Teach English in GulubanhAo Zhen - Chifeng Shi

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For the past three years I have lived and worked in Japan. Even though I had majored in Japanese and had studied abroad before, working there has presented it’s own set of challenges and difficulties. One of the major challenges I’ve faced is working with teachers who are tasked to teach English and yet they themselves have very little to no English ability. In the past three years a new education agenda has arisen in Japan that aims to increase English fluency among young Japanese people. This has resulted in English being taught to a younger demographic. The first year I started teaching, students began learning English in 5th grade of elementary. In the past two years students have now began learning in 3rd grade. In principle this seems like a good idea, however as there is no English requirement for teaching elementary in Japan, the ability of the homeroom teachers to teach English is always situational. Therefore, this brings up many unique challenges faced by the homeroom teachers. One of the challenges are the teacher’s confidence in teaching English. Some teachers have no confidence at all in teaching English and see it either as frightening or a waste of time. Others see it as a fun means to teach students about different cultures around the world. This divide has remarkable effects on the children's motivation and enthusiasm for learning. For example, I once worked with a teacher who was terrified of teaching English. Her ability was very low, but instead of trying to help me during class time, she would often stand besides me looking confused. Even though the activities we would do were book focused and usually simple such as chanting songs or repeating new vocabulary to use in simple sentences such as “I like X”, she would often just say they were “too difficult” and say to the students in Japanese “English is too difficult, yeah?” which the students would agree. Because their homeroom teacher had such problems and showed such difficulties with the material, the student’s participation was very low. Even though I was teaching the exact same lesson to two other classes who were all able to complete the activity, these students always struggled and at the end of the year their ability was very low compared to the other classes. On the other end of things, many of the teachers I work with are very open to learning and teaching English. Even though they may not be the best at speaking or understanding English, they try their best to make learning fun and motivating for the students. Some teachers really enjoy the chanting and use dancing and singing to teach English phrases and vocabulary. Other teachers do warm-up conversations where students go around the classroom greeting each other while using simple questions such as “Hello. How are you? What color do you like?”. Some teachers have even started to include English in their other lessons. In Japan, students do formal greetings before their lesson. Now when I walk in the hallways I sometimes hear English greetings, “Let’s finish Science class.” The teachers will even come up to me after class and ask for examples of how to say a classroom phrase in English, or what an upcoming grammar point means in Japanese. These teachers, because they have no formal English training, can show the students that even if English is difficult it is possible for them to learn. In the future TEFL will become more of a requirement for elementary schools, with at least one certified English teacher at a school or in a district. While I do think this will be more beneficial overall and allow a more standardized English throughout Japan, there is something to be said for the ingenuity and will of the teachers teaching now. I’ve really enjoyed teaching English as a co-teacher in Japan, and while working with such a large range of teachers has been challenging, it’s also been amazing to see how they adapt to teaching a subject they may not have any basis for. It’s also allowed me to adapt my teaching style to various different situations and grow my inter-communication skills. While having a background in English may be important in teaching English in Japan in the coming years, I have seen in the past few years that as long as the teacher's themselves are open and willing to learn along with their students and challenge themselves, then English can be taught by anyone.