Teach English in Baoyinghu Nongchang - Huai'an Shi

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The phrase “every situation is different” is often repeated to new teachers in Japan by their more experienced peers. While true, it does little to prepare one for the challenges that come with teaching. Teaming up with a local teacher who may not be too keen towards foreigners or trying to handle a rowdy class with little assistance from the school are a few examples of such challenges. As I continue my third and final year of teaching English in Japan, the challenges help me to grow and improve as a teacher. At one elementary school, in particular, I was assigned five visit days throughout the year and acted as the primary English teacher for the first and second-grade students. The school’s lesson plan followed a simple format of English greetings, the topic of the day, one song, and some games. At the start of my second year, English was taught in a designated room. Later that year, I was given the same lesson plan that had already been covered in the previous months. In response to my confusion, the school explained English was difficult for the students and encouraged me to teach the same lesson. The amount of flexibility I once had with class activities became limited to the popular Japanese game Karuta. In the game, groups of students competed against each other to grab the correct vocabulary card that was called out by the teacher. During two sessions of repetitively teaching only fruits and playing Karuta, I became aware of issues that needed to be addressed in order to improve the situation. First, the school’s strict and repetitive lesson plan restricted what I could teach, which led to a lack of interest among the students. Although large, the English classroom was filled with tables of varying sizes with the majority of the tables requiring placement at the back of the room. The unusual seating arrangement caused disagreements between students over seating preferences. Similarly, playing Karuta continually resulted in upset students and more disagreements. Homeroom teachers tried to assist by occasionally raising their voices at and over the students, but that only added to the level of difficulty in trying to maintain classroom attention and control. What was once a fulfilling experience became overwhelming. After receiving the same lesson plan for the third time, I decided to make adjustments for the last two class sessions. The fruit topic was replaced with animals and colors. Instead of Karuta, I opted for games such as Bingo and Swat. In Bingo, students drew their favorite animals or colored the boxes on their bingo sheet. Winners were rewarded with stickers. Having students focus their energy on the worksheet in front of them with the possibility of winning a prize, allowed me to maintain classroom attention and steer the lesson in a positive direction. Students were also allowed to express themselves through likes and dislikes. In Swat, students were divided into two groups. At the teacher’s cue, two students at the front would attempt to hit the correct vocabulary card the fastest with a fly swatter. Each win was recorded on the board with stickers as prizes. Students would shout excitedly, but they were easier to manage while waiting in line. They also showed support towards their group members and worked to compete against the opposing group instead of each other. It was amazing to see this change in the students’ attitude and participation as well as the overall atmosphere in the classroom. Students were no longer arguing with each other or running around and acting out due to a lack of interest. There was control in the classroom, and students were engaged in fun activities while still learning. Although I feared the changes would not be welcomed, neither the school nor the homeroom teachers expressed disagreement. In hindsight, this was the first of many challenges that pushed me to become a better teacher. It would have been easier to be complacent and teach a repetitive lesson plan with minimal work. I could have pretended there was nothing I could do to change the situation. However, in choosing not to do so, I gained a better understanding of my role as a teacher. I improved the situation by taking the necessary actions to address classroom issues and implemented different approaches to make learning English fun and engaging. This experience also helped me build a stronger foundation to cope with future classroom situations that may be difficult. Regardless of the differences in teaching experiences and approaches used to address them, teachers should not be afraid to make changes to fit their needs and the needs of their students.