Noilly Prattle: Did somebody put sugar in their milk?

Friday, November 8, 2013

Did somebody put sugar in their milk?

   The dust from our road trip has settled and the routines of life on the home front have returned. Preliminary ideas for hitting the road again are beginning to creep into the conversation from time and are beginning to take some amorphous shape and assuming a life of their own. But that's another story for another time.

     When here at home I like to keep my hand in the education game part time by teaching an English class to young primary school kids at a school with an impressive sounding name--International School of English--run by a former colleague and friend of mine.

     There is a what I call an "English fetish" in Japan. A good part of my adult life has been spent massaging that fetish by teaching "English conversation" classes to people who are attracted to native English speakers and seek us out for lessons whether or not we are qualified to teach them. Consequently there are many 英会話 [EIKAIWA--English Conversation] schools in Japan; from large chains to small store front schools. 

     I first came to Japan in 1980 as a teacher for one of these large chains that had Time-Life in its name (I don't know if it was actually related to the magazine.). I then freelanced for several years teaching private classes. After a 5-year hiatus in the United States as an elementary school Special Needs teacher, I took a position at a private elementary school in Japan, where I was employed as an Art and English teacher for 20 years (which I described earlier in the Call be Mr. B series on this blog) I also taught a conversation class to adult PTA members and a Saturday English Club to the children who were interested in joining it.

preparation time at home
     Although I was 70 when I retired from full time teaching, my health was good and with my experience my colleague invited me teach a class in the evening at his school. I accepted and I have a class of about seven or eight mostly 6 and 7-year old boys and girls. Experience has taught me that you have to keep children this age partly entertained while sneaking in the heavy stuff on them--taking the medicine with a spoonful of sugar so to speak.

warm up activities
My name is Rio.
I'm six years old.
     I usually do a routine of warm up TPR [total physical response] activities and Q&A routines to help them throw their language "switch" from Japanese to English. TPR simply means "do what I tell you", such as "open your mouth", "stand up and jump", "make a peace sign", "say, 'monkey'", etc. Q&A means answer simple questions, such as, "How are you?", Are you a boy?", "Can pigs fly?", "Do you study Math in school?", etc. Following the warm-up exercises we usually play a game of BINGO using vocabulary, short phrases, numbers, etc. Then comes Reading. I break the class into two groups: one can work on their own while the other needs my modeling, support and help. After snack and break we do textbook and related activities work for building structure and new vocabulary followed by a closing activity, usually a game or drawing activity to reinforce material covered in the lesson or just general overall reinforcement and practical language usage for simple communication. 

adjectival phrases BINGO
reading time
     Normally, this goes reasonably smoothly along with the expected over activity of the less able to sit for a longer period of time kids, usually one or two. However, things got off to an atypical start recently when the classroom was being used for a teacher conference when I arrived and I didn't have enough time to set up before the kids arrived. These children have already been in school all day before they come for an evening class at 4:30 p.m. and are often tired. Our warm up activities usually calm them down and get them focused on the new task. Unwisely, I tried some new questions that they weren't used to and that set the fuse. There followed several interruptions to take promotional photos and other things, so that the children got less and less settled and more and more over active as the fuse shortened (coming dangerously close to out-of control) until the bell when I could finally let go of the reins and turn the sugar-high kids over to their mummies.

kids are in reasonable control holding it together with me firmly holding the reins
     We got a few cute pictures though. 

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