Students aren’t always friends

It’s an obvious truth that’s easy to forget. But when students in a class don’t connect, it makes just about everything about a class harder. Making pairs becomes a chore. The choir of voices repeating phrases dims to a whisper. The fact is, bad relationships between students shrivel the mood of a class faster than a dying rose. And without intervention, the problem can become near-intractable.

But all of the Japanese teachers I’ve ever met have been acutely concerned with this problem. This means that if YOU want to improve the atmosphere in a class, you and your JTE are probably on the same page.

This also means that you have resources at your disposal:

1) you can work with your JTE to encourage students to work better together
2) you can ask the JTE to talk with the classes’ homeroom teacher about the atmosphere (if they aren’t already)
3) you and your JTE can work with other teachers to help improve conditions in the class.

In my experience, there is a fairly regular process for dealing with classes. Tap into it and you can improve inner-class relations as well as the effectiveness of your teaching program.

What other kinds of problems have you encountered? How have you dealt with them?

School Trips

Most schools have their 3rd year students out on vacation right now. Some teachers might not have much happening at work. You can treat this as a week from hell and crushing boredom. Or you can take an opportunity to connect more deeply with some students and colleagues. With less busy people running around the school, this is the perfect time to connect with others who might have a smaller workload. Take a chance and reap the rewards.

Students are Teachers Too

And they can have a huge impact.

Whenever you can, try to get your students to work in pairs and give them the job of helping each other improve their pronunciation, memory recall, reading, and so on.

The permission here is a powerful tool.

Since the students have the permission to help each other, they will.

Opportunities like this give students the power and motivation to improve.

Students are teachers too. Don’t waste this valuable chance to increase motivation and effectiveness in your class!

Where do interests and passions come from?

Peers. Plain and simple.

I’ve played guitar for 12 years and it is one of the most rewarding aspects of my life, besides teaching. Why? A random friend in middle school suggested that I play.

Why are immigrant’s children able to rid themselves of the accents of their parents?

Again, peers.

More and more, researchers are learning that the main factor controlling whether people become avid smokers or not…

is peers.

I have read that in countries like the Philippines and Singapore  students are actively encouraged to speak English with each other in and outside the English classroom.

This is not just the run of the mill, making jokes about the language by saying “Oh my god!” to each other or, mocking the language with the common, “This is a pen” gag.

But actually exchanging thoughts and ideas in the language.

If peers are able to exert such a tremendous influence on everything from a person’s speech to their social behavior, one would realize that this system is quite a breakthrough.

Students aren’t going to learn perfect pronunciation (on a large scale) from their ALT. They’re going to get it from each other.

They also aren’t going to become passionate about English (on a large scale) from just one person. No, they have to pass the idea to each other.

This is all the more reason for ALTs to concentrate their efforts on spreading passion and good pronunciation to several attuned English leaders at their school, so that those individuals, by their mere presence and example, can spread the word to their peers and make a real impact.

Give Passion to Students so they can Inspire others

When starting any new project, the best returns always come from those who are already committed to the cause.

You don’t have to spend time converting, which is emotionally and physically exhausting.

Instead, you can spend your time inspiring.

Of course it is good and fair to try to inspire all your students. But right now I am working on cultivating passion in those students who are already semi-passionate about English — nurturing, as it were, their potential to be leaders at the school in the pursuit of English.

I am approaching this project haphazardly, at best, but my thinking is that I can do a lot of good by simply extending more opportunities to students in general — the already passionate students, in particular by:

-Offering to write letters and following through

-Becoming super available to students in the hallway

-Presenting my presence as a, “You don’t have to take my help, but those that do are benefiting and having fun” kind of complex.

I’ve learned that taking a focused approach leads to concrete results, and when passionate students become leaders they can do more to spread their passion for English to their friends and peers than 10 ALTs ever could.

Patience and Protest

Right now I see students making two choices in the English classroom.

1) Be patient.

The logic: I may or may not like English, but I want to get into a good school so I’ll cram and test and jump through all the hoops they present me. And, hey, maybe I’ll be able to speak someday.

2) Protest.

The logic: I will do the absolute minimum and insulate myself emotionally from English. The opportunities aren’t there to speak, and all they do is test me over and over. I’ll cram for the tests (maybe), but I’m not going to absorb this stuff.

The ratio of patient students and protesters in a given class is dependent upon their teachers. Some are more successful at getting more students to be patient than others.

But the choices are essentially the same.

What about presenting a third choice to students?

That choice is, “Should I be passionate about learning English or not?”

I think ALTs can be game changers in this area.

Most people need permission and knowledge about the options they have. The first steps in changing this thinking process then, is showing the students the choice they have and inspiring them to choose to learn English.


“…learning is not done to you. Learning is something you choose to do.”

This is what Seth Godin writes in his new, free e-book, Stop Stealing Dreams, a manifesto about rebuilding an education system that fits today’s economy by teaching students to be brave, creative, passionate risk takers.

In this book, Godin talks repeatedly about how the American education system    excels in two areas: drilling obedience into students and stamping out passion.

In the effort to introduce students to math, for example, we drill times tables and study the Pythagorean theorem. Absent from this quest of cramming students’ heads with facts and raw data is the fact that every cellphone today comes with a calculator and most people will never use trigonometry again…ever…

Too often, learning is being done to students, not with them — that is with their free choice.

Since the Japanese education system is based on the same industrial model of education as America, one can find the same phenomenon.

Look at the average, grammar-based English class. Drilling of vocabulary, cramming of raw grammatical principals, tests, threats, tests, threats and then more tests.

The mission appears to be to this: cram as much grammar and vocabulary into students heads as possible and then they will be able to spew it all out for the test.

Then maybe, just maybe, some of them will become English speakers.

If the goal is to do English to students, we aren’t going to get a lot of speakers.

What we get is resistance, protest, and hundreds of millions of people who give up on speaking English.

That system isn’t going away, but we need to think more about how to inspire passion in students and leading them to the choice of wanting to learn English.

How to start?

-Kindle the passion in students who naturally have it.

-Introduce more activities that invovle a discovery of English

-Reward students for asking questions

-Reward students for doing independent study of English

Do you have any other ideas?