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TESOL Grad Shares Tips from Japan

TESOL Grad Shares Tips from Japan

You never know where a professional certificate might take you. For Morgan Attaway, graduate of our TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) program, it has helped her land a job teaching English in Atlanta, given her the skills to develop a curriculum for the new Training for International Educators program here at KSU and even allowed her to take a trip to Israel. Now she’s off on what she calls her “next great adventure” — the Japanese Exchange & Teaching (JET) Program at her new home base of Obama City, Japan. Here, she shares some lessons helpful for anyone in a new country, whether on vacation or starting a new job:

I am entering into my second week of teaching at the moment but am already in my seventh week of living in Japan. It feels like I have lived here for years while, at the same time, it seems like only yesterday that I stepped off that plane in Tokyo.

This “fresh off the boat” feeling is at its strongest when I am in the midst of giving what is called in Japanese the jiko shokai — better known as a self-introduction. My first week in the classroom consisted solely of jiko shokai delivered to 11 different Japanese high school classes of varying English ability. Not only are you sharing your life story 11 times but you must be genki (happy, positive, energetic) for each and every delivery. (Sounds a little like speed dating, right?) You quickly come to realize what works and what doesn’t.

Japanese School

The front of Morgan’s school, decorated with team banners for a school festival.

In my position, the jiko shokai are expected by my school, but you might be given the option of whether or not you would like to do one. I say do what feels right for the class —  and what your schedule permits — but if you have some extra time, even just a few minutes, it can make all the difference in the world to help your students get to know you more as a person than just as an intimidating English machine.

So here are the top three lessons I took away from this past week which will hopefully prove useful for those planning to give their own jiko shokai, be it in an American classroom or abroad:

Lesson #1: SMILE!
I know it sounds cliché, but I really cannot emphasize this enough. No matter what type of classroom I have (e.g. rowdy, shy, high level, complete beginners), a smile will carry me farther than I could ever imagine. Even if I think I’m smiling, I’m probably not and definitely not big enough. So I channel Miss America and do not hide those pearly whites until I walk off the stage. The judges — aka the students — will definitely notice.

Teacher's Gate

The “teacher’s gate” that Morgan passes through each day to go to work at her school in Obama, Japan.

Lesson #2: Games, games, games…
I am a firm believer that games can be used for every age level and English ability. It helps keep the students engaged and motivated and makes it more fun for me as well. Instead of just talking about myself for 20 minutes, I insert challenges along the way or end the presentation with a class game. I tend to pepper my presentation with mini-quizzes which keeps the students focused throughout and then do a giant wrap-up with a Jeopardy-style game which always gets the students pumped.

Lesson #3: Any questions?
I let the students ask questions, but I try to make sure that I have a platform to support them. Most students will have questions and many will be things I never think to mention. (When is your birthday? Do you have a boyfriend? Is that your real hair color? All of these are real questions from my students, all of them unexpected). I always try to have an activity, worksheet, pair work, etc., to help them prepare these questions. Nothing is more daunting for a student to come up with something on the spot and nothing is more nerve-wracking for a teacher than the sound of crickets in the classroom.

I hope these tidbits prove to be useful in your own jiko shokai and may you have many a successful introduction!

Ja mata from Japan!

For more about Morgan’s travels, read her other blog post.

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