It takes a year…
by Anne Hendler.
Two months after my university graduation, I found myself teaching in a kindergarten – the same ten kids, five days a week, four hours a day. It was frustrating. I wasn’t trained. I didn’t know how to teach or manage a classroom. The recruiter had told me that the school would train me. The first thing my predecessor showed me was a game where he sits in a chair and the kids run around the room as fast as they can and try not to get caught by him. The second was one where the kids rearranged all the furniture in the classroom and made it into an obstacle course and tried to avoid getting caught by him. I observed his class for one day and then I was on my own.
Slowly over the first year I built up the skills and confidence to be effective. I learned to adapt the curriculum to the kids as I got to know them. I learned classroom management skills that didn’t involve throwing a temper tantrum worse than the kids’ one. I learned to use repetition and set routines. I learned that just because kids don’t get something the first time doesn’t mean they’ll never get it or aren’t interested in it. I learned that kids change a lot in a year.
At the end of the first year, having invested so much of myself in the school, the curriculum, and the kids, I didn’t want to leave. I stayed for five more years.
Fast forward ten years. When I took a new job in a new country and a new context, I expected to walk in as the expert teacher that I felt myself to be when I left the kindergarten. What a humbling experience the reality has been. And once again it has taken a year to get comfortable with the curriculum, the students, the attitude towards English, the way language is learned in conversation schools, the expectations for students and teachers, when and how English is used in and outside of class. All these things factor into a very different experience. I wouldn’t dream of calling myself an expert now, or even thinking I might feel like one in five years.
This year we have a new teacher starting at our school. She has never taught kids in Japan before, and my coworker and I were assigned to train her. And one of the things I want her to know is that it will take a year. A year to get to know her students. A year to get to know how best to manage the classroom and use the curriculum. A year to begin to understand the bigger picture of young learner conversation school teaching in Japan. And a year to feel comfortable. But we will help as much as we can. We will listen and learn from her new ideas and suggestions. We will all share our successes and failures and help each other out because we are better together.