In Japan, eikaiwa, or English conversation schools, are different from regular schools. Teaching here is not the same as being an ALT (assistant language teacher) at a public school or a university. The students are often taught individually, and they can review your lessons or even request to have (or not have) you as their teacher.
I’ve been teaching at eikaiwa for a few years now. From practical experience and valuable advice from veterans, I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t. Eikaiwa is a business. Student satisfaction can be more important than education, and you’ll encounter many different kinds of students you’ll remember for both good and bad reasons.
A student once gave me half their mask collection after I mentioned I couldn’t find any. Another student spent our lesson discussing Naruto. One student complained that it was “unprofessional” to talk about my personal life after I mentioned my boyfriend never turns off the lights in a lesson about conserving energy.
From students who can test your patience to the ones who make your job worthwhile, here are six types I’ve come across teaching English conversation classes in Japan and how to handle them.
1. The chill ones
This student is my favorite. Laidback and relaxed, it feels like they’ve just come to chat. Somehow, you start the lesson with the textbook, but by the end,, you’re talking about how great the sushi in Hokkaido is or the annoying things their boss does. They aren’t very interested in grammar and would instead ask you silly questions about your life or how you feel about Japan.
How to handle them
If the student really wants to talk — let them. Cultivate the conversation. However, it takes some experience and judgment to know if the student just wants to talk. Students like this often want a laid-back lesson with the teacher, but they don’t want an entire session of free talk.
Find a balance between answering their questions and continuing the conversation with a question or two of your own. Then, close that part of the discussion with: “Interesting! OK, now let’s go to…”
It might help if you’re not too strict with the book also. While it’s best if you stick with teaching the grammar and vocab for that lesson, you don’t need to do every listening or reading activity.
Make up for it with discussion questions, e.g., “Why do you think Tokyo’s rush hour is so bad? What’s your commute like?” if the lesson is about commuting. If you do this, make sure to mention at the end that you’ve finished the chapter and will move on next class. If they’re not interested in the lesson, though, don’t force them to do it.
Another approach is to incorporate what they’re talking about into the lesson itself. For example, if the student likes to talk about their cat, and the lesson topic is scheduling appointments, then practice scheduling a vet appointment. Sometimes, I’ll ask the student what they want, e.g., “do you want to continue with this material or continue discussing Pokémon Go?” because why stress when you can just ask?
2. The master of English
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