Japanese Students Challenging Themselves

Usually my 6th graders are my quietest group. These are the Japanese students that are started to reach that “I’m too cool to be doing this” age. They’re not bad, not by any means. I’ve never had a behavior problem out of any of them. They’re just not as responsive. I consider myself pretty lucky though, that’s a small problem to contend with. Despite them being less genki, 元気, they do the work and they try to learn. As a teacher, there’s not a whole lot more you can ask for. The main things I have to worry about, while teaching at my Japanese elementary school, are whether kids are being overly genki (not a problem at all, unless you have a 39.9 degree fever) or not genki enough, teaching high-energy effective lessons, and (oh yeah) being kancho-ed, かんちょう (the finger enema prank), by the kids.

*On the bright side, kancho-dodging is helping me to build cat-like reflexes :D.*

I generally teach my sixth graders on Fridays and classes are usually “in the middle,” not boring, but not heart-pounding excitement, either. For some reason, though, on this hot summer day. The students had one of their best days ever. I’ve never seen them like this. It was a pleasant surprise. Part of the reason could have been that I asked their teacher if I could take the class to the air-conditioned, English room. When she agreed, the students were elated, so many of them thanked me. It was one of those hot, humid, Japan days, and I figured it couldn’t hurt.

We were giving short speeches using the expression “I can.” I had the children draw a picture of one or two things they can do, and one or two things they can’t do. The class really got into it. I was surprised because they didn’t want to just parrot my ideas back to me, they wanted to use their own. Kids were asking how to say unicycle, bicycle, kendama, けんだま,* asking about dancing, singing, it was really productive. I liked that I could walk around and monitor and the kids were running with it on their own.

*Kendama or 剣玉 is the name for Japanese bilboquet or the Japanese cup-and-ball game

One child in particular really made me smile, because he was struggling to get this word in English and he just would not give up. He wanted to know what “Gaikokugo,” 外国語, was in English. Luckily, I knew the answer to this one. I tried to sound it out for him when I saw he was having trouble. “Fo-reign Lan-guage.” I said. He tried to mirror my pronunciation: “Fo…Fo…ren…Foren…Ra…Rangu…English.” he said. “Good try. Let’s do try it one more time.” He would sometimes create sounds that I couldn’t quite make out, but he was trying so hard, and having a ball doing it. We’d tried several times. He didn’t quite get it (almost though) by the end of class, but the words stayed in his mind, and because I we had fun, he was encouraged to keep trying.

I saw the same student several times in the hallway that day and every time he would stop me and ask me what the word was. By the end of the day he actually got it. I went home feeling like I did my good teaching deed for the day.

Good job today, kids!!

Donald Ash

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  • I realize your good intentions Donald…but right now, considering Japan used 94% of avail elec on a hot day last week…. we are not doing so ‘hot’ (forgive the word play).

    If everyone keeps using aircon, we’re gonna be in deep doo doo, major blackouts that are unplanned.

    Glad that your students were happy but yeah, I think also we have to set a good example as well as teachers. It is hot, it would be cool life w/AC but at least just this summer we have to work hard NOT to use AC.

    How about another cool idea? Popsicles in class or something that does NOT use AC?

    Or have a class on energy reducing methods in this summer? They’ll prob teach you a lot you never even thought of.

    Sorry to rain on your parade but I’m sweating to the oldies every day here in my condo and hope that everyone is trying their best.

    In the meantime w/all the sweat and all i REALLY HOPE sales of deodorant and cologne go up! ha ha.


    • Donald Ash

      Oh crap! The blackouts. I completely forgot about summer blackouts because of the earthquake and its resulting effects. I guess it’s time to break out my Superman, ice breath powers. I really wanted to keep my identity hidden, but current conditions leave me no choice. Well…anonymity was good while it lasted.

    • Also…a big thing in Japan…if one teacher sticks out or seems cooler than all the other teachers, other teachers take note and sometimes outta jealousy cause some trouble. Your A/C thing…I know your intentions were cool but other teachers might have gotten irked b/c now you are the cool gaijin teacher and they are the boring strict J teacher. Rank and seniority and stuff. I learned a lotta things the hard way out of ostracism or exclusion over time or resentment that was kinda hidden. Shining too bright is dangerous, too. Be bright, but make sure you consider other teachers that might just be a bit sensitive.

      :) CHeers,

      • Kayla

        The flip side to that is Donald’s actions might be inspiring to the other teachers. That would be a nice twist, wouldn’t it?

  • D, I really like that the children work so hard. I even tried to mirror their discipline while reading your article. Yeah, instead of thinking about the bad-behind (but loving) American children I teach, I tried to discipline my mind to give attention to your wonderful story. Sadly, I must admit that I failed. Maybe next time.

    • Donald Ash

      No, no, no! You didn’t fail. I know it’s not always easy, D, but as long as you’re trying to keep your mind in the right place, that’s all anyone could ever ask of you. I know you’re a good teacher…just keep fighting the good fight. I respect you, because I know how it can be. I believe in you little bro.

  • I envy you so much. You are living my dream. I am 23 american guy and I would really like to get an ESL or TOEFL diploma so I can go teach in Asia. I think that would be a profoundly gratifying experience. I love everything in Asia including the music, movies, and the food. I hope one day I can do what you are doing. Thank you for the inspiration.

    • Donald Ash


      Thanks for stopping by to post, I truly appreciate it. You know what? You don’t have to envy me…you can do it, too :)! I often tell people that my only regret about coming to Japan is that I didn’t do it sooner. You are in prime position. If you really want to do it, it’s possible. Do you have a college degree? I don’t know about other countries in Asia, but here in Japan, you don’t have to have an ESL or TOEFL teaching certification to teach English (at least not in all companies)…I don’t have either. Granted I did have teaching experience before I came, but I know quite a few people who didn’t.

      If you have questions, don’t hesitate to ask (no joke). There are some pretty cool people who stop by to post, so if there’s a question I can’t answer, there are some awesome, SUPER HELPFUL readers here.

    • The best TEFL is a CELTA but pricey. After celta you can get the DELTA but that is much more expensive and hard!!!! Best of luck. you are still young… :) lighten up, look forward and go for it. asia is the future…

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