As I’ve just begun my second year as an ALT in Japan, I will admit that there are times that I wonder if I made the right decision of staying here for another year. Let’s be honest, being an English teacher in Japan can really suck sometimes: the pay is too low, my apartment is too small, I have to wake up way too early, my commute to school takes way too long, and I hate lesson planning. And on top of that, I came here without any teaching experience, I got a week of training, and was thrown in, head first, into an unfamiliar situation where there is a language barrier and many cultural differences. After almost 9 months here, I can surely say that being a teacher is not for me and I won’t be staying here longer than this current school year. But, if there is one thing that I absolutely love about being a teacher, it’s my students. I dread going to work every morning. Every morning, I struggle to get out of bed at 6 am, get ready and be on a train by 7:30 am. And while I’m on the train, I’m thinking about how much I wish I wasn’t on my way to work. But, once I get off the train and begin running into my students walking to school, I realize why I’m doing this and how much I really do enjoy seeing them every day. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of hearing, “Liana sensei! Good morning!” when I’m walking to work.
I have been so blessed to be placed in elementary schools. The students are just so adorable. The younger ones are especially adorable. Every time they look up at me with their innocent doe eyes, wave at me, and smile, my heart melts a little. When it comes to the actual grades I teach (5th and 6th), there are those students that make me look forward to teaching their class—those students whose hands shoot up whenever I ask a question or ask for a volunteer. Having students that are eager to learn makes my job so much easier and I’m lucky that I have so many of those students.
But, my actual favorite time with my students is the time I spend with them outside of class. It’s at those times that they actually turn into real people, instead of just another face I see once, maybe twice a week. I live for the moments before and after class when they come up to me and ramble in Japanese, when they normally don’t say a single word all class. And when I hear them yelling my name from down the hall. And the laughs we have when they’re trying to explain to me what a Japanese words means, all in Japanese. I live for those moments. I can’t even begin to describe how big of a smile appears on my face during those moments. I can have a terrible class where the students are rowdy, uncontrollable, and I feel defeated, but if one student comes up to me to thank me or to make small talk as I’m leaving the classroom, my spirit is instantly lifted.
I try not to play favorites, but every teacher would be lying if they said that they don’t have any favorites. My favorites are never the smart ones that have studied English before, or the loud ones that make everyone laugh. My favorites are always the students that call me over to talk with me while they have to do group work, or fill out a work sheet. They’re the ones that ask me things like what I did over the weekend, what food I like to eat, or when my birthday is. Sometimes they ask questions that are way too personal, but it makes me happy that they actually want to know about me and don’t see me as just another ALT of the many they’ll have in their school lives.
I’m not naive enough to think that what I’m teaching them at an elementary school level will make that great of an impact in their education. Especially because I see each student only once a week, or at most, twice a week. But, I hope they’ll always remember me as a fun teacher that always made them smile.
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