A different kind of first

This week I started working with a student teacher. We have a number of them come to our school each year, but it’s unusual for any of them to interested in teaching English.

(I work at a private elementary school in Japan, for those who don’t know)

In Japan, English is not a mandatory subject until Grade Five, and most teachers-in-training prefer to do the “main” subjects like Japanese and Math.

So, to have someone interested in teaching English is a change.

Anyhow, I will call the teacher-to-be Naoki, because that’s his name. He is teaching for the first time. He is (typically) very nervous. He has good ideas, and once he gets used to teaching I think he will be a very good teacher.

Compared to training in Canada, student teachers don’t spend a lot of time in the classroom, and much less time actually practice-teaching. The emphasis is on learning their subjects and listening to their professors and mentors. Naturally, I prefer the way I was taught. I found my time in schools to be the most productive, while I found my time in university a good way to analyse and reflect on what I had experienced. I wonder how I would have fared had I gone through a Japanese-style system.

Anyways, back to Naoki. We had his first teaching lesson today. English, like most classes in my school, is team-taught. Two teachers handle each class (with a few exceptions.) I teach with a Japanese teacher, sometimes two. In the class, I am the main teacher (which is different than public schools for the most part.) So, today, I ended up doing most of the work, with support from Naoki. It was a good lesson for him, and I think he will be able to handle more responsibility in our next lesson on Monday.

This experience made me think back to my training and the first time I (in my mind) actually taught people. In my first year of teacher training, we had a class called Microteaching, a small group seminar. There were eight of us wanna-be teachers, and we had to teach each other about something of our choice.

I decided to talk about going to an outdoor school near my aunt and uncle’s place in Brackendale, B.C.. I remember my opening to this day.

“Over the winter break I went to Brackendale. “Where’s Brackendale?” you may ask. Well, Brackendale is just outside of Squamish. Squamish is just outside Whistler. Whistler is just outside Vancouver.”

Not entirely accurate, mind you, but a good enough hook for a first-timer.

I remember how nervous I was at that time, and whenever I see these bright-eyed, fidgety youngsters, I think back to my own pimply-faced school days.

And if I can do it, so can Naoki.