Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

On-The-Job Training

The students of Year 9 A-Grade were still trickling into the English classroom for what would be their last Oral Communication lesson. As always, they were a bundle of energy; after plopping their books and bags on their desks, they immediately headed off for their respective groups for a bit of fun and banter before the bell rang. HM was possibly the most extreme example. However, as usual, he first came running up to the front of the class to greet Ms. Y and me with his characteristic spastic joviality. The kid is a live wire, but at least he is both a very smart and a very friendly live wire.

Then Ms. Y remembered something. Last month, when the 9th graders had their work study day, HM and two other boys visited one of the local elementary schools and tried their hand at conducting an English lesson. Apparently they did so well that the principal of the school wrote a letter not only to us, but also to both the Mayor of Kashima and the Prefecture Board of Education letting them know how impressed he'd been at the students' ability and enthusiasm.

Wrinkling her nose impishly, Ms. Y asked, "How would you like to teach today's lesson, Mr. HM?"

Neither of us expected for a moment that he would say yes, but he did. In fact, he was quite excited about it.

Year 9 at Ye Olde Academy is normally divided into four Rooms, but for their English lessons they are assigned to one of five grades which are affectionately known as A, B, C, D, and, of course, E. The latter three are hyojun (標準 - "standard") grades, i.e. their average ability level is thought to be more or less comparable to that of their public school counterparts. A and B, on the other hand, are joui (上位 - "advanced") classes for higher-ranked students. The standard and advanced grades are quite different from each other in terms of both ability and classroom atmosphere, as one would expect. The standard grades often tend to be more fun because they're not so damned serious. However, as it turns out, even the two advanced grades differ considerably from each other. B grade is clearly the more dedicated of the two, its members generally having a more serious attitude and doing their assigned work more diligently. Then there is A grade. The kids are every bit as smart as their friends in B grade. They just don't always show it. However, they can be more fun-loving, and that can make them more enjoyable to work with. We just never know quite what to expect...

HM came to the front of the class and assumed a comically authoritarian stance. When the bell rang, the students didn't think he was serious until he did a very convincing imitation of the way I'd always started the O.C. lessons. Then FM came into the classroom. It just so happened that FM had been one of HM's partners in the elementary school work study lesson. That gave HM a couple of perfect opportunities.

HM crossed his arms, glared, and asked (in English), "Why are you so late?"

(The class tried and failed to suppress a giggle. It was just too funny.)

FM looked at him sheepishly and replied (also in English), " was my mistake. I thought it was grammar class now..."

"Oh..." HM sighed and shook his head with mock disdain. "That's too bad! Now you have to stay! You have to help me! Come here!"

And so FM became the other teacher in charge of the lesson. The funny thing was that, shy as he is, he didn't really seem to mind.

HM seemed a bit confused at first. He said a few things that didn't really make sense and then just started screwing around. But then, after FM's prompting, he looked at me intently and held up his textbook. I quickly whispered the page number.

"Okay," said HM, turning back to the class and setting his jaw with an air of self-importance. "Okay, students. Please open your textbooks to page fifty-seven!"

One student promptly put his head down on his desk and tried to go to sleep (and I promptly dissuaded him from doing so), but other than that the class was very cooperative. HM and FM turned out to be an interesting team: FM clearly had the superior English ability of the two, but HM had both the eloquence and the audacity. In a nutshell, it was the Thinker and the Doer (or the Egghead and the Ham?), respectively. They ad-libbed around the textbook lesson the way Ms. Y and I usually did, but with their own unique take on it, and then they started the planned group activity.

Ms. Y and I had intended to take over from there, but HM would have none of that. He was on a roll, and he wanted to play it out to its conclusion. Even when the bell rang, rather than bolting off the stage like a couple of electrocuted rabbits, HM and FM insisted on staying long enough to finish the last activity to their satisfaction. After that they seemed a bit lost for a few seconds, but then they gathered their wits and closed the lesson properly. The class responded well, and our two young teacher trainees seemed very pleased with themselves.

And they damned well should be. Nothing like that had ever happened before in my almost seventeen years of teaching in Japan, and I welcome it. Sometimes it's good to have the courage to try being in the cockpit instead of the cabin. You learn more about life that way, and that, my friends, is education.

I only wish I'd been able to video it.


  • haha that's great...

    By Blogger Swinebread, at 9:04 PM  

  • Reminds me of the time our old Spanish teacher heard us using spanish profanity in class and told Seymour and I to come up to the front and teach the class all of the cuss words in Spanish we could think of.

    It turned out to be rather a lot of them I'm afraid.

    HM and FM are on a much more successful track in this endeavor than Seymour and I were ;).

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 11:41 PM  

  • Indeed, application is more effective than theory alone - and that sounds like a fun day, the sort of reward that makes teaching worthwhile.

    By Blogger Olivia, at 1:01 AM  

  • What is amazing is that their english competency is that good.

    Perhaps they will someday travel to America and teach Japanese, end up staying here for fifteen years, aquire a massive instrument collection, and write about it in a blog called Life in the Land of the Rising French Fries and Hamburgers.

    Hey, it could happen!;-)

    By Blogger Pa've, at 7:21 AM  

  • OK, I have just entered the correct word sign three times in a row! ACK!!! Whats up with that?

    No, its now four times and counting.

    By Blogger Pa've, at 7:23 AM  

  • LOL!

    Or rather, Land of the Rising Freedom Fry!

    By Blogger Olivia, at 8:06 AM  

  • I'm giggling NOW.

    HM and FM are so smart and intelligent. They could be a Teacher or an Actor in the future.

    Oh...I feel shame for comparing with their English capability (in Oral English).

    By Anonymous L.C_D, at 12:05 PM  

  • That is so good! It became a role play with them taking the roles of teacher seriously, and in the meantime learning a lot about English, about interaction, about acting. Do they want to try it again?

    By Blogger Peceli and Wendy's Blog, at 12:07 PM  

  • It brings to mind those school dramas on tv. That must have fun to watch and satisfying to see your labor paying off, MM. Great job! Congrats!

    By Blogger Happysurfer, at 5:08 PM  

  • That's so sweet and cute! I'm impressed as well, because normally Asians tend more shy to go up and take on the role of teaching instead of being "taught".

    With their wits and their enthusiasm, they will have a future. Kudos to them, and more so to you as a teacher!

    ... you noticed how those electrical device would always either hide themselves or become malfunction during the crucial moment? ;-P

    I really wished there has been a video! that would be way cool...

    By Blogger YD, at 4:48 AM  

  • Most excellent, professor. A lesson we all can draw from.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 3:27 PM  

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