Life on JET, Teaching

Back to School

September is my favorite time of year because that means back to school and that fall is almost here and it is pumpkin season!

Except Amami has no autumn. Or pumpkins. But there is school! This week is my first week ALT-ing at my senior high school. And as of tomorrow, I will have been living on my island for exactly one month.

So here’s what has been happening…

I stood up in front of my school’s principal, vice principal, and about 60 teachers and gave a speech entirely in Japanese! I was so nervous, but I had stayed up until midnight working on my pronunciation (shout out to Google Translate), and I am really happy with how I did.

Today was Opening Ceremony. Dressed like a damn professional in my black suit, I gave a speech in English to around 700 senior high school students! I said to them was how I understood what it was like to be afraid to speak in a foreign language because my Japanese sucks. I  guess I can use my crappy Japanese skills as a tool to encourage students to talk to me in only English. I actually felt more comfortable giving my speech in Japanese because it was over and done with in under 2 minutes. Opening Ceremony consisted of a lot of sweating in said suit and waiting for students to laugh when I tried to crack jokes in English…spoiler alert: no one laughed.

First day of classes! I taught my Introduction Lesson three times today. I was instructed to teach a lesson about who I am and where I am from…so that means I made a PowerPoint presentation about myself. And then the lesson part was a multiple choice/true and false comprehension check called “Who is Becca?” Question 4 was “What is Becca’s favorite Taylor Swift song?” and I was amazed they all got it right because it means they understood my speech during Opening Ceremony where I told them that. :) And I got some of my students to chant WC-SU! with me! I also talked a lot about being patriotic, and how being a patriot doesn’t just apply to Americans. It universally applies to anyone who has love and pride for where they came from. I hope it resonated with them. It did with me.

I taught one more Intro Lesson today. My lesson improved from the day before because I had discovered that “Yankee” has an entirely different meaning in Japan. In my lesson, I taught that in America, people from New England are called Yankees. Turns out that “Yankii” in Japanese refers to the bad kids in school…


Wrong                                                              Right!

Thursday night
I had my welcome dinner at this amazing little restaurant in Naze with my English department. I ate delicious grilled vegetables (and burdock?) , sashimi, and fresh watermelon for dessert. It was nice to spend time outside of the office with the other English teachers. Impromptu speeches are the norm here, so I was asked to say something to the group. I expressed how happy I am to be working in an environment that is a community. I loved teaching in America, but I was just an adjunct professor. I am over-the-moon about working full time in a school environment because I have the opportunity to foster strong ties with my co-teachers and students this year.

Classes didn’t meet today because we had an all day practice for Sunday’s Sports Day.

This production is going to be INCREDIBLE. Students have practiced their sports all summer and the dedication and intensity the students have for running, Oendan (Japanese Cheerleading), Daiko Energy and more are insane.

I’ll have more to write about once Sports Day commences on Sunday…fingers crossed for no rain!
Other happenings worth noting:
-I am tutoring a third-year student as he write his college admissions essay. Takes me back to my Writing Lab days at WestConn. I love working with students one-on-one.
-A second-year student recorded a video of me reading his speech for his speech contest (so he could imitate my pronunciation), and I just need to point out that I did the video it in ONE take. I didn’t break out in laughter like I normally do when I am being recorded! Also, I should note that his speech is AMAZING. He is very outspoken and I hope he wins.
-I rummaged through some files next to my desk and I stumbled on some newspaper articles designed by former ALTs about themselves and their home countries. So does that mean I am going to make a newspaper article about myself? You bet your bobtails it does.
-I said in my speech on Monday (in Japanese!) that I wanted to practice tea ceremony, so a student from club invited me! Tea Ceremony is serious business. Every move you make matters. Ever since my Teavana days back in college, I have always wanted to try Tea Ceremony so this was a dream. I want to partake in one where I get to wear a kimono too. Also, sitting seiza is no joke. My feet were numb after sitting on them for 15 minutes.
-I introduced “I Was Made for Sunny Days” by The Weepies to my English Club students. They wrote down the band name so I hope they listen to more songs by them!

-I can’t pronounce any Japanese name for beans. Before a student answers a question in class, I ask them to tell me their first name, and I always try to repeat it back. 9 times out of 10 I butcher the pronunciation and everyone laughs. It is funny, but at the same time I hate not being able to remember anyone’s name here. At home I took pride in always knowing my students by first name and it bothers me that I can’t here.

Just as it was easy for me to learn names in America, I realize now how effortless it was for me to teach native English speakers back home. I could speak quickly and did not have to be so careful with my word choices. With EFL students, I need to speak slowly and be mindful of every single word I say. I showed a picture of my family dog in class, and when I said “Teddy is cute,” they thought I meant “cute” as a noun and not an adjective.


Teddy is kawaii!

And I will continue to say how language barriers are harder than I imagined they would be. I miss being able to go to the grocery store and know exactly what I am buying just by looking at it. Everything is different here.

But then again, I am challenging myself. And that is just what I wanted.

I feel both equally exhilarated and exhausted at the end of each day. But guys, this is so worth it.

4 thoughts on “Back to School”

  1. Hello Becca!

    Sounds like such an amazing experience you’re having! I stumbled across your blog as I’m applying for JET this year and have been wanting to put my first preference as Kagoshima. I wasn’t aware of the islands that were also considered as Kagoshima.

    Will be following your blog and looking forward to reading more posts from you :)

    Much love from Australia.

    1. Hi, Leigha from Australia! I am happy you stumbled on my blog and are applying for JET this year. :) If you have any questions about the application process or Kagoshima, let me know! Kagoshima is a beautiful part of Japan– it is the perfect blend of city and nature I think, and the islands where I am place are something special all on their own.

      I am excited you will follow my blog. :) Thank you for reading!

      Much love from Amami!

  2. Sounds like you had a great first week! :)

    In terms of student’s names, I have name cards that I hand out at the beginning of every lesson (the students made them at the beginning of the year). I call out the student’s name and they put up their hand… though it doesn’t help when I have 3 name cards that all say ‘Yuki’… I have taken to calling them Yuki 1, 2, and 3.

    That said, I have been teaching the current lot of students for 6 months now and I still get some of their names wrong when it comes to pronunciation. They just laugh, but it is definitely frustrating at times.

    Great post by the way!

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