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Pains teaching English - (life) support thread!

Deibiddo

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Let's get this straight first, teaching English in Japan can be great and some students are very nice and interesting. If you're lucky you can get a job with decent pay too. It also gives you the chance to live in Japan for more than six months. Any one of those things can be enough for someone to hang around to do it.

That said, it can also be a real pain. I just thought I'd made a thread to see if anyone else has similar problems and get feedback. Maybe I'm being unreasonable, but maybe it really is the students just being awkward. They pay us though so we need to make them happy... somehow!

Here are a few problems I regularly encounter.

1. I ask the student a question to check whether they know anything about a topic or check they understand. They then ask me "Why are you asking me that question?" It seems like they aren't actually paying attention to the question and think I'm secretly trying to do something else. They also don't seem to comprehend that, you know, it's an English lesson and the teacher is going to ask them questions.

2. Related to 1, a student will know exactly how to do a task but say "I don't know what you want me to do." So, for example, yesterday I had a group company class. They can all speak English fairly well and the goal was "Give bad news using diplomatic language" adapted from the textbook unit. They did all the 'paint by numbers' exercises in the class fine, like change things like "That won't work" to "That might not work", but when it came to the 'production' part of the PPP cycle (I know, I know, outdated but I have to do it) I asked them what they considered 'bad news' at work. So, on cue "We don't know what you want us to do". So I said "Okay, maybe it's easier to think of good news and then make it the opposite" I ended up asking leading questions like "Do you want customers to spend more or less money?" and got a list of good things on the board. Then, I asked what the opposite was - they could do that easily with some leading questions again. Then when it came to applying the concepts they practised early they again got it after some leading questions. To be honest I think they just didn't see the point of the target language, like it was too abstract for them when "It won't work" seemed logical to them. It was like they couldn't do anything not printed on the page but that's been fairly common in my 7+ years of experience.

3. I've noticed that people who have had to work in a different country, especially meeting customers rather than foreign colleagues, are much more cooperative and understand they need to actually do something themselves in a lesson. Has anyone noticed this? It's seriously like night and day, people who haven't been overseas tend to just stare and wonder why I'm asking questions...
 

Deibiddo

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Another is ridiculous complaints. I've had students say they never want my class again because I "didn't smile enough". Someone else got a complaint because "They crossed their legs" so everyone got emailed telling them to never do it ever. I know this is a Japan-wide problem with awful customers but how can you deal with it? A student won't say anything to a foreign teacher, so maybe how could you get the staff to tell them they're wrong?
 

musicisgood

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Important.
But there are a few professional teachers here on board and they probably will tune in.

1. A teachers smile is important
2. A teacher that teaches with enthusiasm will generally find teaching enjoyable both for the teacher and student
3. To be a successful teacher , the teacher should understand that he or she needs to bring oneself down to the student level
4. Teaching is a art, but it is an art that involves entertaining
5. Hope the English teachers on this forum give you their personal advice
 
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johnnyG

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I tend to agree with @musicisgood But you might have been suggesting something to yourself with this post from another thread, dated 31 October:
...
As for teaching jobs, apparently it's getting hard for companies in Japan to find new teachers and one I work for just can't get staff. The pay is nowhere near like it used to be and Japan is just another country in Asia at the end of the day. Wages and the standard of living are much higher in China, Korea, and probably Vietnam too. Yes, Japan is more 'developed' than all of them except Korea (which overtook their per capita ppp) but everything costs more and the economy is screwed so it's only going to get worse. Vietnam and China are growing phenomenally which will mean more and better opportunities. The people I've talked to say it's like the wild west, you can do anything practically once you're in (and fake qualifications help too apparently).

... I know one guy who went to Kenya to start a school because it was better than what most jobs in Japan are offering
What do you think?
 

Deibiddo

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Oh I'm definitely on the way out. My university job is great because the students actually acknowledge that what I'm trying to tell them has a factual basis but eikaiwa can be dire. I'm kind of surprised they still exist really lol I'm trying to go full-time with universities and research instead because nobody wants to fix the eikaiwa system... Or nobody with the power to do so anyway!

My job feedback at the eikaiwa in question is generally excellent by the way and I'm actually trying to make life better for the students here! There's no real acknowledgement of the realities of the classroom in most company training and I can continue discuss this with other teachers at conferences but I just thought some people on here might have come across the same things.
 

Buntaro

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If a student asks you why you are asking questions, the first thing that comes to my mind is that they might not want to be learning English in the first place. Perhaps their parents or company are forcing them to learn English. (I used to teach private lessons to a number of IBM employees in Tokyo, they totally hated it, and they did whatever they could to get out of coming to class. IBM eventually caught on to what was going on, and had the students get the teacher's signature for each lesson. It got to the point where the student would walk in, say "please sign my paper" and then imediately walk out!) In such a case, answering their question may not be helpful. Another idea is to use the time to have them talk about how they don’t like English or studying English, how they feel their parents are being repressive, etc. (I have found this to be especially effective with students who hate being forced to study English.)

But if it is a student who really wants to know why you ask questions, tell them that you teach English, and a good way to teach is to use questions and answers. Many students think English is mainly a subject to be tested on via written tests, not a means of oral communication, they are wrong, and I point this out to them.)

Another issue may be that the student does not like the conversation topics you choose, so you might sit down with the student and come up with list of topics they would like to talk about. I have a list of about 40 topics they can choose from, if you would like such a list. (One thing I have learned is that there is nothing worse than having a topic of discussion that either the teacher or student is not interested in.) In these situations, I have the student circle which topics they would like to talk about, I circle which topics I would like to talk about, guaranteeing we will be talking about a topic both of us are interested in.
 
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Glenski

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1. I ask the student a question to check whether they know anything about a topic or check they understand. They then ask me "Why are you asking me that question?"
I've never heard of this happening. Ever. If this is just a one-off student situation, roll with the punches. If not, then reconsider your own teaching style and manner. It could be you.

2. Related to 1, a student will know exactly how to do a task but say "I don't know what you want me to do." ....when it came to the 'production' part of the PPP cycle (I know, I know, outdated but I have to do it) I asked them what they considered 'bad news' at work. So, on cue "We don't know what you want us to do".
Perhaps you are overestimating their comprehension and should have instead rephrased the question like, Give examples of bad news for your department. Give examples of bad news you would hear from a customer. Or just plain define bad news better.

3. I've noticed that people who have had to work in a different country, especially meeting customers rather than foreign colleagues, are much more cooperative and understand they need to actually do something themselves in a lesson. Has anyone noticed this?
Makes sense in the sheltered (yet supposedly globalized) work environment and lifestyle.

Another is ridiculous complaints.
Deal with them as they come. I used to work in an eikaiwa where most students were people in their 40-60s. One woman wanted to join a science news class I taught. She was way too low in ability, yet complained she should be allowed. Her son was a doctor, she said. She just wanted to listen, she said. I convinced the staff that she would be a burden to the others. In another case, the staff came to me with a "complaint from some students" that I wasn't using the book enough. I pressed for how many students, and it came out that just one out of the 12-15 students had said anything. The staff backed down. Finally, in that same class, I rearranged the tables so they would be in islands. When I returned after getting my materials, students were rearranging them back into rows. I politely said islands were what we were going to use, and they asked why. Fair enough. I said it made groups more easily and that they could talk to each other without having to make the islands themselves. They whined, "But we want to talk to you!!" I explained that was impossible because it meant everyone else would be silent and not practicing. They held firm, so that day we lined them up left to right, and I talked to individual students from left to right while the others sat and did nothing. Nobody offered to add to the conversation I had one on one. It was painful for me, but I held my ground for those 80 minutes. Next class, they decided to make islands.
 

Deibiddo

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Ah great some serious responses, thanks. This "Why are you asking me that question?" thing is actually fairly regular and it's interesting that Glenski has never experienced it because practically all my coworkers deal with it as well as my manager. Where are you Glenski? Kansai people sometimes just don't care about actually having a proper lesson and just want to chat with them taking offense to the notion of 'being taught' though from what I've heard in Tokyo they're the complete opposite and demand a strict 'serious' lesson. All the teachers I know in Kansai that moved from Kanto said they had to adjust. I wouldn't say with the people that ask don't want to study as the ones that don't really want to just kind of ignore me when I ask or say things like "I understand" and "Yes, yes, yes, yes...." I often try to get students to indicate whether they are interested in the topic, give them ideas, ask them if they just want to skip whatever the next thing on the schedule is and so on but unfortunately 99% of the time they say they want to do it then it turns out it was a really bad idea - I once had a group of IP lawyers and the topic was marketing so I asked them in all seriousness if they really wanted to talk about it, explained what we could do, and that it would be perfectly fine to just do something more relevant to their jobs but their 'leader' decided it would be fine only for them to not be able to come up with any ideas themselves at the end so we ended up just talking about something else.

My girlfriend is Japanese with a master's in lingistics and a Japanese-as-foreign-language (JFL?) teaching license so I asked her. She said Japanese people aren't used to being asked questions in educational settings so they might be confused about what exactly is going on, so in that case the suggestion to point out it's a normal part of a communicative educational program seems like it might be a good idea. If they actually want to be learn though, of course. I have tried to take this into consideration but at the place I work the manager listens into class and I have to follow the 'method'. To be honest it's really dumb because it obviously doesn't work a lot of the time but if I do what I'm told all the complaints just get thrown in the bin. I honestly don't know how the eikaiwa industry stays afloat in how it rigidly insists on rather dated ideas like the PPP cycle, English-only and so on while just completely ignoring developments in education and linguistics.

Perhaps you are overestimating their comprehension and should have instead rephrased the question like, Give examples of bad news for your department. Give examples of bad news you would hear from a customer. Or just plain define bad news better.
Yeah, as I said I went over some examples with leading questions. In hindsight, maybe 'problem' instead of 'bad news' may have been better. However, given their knowledge of English I think it was just brain paralysis, the three of together all being in the same department should have been able to come up with something. Maybe they were confusing the task requirements with the actual factual content, as in trying to think of being diplomatic at the same time of thinking up examples of bad language rather than thinking of the bad news then thinking of how to say it. Once I had made it extremely more explicit that the task was being split up that way it went a little better, eventually. I've also been away for a while and I think they might have slipped into the Kansai habit of casually talking about a topic without any serious consideration of what you would actually say to another person - compare "In this situation I would politely invite them for dinner" to "Would you care to join me for dinner?", the former is what I mean and many students seem to prefer it for some reason.

Funny stories about the complaints, yeah you are right we have to deal with them as they come. I think one way that would make life easier for us would be if the office staff etc actually understood education so they could deal with the complaints in the first instance. I did work with a Japanese manager who had lived and worked extensively outside Japan since high school and he was great because he would deal with everything in a sensible way. Sometimes I feel staff will just fold too easily when they know a customer is being stupid
 

Buntaro

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Deibiddo,

You said,

“This "Why are you asking me that question?" thing is actually fairly regular and it's interesting that Glenski has never experienced it because practically all my coworkers deal with it as well as my manager.” “She said Japanese people aren't used to being asked questions in educational settings so they might be confused about what exactly is going on, so in that case the suggestion to point out it's a normal part of a communicative educational program seems like it might be a good idea…”

---> My most recent experience is teaching EFL in China at the college level, and the problem is very pronounced there too. In classes at the high school and college, the teachers lecture about English and the students listen to the lecture — in silence. But in my classes, every student actually speaks English half of the time. Each semester it is a challenge to get them to do it, but they eventually get the idea, and by the end of the semester it goes quite well.

“Kansai people sometimes just don't care about actually having a proper lesson and just want to chat…”

---> Everything I do is in question and answer form. I ask them a simple question on the topic, then I have them ask me back the same question. This works very well, because it is always related to the topic, but it also makes it very clear very quickly that their English ability is not good enough for ‘free conversation’.

“…but unfortunately 99% of the time they say they want to do it then it turns out it was a really bad idea…”

---> This is why I avoid ‘free conversation’ and always slowly turn it into a question and answer session. Also, when a request for 'free conversation' comes up, I always get it clarified as to what the topic is, then I treat it as I do any other topic that I have already prepared for, jumping right into questions and answers.

“…I once had a group of IP lawyers and the topic was marketing so I asked them in all seriousness if they really wanted to talk about it, explained what we could do, and that it would be perfectly fine to just do something more relevant to their jobs…”

---> One of the most difficult things to do in a foreign language is explain how to do something. Back in the day, when I was first learning Japanese, I took on the task of teaching in Japanese how to play the black and white game called Othello. That was hard! At the same time, I took on the task of writing a small book on how to do something. That was even harder! Perhaps you can work this into your lessons. Have them explain the most simple and basic concepts of marketing, which I am sure will be more of a challenge than it seems. (One of the first things I have students do is explain how to cook rice, "Take a pot out of the cupboard, put it on the hot plate..." and even something as simple as this is always very hard.) For marketing people, it could be as simple as, "Advertise the product. Talk to customers. Get orders. Ship the product." The idea here is to stay away from analysis and just verbalize one simple sentence after another, showing a very simple step-by-step process. (It would be fascinating to hear what IP lawyers do, breaking it down into four or five simple, step-by-step sentences. Write them on the board!)

It also sounds like that Japanese manager didn’t want his employees coming up with original ideas, a big no-no in Japanese business society.

“…I went over some examples with leading questions.”

---> I would break it down into much simpler questions that do not require analysis.

“…but at the place I work the manager listens into class and I have to follow the 'method'.”

---> Is there any way you can work questions and answers into the ‘method’, having the students ask you the same questions you ask them?

“…English-only…”

I have prepared vocabulary lists for each of my lesson topics, with the English on one side of the page and the Chinese on the other. I have the students look at these pages as we go through the lesson. This works well to mitigate the ‘English only’ rule. For example, when I use this method, it is amazing how quickly they pick up all of the nuances of present perfect without me speaking a word of Chinese. (Chinese students as well as Japanese students have horrible ideas as to how present perfect really works.)
 
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Glenski

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FWIW, I am in Hokkaido. Perhaps people up here are unlike the students you have. Another reason you get your lack of responses might be if you mix boss and his underlings in a lesson. They will both hesitate because of the class difference.

I teach university students. After a silent reading period in each and every class, they have a discussion about the graded reader they were just reading. Groups of two often die out because one partner can be a dud in many ways. So, I have them in groups of three. They know the conversations are supposed to last 7-8 minutes, but some often "finish" in 3 or 4. That's when I step in and tell them this is not a short-lived experience and that they have to learn to ask more questions related to each others' books. I demonstrate. I think that they either don't care about the books they read, or they think too narrowly about what a discussion is supposed to entail.

Your students might also be thinking too narrowly.
They might also suffer from the typical Japanese paralysis of having to speak in front of the whole class when you ask something. They are very self-conscious about making mistakes, so they don't answer.
 

Deibiddo

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Great replies, thank you. It's good to hear what's going on in other people's classrooms as the eikaiwa I'm working at there is basically no professional development apart from "Are you following 'the method'?" checks. Banal stuff really.

Glenski, if you're teaching uni students they won't question you like that because it's a bit confrontational to be honest and they accept that you're their teacher so you're doing things for the purpose of their education. I've only had it with adults, never with uni students or any school-age kids.

I think they are thinking too narrowly, but I find it hard to bust them out of that rut on the spot to be honest. Have you seen The Learning Scientists ? That has a lot of good evidence-based resources for critical thinking as well as how to develop strong memories of things and so on, I often refer to it
 

nahadef

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I don’t relate to the OPs situation here, but I’m at a point where I can automatically shift any lesson based request to a textbook target, or in the very odd case, admit it’s my own curiosity and move on. (Though, fact is, if it’s not lesson related, I tend to state it up front and ask) For lessons, I tell them, what I want you to do is... At a lower level, I’d use a phrase like, この目標は...

The lesson goals seem totally sound, it just sounds like the OP needs the proper phrasing to have their students get it.
 

Buntaro

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..."Are you following 'the method'?" checks. Banal stuff really.

デイビッド、

Do what I do: do all the parts of the method you are required to do, then throw in a couple of activities that actually help the students learn. Feel free to ask for suggestions.
 

cloa513

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Japanese students "knowing" everything more the teacher- that is standard. Students requiring teachers to read their mind and do what they want and dont answer any questions the teacher asks- totally normal. "Beginners" who can have a competent conversation with complexity. "Intermediates" who barely make a sentence. A guy who tells he wants to do something for work but wont tell you what the job is.
 

Deibiddo

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Hahaha unfortunately I have experienced all those things! Have you ever had to argue with the ghosts of junior high school teachers past? "But my teacher said...", said a 50-year old man who when he learnt that particular tidbit was probably listening to a 50-year old man, who in turn learnt that when he was in school...
 

Deibiddo

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デイビッド、

Do what I do: do all the parts of the method you are required to do, then throw in a couple of activities that actually help the students learn. Feel free to ask for suggestions.
Of course, I do that where possible. May I ask what you suggest?

One thing I really try and instill in my university students is thinking metacognitively, getting them away from just looking at me for everything. There are plenty of resources (see the learning scientists above) though here's a primer from Cambridge Getting started with Metacognition
 

Buntaro

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May I ask what you suggest?
I am only too happy to help. But first I need a little information. Do you need ideas for eikaiwa classes, university classes, or both? What subjects do you teach? Are you concentrating more on speaking or writing? Most importantly, how large are your classes? Another most importantly, what level of speaking abilities do your students already have -- one of the first things I do is give level checks to all students. (I use a scale of zero to five, with five being fluent, and zero is, well, zero.) Rare is the day I get a student who is already above level three, and I rarely have a goal of getting a student over level three.)
 
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Deibiddo

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I am only too happy to help. But first I need a little information.
Cheers! The ones I have problems with are eikaiwa classes because I can't do what I want (or should I say, what is necessary lol).

Specifically: business English, speaking (practically no writing where I work), one student usually, most problematic are lower to high intermediate (beginners know they have to actually do something, advanced students didn't achieve proficiency by being stupid)
 

Buntaro

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The ones I have problems with are eikaiwa classes.

デイビッドさん、

I am glad to hear your university classes are going well. By the way, how large are your university classes?

As for your problems with eikaiwa classes, is there anything you can do? Is there any room for you to bring in your own materials into the lessons?

Are your eikaiwa classes mostly private lessons?
 

Glenski

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Glenski, if you're teaching uni students they won't question you like that because it's a bit confrontational to be honest and they accept that you're their teacher so you're doing things for the purpose of their education.
You might be surprised what they will say when an anonymous feedback survey is offered.
 

jack6251

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I haven't read all the replies you've been given, some are good, some are bad, here's a little from me.

If you study for a PGCE certificate (one of the best actual teachers teaching certificate in the UK) you may be directed on a weekly basis when you attend your class or meet your course tutor, to always ALWAYS include "Aims and Objectives" written on the board, printed out on paper, whatever/where ever, that the students can see and understand. This should be done before the start of every class then students can read and anticipate what's to come and be able to relate questions from you to the Aims and Objectives you've outlined. The question of "Why are you asking me/us to do that?" is one of confusion and a lack of clarity how your activity directly relates to the desired outcome of that particular session. If after highlighting that session's Aims & Objectives and you still get that question, it's much easier to give clarity in an answer by telling students every question you ask in every lesson is not one of personal inquiry, socialising or an interview, they're asked to determine student understanding to help YOU make a teaching decision with how better to proceed after your assessment of their answer, then remind them of the Aims and Objectives set for the lesson and that your questions are slowly moving towards guiding students towards that desired outcome as best as humanly possible by the end of the lesson.

Your problem with this isn't a "Japan" problem and not a TEFL problem. It's a "teaching" problem brought about by a lack of clarity of "why" on the students behalf. That's not a criticism of you, but you must be prepared to spoon feed any student at anytime despite any prior good demonstrations of understanding English because at the end of the day, students are human too and can lose focus and concentration after a good 20 minutes or so. So, it's important to reiterate the goals for that session when you set new activities. Even in the Product phase, don't sit back and expect miracles without your input, which would be great, but realistically speaking you just might not get that every week and you might have to lead throughout a class. Students are different on a lesson by lesson basis. If you were to run the exact same lesson for 15 classes, you might get similar result but you shouldn't expect perfection each time because the students might have a cold, be tired, just not in the mood, are there due to parental or job pressures, day dreaming about something else.

Regarding complaints in Japan...this is Japan, you're always going to get some that have been directed through a 3rd party but a rule of thumb is to smile like you're an escaped village idiot from the local asylum. Straight faces, even if you're focused on something lesson related and making an assessment, can go against you. Always retain some sort of smile. My advice with that is to practice in the mirror (really). It's amazing how many muscles we don't use when we give a fake smile compared to a genuine one. You should practice how to activate the needed muscles in your fakery.

Good luck!
 

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