8 Dec

Hello, everyone!

During my stay here, I’ve been lucky enough to visit quite a few classes and schools. In my last post, I talked about Omoto and a visit to an Esperanto class. Today I’m going to tell you about my two school visits.

Last month, our class had the opportunity to visit the high school associated with our university. For those of you who have watched a lot of anime, I can now confidently tell you that all of the high schools you saw in these shows were pretty darned realistic. As you go through the gate, a guard greets you. You then go into the school, which has a bunch of shoe lockers and slippers for visitors. We were first brought over the reception room, where we were introduced to our hosts. Then we were brought to the staff room, which is basically rows of desks piled with books and papers. In Japan, it’s relatively rare to have your own office, especially if you are a teacher: in most Japanese schools, the students stay in the same homeroom and the teachers change classes. Therefore, as the bell rang for the next class, the teachers all shuffled out of the staff room in their nice suits and slippers (great combination). Chris and I followed one to an English class.

Let me tell you, English classes are nowhere near like foreign language classes in the States. I’ve already touched on the Japanese education system in this blog, and I still don’t have a lot of good things to say about it. The class started with the teacher reading (in a horrendous accent) the lyrics to “Englishman in New York,” and the students repeated. Then they all sang it together. That was the fun part; but it was time to get down to business. Business consisted of reading and repeating of a story, and then a grammatical explanation all in Japanese. Finally, they were put into pairs and asked to translate sentences into Japanese and vice versa. And that was it–no making original sentences, no conversation, no language-immersion (such as speaking only English in class). I’ve taken tons of language classes, so this was a really big surprise to me. It’s hard to think it’s at all effective. But really, it’s just effective in different ways. Since English is a compulsory subject, most Japanese people have had a lengthy language education. They can’t speak it at all, but their vocabulary is surprisingly extensive. For example, I had to visit a clinic last month, and the doctor there didn’t speak any English with me. However, when he hit a word I didn’t know, he could write it down in English, because he learned all the English terms in med school.

Since this was my research topic this semester, I think I’ve come up with a good way to explain this huge difference in education. In Japan, English is a compulsory part of a student’s education: students take English with members of their class, and aren’t placed in classes based on ability. The material is taught in Japanese (except for the occasional ALT teacher–a native speaker who teaches conversation classes) and the focus is regurgitating information. In short, English is treated like a regular class in Japan (such as history, science, and math), even though language learning requires a very different approach. However, according to my research, younger teachers are looking to pick up a more “western” approach–in fact, conversation-focused language schools are becoming more popular. Japan is famous for adopting other cultures and cultural practices and making them its own, so I look forward to seeing what it can do in the future to improve its English education techniques.

In any case, the teacher and students were kind enough to let us take a photo with them. There’s me, sticking out like a sore, pink, thumb 🙂

After that, we met with some teachers and administrators and were allowed to ask questions. They provided cake and coffee (I love Japanese hospitality–this is completely normal) and we got to experience a formal meeting situation. This was a really amazing experience for me, and by following the lead of our teachers I learned a lot about being polite in Japanese.

Next up is my visit to Saiwai Preschool (Izumi City). Thanks to our program director’s excellent connections, Karen and I were able to spend about 45 minutes as preschool teachers to a bunch of energetic Japanese kids. They were absolutely adorable. Karen has worked at a preschool before, so she loves kids and is totally used to lesson planning. Therefore, we had a bomb lesson plan and managed to keep the kids busy the entire time.

First, we introduced ourselves. Then we played a quick game where we threw a ball around and had the children introduce themselves to us, which was about 10 minutes of throwing, catching, and mumbling. Ah, kids. In any case, our next activity was HAND TURKEYS. It was the week after Thanksgiving, so we thought it to be a fitting activity.

We also taught them how to write “Happy Thanksgiving,” which went relatively well, except for the one kid that burst into tears because he couldn’t write it right. Anyway, the children did a great job, and had an awesome time coloring in their turkeys and adding eggs. Look at the skill!

Finally, we sang “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” in English, which was super amusing. I broke out what I guess is a less-well-known version and confused some people, but the kids seemed to have fun with it.

Finally, it was time to go, and the kids all shook hands with us (us being Westerners and all). A few of them mumbled “今日遊びに来てくれて、ありがとうございます”–that is, “Thank you for coming to play with us.” But it took them so long to get it out (it’s kind of a complicated sentence structure) and it was just adorable. Some of them even gave us the pictures they drew!!

After the class, we were served coffee in the staff room and got to have a little chat with the teachers, which was nice. It was a much more relaxed atmosphere than the high school, it being a preschool and not too serious at all. When we left, they gave us a little gift of adorable and delicious cookies (gift-giving on a visit is very common here–Lauren brought a gift not only for the teachers but also a personal gift for her friend in the school).

And, like in the high school, there was time for a photo op!




3 Responses to “見学”

  1. Lys Murray December 8, 2010 at 1:15 pm #

    Lovely–what a great way to start my day!

    • maelia December 8, 2010 at 1:52 pm #

      This is very interesting to compare to the German educational system, where students are divided at the age of ten into different SCHOOLS based on educational aptitude. Those who show promise get to go to Gymnasium, and have the opportunity to achieve Abitur (a series of tests in the last year of Gymnasium that provides an overall score that determines how prestigious/difficult of a university study program they can attend). No Abitur, no college. Period. If you go to one of the lower schools, Hauptschule or Realschule, you can look forward to graduating at 16 instead of 18 and heading off to technical or career school internships (for jobs such as hairdresser, architectural drafter, or computer technician). Foreign language education here is superb, and you can expect to learn at least two and up to four foreign languages in school – if you’re smart enough to be in Gymnasium. What ends up happening is that most Germans are extremely well-prepared for their profession, but are almost completely unable to switch jobs or get other training once they finish their internship or university studies. Very interesting ….

      • ixregardo December 9, 2010 at 12:01 am #

        Maelia, thanks for your comment! That is super interesting!!

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