The Hokey Pokey: That’s What It’s All About…My Job Teaching ESL In Tokyo

This is the song currently replaying over and over in my head:
To the tune of “Are you sleeping?”

“Walking, walking,
Walking, walking,
Hop hop hop,
Hop hop hop,
Running running running,
Running running running
Now we stop, now we stop.”

I sing it everywhere. On the train, in the car, on a bus, and in a plane (sorry, Dr. Seuss took over for a second there). It’s mind numbing. Even as I write this, that song is playing in the back of my thoughts, like background music. It won’t go away.

That’s because I spend my mornings teaching pre-school aged children English at day care centers and kindergartens. I sang that song today alone, in it’s entirety, about 12 times (there’s only so much you can do with two year olds).

But I really like my new job. And I actually enjoy teaching the little ones, even if it is sort of exhausting…but what’s awesome is that the lessons are only 10 minutes long! Just long enough to sing a few songs, review the alphabet and learn a new word or two and then tada! You’re finished.

The afternoons are a little more challenging because I teach older kids and occasionally adults and this requires a little more thought as to how to make the lessons engaging and entertaining (a rousing chorus of “head shoulders knees and toes” doesn’t quite fly with middle schoolers).

A little bit about the School….

The company I work for is more like an agency than an actual school. They train English teachers how to teach their particular curriculum and then outsource them to various daycares, kindergartens and (in the afternoon/evenings), cram schools (these are after school tutoring private tutoring programs). So I work split shifts in what amounts to ten different schools.

The Upside:

I’m pretty much on my own and am free to move through the textbooks as slowly or quickly as I want. There are no tests or homework to correct and no deadlines I have to follow. The children only have class for sometimes as little as 10 minutes to a max of 50 minutes per week, so its common that in a year, you only cover half of the book. Supervisors occasionally stop by and observe your lessons, but you could go for a few months without being observed.

The Downside:

Because I teach at so many locations, I spend a lot of time on the train. Even though my transportation costs are reimbursed at the end of the month and a majority of the schools are only a stop or two away, a few of them are 4o minutes or more. My Saturday school, for example, is an hour and a half away…out in the country side, in a one room school house in a field. Although it’s nice to get out of Tokyo once a week, I can think of a million other excursions I’d rather take on my Saturday afternoons, say Disneyland or the beach. But, it’s not all rainbows and butterflies, right?

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