Taming the hyenas

I don’t write about my teaching much. It’s such a varied experience I’m not sure how I would. I don’t want to go into specifics on schools, teachers or student. I don’t know if the individuals would appreciate my writing about them, and that is the type of thing that people get in trouble for. They have in the past.

What I will say is that for the most part I like all of the teachers I work with. There are a few whom I don’t care for because they are a bit strict, but I don’t dislike them. I trust they have their reasons and know what they are doing. There are also some teachers I am closer to than others. That is true of any work environment though. Pretty much all of my students and classes are wonderful as well, though they are all very different.

I teach at five schools in five different parts of Kato, from downtown, to the outskirts and one way up in the mountains. The smallest classes I teach are three students. The largest are sixty-four students. I try to learn as many of the students’ names as I can, as they respond better when called by name. Especially for big classes. The size of the classes are not as important as is how well behaved they are. If students won’t pay attention or participate then they won’t learn. This is something I, and I imagine most teachers, struggle with from time to time.

My main weapon against misbehavior is to make the class as fun as I can, give rewards for participation and lend gentle assistance with focus on students who have trouble with the material. Doing this I have turned one of my worst classes into one of my best. Yet I still have one class that’s a bit of a nightmare. The Home Room Teacher was out at conferences for the month of May, and without his authority the students grew rowdy. I would have to yell over them to be heard, and those most disruptive I would single out or bring to the front of the class when my normal methods failed. These methods failed as well. I became quite disheartened.

Yet the other day I had a breakthrough. I started following the manners of a teacher I work with and respect. I’ve taken to becoming very quiet and looking stern should the students misbehave or not be paying attention. When that stops working (which eventually it does) I stop entirely, wait for a few of them to notice, and then present what they want: the day’s game. I then tell them we won’t play the game because they are being noisy and not participating. The threat of losing the game makes everyone listen. All the want is to play, but they have to earn it. I explain the best I can (in English and my broken Japanese) that English class can be fun, but they need to listen and they need to practice speaking in English. If they do, then we get to plat a game with what we learned. If not, there are no games. Just me droning on.

The possibility of losing game time, and equally the amount of disappointment I convey with them, gets them to behave. The down side is it puts a cloud over everyone’s mood. Still, I think this is the right direction. I’m seeing slow improvement, but I am seeing improvement. I need to work on getting to know them individually as well if I want even more improvement. What they want, when they need help, how to manage them, these are all things I need to learn. Hard to do as I see them so infrequently, but not impossible.

The hard times are what test your true feelings on a matter. My bad classes really aren’t that bad, but they certainly are food for thought. I realize now how lucky I was with the teachers and students I had at my schools in Yamagata. They were all amazing and many of them very eager. I enjoy teaching, but teaching at a high school or middle school is very different than teaching at an elementary school. If I can, I want to get back to teaching at a high school on my next contract. That means I’ll have to buff up my skill set some, but I’m up for it.

Who knows what the future holds?


One response

  1. Amy

    Positive reinforcement tends to work well. Pointing out bad behavior tends to backfire. Unless they’re always misbehaving, it’s best to briefly touch on it but don’t dwell on the negative. If they don’t want to learn that’s their problem.

    July 13, 2010 at 11:24 pm

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