You’ve been accepted as a new English teacher in Japan, but you’re wondering what the teachers you’ll work with are like, aren’t you? You’ve heard horror stories as well as too-good-to-be-true tales. What should you believe?
Believe that every single situation is different from the next. As proof, here are some of the kinds of teachers I taught with. (All names have been changed, and I haven’t given any grade levels, either.)
She was full of great ideas for class: games, essays, history lessons, songs, activities. She involved me greatly in the process, even going so far as to let me teach about the American Civil War and write research essay prompts for my students. She told me not to tell the students I knew Japanese because then they wouldn’t try as hard to speak English with me. We followed the course book at times, but since I was only there once a week, we tried to make the class more fun.
She liked to teach the students English songs, and we alternated who chose the songs that week. She let me teach them games, and we didn’t always stick with the course book. She would speak in English, then immediately translate into Japanese. When I spoke English, she would translate for me, too. Sometimes she waited to let the kids answer, but almost always she translated into Japanese.
He followed the course book more than Ms. Fujikawa and Ms. Iwamoto, but he also let me do presentations and other activities sometimes.
If I came to him in advance with an idea for a class (ex: a Halloween craft), he would usually agree to let me do it. Otherwise, we went pretty much by the book, with worksheets and long grammar explanations and examples. We rarely played games, but if we had some spare time, we might play Hangman* or word scramble. I primarily read words or passages, then walked around the classroom and helped if someone needed it. I could also ask some questions or pick students to answer.
* Note about Hangman: Be careful with this game. Because it depicts death, some teachers may not approve of introducing this to students. Check beforehand. Also, students may be reluctant to volunteer letters for Hangman, but the same can be true of solving word scrambles.
He liked to begin every class period with a game, typically one of the two or three we usually played. He was full of energy and always spoke in as much English as possible. His lessons might not be planned until that day, or I might have to plan them when I got to school, but he was enthusiastic about class.
She enjoyed chatting with me in the teacher’s room, and she was just as sarcastic as I was, which was refreshing. Not all of the English teachers were sarcastic or as sarcastic as we were. She followed the course book, but she incorporated games, songs, and activities, and she was glad to have holiday presentations. We even made scones once because she had been to England before!
She let me plan the lessons, and she guided me here and there when something seemed too difficult for the students or would take too long. She helped me in class while allowing me to be the primary teacher. She was a wonderful help with planning school-wide events such as trick-or-treating and Easter egg hunts. (It was a tiny, tiny school.)
He and I alternated between being “main” teacher for our lessons. His English was minimal and he was better at grammar than speaking, but he was enthusiastic and willing to play games and try new activities. We followed the course book, but we incorporated outside ideas such as putting on a play instead of simply reading about it.
He liked to introduce students not only to English from my American perspective but to other English-speaking cultures and, indeed, other cultures in general. The course book’s accompanying CD showed clips from America, Australia, China, and Korea (primarily), so he played those for the kids whenever he could. We would do fun activities, and he made sure to practice words (ex: months of the year) repeatedly with the kids until they could say them almost by heart.
He was upbeat, and though we followed the course book, he made sure to get creative with the activities. He also liked to have a meet-and-greet time at the start of each class. At first, students had to walk up to all three of us (him, me, and our assistant teacher) and say “Hello. How are you?” They had to answer back as well, then they sat after they saw all three of us. As the year went on, they added more phrases (“Hello. How are you. What color do you like?”) and answer them. Sometimes we greeted the students, then we would ask them a random question they had learned, but usually it was related to the previous lesson.
Those are just some of the teachers I taught with over the two years I was in Japan. I pulled from elementary, middle, and high school teachers I worked with, so don’t worry about all of these examples being from one level of school only. For as many teachers as I listed, there are a dozen and one more. Just remember to be open to their ideas and their teaching styles. I learned a lot from them, both in terms of what I wouldn’t do with my students in the future and what I would try to incorporate the next time around.
Hope this eases your minds a bit. Let me know what kinds of teachers you meet.