I went through a box of old school related Yaeyama photos, mementos and writing from my students. I actually really miss how much closer in some ways I was with my students there than I am here (even though I only visited once in a while, I was able to spend more time with my students at the small island schools). I also feel like I experienced more cultural celebrations and activities -- maybe because I lived on a small island. For instance, last year I celebrated 節分 (Setsubun) with my students. We created masks and threw soybeans (well, we ate more than we threw) and the teachers and students taught me "鬼は外! 福は内!" . Yesterday, it wasn't even mentioned (actually, I mentioned it in relation to bringing fortune/good luck for my students as I was helping them review for their final exam). In many ways, while I had a really hard time dealing with the small island inaka mentality, I am missing the elements of culture that I rarely see while living in Naha. Don't get me wrong, I love living in a city much more than I do a small town on an isolated island (though I did enjoy the beautiful of those islands). I think though, that part of the problem is that I am now at a school that is far too big. I teach close to 500 of them and so I only know a handful of them by name. Another part of it is that I feel like I haven't done a good enough job integrating into the school, at least in getting to know my students beyond the classroom. I guess it's a two-way street though.
I think out of all my experiences here in Japan so far, I have enjoyed teaching elementary school students the best. They have so much imagination and they are so sweet. There isn't the cynicism that I have seen in some of my students at the HS (and, unfortunately, even JHS level). I am wondering if I would enjoy teaching little ones instead of older students. I only had a chance to do this a handful of times, since I visited combined 小中学校 schools several times last year. This year, while I've had so much more control over what I teach and more independent teaching experience, I feel somewhat distant from my students. One of the reasons for this might be how far away my classroom is from the homerooms of the students I teach. Proximity to where I sit most of the time does make a difference. After the 3rd graders I eat lunch with this year leave (and that's next Friday) I have resolved to spend much more time visiting classes that I can participate in (Art, Home Economics, etc) outside of my Oral Communication class. In April, I would like to join one of the student clubs and attend regularly.
|世界 平和 at 川平 小中学校|
Everyone's experience as an ALT in Japan is different, so it's hard to get the advice we need from each other as each school has a different setup and different ideas of the ALTs role. One person may thrive in a particular environment, while another suffers. Sometimes you have to just decide that your experience is yours to make and not rely on anyone else but yourself in making it the way you want it to be. The one thing I would recommend to people considering becoming an ALT is to learn as much Japanese as you can before you come to Japan, otherwise you'll be extremely limited in the relationships you can make at the schools with various people (including your students, because they are often too shy to speak English with you). I really think the level of Japanese one has makes the difference between those ALTs who really feel that they are welcomed and involved at their school and those who may feel like they are coming up against barriers to their successful integration at their workplace.