Adventures in Solo Teaching

Though it’s rare, I occasionally teach solo.  The only time it has happened has been with Biker-sensei’s classes.  I don’t remember why he’s been gone so often, but it’s been some combination of business trips and family emergencies.  Regardless, he’s the only teacher I’ve done solo lessons for, for one reason or another.  So on Thursdays we normally teach three second-year (equivalent to eleventh graders in the States).  I was actual pretty confident about teaching solo this time.  I’m always a bit nervous, but I offered to teach the lessons.  I could have said no, but I had already taught the lesson to two other second grade classes.  I thought I was on top of things.

I thought it was going to be 90% mental.  I was wrong, so very wrong.  (Before I go into the details of the day, I should tell you that I’m not too upset about it.  No, everything did not go perfectly, but each time I learn something and figure out what to change for each class.)  So the first class I went to went really well.  They’re a hardworking class in general and I know enough of them well enough now that I know who to look at when I talk or who can back me up on things.  The lesson was pretty simple and was all solo work.  They have a speaking test coming up, so they had to fill in a study guide.  The test is pretty easy overall.  They’re going to be asked the following questions (all taken straight out of their textbook):

  1. What is your favorite season?
  2. What are your hobbies?
  3. What is your favorite subject?
  4. What do you usually do after school?
  5. What are you looking forward to this year?
  6. What do you want to do on the sports day?
  7. Where do you want to go during summer vacation?
  8. Where do you want to go on the school trip?

They have to answer in full sentences, preferably with a “why”.  So an example answer for 1: My favorite season is winter because I like snow.

The worksheets have the sentences already on there for them to fill in.  So 1 says, “My favorite season is__________________ because_______________________.”  Simple enough, right?  I mean, they’ve been studying English for a while now, they should be able to string something like that together.

I give them several examples and spend most of the class walking around and re-explaining it to them.

To prepare for the class I wrote down some Japanese words that the JTE normally used to explain the activity.  I normally don’t use that much Japanese in class, but 2 out of three of the classes have a pretty poor work ethic and the lowest levels of English in the school.  So if they encounter any and all English they don’t understand, they completely shut down rather than trying to work through it.  If I wanted to maintain some sort of order, I had to meet them halfway.

The first class went wonderfully.  They all worked on their worksheets and helped each other.  When I wrote the Japanese on the board they thought it was awesome and actually clapped for me.  I took a small bow, which they thought was hilarious, and therefore did exactly what I wanted it to do.  I thought that the first class was an indication of my increased comfort with teaching and that they rest of the day would go similarly despite that I had the two most difficult classes in the afternoon.

As previously mentioned, I was wrong.

The second class was so-so.  Most of them at least pretended to be awake and sort of kind of worked on the worksheet.  I told them about the test several times, so if they didn’t want to use the study guide, that was their own problem.

The third class has a reputation, but my awesome speech contest student with the amazing English is in that class.  I thought she would back me up or help me because we’re kind of buddies.  I forgot how much Japanese students don’t like sticking out.  She made it pretty clear that she was not going to be Englishing with me that day and I didn’t want to call her out on it, so I just dealt.  I kept the noise level to a dull roar and kept most of the students awake.

But these two boys…jeez.  Ok.  So this is a second year class, the kids are about sixteen or seventeen.  They should have some idea how to behave by this point.  These two boys are sitting on the far right side of the classroom against the wall with the windows.  (Warning, they were being gross, so skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want the visual.)  Boy A was sitting in front of Boy B.  Boy B had a pair of tweezers and was picking at the ingrown hairs on Boy A’s chin.  Boy A also had scrapes and marker drawings all over his arm, which he was resting on Boy B’s worksheet.  As a result, Boy B’s worksheet now had pink stuff on it.  Either blood or marker, I didn’t want to know.

It was clear that they weren’t working.  I’m not sure why they thought I couldn’t see them.  The rooms aren’t that big.  I can see everything.  As I approached they both scrambled to grab their pencils and worksheets to make sure it looked they were working.  Clearly, I wasn’t fooled.  I told them to get to work and even walked them through the first question.  This happened twice.  And then a third time.  Finally, I had had it.  I walked over and told Boy B to grab his worksheet and come up to the front.  I think they were confused because I didn’t sound mad.  I kept my tone completely calm, there’s really no point in yelling at them.  It doesn’t accomplish anything.

Anyway, he wasn’t getting what I wanted him to do, so I picked up his worksheet and motioned for him to stand up.  I then walked to the front of the class and set his worksheet on the extra desk that always sits next to the teacher’s desk.  I motioned for him to grab the extra chair and told him to continue working.

Sure, he still tried to goof around a bit.  He wrote the character for “teaching” on the board, but he seemed to have lost some of his steam.  Finally, I announced that if the whole class could pretend to keep working for two more minutes, we would do a song.  I guess what he heard was, “You’re done now so go back to your seat.”  So Boy B started to get up and walk back to his desk.  As he did, I stepped onto the teaching stage thing and said, in Japanese:

Jodi: Oh, you’re done?
Boy B: Ah….yes.
Jodi: Really?  That’s great.  Let me see it.
Random Student: Wow, she’s good at Japanese. (I would like to point out that I said three words.)
Boy B: Ok ok -he says, trying to distract me as he frantically tries to fold the worksheet in half with his hand half hidden behind his back-
Jodi: No really, if you’re done, I want to see.
Boy: -is now trying to shove the worksheet in his pocket and failing horribly-
Jodi: Ah, that’s what I thought.  

The whole class was giggling, especially because I was smiling and playing the part the whole time.  He sat down and was remarkably well behaved for the last five minutes of class while they listened to “Let it Go” and did a fill-in-the-blank worksheet for it.

While it definitely went better than my last foray into solo teaching, I think it will be a while before I want to try again.  I just need to make sure I have a better backup battle plan.  I am incredibly proud of myself because I thought to bring the “Let it Go” activity as a backup.  It definitely saved me at the end of class.


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