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Authored by Shea Archer

Teacher or Jester Part 1

To lend credence to my opinion I will pen my experience in short. I have been


a language instructor for the last ten years in which I have taught any type of age class
in the U.S, Afghanistan and Iraq, having gain formal education at the U.S. Military
Academy and the U.S. DoD Language Institute in the areas of ESL and ABE for all
level, primary thru adult.

If you are an ALT/ELT or are considering entering this field of employment


here in Japan you may want to read this and ponder you options a little more.

In Japan there are many companies that sub-contract English teachers to public
primary and secondary schools. These companies offer no formal training nor logical
academic training for their ALT/ELTs, instead they instruct their new instructors to
make the classes fun and that the use of games is the teachers primary tool for teaching
English. In one sense a game method is useful in an educational setting in there is a
structural format. Herein is where the Japanese English Teaching System falls into a
great retroactive fallacy. Most ALT/ELT’s classes are centered on a game that bears little
or no meaning to the subject. The second farce is that the companies tell ALT/ELTs that
they have to be “Genki”. If you understand Japanese Genki means happy or in good
spirits but it takes on a different meaning as an ALT/ELT, in this content it means you
are about to be degraded so smile and keep your mouth shut.

When I first started my career in Japan as an ALT I was sub-contracted to four


elementary schools in the Kansai region and was give no training from my contracting
company. All they gave me was a teaching manual that contained all lessons and grades.
After reviewing the content of the manual I was to say the least surprised and
disappointed. Every lesson had about 10 to 15 minutes of new vocabulary, no review
and 40 to 45 minutes of games. With this kind of structure I found two problems; first
the students without reiteration of the key vocabulary and review soon forget it
(cognitive erase), second the students would change the English game into Japanese. So
my first year as an elementary ALT had turned from joyous expectations into
disappointment, discouragement and the feeling of being degraded. The reasons for
these emotions to be released was evident. My students first question of the day was
which game we were going to play, they had no confidence in even minor engagement
and the retention of the material was minimal or more than not nil. Japanese elementary
ALTs are force into not the teaching aspect as our title would assume but rather in
becoming Game Masters. What makes this problem worse is that the homeroom
teachers will enforce the absurd curriculum, in most cases this is half their fault for
being lazy and second a lot of the elementary teachers only speak Japanese. Lastly this
style becomes a ticking time bomb. Why? Elementary students who have experienced
these types of classes are expecting more of the same as they move on to Jr. high. This
expectation is then crushed by the study of grammar, this is where at least 85% of the
students begin to hate English added to the previous 5% that already hated it. We as
foreign teacher are left with some good memories and more disappointments and the
feeling of being in a sense the court jester for Japanese children.

Teacher or Jester Part 2

After a year of teaching elementary schools my company offered me a post at a


Jr. high school in Osaka. With high hopes of a new and more serious academic setting I
gladly took the post. But soon it became apparent that the infectious melanoma of
linguistic teaching in Japan became clear. The first year students were dismayed by their
previous experience with ALTs in elementary of fun and games and then thrown into the
fray of grammar. I spent many days mentally agreeing with the student about their
hatred toward English. Then the day to day arguments between the Japanese English
teachers and the student to all out mental zoning out of the second and third year
students. After my first month at this school the stress became overwhelming and I was
lost. That was until one day when the second year English teacher came to me and
asked me to create a week’s curriculum, seeing the distraught in my colleagues I
accepted the challenge.

That weekend I reread all of my teaching manuals but I came to no avail, then I
came across a DoD (Department of Defense) Instructor’s manual I had buried away.
This manual recounted various teaching techniques based in psychology and one system
in particular call ARC (Alpha Retention Core). ARC is a techniques for remember
specialized information and encrypted materials to be relay to Intel personnel. Out of
curiosity I called a friend of mine who still serves in the Army for more information on
the topic. He informed me that the ARC was first used by the Soviet Union in the early
70s to train Army and Navy personnel in foreign languages and that it was currently
used in the U.S. and British Armed Services in various courses from Navigation to
Linguistics. After gaining as much information as my friend could divulge I set to work
on a Jr. high English ARC. Using previous games taught by my company and the
current curriculum I created a highly effective system that doesn’t degrade or disappoint
me and the student retain 75 to 85% or the class. How is this and an example you are
looking for? I will get to that in a second. Let me give you the foundation for any
effective Second Language Class, you need four things.

 Meaning-focused input
 Meaning-focused output
 Language-focused learning
 Fluency development

Now I will explain the implantation of the game that is not a game or rather the
non game that is the game. Example; English battleship were the student write out
various words into a alpha-numeric grid. The standard version of this game goes along
the same line the normal battleship game, whoever gets the minimum hits wins and gets
a prize from the ALT/ELT. ARC version use the words within the textbook, words the
students have already seen and learnt. After you sink a word that student must stand and
answer in English an English question or translate a sentence from English to Japanese
or vice versa (using sentences or questions taught in that days lesson or previous lesson).
Continue the game until time runs out or everyone is sunk. Now you ask what the
success rate is, right? I have been using this technique and various games based on the
model for the last three years and in classes ranging from Jr. high to fifty year old adults
and my success rate has been nine out of ten, a 90% ratio. Now I feel self dignity and I
know I am doing my job because I can see and hear the results. Don’t believe me? Try
it.

Clarification; Genki ALT/ELTs are very high string whether naturally or by


career survival (need the money). Mainly master of games and has all the nursery rhyme
song memorized and sometime when drinking with co-workers will start to play head,
shoulders, knees and toes and singing the Itsy Bitsy Spider. (I was here at one time but I
recovered, you can too).