Working in Japan

Four habits of highly successful teachers in Japan

In this article I am going to share with you a few things that will help you to become a better, highly successful English teacher in Japan.

Teaching English in Japan can be an enriching experience, not only for your students but also for you. There are many unique opportunities to learn, grow and gain experience that would be hard to come by in any other field. To become a highly successful English teacher in Japan, one must always be open to and on the lookout for such chances. Today I am going to share with you a few things that have helped me to become a better teacher, both in my own opinion and in that of my fellow teachers and students.

Tip number one – Never stop improving your lessons

It can be very easy to develop a curriculum for a year of English teaching, and then simply deliver it as is year after year. Whilst such a method may work, and you will naturally get better at teaching through simple experience, you will forever be teaching at a beginner/intermediate level. To become a highly successful teacher, just like with anything else, active effort to improve is required. It may seem obvious but you would be surprised at how many teachers treat the work as finished once the lesson is over.

Arguable as important the planning phase itself is making post lesson notes. History is doomed to repeat itself, and you will run into the same hiccups next year unless you improve your lesson plan now, and not a year from now. If for example an activity you had expected to run for fifteen minutes became dull and the students were uninterested after ten minutes, don’t blame them. Chances are the activity either didn’t merit so much time, or something was missing. The best time to reflect and try to understand why is as soon as possible. The best time to try to improve the lesson is as soon as possible.

Tip number two – Demonstration is vital!

A common problem amongst inexperienced or bad teachers is not sufficiently demonstrating an activity. Always remember that your students are still learning English. When you explain the activity (in English!) you might still have half your students completely clueless as to what they are supposed to do. A lack of participation may simply be due to confusion. Never reply on an affirmative answer to “do you understand?” to indicate your students understand. Never assume no questions to “any questions?” means your students understand. These are important questions to ask, but you should also preempt and prompt questions. Sometimes teaching English requires a little mind reading.

In my experience spending more time on the explanation is always worthwhile. Not only does it milk out an activity for longer, but it means students are more likely to enjoy it, and above all learn from it.

A good strategy is to first demonstrate your activity with another teacher. First means first. Handing out required worksheets or materials now will only distract students. You can repeat this demonstration a few more times, or read the room and move on to the next step.

Step two should be another demonstration, this time including a student. Play it up to entice further volunteers and do a few more demonstrations in this manner. An important point here is for you to play the angles. Try to induce various outcomes and show what happens. Finally, if at all possible, a student-student demonstration should conclude the demonstration process. After that is a good time to hand out materials, split into groups, or do any other distracting things. A final demonstration will not hurt, but make sure this time correct any hiccups or strange English that you noticed in the student-student demonstrations.

Tip number three – Talk and work with your co-teachers

This is especially important for ALT teachers working in a group teaching environment. It is important to always keep on top of where your students are in their overall English education, so that you do not deviate too far from what they are currently focusing on, and where they need to go. For example a review themed and paced activity will fall flat on students that have never studied the target English. An activity themed on possessive pronouns would be silly to deliver to students who haven’t studied pronouns.

Another important aspect of this is simple work politics. A successful teacher is liked by their co-workers, so you need to be approachable and involved in discussions.

Tip number four – Know your students

Finally, showing an interesting in, and having some degree of personal connection to your students goes a huge way to earning their respect.

For ALT public school teachers, it can be hard to put a name to some 400 students you might teach at a single school, but it’s possible to put a personality to most of them. You will soon learn who is enthusiastic about English, who in the soccer club and who is in the music club, and all this gives you a way to talk with them. If students feel you know them, they are more likely to listen and learn from you. Active student participation is the holy grail.

For more focused English teaching, such as at eikaiwa and in private lessons, this is obviously easier. Never underestimate the positive effect being friendly with students will have on your effectiveness as a teacher. One super effective method I have found is to dedicate the opening minutes of every lesson with a weekend story time. Students get a chance to use their English in a freeform manner, and you learn a little about them every week.

I hope these tips I have shared with you today will help you on the road to becoming a highly successful teacher. If you take one thing away from this article, it should be this. Be active, and always try to do better.

Currently living the good life on my little farm in the mountains of Japan. I grow my own rice and vegetables, and try to avoid doing things I don't enjoy! I figure this is the best way to live life. I enjoy writing every day, sometimes songs, sometimes bedtime stories for my daughter, and sometimes articles about Japan.

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