It’s that time of year again where people think I’m obligated to answer their stupid questions about getting into the JET Program. The application process attracts so many crazies.
I see these questions a lot online, I worried about it too when I applied. People focus so much more on how involved they should be with Japanese language and culture before they get over here. It’s Japan. You’ll be able to get involved with cultural activities anytime so don’t worry about that.
In my opinion, the best piece of advice any aspiring JET should take to heart is this: get as much classroom experience as you can. Even if it’s just volunteering, even if it’s tutoring or working at a camp, look for opportunities to get familiar with teaching and working with students. If you don’t have the time or money to get a TEFL certificate, read up about how to teach a foreign language. It’s stating the obvious but it’s true: We’re not coming to Japan to teach Japanese people their own culture so please don’t make your prep all about making your CV scream ‘I love Japan’. With the government increasing the amount of JETs, a lot will be sent to elementary school. 9/10 of the time, the Japanese teachers will stand back and expect you to take the reigns. You learn as you go but coming into the program having skills like familiarity with teaching, working with different kinds of kids, even lesson planning and game ideas will be your strongest asset.
Interest in Japanese language and culture is important but your main priority to prepare for life on JET should be focused more on the teaching and educational cultural exchange.
And that’s my two cents.
I feel like teaching has been getting gradually smoother as I play around with different games and have finally started to get a set lesson structure of warm ups and grammar. I know the focus in ES is supposed to be on speaking but my goal is to go over the basics, who what where, numbers, colors, and expressing things they like. In the 5th grade classes where I’ve been T1, my shyer students have started raising their hands since they’ve gotten more comfortable answering simple questions through games and repetition. I feel like the 6th graders have a solid base too. When I first came on JET, the idea of teaching entirely on my own was so overwhelming but I’ve gotten used to it and I like teaching on my own. Elementary school with upper grades is tricky though. I want to use pop culture and games to keep things light but I want to teach the grammar and meaning behind new phrases. If I push too much with grammar, I can see the kids slowly start to check out but if I do games the whole time, they get carried away and it’s 45 minutes of playing around when they should be studying. Since the new year started I’ve been getting closer to striking a good balance and I feel like it’s working.
The toughest part is classroom management. For the most part the students are well behaved but for the ones who act up, it’s hard to know how to reel them back in. At first I wasn’t sure if the students in a particular class didn’t like me, didn’t like English, or didn’t like school in general. In my free time though at school, I’ve tried spending it with them at recess and staying after school to sit in their 6th period social studies class. I’ve gotten to know all their names and I’ve gone from 先生 to ちゃん which I’m ok with. I’ve been asking other teachers for pointers and they’ve been good about giving advice and what things to fix. Little things like working on my intonation when speaking, giving kids space between points to give them time to think. I get nervous and rush and I need to remember to check myself. I’m frustrated but not discouraged. If anyone has any tips that work well in the classroom, feel free to send me a message.