As we head towards the end of the academic year I find myself in a reflective mood. It is also around this time, as indeed is the case every year, that a familiar document has once again found its way onto my desk.
Each of the 4 schools I currently teach at will, at some point over the next few weeks, have their “Sotsugyoushiki” the graduation ceremony for final year students. It is the culmination of 3 years of hard work and dedication for my junior and senior high school students, and 6 years in the case of my elementary school students.
In a system often berated for its lack of individuality and self-expression, the graduation ceremony provides an all too rare opportunity for the individual to shine and to bask in a brief but nonetheless well-deserved moment of reflective glory.
Anyway, I digress, for more information on the Sotsugyoushiki ceremony itself, please refer to my previous post. As I said, this week a familiar document found its way to me. Though ostensibly very easy to fill in, it is something that has given me considerable pause for thought.
In short, I have to write a short, easily understood, positive and yet impactful message for my departing students.
So what can I write? How does one summarize an entire year of English lessons, teaching coaching and advice into one or two short sentences?
I’ve written some challenging headlines in my time, but this could be one of the toughest ones yet. It got me thinking, what is the core message, the most important single lesson, the greatest ideal or the most crucial fact that we wish to impart upon our students as they take those brave steps to the next level of their academic lives?
Time for me to get myself some strong coffee, my trusty notebook, and start doodling down some ideas!
If you’ve read any of my previous posts regarding teaching in the public school system in Japan, then by now you probably have a fairly good idea of my teaching philosophy. I believe, especially in the case of younger learners, that building confidence and fostering a positive attitude to studying English, as well as sowing the seeds for a life-long love of learning are the most important elements in a successful class.
My attitude is perhaps at odds with what the teaching manual may tell you, but in a society as shy, reluctant and frankly terrified of making any kind of mistake in public as Japan is, building confidence is of paramount importance. It is for that reason that I tend to reward participation and a positive attitude as much as I do actual aptitude and ability in class. This ideal should be reflected in what I write to my departing students.
At least my job has been made a little easier by the principals at each of my schools requesting that I write my message in simple English. At least writing something in a confused tense using my broken Japanese isn’t an issue I’ll have to worry about this time!
Another important point to consider is the desire for further knowledge. This is probably something of a knock-on effect from my days as a journalist, prior to moving to Osaka. I believe that inquiry and research are fundamentals to learning, and sadly these are skills that just aren’t taught sufficiently under the current public school system here. So, pushing my students to further their own learning through their own personal endeavours is another area I need to cover in my message.
The points are stacking up here, so how on Earth can I condense all of this into a single message?
The final, and perhaps most pertinent point is the ideal of hope. We need to inspire our students to remain positive, motivated, and most of all, hopeful as they embark on the next chapter of life’s big adventure.
Particularly in the case of junior high school, the whole experience can descend into drudgery as classes become repetitive, information heavy and boring for many students.
So, it’s even more important in this case, that you ensure things end on a positive note. With all of these issues to consider, in the end here is what I settled on:
“Be proud of what you have achieved so far.
“But don’t stop, keep going and most of all:
“Never be afraid to ask questions!”
“Goodbye and good luck!”
Ok, perhaps it is a little long-winded, maybe even somewhat pretentious, but hopefully it gets the message across. And as any good teacher will admit at this time of year, for all the ups and downs of this academic year, I am really going to miss these students, but I do take some degree of pride and satisfaction in knowing that, at least in some minuscule portion, I have helped to make their lives better.
That is all any good teacher could hope for, and that is what drives us to keep challenging ourselves and our students each and every day.