test once a month. The 3rd year (again, 9th grade in US) are constantly taking preparatory entrance exams for sr. high school. A problem that comes from this type of curriculum, however, is that most of the teachers teach to the tests. My student’s of teachers that are taught specifically for their tests will test well, but mostly, are unable to comprehend simple English phrases that are essentially, just variations of the test questions. It also seems that my students of teachers that use the textbook and the test materials to compliment their lessons rather than restrict them, will test lower but they can typically understand the larger picture when spoken to in English. Unfortunately, comprehending a language is subjective, and the student’s progress is currently being evaluated by tests (and probably always will :( ).


Stace-Ghost said...

This was very interesting. I had no idea that school was THAT different. Having kids clean the school?! I bet that if my students had to clean they would treat my school and my classroom with more respect.

Mr. Berbeco said...

Thank you for sharing your experience with us, Charlestown High School in Boston. We enjoyed reading about your experience. The school day is very different but impressive. Our class is just like that! (Just kidding, haha.) We used your blog post in class to learn more about Japanese schools. Thanks again!