Since I started teaching here in December, I’ve mainly spoken about the good things I’ve experienced. It’s not that I don’t notice the bad, I just have chosen not to bring them up.
On Thursday, I walked into one of my 3rd grade classes and learned that they were going to take a test. Fair enough. I read the useless story about a small Japanese village and their fire drills and how “teamwork is important because it makes a difficult job become easier.” Then the students, as they are meant to do, repeated every line that. I’d gotten used to this routine already.
What happened next stirred me. The teacher told the students that they had a choice between 3 formats of the test:
1) they see the words in English
2) they see the passage in Japanese
3) the paper is blank
Whichever version the students picked determined their grade. To my horror, the students proceeded to memorize the passage (bad English and all). Then, because it’s my job, I had to help the teacher administer and grade the students’ tests. That means I had to listen to this shitty passage recited about 15 or so times. Listening to bad English is one thing, but seeing kids fret and worry over memorizing said bad English is both heartbreaking and upsetting at the same time. When it was all done, the kids were given a few minutes of free time and I was able to talk to the teacher. Surprisingly, he asked me what I thought of the day’s activities. By this point in my ALT career, I’ve learned how to subtly suggest things as opposed to bluntly saying what’s fucked up about the situation, so I asked him if he could run the passages by me before the kids memorize it. If I could fix the bad English and insert some useful phrases, maybe things wouldn’t be a complete loss.
Well Goddamn! I couldn’t believe my Obama ears!
You would knowingly have kids memorize bad English even when you have a native speaker in the room that can help them learn better English!? I don’t get it. Right then and there I figured out a temporary solution. In every class there are usually 2 or 3 students that are super enthusiastic about improving their English. I decided to show those kids the many mistakes of the passage and explain why it’s wrong. Just as I thought, other kids started to gather around and listen to what I was saying. I only had about 5 minutes, but it was better than nothing and it was the best I could do with what I was given.
I hope for 2 things: 1) The kids will talk to each other and this idea that “the textbook is the end-all-be-all of English” will get shot down. 2) I hope that the kids don’t get confused by what I tell them. I just want them to be aware that if/when they go to an English speaking country, they aren’t going to hear what’s written in that God-forsaken book.
What would you do in my situation?