Teaching in Japan–What are your goals?
I am teaching in Japan now at a high school. The classroom is each teachers temple, and teachers here are often left to their own devices. This can be great, but if you want to more than that “funny foreign person,” you need to succeed. To do that, you need to have goals and plans to achieve those goals. I talked a little last time about goals, but the vital thing is to achieve your goals while achieving those of the school.
First, what are your goals?
Don’t just say, “I want them to have fun learning English.” That is idiotic.
What do you want your students to be able to do? Write down some ideas, and decide on a few goals. Think of significant and challenging goals, for example, for first-year high school students you might say, “I want my students to be able to talk about their family,” or “I want my students to be able to talk about their hometowns.”
Continuing with that example, plan a unit around the topic of family or hometowns, with a final project that they could do at the end of the term to demonstrate their understanding. (Don’t spend too much time on the teaching part because they will learn loads more from doing the project than they will from your teaching, trust me.)
Then, sit down, and lay it out on paper. Eventually, you must have clear goals for your curriculum, each term, each class, each week. In my case, I make goals for the whole curriculum, each unit and each project. These goals all build on each other and link together, but that will take time. However, for now, just get some ideas and put them together into a rough plan of topics that you can do each term for the grades you teach.
Now, let us assume that you have your goals down. You have a few reasonable, useful, topics that the kids can learn as goals. You have a basic idea of your goals and where you want to go.
Now it is time to look at the school’s goals. You must meet, and exceed, these goals to succeed here. In Japan, particularly in high schools, the school goals boil down to something very simple: pass the entrance examinations for the university the student wants to attend.
Your first step to meeting your goal here is to look at the Center Test. The Center Test is most widely-taken test in all of Japan, and is something similar to the SAT or ACT, though it is used differently. It is a standard test that almost every student in Japan who is going to go to university must take, and if they do well on it, they can go to a good university. All the high schools aim for this when they teach English classes, and most of the universities use it a as reference when they make their own tests. It is the standard.
It is easy to find. First, you can simply ask another English teacher. Tell them you are interested in what was on the previous year’s Center Test (It’s Centa Testo in Japanese too). They will be delighted. You can also find it in the Red Books (Aka Hon in Japanese). These are books that have past exams for colleges, usually kept somewhere in the school. The Center Test is also published in the newspapers after it is given in January. If you cannot find it, it is usually online somewhere.
Take a look at it. Look over the types of questions that they have. (There is also an easy listening section.) Now, one of your goals is to prepare your students to pass this kind of test. Pay attention to the areas they are aiming for here. Look over the tests for the past three years to get a good idea. This will give you a good idea of what the school wants, and it is simple to include similar English in your own curriculum without “teaching for the test.” (If you end up teaching for the test, consider yourself a failure; there are too many misguided teachers wasting time with that as it is.)
Finally, one very important point. No matter what the old school English teachers say, the English university tests in Japan are getting more realistic every year. Universities want students that can actually use normal English. They want students that can have a conversation. They want students that can make paragraphs. They want them to summarize and paraphrase. However, most normal English classes in Japan’s high schools focus on yakudoku–reading and translation. Be confident and believe in your goals; teach your students real English and they, as well as you, will succeed.