Teaching at a Japanese Public Elementary School: Which Grade Level Is Your Favorite?

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Elementary school kids in Nara, Japan

Uh oh, that’s a tough question, ne? Doshio kana? As a teacher I’m supposed to say that I enjoy every grade level because I don’t want to show any favoritism for any particular grade. I will be a bit diplomatic with my answer to this one, but completely honest at the same time. It’s definitely a fair question to ask.

Hmm…which grade to I like best? Well of course the answer is “I like them all.” But it goes a bit deeper than that. While all grades are fun to teach, I’m not going to say that every grade is equally fun to teach, because I’d be lying. I will say that I like all of the grades I teach for different reasons.

1st and 2nd graders

Hands down the genkiest*, most energetic students that I have (second grade a little more than genki than the first graders). When I say energetic, I mean consistently energetic, day in and day out. I generally teach these groups far enough before lunch that they’re not focusing on being hungry. Or I end up teaching them far enough after lunch that they aren’t bouncing off the walls. I enjoy these groups because they’re as sweet as they are cute (especially the first graders). They’re the kinds of kids that come up behind me while I’m walking towards the building and hold my hand until I get to the front door (how’s that for cute, huh?). On the flip side though, if you have a day where you’re not feeling it, or you didn’t prepare as well as you should have, cute and energetic classes can become chaotic and excruciating; that’s rare, though. Another thing to note is that because this group has a shorter attention span, I have to keep them engaged during class, or I’ll lose them.
*元気 (げんき or genki) is the Japanese word for energetic.*

3rd and 4th graders

My third grade classes are definitely on the larger side. I think both are about 37 students large. I like these grade levels because figuring out just what you’re going to do with thirty-seven kids to make sure they “get it,” can be a fun teaching challenge in and of itself. I’d have to say that the third and fourth graders are about as funny as they come (the fourth graders are less rambunctious about it, though). Kids are really into making funny faces, not at me or anything, and just having fun with their little lives…period. If you have a good lesson, teaching it at these levels is like English on adrenaline.

5th graders

I have to see this group is like the sweet spot for me. The fifth graders have been the ones to catch on the fastest and have been the most receptive. I’m sure that will vary from school to school and from year to year depending on your classroom dynamic. The fifth graders are old enough to have mellowed out a bit, but still aren’t too cool for school yet. As a result some of my most effective classes have been taught at this level.

6th graders

This is where I start to see some of the behavioral changes. Students are starting to develop stronger habits and even stronger opinions…some of them about English. This group can be a bit tricky because they are no longer simply willing participants. They have to be interested enough to want to get involved. Who’s responsible for making lessons creative? I am of course. When you you have a well-though-out lesson, these classes can really be fun. I really like this group because they are quite the cool bunch of kids.

So in a nutshell, I enjoy teaching every single grade level. I know that may seem like a cop out, but hopefully you were able to see why I enjoy each one.

I am pretty energetic, so I like teaching kids that are energetic, well-behaved, and who enjoy participating in class. What type of student do/would you like teaching most?

Donald Ash

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  • Alva

    Yup! I agree with you there, Donald. Each grade and each child has a good part in teaching. There is no way one can say that all is equally the same– cuz, they are all different and unique and … you get the idea–NOT A CLONE!

  • Roger Starkey

    4th grade. By far.

    Fun like 3rd graders, but not bratty like 5th & 6th graders.

    Case closed.

    • Donald Ash

      Nice! Now that you mention it, 4th graders can be a pretty happy medium.

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