My first class

1 Aug

This is going to be a long one, folks….

On Friday, my second day in school, I led my first class. At 1:00 an English teacher approached me and asked if I would come to class with him at 2:00, to introduce myself to the students. They are currently doing special summer classes in preparation for college entrance exams, and the classes are very tiring. He thought they could use a break, and told me to take as long as I like.

I have never taught a class before. So I racked my brain to think of something to make it interesting for the students, and I remembered a game a former JET had taught us during orientation. It didn’t require any materials at all, which was my main requirement. The class was a total riot, in a good way, so I thought I’d share it with you all.

I entered class and stood at the front with the 2 JTEs who were leading. The 12 students all sat in their chairs. When the bell rang, one student said something in rapid Japanese, and all the students lowered their heads in quiet meditation. A minute later the lead student said something else and they all looked up, then they stood up and we all bowed to each other.

Then one JTE began the class. He spoke almost entirely in English, which is ideal but rare, from what I’ve heard. He told the class that today I would be introducing myself, then he handed the mike to me, so to speak. I said “Good morning,” and only a few kids responded, so I repeated myself, putting my hand exaggeratedly to my ear. They said it just a bit louder the second time, which I let slide.

“My name is Carolyn. Please repeat: Carolyn,” I pronounced it in a mix of an English/Japanese accent, and wrote it on the board. “I am your new ALT. I look forward to getting to know all of you and teaching you in the fall. Today you will learn about me, and to do so, we will play a game. A game!” I repeated in a really excited voice, with a thumbs-up, trying to get them going.

“I will divide you into groups. You four will be Group 1,” I said to a group of girls on the right, “you four will be Group 2, and you are Group 3,” I finished to the group on the left, splitting up some best buds. They groaned but I couldn’t change what I’d done, and I didn’t want to, anyway. The male JTE renamed them all Teams A, B, and C, so I will do that in future rather than using numbers.

“Today we will play a game called ‘True or False?’ I will say a sentence about myself. You have to guess whether it is true or false. What do you think? True or false?” They seemed to get it, so I went on with the questions.

I started with “I come from Los Angeles, California,” restating it a couple of times. They all got that one right, because they knew where I am from. I moved on to harder statements, like “I practice tae kwon do,” “I have lived in 4 different countries,” “My favorite singer is Kana Nishino,” and so on. The teams usually responded with a mix of true or false answers. After each answer, I would elaborate a little on the point—like, what countries I have lived in, and so on. The male JTE kept score on the board, and at the end we announced the winner.

The game went on probably for 20 or maybe 30 minutes, and then I invited the students to ask me questions. Many times a student would look hesitant, sitting on the edge of their seat like they wanted to stand up and ask but couldn’t muster the courage. I tried to encourage them by smiling and saying “yes,” and not making a big deal out of it, which seemed to work. I got a bunch of questions like “Do you like sweets?” “What is your favorite animal?” “Do you have pets?” which are things that these students probably learned 5 or 6 years ago and so are very comfortable saying. Unfortunately they didn’t get into more complicated sentences, but at least I got them talking, which is an accomplishment, as I take it.

There were some hysterical questions. The first 2 questions they asked were “What is your age?” and “Do you have a boyfriend?” (I told them my age; said the latter was “a secret”) The best question, both grammatically and in terms of livening up the class, was “Will you show us tae kwon do?” I had known that was coming, naturally, and I said, “I will show you tae kwon do, but you have to do it with me.” Which was great, because the kids got really excited when their fellow student joined me in front of the class.

We did a couple of jabs and punches, and since I said “jab” and “punch” with each one, the students started repeating that. Then we did a roundhouse kick and a jumping roundhouse kick (that’s for you, Jess), which the student gamely attempted. Everyone clapped and laughed good-naturedly and it was just a riot.

Another funny anecdote was when, for one statement, I made little quotation marks in the air, and there was much buzzing from the students. They had no idea what I was doing with my hands, since nobody does that here. The female JTE explained in Japanese what the quotation marks meant, which I thought was a nice learning experience. Then Team C, which was led by a sassy jokester who called me “O-Carolyn,” made quote marks in the air when they gave their answer. Everyone burst out laughing.

It was a successful class, I think. And it was kind of the teachers to invite me to this informal, 12-student summer class, as a low-pressure rehearsal for the fall. Most classes actually have 40 students, so this eased me in gently. That said, I was still nervous, and sweated like a pig through two layers of shirts.

I’ll tell you what, though. I loved it. I loved it to pieces. I loved being in front of the class, I loved encouraging the students to speak up and be bold, I loved messing with them, I loved making them laugh, I loved sharing my knowledge of American life with them. I loved getting an inkling of their characters, like the kid who said “TGIF” was his favorite English word, and the sassy jokester who had an answer for everything and kept yelling my name and throwing out great English phrases.

As much as I sweated, I felt totally comfortable up there, like I owned those kids and knew they were going to have a great time. I was comfortable pushing them a little to stand up when they answered a question, or to answer my questions in turn when I had answered one of theirs.

I was pretty high for the rest of the day, after that. While I am still nervous about it, I can’t wait to get back into the classroom.

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