the nikku

reflecting on ESL/EFL and its relation to faith

Monday, April 02, 2012

End of my Elementary School Era

Time for reflection! It was short, only 3 months, but I was surprised
how much I loved my job teaching elementary school students in rural
central Japan!

Here are a few things I noticed in my three months:

1) teachers set the mood for elementary school students

If you as the teacher say something is hard, students think it's hard.
If you say something is fun, they think it's fun. Don't start yourself
off on the wrong foot with a bad attitude.

2) the best teachers are ordered and methodical

This doesn't mean they're inflexible, but they are methodical. Good
teachers know how to present material in logically ordered and
understandable chunks. Even elementary school teachers who are not
necessarily good at English have this skill for presenting material.

The best of the best teachers I met went so far as to have their lesson
plan listed on the board in plain form.
- Today's goal is:
- Today's review:
- Today's topic is:
- Today's practice
- Today's activity:
- Reflection (did you, the student, meet today's goals?)

This way students know exactly what to expect and can prepare.

This sort of presentation was actually encouraged by the public school
district through a special "educational research, development and
training" elementary school (kind of like a charter school for
teachers). Even before this experience, I agreed with this sort of
presentation, and I want to incorporate this style even more directly
into my teaching from now on.

3) practice makes perfect

If there's only one bit of advice I could give to new teachers both
Japanese and foreign, it'd be this: practice MORE! I watched many
beginning teachers (and even did it myself sometimes, opps!) jump right
into a production activity from presentation. It was like grinding
gears. When you jump too fast without enough support, students get
nervous rather than confident.

4) students are always more involved when both the foreign and the
Japanese teacher are involved.

There are simply things that the Japanese teacher does and knows better
than the foreign teacher, and sometimes vice-versa. :) Students love to
interact with a "real foreigner", but they also love to be appreciated
and supported by a Japanese native teacher who knows their name, ability
and background and who can explain things to them on their terms. I
also learned that "explaining" to children doesn't at all work in the
same way explaining to adults does. :)

5) Confidence / Motivation is a major factor

I recently had a friendly debate with a co-worker over whether
motivation is THE most important thing in lesson planning, but we both
agreed that lesson plans and presentations have to make students
confident in their English ability. If the lesson didn't at least do
that, it missed the point.

6) a final note about managers and administrators

The schools I went to that ran the most smoothly were the ones where the
principal and administration trusted their staff, supported them, and
stood back and let them work. The schools that were actually the most
disorganized were the ones where the principal was a micro-manager,
disciplinarian (of other teachers), or totalitarian. At these schools,
the teachers were afraid of the principal and even each other. As a
result, communication was generally lacking around the school. How can
the students be confident when the teachers aren't confident?

Out of my seven rural schools, two were administered by authoritarian
micro-managers. At other schools, the teachers were happy, worked well
together, and seemed to generally care about the students. At the
micro-manager schools, teachers seemed to be more concerned about time,
making sure students and classrooms looked orderly, or even
paper-usage. The focus and atmosphere was completely different.

My time in rural elementary schools was truly an honor and a privilege.
It was a great experience! In a short amount of time, I too learned
many things that I hope will enable myself and the other teachers I meet
to improve ourselves. Hopefully in some small way, this will improve
the quality of education for everyone.

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