27 November 2011

How to Get Angry in a Japanese Classroom

Posted by Roland under: JET .

The more work I put in the classrooms, the more I realize that we were all probably very annoying kids in our school days. At my various schools, there are good days and bad days. While the language barrier is a unique position that I’m in because of the JET program, I think having to work in a classroom is all-in-all the same experience when it comes to how kids behave.

In some situations, it’s even worse. Not from my personal experience, but from other people’s stories, some Japanese kids are more prone to acting out in the chair/desk throwing variety. I can’t imagine a situation like that ever happening in America. We behave badly, but probably in not such a violent way.

However, when it comes to brattyness, I think that’s a shared trait between American and Japanese children. One of the classes I work with had been just very poor to work with. Understandably, English is a difficult subject for them so perhaps it’s not all their fault, but the attitude the students brought to English classes made me dread going to that class every week. And with my schedule, I would go to this class the day after I had possibly my best school (with well-behaved, enthusiastic kids). The drop off in a such a sudden period of time just increased my annoyance at my bad class.

In any case, their bad behavior would continue for several weeks. Most of the time it would take shape as talking out while instructions were being given. I’m fine with indifference, if someone doesn’t care to learn, then my time is too important for me to worry about that. But when students are disrupting class to the point that people who may actually want to learn something can’t focus, then it’s a big problem in my mind.

So one day, in front of my bad class, as the homeroom teacher was trying to explain the upcoming English activity, I blew up at them. Students kept talking and weren’t following directions and just disrupting the class completely. I told the homeroom teacher to stop and just started shouting at the kids in my best Japanese of anger. It was pretty much something along the lines of me having enough of their behavior and just quitting the class and going home. And for good measure, I slammed a few books on the nearby desk. Now there’s a mark in my notebook that I’ll always remember as having being made on that day. Basically, a good old fashioned emotional outburst.

Results wise, the students fell into line. The homeroom teacher added some more words for her class (I picked up a line about how it was privilege that I come to their class, as I was actually based out of the middle school) and we finished the rest of the class without incident. I was worried that this would sour student relations but at recess that same day I would play basketball with a few of the kids from that class (granted, they weren’t the bad ones).

The interesting part would come from the fallout of my outburst with the school staff, namely the principal. He called me into his office after my class was over. I was worried at first, because Japanese culture does not actually take kindly to emotional outbursts. I’ve heard a variety of opinions, it’s in bad taste to make a scene, it’s childish to be so emotional, etc. But the common theme from all of them is that it’s not a good thing. However, the principal was supportive, saying that if the kids weren’t behaving, they should be told they’re doing the wrong thing. He also said that even though I only come once a week, I’m still on the same level as the other teachers at the school, which would give me the same responsibility to discipline if needed.

Japanese is a vague language though. I took the words for face value, but the next week, he would come by my desk and tell me that this week everything was going to be okay. I don’t know if that meant the kids would behave better or if things would be okay because I would no longer make any more emotional outbursts. He didn’t answer my question when I asked what he meant by the “okay” statement. There’s a hidden context that I’m probably not getting here. Chalk one up to cultural differences.

In any case, the outburst happened several weeks ago and I’ve gotten a few more classes with that group of kids since then. And they have actually shaped up quite nicely. It’s almost weird that they’re actually now behaving well. I’m cautious, but happy that their attitudes are changing. They could still be as indifferent as far as I know, but at least they’re keeping their mouths shut about it.

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