Thursday, December 16, 2010

Teaching Junior High

For a blog about a couple who teaches in Japan we sure haven't written much about teaching yet...

Last year at this time we were maybe the busiest we've ever been. We had about 4 jobs between us, JL was finishing school and we were applying like mad for jobs in Japan. I remember at the time thinking that there was no way I was going to like teaching English to Japanese tweens. I figured I liked teaching in general, I knew I liked living abroad and it was a good opportunity to experience Japanese culture and save some money.

Luckily and surprisingly, we REALLY like Japanese junior high kids. They're awesome. They're a hoot. They're pretty serious about schoolwork and are well-behaved (at least at my school). Even when they're not, they're usually pretty smart at English or are at least refreshingly thinking for themselves. As a bonus, they treat us like celebrities. I mean, John got voted Teacher of the Year at a school he's only at 2/3 of the time. Some classes only see him once a month. In some of his classes they line up as they leave and personally thank him for the class. When we were in Kyoto we found we missed kids in the 12-16 years bracket and struck up random conversations with junior high school groups we saw at temples.

Don't get me wrong - the Japanese system of teaching English is horrible. Rote memorization, mindless repetition and writing sentences over and over are all standard activities. Most of my teachers are more innovative and open to communicative activities (the purported reason that we're here). Still, the students have tests to take and high schools to get into. Speaking is not included on high school entrance exams, which doesn't help.

From what we've heard and read, the average score of Japanese TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) takers is the lowest among all Asian nations except North Korea. Japan ranks just below Myanmar. Yep, the system is broken and it's kind of a bummer to be part of it. That said, basically anything we do is an improvement upon the textbook.

It's funny to think that last year we were writing cover letters and now we're Josie Sensei and John Sensei (or Ms. Josie and Mr. John, depending on the class).

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