Sometimes ALTs get surprised with weird stuff at their schools. Like when there is a school assembly, and no one tells you, and you don’t realize it until you look up and the staff room is EMPTY.
Where did everybody go?
Surprise! The gym! There is a school assembly!
Or when your teacher comes up to you five minutes before class and says, “Do you have a game?”
Umm for what?
Or when they randomly put you on the phone with someone and all you can say is “Moshi moshi.”
Well this week, I got a few more surprises. Like…
Surprise! Your students are good at English!
Yesterday, a second year student who will host a Wisconsin student came up to me after class.
Lisa: “Megan, I want to practice my self-introduction for Wisconsin students. Will you help me?”
Yui: (turns around, shocked) “Ehh? Eigo shabetta! Sugoi eigo shabetta!” (This isn’t a direct translation, but it gets the feeling across: “Holy shit, you just spoke English!”)
Lisa rarely talks in class, so I was surprised, too, that her English was so amazing. She probably practiced asking that a lot, but when I answered and we made arrangements to meet, she seemed to understand everything I said.
Recently, Kim (my predecessor) told me that my students are “sneakily good at English.” Well, now I’ve seen it with my own eyes.
And today, something really awesome happened.
During the break between 3rd and 4th period, some of my first year students came to the staff room and called on me. Anna and Yusuke asked me to come with them for a moment, so I stepped outside. About six first years were gathered outside the staff room. For a second, I thought they were going to do a Christmas Carol—that’s how tightly they were gathered together.
Yusuke was holding a piece of paper, and they all looked really nervous but excited. Anna started.
Anna: “Megan, what food like?”
…XD What is this?
Me: “Er… curry?”
Yusuke: “What food don’t like?”
XD It went on like that for about two more questions—broken, but understandable, English questions about food that I liked or didn’t like. One student kept asking the questions in Japanese, and the other students kept pushing him back, like, No, English! English!
It was really amazing. They were trying really hard to ask these questions in English. I peeked over the paper that Yusuke was holding—the questions were in Japanese. So they were seriously translating it right there into English and asking me. It was… so awesome.
It was probably just to practice for the Wisconsin students that are coming on Friday, but I’m glad they were trying so hard regardless.
Finally, we got to a question that they didn’t know how to translate, and I could read it, but I wasn’t sure exactly what it meant. One of my JTEs walked out of the staff room at that moment, so they called her over to explain it for them. The question, basically, was: “If you had to, how would you be able to eat the food that you dislike?”
Me: “Ohh… Not at all.”
(I don’t like cauliflower. I just don’t. It’s the taste—or lack thereof—and the texture and just… gross. I do not like here or there, I do not like it anywhere. I used to be able to say the same for brussel sprouts, but then my mom made this TOTALLY AWESOME garlic brussel sprout dish… So garlic can save a lot of things, but I don’t think it can save cauliflower.)
Miu took notes on my answers, and I thought that after that tricky question, they could go back to trying it in English. Unfortunately, without prompting from the students, the JTE began to ask me all of the questions herself.
I tried to tell her that I wanted the students to keep asking the questions in English, but she just kept saying, “Mm, okay,” and kept going. Communication fail. I think she also wants to practice for Wisconsin, because she will host a Wisconsin teacher. Still, she can practice with me anytime. I really wanted the students to keep trying.
I’ve heard that this happens a lot with JTEs and students, but more often at Elementary schools with homeroom teachers (hereafter known as HRTs). I have a special case, since I work with a JTE at my Elementary school, but at most Elementary schools, the ALT works alone or with the HRT. HRTs do not have to know how to speak English, because they are only Elementary school teachers. Sometimes the HRTs participate in English class; sometimes they are too shy and just sit in the back. If they do participate, sometimes they tend to answer for the students, because they want to show off or practice their own English. For example, I might ask a student a question, and the HRT will whisper the answer to the student. This has never happened to me—the HRTs at my Elementary school let the students answer, and the JTE is really great about making the students practice. But it does happen.
Still, this is really the first time it’s happened to me. XD I’ve never had a JTE get in the way of letting the students practice or answer on their own. Too bad.
Yesterday, I had a similar problem with the classroom helper. One of my JTEs has the flu, so she couldn’t come to school. Normally, I think in this case the ALT would be required to run the class herself—which would be scary but also TOTALLY AWESOME BECAUSE I COULD DO IT, I TOTALLY COULD. But since we have a classroom helper (she isn’t a certified teacher, but she’s working on it), she ran the class instead.
At the beginning of each class, I talk a little about some cultural thing–yesterday, it was the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl was exciting yesterday only because it was California versus Maryland—like me versus Kim!
So I talked about the Super Bowl a little bit, with pictures and everything, and I had some easy English prepared to tell them about it. Unfortunately, the classroom helper felt the need to translate everything I was saying. Usually the JTE doesn’t do that. It’s up to the students to understand, and if I do say something difficult, the JTE will explain. But mostly, we try to make the students listen and understand. If everything I say is translated for them, then they won’t listen to me; they’ll just wait for the translation.
This is another problem ALTs face a lot. The ALTs are here so that the students can hear and actively listen to real English. If everything is translated, then they aren’t really getting that part of learning. This tends to happen in lower level classes, like Elementary school and sometimes the first year middle school class.
I was a little disappointed, but it was okay. After that first class, the classroom helper said that we nearly ran out of time, so I found the golden opportunity to alter this behavior without making her feel too bad! (Because I felt like if I just said, “Don’t translate for me,” it might hurt her feelings a little… Because that’s how I felt a few times when my JTE has asked me not to do something. I always felt like a stupid idiot who should have known better.)
Me: “Well, I think the students can probably understand my story, so maybe to save time, you don’t have to translate. Unless they really need help.”
She thought that was a good idea—SUCCESS. No feelings hurt, and the next period ran smoothly. Instead of translating, she engaged with the material—asking me follow-up and clarification questions in English—and she only translated when the students looked like they didn’t understand. Perfect!
So regardless of these problems—JTEs answering for the students or translating needlessly—I think everything turned out okay! I’m glad that the students tried to ask me themselves at all (instead of calling on a JTE in the first place), and I’m happy that I tactfully managed to ask someone not to translate for me. Yay!
Today was a good day.
But there comes a time when everyone needs a translator
Today, I had to write an e-mail to the Wisconsin staff, answering some questions. Some of those questions were about Kyoto-sensei, who will host the other Wisconsin teacher. So I needed to ask him some questions.
My JTE was busy during my free periods, so I wanted to try to ask Kyoto-sensei myself. I was nervous about using the right level of polite language, though. How do I ask about his family? What terms of address do I use?
So I stalled until third period, when the classroom helper became free. |D Fail. But she helped me ask him questions, and it was fine. Oh man…
So I’m not sure why, but this poem has been on my mind recently. I think it’s because I rediscovered it when I was looking for poems to share with my adult English conversation class. And it’s a friggin’ amazing poem. I really love to read it out loud, for some reason. It’s really great to read out loud. If it were my poem, I would read it at open mics ALL THE TIME.
So anyway, here it is. “Errata” by Charles Simic.
Where it says snow
read teeth-marks of a virgin
Where it says knife read
you passed through my bones
like a police-whistle
Where it says table read horse
Where it says horse read my migrant’s bundle
Apples are to remain apples
Each time a hat appears
think of Isaac Newton
reading the Old Testament
Remove all periods
They are scars made by words
I couldn’t bring myself to say
Put a finger over each sunrise
it will blind you otherwise
That damn ant is still stirring
Will there be time left to list
all errors to replace
all hands guns owls plates
all cigars ponds woods and reach
that beer-bottle my greatest mistake
the word I allowed to be written
when I should have shouted
And because I’m currently sort of in love with his poetry, here are more: