The Top 10 Steps to Help You Get Into School Mode
by Akilah Bel
To all first years, welcome to the exciting journey that is JET; to the rest of us, congrats on deciding to continue for another year. Now that it’s almost time to return to the old grind stone, I thought it’d be a good idea to look at some ways to help us get back into the school frame of mind. Here are my top 10 suggestions based on conversations with other JETs and my own experience.
1.Set a work goal
Depending on what kind of schools you are assigned to, you may find that you have oodles of time or no time at all, but an important aspect of working here in Japan is to find a work related goal to help keep you focused.
For newbies, something as simple as learning the names of teachers on staff is a good work goal. For others, if you don’t know the names of the teachers on your staff, I highly recommend it. I find it helps so much if you can say おはようございます何何先生 (Ohayou gozaimasu blah blah-sensei). It adds that little touch to greetings and it’s a great way to prepare for the “Bō nen kai” at the end of the year since in most cases you don’t know who you will be seated next to. If you know their names, it’s already a big plus.
Another good idea, if you have an ESS club, is to create an activity for them to complete by the end of the 2014. It can be as simple as them learning and understanding the lyrics to a song, reading an anime in English, or doing anything that catches their fancy. What is most important is finding something that you can see the progress occur in. It not only boosts your students’ desire to learn English, but also helps you to feel rewarded when you can see progress. Believe me— that is just as important.
Of course, these are just two simple suggestions, but there are several others out there. What is most important is to remember to start small and build from there.
2. Talk to your JTEs
If you aren’t doing it already, sit with your JTEs and discuss what you want to the students to achieve and how you can help them achieve it. Team teaching is the name of our game, and communication is key to working in a team. I know this is more difficult for those visiting multiple schools, but if your JTEs are willing, I recommend getting their email addresses and finding out what they are working on and what they want you to cover in the upcoming class. This can seem a little tedious, but working together really makes lessons flow more smoothly.
For us JETs based at a high school, hopefully you and your JTEs are working together to plan and create the lessons, so now is a good time to go through the steps with them as you get back into the swing of things.
3. Review lesson plans
In my opinion, Lesson plan review and talking with JTEs go hand in hand. After talking with the JTEs, it is time to review lesson plans. For most of us, after a year or two in Japan, we have accumulated a wide assortment of lesson plans. Some of them were great, and some of them not so great. Take some time to look over them and see where you can improve or change things so your autumn lessons can be more dynamic.
For the newbies, you are going to be turning out your “Self Introduction” lesson these next few weeks until you are sick of it, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t tweak it here or there. An important rule of thumb is to remember that change is a good thing. If something didn’t feel right or go right, just change it a little. And don’t be afraid to ask your sempai (and JTEs) for help.
Read the texts that your students are using. You need to know the material they are working with in order to make better lesson plans. If you know what they have covered, you can effectively make lesson plans to help them use what they have learnt. Remember, you class may be the only time that they have a chance to speak English rather than writing it, so try to create ways for them to use the English.
Being a teacher is akin to being a student. We have to learn just as much as we share, so research is an integral part of that process. This is something we should be doing all year round, but at the start of a school term when you have more energy and perhaps more time, researching new teaching techniques and styles is great. There are a plethora of ESL activities, lesson plans and resources available on the internet which can help by giving you ideas and techniques to assist you in making better and more effective lessons. So take a gander at what’s out there.
6. Join in the school cleaning
If you aren’t doing it yet, start doing it now. Yes, your staff might say that you shouldn’t be cleaning, but just take up a broom or cloth and join in. The first few times you will have some resistance, but eventually they will get over it and you can hang with your students for an extra few minutes in the day. They’ll love it and so will you.
Speaking of cleaning…
7. Clean out your desk & shoe cubby
New JETs, while your predecessor left you lots of great stuff, he/ she also probably left you a lot of useless stuff. Take some time to just rummage through what’s there and chuck what you don’t need.
Everyone else, even if you did a spring cleaning at the start of the new school year, another once over of the desk can’t hurt. A fault of our profession is a lot of clutter since you may use a variety of props and tools. Get rid of the junk. If you think something will be useful for a future lesson, keep one (1) copy of it, not ten (10). I myself have been guilty of keeping a million copies of the same thing, though I have no idea why. It just leads to piles of extra papers in already cramped spaces. Repeat with me: “CHUCK IT!!!!”
Sometimes we can forget the shoe cubby, but it really can get dirty depending on the state of our outdoor shoes. I am not sure if this applies to everyone, but if you are at a high school, you perhaps have your own personal shoe box. (What are these things actually called, Akilah? Um, let me check. 下駄麦 (gettabaku). Ah, I see.) Anyway, rather than getting sidetracked, clean out your shoe cubby. It’s probably the first thing in the school that you see and seeing something clean and fresh puts you in a better mood that dealing with something dirty and dark.
8. Restock your office supplies
When I first arrived, I went to my local 100 yen shop and purchased a variety of pens, pencils, markers, etc to use in my class. Then, I discovered that the school has its own collection of office supplies which are available to everyone on staff, and that I just need to make a note of what I have used in the office supply book. So don’t forget to speak to your staff and find out if your school has these available, and what you can or cannot use.
9. Take your bicycle, car or moped for a tune up
Regardless of what mode of transport you use in Japan, it will require maintenance. Though cars and mopeds tend to get serviced regularly due to services required at a given amount of mileage, the same cannot be said for cyclists. Just remember to get brakes and tires checked as well. I found out the hard way that my brakes were worn away. It is better to be safe than sorry.
10. Set a personal goal
Just like you have a work goal, you need a personal one as well. In order to be happy at work, we need to be happy in everyday life. The two need to be balanced. So as we leave summer and enter the autumn months, set a goal for what you want to achieve before the end of the year outside of the classroom and school setting.
Whether it is learning to ride a bicycle, studying for a JLPT test, visiting a historical place in Japan, improving your diet, singing a song at Karaoke in Japanese or just going for a walk around your neighbourhood and meeting people, it is important to create a goal for living in Japan. Small goals are a great way to help you stay motivated on days when work gets you down. It will also make the transition from lazing around a little during the summer months a lot easier if you have something of interest to continue outside of work hours.
Well, these are what I think are the “Top 10 things to Get You Back Into School Mode.” I hope the ideas help you to have a great second term or a great start to life here in Japan. Have a blast and enjoy the excitement that awaits you!