Teach English in Jinling Zhen - Yongzhou Shi

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Introduction For the past four years, I have been working in Japan, as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT), of English. Before this, I had limited experience operating in a conventional classroom, teaching young learners, I trained adults who were self-motivated and designed curricula for vocation institutions. Now, here I am, outside of my expertise, teaching at a junior high school – my base school and an elementary school. The city in which I live is very rural, farming and fishing are traditional careers; and while there is an increase in tourists numbers, more international students at the local universities and a growing population of native speakers of English employed as ALTs, I am still treated to curious stares and confusion when I use the simplest of English, which have direct impact on my students' interest in English and contact with it. In this essay, I will demonstrate how my experience as an ALT has enhanced my teaching proficiency; I will give an overview of my role, students’ motivation and classroom culture. Although I have strived for objectivity, this script reflects my impressions and experiences. My Role as an Assistant Language Teacher of English As an ALT, I support the development and improvement of English language skills of elementary and secondary students. I do this by collaborating with Japanese Teachers of English (JTEs) and elementary homeroom teachers to team-teach, plan lessons, create activities, assist and train teachers to improve their English skills and English Language lessons; also, I am in charge of the English Club, and I prepare students for speech contests and external exams. Likewise, I also facilitate and promote cross-cultural appreciation and understanding. Fortunately, my background in linguistics, education and cross-cultural training, has made my job more manageable, but it is still challenging, owing to the language barrier, cultural differences and being an amateur at teaching Japanese students - for the latter, I rely on guidance from Japanese co-workers. At elementary school, I am typically the main teacher, as many teachers at this level have no formal training in teaching English. At junior high school, I have diverse experiences of team-teaching; I am rarely the lead teacher and even rarer the only teacher in the class. JTEs use varying team-teaching approaches depending on the students and the lesson. Team-teaching at my base school can range from: one teach/one support, station teaching, teaming to alternative teaching. As such, I must continuously educate myself on how best to improve lessons utilizing fun games, engaging activities and refining my teaching skills to address the learning needs of students. Students' Motivation Based on observing and conversing with my students, I have concluded that their motivation for learning English is seldom intrinsic. Especially at elementary school, where English is for most students predominantly viewed as extended playtime. For the few students that have personal motives for studying English, it is usually limited to, love for the language, and a means to achieve career goals. As it relates to prospective employment, these pupils are desirous of becoming professional athletes, actors and singers; the students who love English often aspire to be English teachers, writers and others only want to travel. Armed with the knowledge that learning English is seldom a personal choice of my students, I am left to provide exogenous motivation. Through research and prior experience, I do this by making English entertaining, engaging and giving it purpose in their daily lives. I start at the very basic, illustrating that English has an academic function; while there is no English examination at the elementary level, junior high and high school students have English tests. Furthermore, for students to matriculate to high school and university, they are required to sit an English exam. I inform them that Japanese companies such as Rakuten, Shiseido and Uniqlo, with Honda set to follow, have made English the official language of their company because it expands their market and earning power. I provide examples of famous Japanese personalities, who they admire, that speak English. Classroom Culture Culturally, the Japanese classroom is a respectful and quiet place; students are extremely reserved. Additionally, there is an immense fear of being wrong, making mistakes. At elementary schools, while this is an issue, students are less self-conscious, thus, more willing to try. The converse is true at junior high school. My initial thought of English classes was a place lacking energy and communication, where teachers taught, and students silently listened and wrote while sitting in precisely arranged rows. While the physical design of the classrooms do not lend themself to a horseshoe pattern, I frequently use the opportunity, to place my students in groups, to facilitate student interaction. Remembering student names and faces has also been very useful, not only does it enable me to call on random students, but the students relish being personally acknowledged often attempting to participate. However, the most defining factor in changing classroom culture has been making it mistake-acceptable space. First, with the assistance of the JTEs, I revealed my struggle to learn Japanese, I mispronounced words and spoke ungrammatical sentences. Initially, the JTEs corrected me if a repeatedly made the same mistakes, and then gradually, they solicited correct answers from students. Later, I used a strategy that I learned from a colleague, I gave students one-minute segments during lessons to ask questions about what they were unclear; myself, the JTE and other students could respond. Students were permitted to ask questions using English supplemented by a little Japanese if needed. The process was slow, but eventually, it picked up, students became comfortable making errors, to the extent that they began asking silly questions for fun. Conclusion Teaching in Japan has been an enriching cross-cultural experience, a journey of invaluable skills exchange, professional challenge and growth and personal development. I am a better teacher because of my experience as an ALT. It has also cemented my belief that teaching is as humbling, as it is empowering.