End of the First Semester – Getting to know my students

The level of my students when it comes to English is pretty impressive. I suppose they have to be good; they’re in a very competitive academic school with plans to try for the best universities in Japan. My first assignment for them was a pretty easy one, as a result: a 70-word self-introduction. A few of the teachers were a little incredulous when I gave the assignment, claiming it would be too easy, but that wasn’t the point for me. I wanted to see their level quickly. Nor was I grading for correctness but completeness, again because I was more interested in ascertaining their level in English. I’m getting the impression that diagnostic assessment isn’t really done in Japan.

Forget diagnostic assessments. Grading papers would be much faster if this was my strategy...
Forget diagnostic assessments. Grading papers would be much faster if this was my strategy…

Anyway, after grading 600-or-so self-introductions (yeah, it was killer by the end), I can see that these are some hard working, smart students. I also made note of my favorite self-introduction sentences — the ones that made me smile. Here’s a sampling (all grammar/spelling errors kept intact):

“The reason I came to like [climbing mountains] is my fat-bottomed body. It was not until I started it that I start to like exercise.”

“My hobby is playing the sax. I like it because its sound is cool, beautiful, and sexy.”

“I play the bass. I named my bass ‘Ichigo Rennyu Udon.’ That means strawberry, condened milk and udon. This is my favorite food! I love eatting!”

“I have a little monster. She is my sister. She is very cute. But she is very fun. So, I am in trouble because she plays roughly. She plays roughly and looks like a little monster.”

“I hope to breed jellyfish for profession.”

“My best drama is ‘Glee.’ It teaches me that everyone is the same person even if the person is gay, disabled, having red hair, not able to sing and not able to dance.”

student doodle
And my favorite student doodle so far.

As the year went on, the activities and homework grew much more difficult, of course. Sometimes, I was surprised by what were required of the students (remember, this is their second language!), but also impressed by how much they really tried to learn. It seems I am not only teaching English as a language, but I often find I’m expected to teach a western style of learning, too. I’ve introduced concepts like brainstorming, prewriting, graphic organizers. Concepts and practices that, it was obvious, had never been taught before. I also taught things like fact vs. opinion, something that isn’t taught in Japan. The school program for English — and for me — is to make the students not only able to understand and speak English if they ever travel to an English-speaking country, but to become globalized students. Quite a challenging task!

My next goal is to actually have a little extra time after school (and not be completely brain dead) so I can visit some of the school clubs. Also, I’d like to eat in the cafeteria a few times. You know, to really experience the Japanese school life. Second semester, here I come!

America, Japan…there are some things about being a teacher that never change.

2 Replies to “End of the First Semester – Getting to know my students”

  1. It also appears they like self expression something not permitted perhaps in their culture. Some of them appear to be trying to be funny?

    1. I feel that many of them are very funny, but a lot of it is lost in translation. Japanese humor and western humor is very different — sarcasm, for example, does not translate. But I do try to encourage critical thinking skills, something that isn’t really done the same way in Japan as in America. I feel the “group dynamic” and “group consensus” is encouraged over the individual arguing a point of view, debate, or opinion. In the beginning, if I gave them an article, they would search for an answer within the article and I would have to explain they must read the article and formulate their own opinion on what they’ve read. That took a little longer…

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