Bluntly put, I was absolutely bloody terrified when I walked into my first class in September. The thought of having 40 teenagers stare at
me in silence and confusion, as I stumbled around with my voice breaking into a mere squeak, was the disturbing picture I`d painted for
myself. Nonetheless, armed with a brief University module in teaching and several viewings of Jack Black`s School of Rock, I marched into
the classroom to make my mark.
I was initially received well to shouts of “Hello” and “Good morning” – some students stood up and cheered, some continued to sleep on
their desks (this is acceptable in Japan) and some were rightly cautious of the new foreigner with the silly face who`d confidently bursted
into the room.
My real fear was that 30 seconds after opening my mouth, the class would become resigned to boredom and head back off to Narnia. To set the
scene, English is a highly unpopular subject for Japanese Senior High School students (only 40% of students enjoy it allegedly) as the
subject is regarded as very difficult and ultimately fairly useless as the chances of using it are fantastically low.
Fortunately for me, I`d prepared for this eventuality by quickly throwing together a PowerPoint presentation of photos to accompany my self
-introduction and offer an alternative to listening to my voice. I started by getting the class to establish my age, at which point a great
debate ensued, before answers ranging from 16 to 56 years old were given, only to shockingly reveal I was in fact 22.
Like a wise old explorer returning from overseas, I then regaled tales of how I`d `heroically` driven a Scooter into a wall in Rome and
ruined my knee indefinitely, kissed Dolphins and even been sick all over the Great Wall of China on a difficult climb (it wasn`t difficult,
I was just very stupid).
At the end of Chris` Fables, we moved on to question time and the questions became quite personal (much to my amusement). As expected, I was
asked if I had a girlfriend and if not, what kind of girl I went for in terms of hair and other measurements. I settled with the boring
answer of “a fun personality”, before some students tried to set me up with a terrified girl at the front of the classroom.
For two weeks, I walked into 3 new classes a day, introducing myself for 20 minutes in front of 40 students, whilst experiencing the same
questions each time. It was after these intense two weeks that feelings of fear and anxiety turned into euphoria and excitement and my
confidence in the classroom quickly developed. I may have even gone mad with power at times.
Like any classroom, there will always be students talking somewhere and whilst discipline is pretty good in Japanese classrooms, every class
has it`s trouble maker. I once lost patience with a talkative student, so I wrote “Supercalafragalisticexpyaladocious” on the board,
summoned him to the front of the classroom, where I read it quickly and then turned to him and went “Go”.
– I thought I`d got the best of him when unfortunately and to my surprise, he repeated it with a degree of success, causing the class to
applaud his efforts as he returned triumphantly to his seat, hailed as a hero.
On another occasion, a student asked me for my views on Justin Bieber.
My views on Justin Bieber weren`t very good.
Without hesitation, I scribbled “Justin Bieber is annoying” on the board and drilled the class on the pronunciation of the phrase, to
ensure they remembered it well.
For many lessons, using the textbook is a tragic inevitably, saving time and forming the groundings of a solid curriculum. However, for
anyone that`s been in the unfortunate position of using or reading a textbook, you`ll know that textbooks lead to hate and hate, of course,
leads to suffering.
(That said the first page of my text book consists of the lyrics to Wham`s “Wake Me up Before you Go Go” which is truly inspiring).
For the second half of my first class we would be using the textbook and the moment the students were told to page 35, the glimmers of hope
and enthusiasm that existed within the room were lined up against a wall and shot. I ended up reading out paragraphs from the book and
having the class repeat them back. Things got really difficult when I was asked to describe certain vocabulary in English. You would think
this would be easy – requiring charades style acting out of words like “Cat” and “Talking”. No.
In English and using physical gestures I had to describe words like “Posterity” and “Rebuttal”, words that I barely knew the definition
of myself, let alone have the capability to act out in front of the class. Instead I stood in front of 40 students with a puzzled expression
repeating the word “Rebuttal” out loud like some crazed vocabulary psycho.
Still, I have also had a great degree of scope in what I can do and this is where the appeal of teaching really kicks in. Creating lessons
where the students are doing something fun and engaging is very rewarding. One such lesson involved a British culture quiz where the class
was split into teams, and the teams that got the right answer received points AND the opportunity to take a shot with the paper basketball.
Introducing paper basketball (just throwing scrunched up paper into a bin the otherside of the room) into the quiz to get bonus points, took
a standard quiz and turned it into a super competitive mind-blowing quiz with laughter and education all round.
As luck would have it, the first time I did this, the school Vice Principals and some inspectors walked in during the quiz and looked
thoroughly impressed by an English class having a whale of a time. I felt very clever indeed. I`ve also conducted listening exams using the
Beatle`s song “With a Little Help from my Friends” which was far more interesting than having students listen to “Chris went to the shop.
It`s no secret to many that I never considered teaching as a career – after all, as a Business and English student I often shamelessly
dreamed (and still do) of rolling in a pile of money and sipping wine on the rooftop bar of a skyscraper (albeit, not simultaneously). Yet,
my current job couldn`t be any further away from the business world and I couldn`t be happier.
Seeing a student you`ve tutored improve her pronunciation, or 40 students learn the definition of “Chrisilicious” or having the
opportunity to teach my adult class about sarcasm, are thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding experiences indeed.
For me though, helping my classes write their dreams and aspirations in English was a real high point, particularly when one student wrote:
“I want to go to Columbia because I want to meet Santa Claus.”
– If that`s not a damn good dream, then I don`t know what is.