Just putting in a few thoughts about one of the schools that I work at. Kaminishi Elementary School is my most distant and also the smallest school I have, with only 13 total students.
This poses some challenges in terms of teaching though as my lessons don’t always translate to the smaller classes so well. It has me needing to change things a bit for this school, especially the games and activities. The idea of making teams and playing Pictionary with two students isn’t so feasible… Another part of teaching here that makes it rather difficult is that I have to work harder to be fun. For my larger classes at other schools, the students feed off of each other, causing lots of laughter and good times when I do silly things up front. These usually include little dances, belting a verse of some MJ or Bon Jovi, or juggling some things. This is the most fun for me and really makes a class easy to teach. When there aren’t many students to feed off of, it’s hard for me to do this, to any response from them.
So while there are challenges posed by these smaller class sizes, there a many things that make this my favorite school to come to, just not necessarily teach at.
First of all, is something I touched on earlier and that is the unity and friendship among the students of all ages. The primary activity is soccer during recess, and of course first through sixth graders are participating. While not at all on the same levels of physical development, the older students do a fantastic job of giving them a chance to touch the ball or not just knocking the ball away as they do their lengthy kick preparations. All this while still maintaining a sense of competition. While I see aspects of this sort of behavior in all my schools, its presence here is certainly the best. There is nothing like this in America, there are no cliques or groups among the students; the only demographic seems to be age, but that does nothing to create barriers.
Another thing that I really enjoy is the sense of endearment that I feel watching the 1st and 2nd grade class work together. Because of logistics, they do a more hands on approach to learning that I enjoy. In all my schools, the principal does a lot of grounds work, but sometimes the teachers do too, as is the case here. So when their teacher is working the garden, they are out with bug nets seeing what they can find. They then research their prisoners and learn in those ways. Another one is that they will look at flowers and learn about the seeds, or the food that grows in the garden. They seem much happier with the outside approach to classwork then if they were inside all the time.
I suppose the last piece of what makes the work environment here so great is the teachers. These people are fantastic, and a lot of fun to talk to. All of the teachers at every school are all very nice to me, but the smaller scale of the work gives off a mom and pop vibe to the place. They do a number of things that I don’t see elsewhere. A great example is that every day after classes, as they are relaxing in the teachers room, they always serve coffee and snacks. This is a great touch, and very nice at the end of my day.
The very best thing though was the fanfare for birthday. All of the students and teachers went to the gym, grabbed hands, and then they sang a song that is apparently their Happy Birthday Song. The idea was more of a congratulations for your birthday rather than just an acknowledgement of it as in the case of our version. After this, I was presented with a card with many pages. It had hand written notes from all the teachers and students, pictures of me with the kids, and also a drawing by the principal of me playing soccer with the kids. The card was really touching, and will be one of those things to be saved forever. Pictures of it below.
Despite all this, Kaminishi is the only school that has a troublesome student. The other JETs have talked about fights that have broken out, upturned tables, and kids that will just scream and leave class. I guess I don’t have anything like that, but this student just speaks rudely to people in authority (a little more taboo than in America) and is loud during class. No real problems though for me, he’s one of the smarter ones in the class though, so I don’t have much in can be upset about. Perhaps this is karma for how I burdened my teachers back in the day… The interesting thing here is the lack of the discipline system in Japanese schools. There is no punishments, no removing students from classes. Teachers have the liberty to say “be quiet” and that’s about it, so there is no incentive at all for a bad student to act any different if classmate reinforcement tells them to continue. I’m curious as to how he will act when he gets to middle school in the next month.
Overall, this is a great place and I am excited about time I spend here. This is one school where I feel my efforts are really appreciated by the rest of the teaching staff.