This month, I finally got to go to an elementary school. Typically, I will get to visit each elementary one time per semester and generally on junior high school testing days. I visit the elementary schools that feed into my junior high.
On my three visits I’ve been to first, second, and third grade. The kids are adorable and extremely excited to have you in class. 1-3 grade students don’t have remake English classes and some of the instruction is dependent upon if their teacher can and is willing to teach English. Some of the younger students haven’t had class with a foreigner until we went this week.
Prior to the visit, an elementary teacher met with us to go over the lesson plan and explain the day. On those days we only saw three or four classes and left after recess. The plans were a mix of vocabulary/phrase practice and a game to review and practice. (I’m saying “we” because my coworker Kalen and I both go to the school on the same day).
When I arrived, I went to the teachers room and sat down in a guest chair/desk and waited for the day to begin. Teachers send two students to escort us to the classroom since we don’t know where he class is. The kids are really cute when they come and have to enter the teacher’s room. Some students will get shy or speak in Japanese to ask you to come win them. Others are excited and remember how to ask in English. The best is when they have a little script and keep referring to it. We walk with the students back to class and begin the lesson. We begin with a greeting of hello, how are you, etc. and then follow the plan. After class we walk back to the teacher room and wait for new students to come escort us to the next class.
After second period, elementary schools have running time. This is basically an organized recess break where kids get some exercise in during the day. After the fourth class it’s lunch and recess time. Then it’s cleaning time and that’s when we leave. During lunch we get to eat in the classroom and sit at a student size desk next to students. Since I don’t eat meat, I let the school’s know that I will pack a lunch. I pack something simple with just rice, beans, and vegetables so the students are too excited or confused by my food. It hasn’t been a problem and I think they probably just think it’s looks bad. During lunch, some students will try to talk to me in English or ask their teacher for help and then repeat it. I can say and ask some things in Japanese but sometimes it’s a bit of a charade and guessing game to talk… Especially with the first graders.
During recess, we play with the the students and this is often outside on the playground/sports area. The students mainly want to play tag or in Japanese, onigoko. Students play janken, or rock-scissor-paper to decide who will be “it”. This was much more tiring with the third graders because some kids were actually pretty quick and recess was an extra twenty minutes long that day(apparently every once in a while they skip cleaning time and let the students have an extra break). Some older sixth grade students came over to soak English with us which was nice because we won’t ever go to 4th-6th grade classes and also those sixth graders will be our students in the spring when the new school year begins.
Elementary visits are a fun experience. It’s interesting how different the lesson can go each period depending on the students and the teacher of the class. Some teachers will be less involved because they don’t speak as much English or maybe they just never read over the lesson plan. It’s a bit strange when they don’t know what’s going on and I can barely ask them to help with something because I can’t speak enough Japanese. Some parts of the lesson, are easier to carry out if the teacher says a few directions to the students in Japanese or if they write on the board in Japanese because students can’t actually read English yet. It’s not actually frustrating, but it just feels silly in class when there’s a delay or confusion that could have been prevented if the teacher had just stepped up. I also think if will get easier to explain and help students understand as I get better at teaching EFL style and learn key phrases in Japanese to help explain.
Another random bit of information: it appears students are required to purchase the same backpack which is a nicely made leather bag that probably lasts them most of elementary school. However, it can be well over 100 dollars and I wonder if any families are unable to purchase them. It’s a part of an ongoing tradition and is supposed to be a quality bag. http://us.jnto.go.jp/blog/randoseru-japans-ubiquitous-backpack/