COOL PERSPECTIVES ON TEACHING IN JAPAN
featuring Kevin Davies
1. Kevin, tell us about yourself. Where were you born? Burien, Washington
2.Where did you grow up? Lived in Washington until I was 11 then moved to Idaho. A few years after I finished college my family moved back to Washington.
3. Where did you go to school? Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon.
4. What brought you to Japan? I’m quarter Japanese and have quite a bit of extended family here. That was probably my main motivation. The only reason I ended up teaching English was because that’s the easiest way to make it over here.
5. I know it’s a weird question, but are you Japanese? I’m 1/4th Japanese. My mom is half and her mom is full.
6. What’s been the biggest challenge for you living in Japan as an American of Japanese descent? Most Japanese people don’t realize I’m of Japanese descent, so I’m just treated like any other foreigner. I’ve never really run into any problems. I’ve found it’s pretty easy to live in Japan as a foreigner.
7. Where do you like living more, Japan or America? Why? I feel like it’s definitely easier living in America. Everything is way cheaper and more convenient, which is appealing to me because I’m so lazy. With that said, I don’t plan to move back there anytime soon. Still got some stuff I want to do here.
8. What do you do for a living? I’m an elementary school ALT.
9. How long have you been teaching? I’m currently in my third year.
10. All teachers, at some point or another have an off day. What was your worst day like? Back during my first year our school was going to be showcased on some TV program. Apparently, my school had a bit of a reputation back in the day of having a really strong English program, or so I heard. It really isn’t anything special nowadays. But we had this principal that was kind of sadistic in the way she abused her power and made everyone around her suffer. Because she was the only Japanese principal I had any experience with I just thought for a long time that this was normal.
The principal somehow led the reporter to believe that the students were fluent to some extent. Then she told all the teachers to tell the students that they weren’t allowed to use Japanese when the TV crew was here. The thing that just killed me was how hard the kids tried to meet that expectation. Especially the 5th graders of the class that got filmed and interviewed. But, of course, the kids can’t just magically become fluent. I could tell from the look on the crew’s faces that they were less than impressed.
I was so angry that the kids had all this extra pressure put on them because the principal was so full of herself and only cared about the school’s image, but I had to hide it because I didn’t want the kids to think they did something wrong. I just kept telling them how awesome they did and how cool it was going to be when they ended up on TV. The program ended up not airing, which was probably for the best.
It was less of a bad day and more of a bad month. The principal kept coming up to me and giving me this phony smile and saying “I’m sure you’ll do fine because I know you don’t speak Japanese to the kids riiiiiggghhht?”
11. Whoa, that’s quite a story! So when you have a bad teaching day (or month ) how do you bounce back? I think there’s two things you can do. You can either take the “tomorrow’s a new day” approach and just move on, or you can try and figure out what went wrong and tackle it head on. When it comes to situations like the one above, there’s not really much you can do. It took me a long time to get over that whole ordeal. However, when it comes to just having a day of bad lessons where it seems like the kids are out of control and nothing’s going right, I find those are usually pretty easy to dissect. Most of the time it just comes down to how I reacted to the situation and what I need to change to deal with it better next time.
I used to follow the “tomorrow’s a new day” methodology, but what I found was that tomorrow might be a new day, but at some point your going to run into the same problems again if you don’ deal with them. Over the past 2.5 years this has proved true time and time again. It was actually just recently I decided I didn’t want to work that way anymore.
One of my friends (we’ll call him Pee Pee because that’s what I call him) gave me some really good advice a couple weeks ago that helped me deal with one of my problem classes more effectively. I won’t go into the details, but it gave me a huge confidence boost that allowed me to tackle a couple other problem classes later in the week. Now, I’m fairly certain I’ll have to deal with these classes again next week, but I’ve already started to see an improvement and now that I know how to deal with them without freaking out and losing my temper it’s much less stressful.
12. What are four ways that the Japanese public school system differs from the American one?
1.) The thing I hate the most about the Japanese schools is the way they let parents walk all over them. Even after a kid goes home, if something happens the parents usually blame the home room teacher in some way. What I really hate is the parents that think that way, but the school is just as much to blame in my opinion for putting up with it.
2.) Bullying is incredibly weird here. There’s obviously bullying everywhere, but here they treat it like some sort of epidemic, yet no one ever does anything about it. They always have meetings and stuff about what they can do to address it and stop it and it never amounts to anything. I rarely see anyone get punished for bullying because the teachers either don’t notice or they feel like they have to walk on egg shells and aren’t sure how to deal with it.
3.) Lunch is delicious. And healthy if the lady from the food center is to be believed.
4.) Every elementary school has a swimming pool and swimming is actually a part of the yearly curriculum. I quite like this because I can go swimming whenever I don’t have class.
13. How does a typical Japanese student differ from a typical American student? I think the stereotype would be that Japanese kids are more studious, but I don’t really see that. I actually can’t really think of any big differences.
14. What’s your favorite type of student to teach? (active, quite, loud, etc.) Why? I like kids that are active, but not loud.
15. I recently did a post about Japanese school lunches. What’s your favorite meal at your school? ビビンバ！
(Heh, heh, that was one of my favorites, too. I put a picture of bibimbap in the Japanese school lunches post if you want to check it out)
16. What has been your most memorable teaching moment in Japan? This is less of a teaching moment and more just random, but back during my first year there was a 5th grader that was transferring to a new school over winter break. I wasn’t super close with him, but he was always really outgoing both in and out of class. Anyway, we were cleaning the chalkboard erasers up on the third floor balcony when he stopped and turned to me and said “I guess this is goodbye.” I thought he was just joking around, so I was like “Alright, goodbye!” Then he told me that he was transferring. I became all quiet trying to decide if I should console him or be all “Oh man that’ll be fun!” We ended up just standing there in silence until the bell rang for recess. Then we shook hands and parted ways.
This was like 2 months before he was scheduled to be transferred, mind you. But it still seemed like something out of a movie or something.
17. On the day you finish teaching for good, what would you like to hear your students say about you? I plan to tell them that I’m leaving to pursue some crazy dream like being an astronaut or something. So, I hope they’ll look up to the moon one day and be like “I wonder if Kevin’s up there.”
18. What advice would you give to someone who’s thinking about teaching in Japan? Just do it.
Kevin, as always, it’s a pleasure bro. Thanks for doing an interview with me today. Much respect to you and all the teachers out there working hard everyday!
Got questions/comments for Kevin? There’s a comment section below with your name on it