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Teach English in AlAteng'aobAo Zhen - Alashan Meng — Alxa
This essay will discuss two contrasting phases of my English teaching experience as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) through the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme. First, as a first year ALT with no training in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) and holding no qualifications in teaching/education; Next, as a second year ALT undertaking TESOL training while still teaching at the same rural Japanese public high school. There are several important facets of my identity and my pre-JET teaching experience that both influence my perspective and thus, my English teaching experience in Japan. First, I am Igorot – an indigenous group from Northern Philippines – who acquired English from childhood as an effect of American colonisation. According to Davies’ (2004) six-point definition of native speaker identity, I would be classified as an English native speaker along with being a Filipino, Ilocano and Kankanaey native speaker. I am also a New Zealand immigrant-turned-citizen. During my formal schooling, I experienced secondary school education in these two different countries with English used as the main medium of instruction. Prior to the JET Programme, my limited teaching experience involved a weekend of training and a week-long programme run by the New Zealand Institute of International Understanding (NZIIU). I relied heavily on NZIIU’s prescribed curriculum while teaching Japanese high school exchange students, so I had no need to plan for lessons. Any previous teaching experiences, formal teacher training and/or TESOL qualifications are not requirements for application as an ALT but having them is viewed as a plus when selecting candidates (CLAIR, 2019). So, borrowing terms from Kachru (1992) and Galloway (2009), I entered the JET Programme from an “inner circle country” as a native English-speaking teacher (NEST). First Year ALT Teaching Experience During and after the JET orientations, I expected a very big emphasis on the “Assistant” role while team-teaching at our school placements. However, I was tasked with responsibilities of a main language teacher which included thinking of topics and creating lesson plans, preparing necessary lesson materials and evaluating all the speaking tests, while teaching as the main teacher. Suffice to say, I found my first year of teaching very challenging. Team-teaching Dynamics and Classroom Management I taught with three Japanese Teachers of English (JTEs) who had differing teaching styles. Often, they acted like assistants and Japanese translators in the English communication classes. Their presence helped with classroom management as they could talk to any disruptive students and helped the class navigate through my then complex English instructions. At first, I was grateful to have the JTEs translate instructions because I felt ill-equipped to be the main teacher. But their use of L1 to translate all the English instructions undermined the English immersion purpose of having an ALT in the classroom. From my NZIIU experience, if students had no choice but to try and understand the language of instruction, it seemed to greatly help their listening comprehension. So, I spoke to my JTEs about minimizing L1 translations while I also tried simplifying the English instructions. Only two out of the three JTEs were able to team-teach with me this way. My main JTE, who had been a teacher at that school for nine years, consistently translated. I observed that the classes with minimal L1translations were more likely to respond with original answers than the other classes. I also felt validation of my “main teacher” role when students were able to follow simple English instructions. Classroom management with the translating JTE was more difficult because the students seemed to see me merely as a mouthpiece. There was nothing else I could have done in that situation. I focused instead on trying to better facilitate student-centred pair/group work during class. Lesson Planning and Curriculum Building Initially, I used the lesson plans and materials prepared by the previous ALTs from schoolyears past. Although I lacked knowledge of how to structure an Engage-Study-Activate (ESA) lesson plan, I eventually wanted to alter the lesson plans and include TESOL-based games that I had researched which may be more effective for the students. But the main JTE resisted almost all my suggested ideas and/or activities because it will only “confuse” the students without explaining how it will confuse them. To help cope with the frustration, I exercised cultural awareness of deference to seniority, experience and/or expertise. This cultural aspect is valued in my birth-country and applies in Japanese society too because this is a paramount show of respect. Despite feeling conflicted with teaching old, unchanged lesson plans, this respectful approach eased much of the earlier tensions between my main JTE and I. Having no set curriculum for the team-taught English classes felt more of a disadvantage than an advantage because the past topics chosen by the previous ALTs did not seem to cater for the needs of the classes I perceived to be mixed levels. Language Level Assessment and Evaluation The JTEs claimed that the students had very low English language levels because the high school was a low academic high school. This means low general student scores on the national standardized high school entrance exams that focuses mainly on reading and writing in English. During the English Communication classes and speaking tests, it became apparent that the students were finding it most difficult to speak and to listen to spoken English. Although there were also students that showed more aptitude for speaking versus writing, and those that were able to decipher the meaning of spoken dialogue versus reading written sentences. It was difficult to design a four lesson plan series that culminated in a speaking test revealing the students’ real communication abilities. The previous speaking test designs were skewed towards achieving accuracy rather than fluency in the language. Second Year ALT Teaching Experience Being a native English-speaking teacher (NEST) did not equal being the most effective ALT. Even though I was taught English grammar in the Philippines and fluently expressed myself in New Zealand, I was unable to explain some grammar points to my students or my JTEs when certain questions arose (e.g.: The difference between using articles ‘a’ and ‘the’). This clear lack of English teaching training while employed as an ALT motivated me to pursue a TESOL certificate. I want to be a better English teacher for my students by learning and developing necessary skills to teach L2 English. Lesson Planning and Curriculum Building My second year as an ALT came with changes in the teaching staff which led to a new team of JTEs. They were more open to change so I immediately proposed building a new team-teaching curriculum based on the JTEs’ regular English grammar curriculum. This way all the lesson plans had a focus grammar point that was familiar to the students and could be expounded upon via communicative activities. This proposal was approved. I was given full control over making the lesson plans, so I based the structure on the ESA method after learning about it. The first ESA lesson plan series was not executed as smoothly as I had hoped. There were issues with time management due to underestimating or overestimating the overall class ability to cover all the proposed activities, as well as having shortened class periods which were dependent on the school calendar. Team-teaching Dynamics and Classroom Management There was a definite positive improvement in the team-teaching classes. Mainly because the JTEs were more collaborative instead of controlling and I felt that I was part of a team. At times, I would initiate team-teaching meetings to discuss how to better execute lesson plans and/or explain new TESOL games and activities via video or demonstrations. I also started to voluntarily learn Japanese to better communicate with other staff and with the students. This helped me be more aware of English grammatical points that are non-existent in their L1 such as having three different past tenses (ie.: Japanese only has one past tense). Spring & Shewack (2018) points out that being aware of the learners’ L1 can help the teacher be more effective in explaining English as L2, possibly reducing the level of negative transfer. Classroom management as the main teacher is also somewhat easier with knowing how to say simple instructions in both L1 and L2. Language Level Assessment and Evaluation Learning from my mistakes and ignorance of Japan’s educational system during my first year of teaching, I consulted with my JTEs before designing speaking tests for the new freshmen students. Their input about the expected English levels of the students based on the results of the highschool entrance examination was invaluable. I designed the first speaking test to include simple questions that should cover basic vocabulary taught in Junior highschool, and an open-ended question to test how well the students are able to express themselves. While this rough version of a diagnostic test was effective in revealing a better picture of the students’communicative abilities, there is still plenty of room for improvement. Reflections Investing time, energy and resources into improving ones professional skills is worth it. Bibliography Davies, A. (2004). The Native Speaker in Applied Linguistics. In A. Davies, & C. Elder, The handbook of applied linguistics (pp. 450-469). Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd. Galloway, N. (2009). A Critical Analysis of the Jet Programme. The Journal of Kanda University of International , 169-207. Kachru, B. B. (1992). The Other Tongue: English Across Cultures. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press. Spring, R., & Shewack, E. (2018). The Importance of L1 Awareness in Teaching English as a Foreign Language. Bulletin of the Institute for Excellence in Higher Education, Tohoku University, 269-276. The Council of Local Authorities for International Relations (CLAIR). (2019, December 17). Questions and Answers. Retrieved from The Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme: http://jetprogramme.org/en/faq01/