Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Goodbye to the 3rd years --and-- a little teaching philosophy

It's my second post! There's so much different stuff I want to talk about, I'm not really sure what to write next.

Well, today I sort of said goodbye to many of my third year students at the high school I teach at in Japan. School years in Japan begin in April and finish in March. The third year is the final year of high school, and next week my third years will take their final exams. After that, they'll only come to school once every couple of weeks for one thing or another. I'm not sure why their classes end so early, instead of making them continue to take lessons for two more months and finish up when the first and second years finish.

Most of them have already been accepted into their university or found jobs. A few weren't accepted to university however, and so are now studying furiously to pass a second round of entrance exams; sort of scrambling and fighting with the other unlucky students for whatever spots are still available at schools. Those students will still be coming to school to do their studying. Most of them, however, I won't see again until graduation.

It's a little sad for me. I've been teaching these kids once a week for the past several months. I see around 500 students a week, so it's really impossible to get to know all of them, but regardless, a teacher builds a bond of trust and partnership with the students she teaches. For me, my job is to teach, to give the kids everything I've got and do my very best. I put the information out there, and they are welcome to take it, but ideally, their job is to be a student, to ask questions, to complete the other half of the circle I start. When they do, it becomes a relationship that creates the functionality of the classroom, and makes learning possible.

Maybe every teacher who actually thinks about his or her teaching has his or her own philosophy. I have never been trained to teach. I never went to school for it. I taught martial arts when I was in high school, and learned a lot there, but most of what I know how to do I learned on the job here. I really try to look at the kids. I try to work with them. I don't teach with a baseball bat--though I do ask a lot. Rather, I try to teach with an open hand. The kids can take what I have to offer, or not. I never force them. Maybe I can't properly explain it. Hmm.

I think of it like catching wild birds, or wild horses. If you chase and hunt and try to net and rope them, they're just going to resist. Even when you finally catch one and try to make it do what you want, you'll either be fighting it all the way, or have a broken-spirited slave. Maybe you can fight it's head down and make it perform, but it won't be performance from the heart. On the other hand, just putting out the food and waiting takes longer, and maybe won't give you the "results" you want down on paper, but when the wild critters do come and see you aren't going to hurt them, and work with you, you develop a trust, a positive relationship, that I think gives much better long term results for both the student's view of English, and for the student's confidence and spirit.

If a student doesn't like English, fine. That's really all right with me. I never liked Spanish, honestly, so I can relate. I think, trying to force a student to perform is only going to damage the student. Plus, his or her already negative view of the subject will only become more negative. In my classes, it's ok to sleep, but it's not ok to talk while I'm talking. I don't remember, back in the US growing up, that it was ok to continue conversations while the teacher was talking. It really bothers me that students are allowed to here. Anyway, I think the best learning happens in a calm, non-scary environment, so I try to create that as much as possible.

Maybe some people would disagree with me, but I let the Japanese teachers of English be the tough guys who demand that students perform, and I walk in with the open hands. I want a positive friendly relationship with my students. I'm lucky that, in my position, I get to be the good guy. I'm just making this stuff up as I go along. At some point I should get some kind of certification I suppose, but it's not required to work in Japan teaching English at my company, so I don't have to.

At any rate, I said goodbye to most of my third years today, and it's sort of sad. I care about my students a lot. Of course I'm happy to see them mature and go off into the big wide world, but I'm going to miss them when they're gone. I keep wanting to do more for them, help them more, but some of it has to come from them, too. I remember what it was like before I walked out of high school, how much I didn't know I didn't know, and how much I thought I knew that I didn't. Heck, I'm still learning tons every day.

I want to protect them, to shield them from the bumps and bruises of the real world, let them make it through all their coming trials and tribulations without collecting scars, but I suppose, even if I could do that, I probably wouldn't be doing them any favors. The real world is a rough and tumble place. I suppose, mostly, what I hope as I look around at the bitter, negative, grumpy and depressed adults in society, is that my students can retain their wonder and hope and energy and joy, and still have the spirit in their eyes and hearts that they have today forty and fifty years from now. It's a lot to ask, but I suppose, as I watch them fly away, that it is my biggest wish for them.

(That, and use sunblock every day, drink in moderation or not at all, and don't smoke.)

Mata, ne.

1 comment:

  1. HI Katherine, I like your blog! I'm going to send out the package of cards today, and I wonder about Kaho. Will you see her to give her the card for her?