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Teaching English in Japan with Ato: The Handout

Last updated on September 2, 2009

Part 17: The semester continues…  The sannensei in the public school system all have their interviews and entrance exams for the various high schools that they have chosen soon. Where I come from this usually meant intense past-paper drills, studying at home, no hanging out with friends, no TV, etc. Here in Japan it apparently means that the third-year students don’t have to do any sort of real work during classes, and it seems that they leave school earlier (read: whenever the feel like) and hang out even more than usual outside of school. For the ichinensei and ninensei, however, it’s classes as usual.Feeling a bit recharged after my winter break (and momentarily forgetting my promise to myself not to give a f*ck) I decided to devote more energy than usual to the first ichinensei class of the semester at one of my schools. I prepared a beautiful handout with colour photographs of popular characters, fruits, and the like, interspersed with the target language. Initially the handout was well-received; the kids chatted in excitement with each other, discussing the characters contained therein and wondering what the lesson was about – in short, the desired effect.

Except for one student. His response was to look at the page with disgust, crumple it up, toss it on the ground, turn his chair around, face his back to me and talk to his friend. I looked over at the Japanese teacher and pointed. His reply was to smile and laugh sheepishly and continue with the lesson. My response was to stand in one place with my palms up in a stance of confusion and lose any real interest I had in teaching the class.

I did manage to continue teaching, and the lesson was well-received my the majority of the class. Afterwards, during a break, I asked one of the more experienced teachers whom I had a rapport with, what I should do about the situation and for her take on why the student reacted the way he did.

“Well…did the page have holes in it?” she asked, seeming genuinely concerned.
“Did you put holes in the page so that he could put the page into his binder?
“I might have forgotten…why?”
Well…if there weren’t any holes in the page he might have been confused as to what he was supposed to do with it, so that’s probably why he threw it on the ground..”

At this point I looked up from what I was doing, stared directly at her to gauge her reaction and speaking purposefully slowly, said:  “You expect me to believe…..that the reason…the student threw the page on the floor…was because…there were no holes in it? and he didn’t know that he was supposed to keep the page?


Needless to say, at this point I lost all respect for this ‘teacher’. She then continued with a bevy of suggestions – things I could do to rectify the situation. One of which was to ensure that all subsequent handouts had the proper binder-holes on them.

I preferred my response: Beginning in the very next class, I produced the exact handout that the student had crumpled up, and , with the assistance of the sheepish teacher, informed the class that I had many fun things planned; watching movie clips on the TV, listening to music and discussing pictures, but that we would do none of this. Instead we will be using the book only and the class will not be receiving any more handouts. I asked the students if they think I would want to do fun activities with them after a student had done such a thing to something I had worked so hard on, and how they thought it made me feel. I told them that I had many problems in my life that I had to deal with after school (listing a few), but that I still stayed up late and made the time to make sure that their lessons were fun.
The class grew quiet. Most of the students got the message. Even the problem student buckled down a bit. The next day the I had to plan a lesson with the teacher that suggested that my lack of punching holes on the handout was the reason for the student’s atrocious behaviour. When we had finished planning the lesson I looked to her and said:

‘Well…I guess I should get to work; I have to put holes on both the left and right side of the pages now…
“Why?” she asked, walking right into it.
Ano..if I put holes only on the left side of the page the student might throw it on the right side of his desk, but if I put holes on both the left and the right side then he won’t be able to throw it away on either…desho?’
I then produced the widest, dumbest grin I could muster and looked at her with wide, concerned eyes..


In case you missed the previous adventures:

Black Tokyo Monogatari: Teaching English in Japan


  1. Bboy Krillin Bboy Krillin April 1, 2009

    I’m offended by that kids actions just reading this, if it had happened to me i think i’d of lost it and strangled the little git to death!

  2. ato ato September 1, 2009

    Hmm…read on, dude.

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