Teaching at a junior high school, I often have the problem of surface-level communication with my students. Sure, I’d like to have deep conversations, perhaps offer what little advice I have, or encourage a student if they’re going through a rough time in life. What teacher doesn’t? But when many of your students are still mastering the basics of the English language, (and I myself still struggle with communication in Japanese,) it’s difficult to step into the role of mentor as an ALT.
Along the same lines, I often wonder what my students really think of things. When I ask a student why he joined the baseball team, for example, he’ll answer something like “Because baseball is interesting.” Do you like playing in the school band? “Yes. it’s very fun.” What’s your favorite part of school? “Lunch.”
Of course, for a bunch of second-language learners a mere few years into studying, those responses aren’t so bad. Communication is taking place. Ideas are being shared. Way to go, students!
But then once in a while, you get a ringer. A student who really, genuinely loves English and desires to improve their abilities. I have the pleasure of teaching one such student, who I’ll call “Miki” for privacy reasons. Miki is the student who’s never been abroad but still speaks better English than her friends who have done homestays in Australia. She’s always asking questions and seeking advice to get better at English.
I asked Miki if she would want to sit down and answer a few questions for me about junior high school life, beyond the canned answers I get in class. She happily agreed. This is our interview.
Me: What are your favorite things about junior high school life in Japan?
Miki: School uniforms. In America, maybe [many students] don’t have school uniforms. So this, is a very special [outfit]. Adults sometimes say uniforms are only for students, so if I grow up and become an adult, I can’t wear a school uniform. So, it’s special. It’s only for students.
Me: What are your least favorite things about junior high school life in Japan?
Miki: There are too many rules. Maybe in America — I often watch the TV drama about American school life, Glee — there are not so many rules. Yeah. So, they can use cell phones in school, and they can decorate their own locker. I think that’s really, really nice. I want to decorate [with] Lady Gaga’s pictures. [Students in America] can express themselves. So maybe America is free. Japan has many rules. Students can’t say “it’s wrong” or “this is better than your idea” to teachers. But maybe America students can say “this idea is better” to teachers.
Me: [It should be noted that Miki is a 3rd year student, and she will enter high school this April] What do you look forward to most about high school?
Miki: I can be more free than now. I can choose the things I study, like math or Japanese. In junior high school, we have to [study] all the things. If we won’t use something, we have to study it still. But in high school, we can choose. We can prepare for university or our dreams. Yeah. So, in high school, I can be free. And maybe we don’t have to join a club activity. So, we can do anything we want to do. I think that is a really big point.
Me: What do you think you’ll miss most from junior high school?
Miki: A few weeks ago, we saw high school’s class. I think junior high school classes are more exciting, maybe. High school students looked very lazy and sleepy. So now, we can speak our opinion easily. In high school, they don’t. They write down the teacher’s words and teachers ask them [questions], but they don’t answer, or they don’t say their free opinion. So maybe high school’s classes are not so funny or exciting. We can study deep[er] things than now, but it looks [more] boring than now.
Me: Describe a normal day in your life.
Miki: Today, I woke up at 6:30, and I washed my face and set my hair. When I woke up my hair looked like Harry [from] One Direction. I eat breakfast and brush my teeth. My mom takes me to school. Every morning I stand in front of the stairwell and me and [a teacher] stand and [give] greetings to students. At 8:05 I go back to [the] classroom and … we start morning study. Then we start homeroom and prepare for the first period. … Today’s first period [was] art. We’re making daruma [traditional Japanese crafts, like these]. Second period [was] gym. … We’re doing gymnastics. I hate mat gymnastics. Third period [was] Japanese. Fourth period was math. [At] 12:15 we start to eat lunch and [at] 12:35 we start break time. Today I did student council work and talked with friends. Fifth period was English, and sixth period was social studies. … Seventh period was technology. [We] programmed a mini car and moved it. When we finish 7th period, we clean up our school. After that we have homeroom, and now [I’m talking] with you, but usually Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I have club activity, so I go to the art room and draw pictures. When I don’t have the club activities, I go back to my home and maybe watch TV or read a book. I do my homework. Sometimes I cook dinner. When my mom [gets] home, we start eating dinner. Then I do my homework. It takes a long time, so I study usually [for] two hours or three hours. After that, I do something I want to do, like watch TV or talk with my brother and mother. I go to bed at 11 or 12.
Me: What do you want me to tell other ALTs in Ishikawa?
Miki: I like to speak English so much, so if you aren’t here, I can’t speak English to you. It’s a really nice thing. ALTs help us study English. maybe with Japanese English teachers, they can speak English but ALTs [can speak it] better. So ALTs are very important for me and maybe us. In our everyday life, we don’t meet foreign people so many times. ALTs are very important for Japanese people. They understand Japanese culture more than other foreign people, so if I do something rude, you can understand me and think “she doesn’t know it’s rude.” They can understand our feelings more.
I hope you found our interview to be as insightful and helpful as I did! And if you’re considering a job with the JET Program, this is a good window into the life of a usual junior high school student.
Have you had a chance to talk to any of your students? What have you learned about them? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!
Daniel is a third-year ALT working at a junior high school in Kanazawa. He enjoys coffee, riding his bike, and hanging out with his wife.