Yannick Brusaporco took the CELTA in Lyon, France, at a CELTA Center set up by Mohamed Oummih, of English for Africa. When Mr. Oummih met Yannick, he was impressed by his determination to become an English teacher and his passion for Japan. It is with pride that we observe that Yannick has married determiation and passion to steer his life in the direction he chose. Below, Yannick shares his reflections about being a CELTA-qualified English teacher in Japan.
The Start of the Journey
It has been ten years since I passed my CELTA and I am now working far from my home country.
I have always been interested in foreign languages and linguistics, and as I was planning to work in Japan I attended a CELTA course in France with Mohamed as one of our tutors. English is still a universal language and you can find a job as an English teacher in many countries. So, I passed my CELTA, tried to find a job in Japan from France and having trouble getting interviews, I decided to go back to the university and study for the teacher’s license in France. For a long time, the image Japanese companies and schools had about English was American or British English. So, most job offers required job seekers to be native speakers and as a French citizen I had trouble finding something.
As a teacher I consider myself a forever learner. I had the opportunity to pass the CELTA and I also studied to become a teacher in public schools in France. I could see the differences between teaching in a language school with a CELTA and teaching in public schools. I found this very interesting and I think I was able to grow as a teacher thanks to these experiences.
Teacher Expectations, Public Schools and Language Schools
Teachers and students have expectations. As you gain experience teaching English you will get expectations based on where you are teaching, your students age group, the level of the class your students are attending, sometimes the social and cultural background of your students… Is it a good thing or a bad thing? By having these expectations do you impede your students’ learning? Does it help you come up with specific lesson plans tailored for your students?
Knowing about both public schools and language schools helps us to grow as teachers. If you work in a language school, I think that it is easier to teach your students if you know where they are coming from, for example how much English they have learned at school and how they studied it. At the same time the set of skills needed to teach in a language school are useful in public schools too. Sometimes public school’s English can be too far from the students’ reality and they will not be as engaged in the learning process as they could be. Whereas teaching in a language school requires you to think about your students’ expectations and a more practical approach at teaching English. Teaching in Japan
I have a Master degree in Japanese Culture and Literature, so I also had expectations coming to Japan. I now work as an Assistant Language Teacher here. I am dispatched by my company to schools in the Nagano prefecture (mostly small villages in the mountains). I have been working here for seven years and it had me thinking about the things I learned in France. I studied the Japanese language at the university and knew their phonological system, their grammar and the structure of their sentences. I am dispatched at Elementary schools and Junior High schools and as soon as I started working I could see these problems listening to my students. So, I started working more on my phonics to be able to teach it to them. I could see the difference between my young learners at Elementary and the teenagers at Junior High. It can be hard to fix old habits.
It is fascinating to work in a foreign country. Your approach to your teaching and your relation between all the languages you know can change a lot. Also working with different age groups is interesting. I worked in my previous village for six years. It is a very small village and the students all go to the same Elementary school and when they graduate they go to the same Junior High school. The students I had at JH were the students I had at ES. Being able to follow your students for such a long time is a blessing and a curse as a teacher. It is a blessing because you know where they come from as English learners, but it is a curse because you have a strong opinion about their level and what they can do. It took me some time and introspection to break free from these expectations.
All my experience as a CELTA trainee, an English teacher in France, watching other teachers’ classes, working in a foreign country and the people I interacted with made me the teacher I am today.
The “Right” Pronunciation
When I first came to Japan, educators like me were treated as tape recorders. Teachers of English in Japan and Boards of Education were expecting us to teach “the right pronunciation” of English to our students, nothing more. But what is “the right pronunciation” of English? Can you really expect your students at school or in your language school to have “perfect” pronunciation? English is spoken in so many countries that you have a lot of Englishes in the world. Wouldn’t it be better to let our students find their English? What do the learners feel when they listen to an English they think they cannot achieve?
I think my last question is especially relevant in Japan. The Japanese school system is very competitive and performance based, so the further you are from the “perfect model” the further you are from a good school. A lot of students don’t want to speak during English class because they are afraid of making mistakes. How do you make an environment where your students will be comfortable making mistakes and feel like they are learning? How do you give them feedback? When?
Teaching Methodology Evolves in Japan
For a long time, the Japanese way of teaching English has been grammar-focused and Teacher Fronted. The teacher will be behind his/her desk and give the target language to the students and the learners will repeat the model until they can do it perfectly. I also have seen how teachers go through the textbooks. They would ask me to read a text or roleplay a dialogue and the students would repeat after me and then move on to the next step or unit. I tried to change the way the classes I was in were done by talking to the teachers at my school. I tried to understand why they were doing it that way and if they were inclined to try something different. Some were more responsive than others. In your classes, how is your balance of input and output? How do you input a new grammar or vocabulary?
I asked myself these questions before talking to the teachers I was working with and it made me realize many things about what I learned and used in France.
Recently the course of study for English education has changed in Japan. The Japanese government commissioned the British Council in Japan and researchers in their universities to come up with a new course of study. With the British Council involved I could see that the new course of study was coming closer to the European way of teaching English. They came up with a CEFR-J, and are asking the teachers to do more output in their classes. English became a subject and not an extracurricular activity in Elementary school and the teachers there were asked to teach English. It was my chance to shine! I could use my knowledge! But soon enough I realized it was not as simple as that. So, I asked myself:
How would you react as a teacher if your government or employer asked you to change your way of working and to do something you did not study/learn about? With the entrance examination for Senior High School and university beginning to change, how would you react as a learner if the way you are taught English would change so much?
So, for the past three years, I have been trying to fit in this new course of study and to use my knowledge to improve the way I work in Japan.
Breaking Free from Expectations
Just as I said it at the beginning of this post, I think that we, as educators, are forever learners. If you have the opportunity, learn more about the way your students have been taught English before coming to your class. If you can work abroad it could also help you realize something about your language, English and the language your students are using. I am almost sure that you have expectations for your students based on their culture, and/or working at a certain school or in a certain region. But how do these expectations influence your teaching? What can you get from them? Should you try to break free from them like I did?
I hope that reading this post was interesting and that you could get something from it.
Thank you for reading!