My first day at Smith’s School of English, Kyobashi

A new arrival

I arrived fairly early (as always) for my first day at Smith’s – last September. I wasn’t sure how much preparation time would be required for my lessons or how many students I would have that day so I thought that it would be better to be unfashionably early than risk something going wrong on my first day.

When I arrived, there was already a class in progress so I tried my best to be quiet as I entered the office and wandered into the classroom area. Gavin asked me if I needed any help and I politely declined since I reasoned that he had trained me adequately and it would be best to test the waters for myself before disturbing the captain of the ship – so to speak. So I went back to check the schedule, realizing that I had three students in my first class and would need one of the larger rooms. I selected the middle room, and ever since I’ve become bonded to it in a sense. Kind of feels like home.

Now, I’d already chosen a ‘One Point’ the previous day during training because it had worked so well on Gavin. And I’d had a bit of fun playing with it so I decided to test it out on the students. Having absolutely no problem with that part of Smith’s unique four-step loop, I went through the files checking up on the previous one points to see how I would go about eliciting them from the individual students. During my absorption of the one point process, I was approached by two wandering teachers who were also preparing their files. They were very kind and inquired if I needed any help in finding anything… or pointers in general on handling the classes. Once again, I thanked them for their offers but had quite a lot of spare time to kill so I opted to see how far I could get on my own before screaming for help.

Graffiti time!

Giving the files a rest for a moment, I took the liberty to graffiti up my board. I had already gotten permission to add little characters or what-not over top the ‘New Vocab’ box on the board, so I felt obligated to fill up the space. Using the black marker, I outlined a big smiling lion. The red marker was put to good use on the lion’s mane and bushy tail. Automatic mascot for the day!

Having settled that little act of mischief, I returned to the files. I think that I spent too much time on reading up on the previous entries in the files because when I looked up at the clock, I noticed that my free time had trickled away to the other end of the hour glass. Uh oh… I quickly chased down one of the other teachers for advice on which lesson would be best to use for a group of three and how to go about moving from one part of the loop to another smoothly. That teacher was very helpful and took a moment to explain things to me as she had already finished with her own files. After the files were all written up and ready to go, I went looking for a deck of cards… and curse my unreliable eyesight, I could not find them. Off I went to ask Gavin for assistance in locating them. It was at this point that Gavin reminded me that there was a duplicate set of cards in the trial lesson room in case two teachers were to conduct the same lesson at the same time. Wow! Smith’s sure had thought of everything!

Now that I was all set, I went out to the lounge to meet and greet the guests. All of the students were incredibly friendly, asking me how long I’d been in Japan, where I was from etc. If all the students were going to be this amicable, I hardly had anything to worry about. Time sure flew by at mach speed because soon we were collecting our students and heading off to the classrooms.

What’s a lion doing on the board?

Probably the first thing that my three students noticed was the big fat grinning lion on my board. I’m not sure if any of the previous teachers had taken up the habit of scrawling imaginary pets on the board but these students confessed that this was the first time that they’d seen anything like it – at Smith’s. This was definitely a good sign. I would hate to think that I’d inadvertently copied an idea already in effect. After I explained to the students that the reason I had a lion on my board – and not a cute dog like one student suggested – was because I’m thoroughly obsessed with lions and if possible, I would like to have a lion as a pet in the future. In my apartment. At that, all three innocent faces looked at me in shock, horror and disbelief… until I added that I was only joking, at which point they burst into relieved laughter. Moving on from introductions to the ET (refreshing the one point from the previous lesson) I created some scenarios that required the students to use their one points as the necessary response.

For example: Student 1 says to Student 2, “let’s go out to dinner tonight!”

Student 2 replies, “I’d like to but I don’t have any money.”

Student 1 insists, “It’s my treat!” (This being the one point from last lesson)

We go through two more scenarios until each student has had a chance to use his/her one point and then move onto the routine.

I believe that the routine I used in this lesson was ‘The Morning’, meaning that we went through the main activities that a person might find himself/herself faced with at the start of the day. The students had great fun – as did I – trying to come up with the English equivalent words for things that they were normally used to saying only in Japanese. Words like ‘toothbrush, toothpaste, and restroom’ sparked a great deal of excitement and confusion. The entire routine was a beneficial learning experience and useful for everyday life.

Next, we moved onto the item. Smith’s curriculum is jam-packed with resources, add-ons, and visual aids. Before joining Smith’s, I’d never seen such an organized set of flash cards – for one thing – nor such an expansive collection at that! There were cards for just about everything. And the ones that I’d chosen for this lesson worked beautifully with the item. The students enjoyed going through the cards and interacting with their fellow classmates. This was great for active participation as well since nobody was stuck head-down in a textbook. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be a very good English conversation school, now would it? A bit of board work and note taking was involved in the latter part of this item. All of the students came prepared with notebooks and writing materials so they eagerly copied down the text from the board and set to work rehearsing the new phrases and responses.

You’re pulling my leg!

Lastly, it came time to introduce the new one point. I faced the students with a very serious expression and began to tell them of my pet. I told them that in Canada, I had a very cute lion that I kept as a pet in the backyard. Backyards in Canada are very large and wide – I offered as a way of explanation – and it’s perfectly common for Canadians to keep lions there. Every student that I used this one point on seriously believed that I had a lion living in my backyard. Not that I could blame them because I had fooled some co-workers back in Canada as well with a similar story. I guess my sense of humor is rather odd. Anyhow, they began to ask me a volley of questions including: “What do you feed the lion?” “How old is he?” “What does he do in the backyard?” Until finally, I asked them if they _really_ believed my story. They trusted me and had no reason not to believe me so they just nodded. Maybe I’d put a little bit too much detail into my description of the lion. I had to back up and plant some doubt in my tale, revealing to them that, “In Canada, it’s illegal to keep a lion in your backyard.” One student finally blurted out, “No way!” Great! I wrote ‘no way’ on the board and asked them if they knew any similar phrases that meant the same thing. They didn’t. So I introduced the new one point, ‘You’re pulling my leg’, which means that the content in question is being held under a high level of scrutiny. Usually used in this kind of instance where the story is too incredible and outrageously bizarre to be true.

And there went my first lesson and my lion. I was approached by Gavin afterwards and he asked me, “How did it go?” I replied that it had gone very well and everyone had left the lesson happy. And on top of that, I had convinced yet another crowd of people about my lion. Tomorrow it would have to be something different or people would start to catch on.

Let’s talk!

Another lesson of the day was with a high level student. This lesson in particular I’d been looking forward to because of Smith’s ‘Let’s Talk’ textbook. In the past, I’d always been hard pressed to make up lessons on the fly because of other schools lacking a curriculum for the higher level students. Most of these lessons quickly derailed into the dreaded open conversation, leaving the teacher weary and the student feeling cheated. This wasn’t the case with Smith’s because, although there was a conversation textbook filled with subjects that would appeal to even the fussiest crowd, it was constructed in such a way that called for order. It guided both the teacher and student down a logical path for each subject, eliminating the threat of the conversation breaking down or losing its coherency. That way the teacher would be able to predict the flow of the conversation, interject with practical advice and input new vocabulary, while allowing the student the freedom to express his/her thoughts on each subject. Needless to say, this lesson proved to be no less entertaining nor educational than the previous lower level lessons had been.

Unfortunately, the day had now come to a close. I’d had so much fun that I was disappointed that it had to end so soon. Who knew that work could be so enjoyable?! I rounded up the remaining files of the day, double checked them, and then after a stamp of approval, I dropped them off into their little basket.

At the end of a perfect day…

The other teachers asked me how I liked my first day and I was ecstatic to say that I liked it very much indeed. It was rather odd because I’d come to Smith’s straight after a full day of Japanese school so I thought that I should be exhausted by then. But the positive energy of both the students and the other teachers kept me too high to feel tired. After we’d cleaned up and fixed everything in its proper place, we chatted a bit before heading off in our own separate directions. As I walked to the station, I truly felt a surge of relief over how well my first day had gone. There had been many concerns on my mind before starting work that night, the most intruding being my transition from student to teacher within a 90 minute timeframe. And yet… none of my concerns had seemed warranted given that I was not feeling as exhausted as I usually did after work (this was – without a doubt – thanks to the wonderful environment that the staff and teachers created at Smith’s), and I still had the energy to eat. Eating is very important to me. So, while planning my dinner menu on the train, I looked forward to my next day of adventure at Smith’s.

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