Taking the world less travelled

My Mountain School

Posted by on Jan 12, 2010 in Life | 3 comments

Today was a good day.

Right now I work at three primary schools and one middle school as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT). All my schools are up in the mountains and are very small, but there is one in particular that I call my “Moutain School.” The reason for this is – at orientation in Brisbane for JET, one of the people talked about her “Mountain school”, a school up in the mountains with less children. I’m not sure if I’m correct in thinking this, but I believe ex-JET myargonauts had a mountain school too.

My mountain school – while all my schools are in the mountains – is the futherest away from civilization and has 32 kids from grades 1 (four cute girls) to 6 (seven kids, two girls). This is probably my favourite school – I really like the teachers, and the classes are always fun. The kids are smart and willing to learn English. I think they are shy a bit to talk to me outside of class and I sort of clam up when it comes to talking Japanese but I just hang around them and do silly things and they like that.

With my mountain school, I have one day a month where I teach all grades, and then the rest of the time I only teach grade 5 and 6. This month I am going to this school three times, so one day with all grades and two days with only 5 and 6. I like this arrangement because it gives me a chance to catch up with lesson planning etc and can just relax for those days.

When I teach all grades I have a JTE come in. She speaks a reasonable amount of English – well, better than my Japanese! I think she is a bit nervous, perhaps not overly comfortable with her proficiency, and I have to talk a bit slow with her and try to leave out anything “slangy”. But man is she a sweetie and she has some awesome ideas for games and such – which is good because having smaller class sizes means that classes often run short! I “team teach” grades 1 -4 with her.

For grades 5 and 6 I have another guy help. I don’t know exactly what his role is but I have found a photo of him with some kanji so I will look it up one day! He is an “everything” man. Poor guy had all 6 periods today with work. He has the same school schedule as me so I see him everyday. He fills in for English classes at the middle school, he team teaches classes with me at two of my primary schools and he also sits in classes with learning impaired kids – I’m not sure what else he does. At this school he team teaches grade 5 and 6 with me.

I need a name for this guy… Let’s call him Matsumoto. Matsumoto is an old guy, maybe in his 60s. He is an old fuddy duddy, but somehow I like him. I like his honesty, “Actually, I don’t like kids”. He speaks English very well, and I believe he also knows French and Italian, I think he is learning Russian. I enjoy team teaching with him. Things are even better now that I have taken over the lesson planning. He used to do it, and frankly when I had five schools I didn’t have the time for it. But lessons were always boring for the poor kids, and ran too short. I think he underestimates them or perhaps I’m just more willing to push them hard.

So yes, I create all lesson plans. For the moment I am doing one class for grades 5 and 6, and another set of classes for 1-4, with minor variations (some harder activities for the older kids).

Today’s lesson was a success I think. In the grade 5 class there is six kids. One has a learning impairment which is a bit hard to work with. She always has the home room teacher sitting next to her during the class. She’s such a cute kid though, sometimes she surprises me and she seems very willing to learn. It’s a bit hard though when, say there is a worksheet she will of course take a long time to do it and the rest of the kids have finished. Often I have to stop her doing a sheet and she is willing to finish it later.

Today’s topic was Days of the Week and Telling the Time. Both of these are repeats for them, although new for me teaching it. I have to remember to slow it down a bit – there is one girl who is very quick and also very…. how do I explain this… it’s easy to read her thoughts. And if I’m moving slow you can tell she is bored. And she is right there, centre, front row. So often I’m going at her pace instead of the pace the rest of the class needs to move in.

Grade 6. Now this is my favourite class to teach out of all of them. The teacher also gets involved and asks me questions all the time which are great. For instance, when the kids are playing bingo and they are only one square away from winning they say “burichi” – I could be entirely wrong with that, but it sounds to me like either “bleach” or “leach”, I thought maybe it was supposed to be “breach” but as this is something at least in my neck of the woods we don’t say while playing bingo I wasn’t sure. Discovered today it’s Chinese in origin according to the teacher, but he wondered what it would be in English. I tried to think of something cool to yell out but couldn’t on the spot. We also had a fun discussion once about “rock” (music), “rock” (stone) and “lock” (and key)…

Any way, good teacher, great kids. These grade 6ers are the “biggest” out of all my grade 6ers. Not only in stature (something in the mountain air?) but also in the maturity. They are a great class to teach and I always look forward to classes with them. They are always the last class of the day too, and after because the bus comes rarely, after this class I only have about 15-20 mins to finish up for the day and head home. So I always end the day on a high.

I will be sad when they go to Middle school and become obnoxious little 7th graders, until they become good again at 9th grade.

Grade one is definitely a challenge with only 4 girls, however next Tuesday when I have the whole school to teach, I hear it will be a combined 1-2-3 class (grades two and three are already combined because there are only two grade 3 kids). The girls are so cute and I always eat lunch with them! It can be a gross experience too.

Being at such a small school has other advantages too – such as being able to use up rolls of toilet paper to create mummys during a Halloween class. Also means you can give away more stickers! Now who doesn’t love stickers! The JTE also bought in a giant pumpkin and we carved it – my first experience of carving a pumpkin. It was lots of fun. I’d post some photos if I knew the BOE (Board of Education, or Bored of Education…) wouldn’t cause a tiffy. Instead, here’s me explaining my expert knowledge of Halloween (we don’t celebrate Halloween in Australia).

And here’s the pumpkin after we were finished. I also have a photo of a bald teacher wearing the hair. The kids went on to style it the way famous people do, haha.

So yeah, this is my favourite school, my little mountain school. I enjoy my other schools too, but I guess there is something special about this little school up in the mountain. Oh yeah, and cause they are up so high the heaters are always on and I’m never freezing to death. Except possibly when I go to the toilet…


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  1. chottom

    Nice entry GoddessCarlie!

    I like the local stories – this is the real Japan (or at least this is what I think).

    I hope you had good Winter holidays.


  2. Ellie

    I had a mountain school, too! I went there with the school lunch truck once a week. :D

  3. Theresa

    Your posts are so informative and interesting, and very positive. Your joy for life in Japan is very uplifting.

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