“In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn.”

Phil Collins, “Son of Man”

After being in Japan for a whole month, I finally began to work as a teacher at my Middle and Elementary Schools. As is common with each and every new ALT in my program, the first time with a new class is used to introduce yourself, and there is even a special term for it in Japanese: 自己紹介, pronounced “jee-ko-sho-kai.” This is the first time most of the students will interact with me, and I wanted to make this a fun occasion for both parties. If I am going to help these students learn English, and if I am in turn going to learn more Japanese from them, then I want to make the process of learning English as fun as learning Japanese is for me.

Working out the Broad Strokes

To liven up what could have otherwise been a boring activity for the students, I decided to make learning about me into a game for the class. Essentially, I would ask the class about myself without them knowing the answer, but I would give them four potential answers to choose from, and after each answer has been cycled through, I would tell the class the correct answer and then tell them a little more about the answer.

For my first question, I started simple: Which State am I from? and the provided answers were New York, California, Texas, and Florida. The majority of each classes’ students usually guessed New York, something that was always interesting to see.

I would then tell them a little about how I am from Rochester, New York, making sure to show maps getting smaller and smaller so they can understand where Rochester lies in the state; I would also throw in a detail about how I go to Rochester Red Wings baseball games when I am home. Baseball is a very popular sport in Japan, and this addition feels like a good way to establish a connection with the students.

I then ask the about how many siblings I have, and they are given 0, 1, 2, or 3 as the possible number of siblings I have; the spread of answers for this one is usually more varied, and it was fairly common for many of them not to guess the correct answer, 0, at all. It was always fun to see the reactions of the class as I would unveil the answer to this, as I would punctuate each reveal with a dramatic pause, and the reactions of the class were always ones of surprise and enjoyment.

As I went further into the introduction, asking them about my age, or my favorite food, I found this engagement really started to gain momentum. This momentum was noticeable palpable when I asked them about my favorite anime and anime characters.

For my favorite anime character, I stuck with characters that I knew would be recognizable to the students, so I gave them the potential answers of Naruto, Luffy, Goku, and Vegeta. As most of my close friends know, I love Vegeta, so this was the correct answer, however, many of the students tended to choose Goku as my favorite, which was what I was expecting from them. Since I am older than them, it would be reasonable to assume they think my favorite character would be Goku, since Dragonball is more of a classic anime rather than a contemporary one, Dragonball Super notwithstanding. Because of this, it was always great fun to unveil my true favorite character, Vegeta, to the class, since he is an antihero, and many people prefer Goku over him. This little subversion has been a great moment for each class so far.

Towards the end of the presentation, I tell them a little bit about my travels, and then I open the floor to questions they may have. Since the class is all about English, I tell them if they ask a question in English they will receive a sticker that I brought with me from America. This incentive worked well enough, as each class averaged three to four questions asked. Each question was usually something along the lines of what my favorite sport, my favorite video game, or my favorite book, but I also got questions about my glasses, my Japanese abilities, as well as if I have a girlfriend. This section was probably my favorite, because it challenged the students in a different and more fun way, and I was able to see how interested they may be in me.

Minor Brushwork

After the class, the students filled out reviews about the lesson, and they had space to make comments if they wanted to. Some of the student’s comments were very heartwarming, as they wrote they enjoyed the lesson, that they learned something about me, or that they were able to understand all of the English that I spoke in the presentation.

My goal for the lesson was very simple: create an engaging and understandable activity for the class and have each student learn at least one new thing about me. In reading these comments, I felt like I had achieved that goal, and I now have even more confidence as I venture forth into the new lessons to come.

I may not have it perfected, but I would like to think that I have a pretty solid foundation upon which I will build my own art of teaching.

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Song of the Week

Memoirs of a Gaijin Playlist

“We Major” by Kanye West, Nas, and Really Doe

This is the first hip hop song that I have added to the playlist, but I highly doubt it will be the last. Kanye is a favored artist of mine, both because of his bombastic showmanship as well as his deft abilities at producing beats, and this is a song that I genuinely appreciate for its ability to elicit my inner confidence. The lyrics are both arrogantly optimistic and celebratory and the grand instrumentation on the beat accentuates these parts for me. But I most greatly appreciate one of the final lines by Kanye in the song.

“So they asked me, ‘Why you call it Late Registration Ye?’ Because we’re taking these motherfuckers back to school.”

Kanye has declared his arrival as well as his intent to upstage all those around him. Though I may not be changing the face of the music industry, I do plan to flip the script for my time here as a teacher, and I believe I will have to take at least some of these motherfuckers back to school to do that.

If you would like to listen to this song or any of the other prior Songs of the Week, check out the Spotify Playlist linked above!

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