Main Quest: Tiny Humans, Big Potential

The Transition

Over the last six months I’ve been adjusting to my new surroundings. In March, I accepted a position as a teacher at an English Preschool in Saitama, Japan. So we packed up once again and headed towards Tokyo. My previous teaching experience with children was an enormously helpful amount of none. But I had just volunteered for a month of Fridays at an Okazaki kindergarten, so those five hours hinted at what I was in for.

Up until this point, I had never envisioned myself as a teacher. Maybe as a design professor, but never as an English teacher, especially one working with mostly one- to six-year-olds. My professional experiences transitioned from managing projects to managing children. And I moved from the conference table to the kids table. It was a big change and a big challenge.

The Good and the Bad

The school I work for is an English-immersion preschool. And in the afternoons we transition into an English school for elementary and middle school students. We have about 30 students ages one through six that come every weekday from 9:30AM–2:30PM. Then we have afternoon classes from 4PM–7PM for elementary and middle school students that come once or twice a week. The preschool focuses on English, math, science and social studies, all of which are taught in English. The students also attend Japanese and Chinese lessons for 30 minutes each week. The preschool kids are remarkable in their English skills. I was literally amazed the first time I talked with them. The afternoon classes only focus on English and the students are at varying levels from “I have no idea what you are saying” to “I graduated from the preschool so I don’t have any trouble learning more English.” You can’t fault the afternoon kids for their varying levels though—only studying a foreign language once or twice a week makes it difficult to retain.

This setup has its pluses and its minuses, like any job would. First the minuses.

  • I have to work long hours, basically from 9AM until 7PM. Two days a week I get out early though, at around 4PM. Add to that my commute (about an hour each way) and it makes for long days. Lesson planning and updating the school website gets pushed to the weekends.
  • I have to work closely with children. Don’t worry, this will be a plus as well, but for now it’s a minus. Working closely with children means that I have to deal with bodily fluids and germs. I have never been great with either. After six months, I can say I’ve gotten better, but I don’t think I will ever move to the point where I could say it doesn’t bother me. Pee, poo, snot, spit, barf, blood—you name it, I’ve seen it. On the floor, on my shirt, on my lunch…you get the picture. And constantly having a sore throat, a dry cough or a runny nose is getting old.

Now for the pluses.

  • Every day I get to laugh and goof off and act silly. And since they are so young, my students love to do the same. Maybe I’m a robot, or maybe I’m a cat, or maybe I’m pretending a calendar is a hat. Whatever it is, if I can get a laugh out of the kids, my day is brightened and it makes me feel great! Also, hearing kids say “I love you” or “you’re funny” or “I want to sit by you” really boosts your self-esteem. (Thankfully these comments counteract all of the times they say stuff like “your nose is pointy” or “this is boring.”)
  • The biggest plus is seeing your hard work pay off. I’ve only been teaching six months but I can already see progress in every student. It’s amazing how fast children grow and learn! Knowing I had a part in that is awesome.

As They Grow, I Grow

Just as my students have grown, so have I. I have always loved my schedules and predictable life. I thrived by knowing all of the answers (or thinking I did). With this job, I’ve become way more flexible. Of course I adhere to a class and work schedule, but kids are unpredictable. You never really know what they will do or say. A thoroughly planned lesson may need to be thrown out the window because it’s not fun or it’s too obtuse or difficult. Or materials or games have to be modified because an unexpected student shows up mid-class.

Every day I’m challenging my skill set. Since I haven’t had any training in elementary education, lessons take me forever to plan because I am constantly consulting the internet for ideas and methods of how to teach certain topics. I also get to relearn elementary topics like the order of the planets or why leaves change color. And being responsible for around ten little human beings at a time is a new feeling. Especially when they are all running around like crazy, screaming their heads off pretending to be ninjas or something.

For now, I’m happy with my new life. There are some challenges and moments for growth, but I get rewarded with little smiles every day. And for now, that’s enough.