ESL Issues: No. 6- “Good Lord, Jim. I’m a teacher, not a folk singer!”

When you decided to embark on this path of being an English teacher in Japan you did not expect that you would have to be an entertainer as well. I completely empathize. When I had my very first job as a teacher in a rural high school in Japan one of the teachers in the English department approached me to talk about our team-teaching class and what we were going to do.

“Hello Mark-Sensei, I am hoping that you will come to my class and lead the students in song.”
“Uhh… pardon me. I mean, I am sorry… what was that?”
“Yes, we are currently learning the song ‘Country Roads’. I hope you will sing with the children in class. Do you know the song?”
“Yes, I mean yes I know the song, but I am sorry but no, I will not be leading the kids in song.”
“But that is what you must do. The children are expecting you to sing with them in class.”

At this moment I took a big risk with my job and career as a young 24 year old teacher and said, “Sensei, I am very sorry, but I will not be singing with the kids. I do not wish to sing. I would just like to TEACH English to the kids. I am an English Teacher. Really. I am. I have documents to prove it.”

The teacher was a bit surprised but said, “Ok, let’s try it your way”. And so we did. And we had fun classes that were helpful and meaningful. Fast forward another 23 years and we are here in Takamatsu, Kagawa-ken with a chain of schools that maintains the same principle. In short, we are not here to entertain kids, but rather, we exist to SERVE them in a way that will give kids the skills they need to master English. Our impulse as teachers is to be of good use for someone, to help someone, to train up the next generation, and to make a good thing for the societies we live in. To be of service beside, with, and among people is the best place for teachers.

Personally, I am loathe to see “teachers” up on stages dancing, hopping about, and bellowing out to groups of kids to writhe, contort, and dance around to “learn and enjoy” English. For me, and for this company, the best place for teachers is to sit in a place where voices can be heard and discovered, working alongside kids, coaching, encouraging them to “find their own voices” in English. To us, that really is a beautiful, and lovely thing.


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