Monday, June 05, 2006

My Job is Stupid Part Two: the English Teacher Who Couldn't Speak English

After the calamity of trying to teach with Baka Sensei, I waited in some trepidation to find out who I would be 'team teaching' with in the new term. I was sick of the waste, humiliation and frustration of trying to work with somebody who refused to let anyone speak a word of English in 'English class'.

Naturally I had no say in who would be the new Japanese Teacher of English. I was not even informed about who would be making such a decision. Attempts to discover the chain of command were ignored (sometimes people in my office will literally not acknowledge that I have spoken).

So finally I met the new sensei. Seemed like a nice guy, in his thirties, a typical smoking pachinko-loving Japanese guy.

I decided to test the waters after introductions were made in Japanese.

'How long have you been teaching?'

Nothing. No response

'How long have you been teaching?' More slowly this time.

No reply except a puzzled look.

I tried something a bit simpler. 'It is nice to meet you.'

Nothing. A look of mild panic.


'Ah, konnichwa.' A smile spreads across his face.

So I continued in Japanese...

'How long have you been teaching English?'
'Ah, this is my first job.'
'Okay...what were you doing before this?'
'I was studying at university'
'Right...and before university?'
'Um, high school'
This guy was definitely in his thirties...
'Okay, how long were you in university?'
'Nine years'
'Nine years??'
'That's right.'
'Well, what did you study at university?'
'I just don't get it, mate'

There followed a long complex explanation about what he was doing at university which I could not follow because my Japanese was not good enough.

I never found out exactly what he did at university because I never asked again and he never offered. Nor did I ever attempt to speak any English with him again.

In class he gave explanations in Japanese of grammar points presented in the textbook. In Japanese, of course.

I want to get one thing straight right away. No Speak English Sensei was a vast, monumental improvement on Baka Sensei because he let me do stuff in class. That's right. I could make and implement games and activities that were communicative in nature. As a result the second years became infinitely more interested in and proficient with English. I began to enjoy coming to the Junior High School. No Speak English Sensei was so much better than Baka Sensei that I signed up to do a third year of JET. I even formed a good working relationship with him though I did wonder how he got to be teacher...which is a large topic in itself.

Naturally the fundamental problems with English Education at the Nejime Junior High School were not solved even though I was now speaking in class.

For example, I was not going to first year classes as I wasn't invited by the music teacher who was teaching them, nor was I going to third year classes, because third years were doing tests. These tests were happening every day I was there. No Speak English Sensei would photocopy a very long list of grammar or vocabulary questions, take the handouts to the class room and distribute them. The students would take out their pens and do the tests, mark their neighbour's, and, if time allowed, listen to the grammar translation that would follow. This went on, to my knowledge, for the entire term.

Next: Dream Sensei

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