My eikaiwa classes have presented me with a new and unprecedented source of discomfort: now, it seems inevitable that if I ask my students what they did in the last week, they’ll tell me they went to one or more funerals of friends.
For the past several weeks, there seem to have been quite a few deaths among the friends and acquaintances of my eikaiwa students. Some of the funerals made my students miss class, and other times they would tell me about it while recapping the week’s events. The majority of my students are at least 50 years old, with quite a few in their 60s and even their 70s, so I guess they’re reaching The Age where this starts happening to people in their lives on a regular basis. The most awkward part, though, happened in my intermediate class, where several of the women are pretty much inseparable friends. One of them attended a funeral of a person she and another student were friends with–and that second student hadn’t heard this person had passed away until the first student brought it up in class. She had to dig out her handkerchief and wipe at her eyes and silently compose herself for a moment.
And I don’t really know how to handle it…of course I’m sympathetic and I offer my condolences, but when it’s a class setting (albeit a loose one, but still, I’m the teacher and they’re my students, despite being older than my parents for the most part) and not just a group of people talking casually, what do I do? How can I gracefully and tactfully move on with the class?
My classes are sort of falling into place…sort of. For now I’m sort of depending on the fact that my JTE at my junior high has her own lesson plan she incorporates me into, because it frees me up to concentrate on how to make my elementary school and eikaiwa lessons work. I’ve wanted to write more about how my classes actually go, but it’s tough to just summarize them without just parroting back the basic lesson plan, because every class is very different. Each group of students, whether 8 or 58, has its own very distinct dynamic. I have elementary classes which are really happy to see me, and others which are shy and harboring on unenthusiastic. I have classes that I can share some real rapport with, classes that I can joke around with and that already share inside jokes of a sort with me, and I have classes where I wonder why the kids won’t say anything and whether or not it’s something I’m doing to make them keep their distances.
All my classes are at different points, too…there are of course the 3 grades of junior high kids, and each grade has 2 homerooms, and though I’m only there one day a week while they learn English daily, I can already see that some classes are pushing ahead a bit while others are falling behind. And I have some super-genki (and, dare I say it, loud…I wonder how my JTE doesn’t lose her voice trying to shout over those kids) kids and others who stare blankly at me and then exchange knowingly helpless grins with their friends.
And among my elementaries, due to the differing schedules and the staggered start times while the term was lurching to a start, I have one school that’s 3 weeks ahead of some of the others. I have another school that won’t meet at all for the month of October, but I only go there every other week anyway. It takes a lot of effort and energy to keep them straight and to keep up with all of them. I have a day where I have 2 back-to-back elementary school lessons, and the first school’s a week ahead of the second, so it isn’t just as simple as repeating my lesson. I also have to tweak my lesson subtly for every class, and the students themselves will take the rules for my games (heh, “my”–more like ideas from Dave’s ESL Cafe, GenkiEnglish.com, and the Teamwork Tokushima writers of old, with some tweaking to suit my purposes) and interpret them a little differently in each class.
At the same time, when I use really vague terms like “a lot of effort” and “I plan lessons” without elaborating and giving details, I don’t know if that really helps any current or prospective JETs reading this. So for example, here are a couple of the games I’ve created/doctored:
- Face Race: this was adapted from Dave’s ESL Cafe. I wrote eye, nose, mouth, chin, ear, and hair on separate slips of paper and put them into a little Zip-loc bag. The classes are already divided into teams, so I’d have the team members come up and janken (rock/paper/scissors–it’s huge here) to decide the order of the teams. I’d then have the teams compete against each other to draw a face on the board the most quickly. It gave the kids a chance to get really creative, and they did some really crazy and hilarious stuff.
- Robot Game: after I ran the kids through the English words for directions (which many of my kids already knew to some degree, because my predecessor treated these English classes as real lessons and taught them a lot of stuff…but having someone ask you, “left wa nihongo de nan to iimasu ka?” is different than actually using it actively, which is my aim with all these games–to get them to use English in small and fun ways). I then had one person from each team come up, one at a time, and stand at the front of the room. Their team members would have to tell them, “go,” “stop,” “left,” “right,” “back,” and so on, and have them navigate around the room. Sometimes the teachers jumped in and made kids move back and forth and back and forth, which made all the kids start giggling. If there was a lot of time, I’d have each of the kids be the robot, and if there was still time, I’d jump in at the end and have all the students in the class take turns commanding me around the room.
Since it’s October and Halloween’s in a few weeks (and they do know Halloween–Universal Studios Japan had a huge fright-themed parade with lots of folks in costume parading around, and a lot of Halloween-themed decor as well), I want to start doing more season-themed activities for the next few weeks, and then having a fun Halloween Day either on the day of or the week before. I found a sheet of 16 Frankenstein-like figures in one of my Teamwork Tokushima packets (they’re seasonal publications put together by former JETs that are full of games for elementary, middle, high school, and special needs students, as well as English club and eikaiwa situations), with subtle differences between each face, and someone had come up with a game asking how many had hair, how many had big noses, and so on. So I did that yesterday, and then asked the kids to color the faces in and went around asking them to describe one of the faces, including what color the face was. For next week I want to come up with something else that progresses English while using a Halloween theme. I think about 3 or 4 of my schools are within a week of each other; the stragglers should still get at least 1 lesson before Halloween Day, where I want to have them make masks and jack-o-lanterns (on construction paper) and give them candy while talking to them about Halloween out west. I doubt they’d be at all interested that it used to be an old festival to ward off the spirits of the dead, so I won’t really bother with that.
I also really want to talk about more international/world-related things with my eikaiwa, since they’re very interested in me as an English-speaking person as well as a multicultural person. One of the students in my intermediate class is currently in Australia, so it would be cool to do a unit in there using some more advanced conversations, like a travel agent scenario. I’d also like to have them come back to me (beginner and intermediate) with several minutes of content prepared on different Japanese customs, and maybe we can have a food day, where I dig up a bunch of easy-to-make foreign snack foods and have everyone prepare something different.
I do have a lot of planning to do this week, to get that started…I’m out of town from Saturday through Tuesday. I’m very eager for this week to be done with so I can travel again, but to finish the week off I still have a lot to do.