Japanese Survival Guide Point 4 – The Classroom Part 2

Last Saturday I gave you a little bit of insight into the classroom. Today I continue, with the focus being specifically on the students and how to form a good student-teacher relationship.


from uni.edu

from uni.edu

Being a teacher is more than just teaching. Really, it is. I wouldn’t have had the good rapport I think I had with my students just from classroom interactions, although I did my best to make the classroom interactions fun. Ok, I probably over did the fist pump and high five, but you have to remember the students are likely to be pretty nervous about their English. If they want to take the opportunity to use it, speak it, write it, then they want to know that they will get a positive response.

The best way you can do that is by almost always being friendly. Now, if a class gets to out of control, you might need to get a little stern, and that’s ok, as long as it’s not the modus operandi. Many Japanese teachers, especially male Japanese teachers, are pretty hard arses on their students. I was in a country area and I think most of the teachers at my school were actually really kind and relaxed, but even in sunny Iwate occasionally there would be a teacher yelling his lungs out at a student in the teacher’s room. Like really doing his nut. I hear in other schools this is a daily occurrence – big city schools or the top schools. So they don’t need that from you.

Generally, in a rowdy class the best thing I did was just stop and look at the people making the noise. You’re not going to win fighting a class of 40 boys to be louder, so why try? The system is such that your co-teacher is supposed to keep the class quiet, but I must admit when it was needed some teachers are not so effective in that. Going ‘ssshhhhhhhh’ doesn’t really do anything except get the teacher mimicked.


The student types in Japanese schools are probably these three, although it’s terribly easy to generalise.

1/ The quiet student who is terrified of contributing, probably because they are terrified of being wrong. What I often do, when asking for answers for example, I look at the worksheets and call on those who have the question right. If they are still not sure, I let them know with a signal that it’s right. Sometimes this student is good at English, but often not. By encouraging them though, you can find that positivity rubs off. Not every time, but when I saw students struggling get a bit of confidence and improve their English, that was the highlight of the gig for me.

2/ The ‘loud mouth’. Look, I don’t mean it as a derogative at all. They can be the life of the class, I had one kid always keen to speak and answer questions even though he wasn’t the best at English, and he was a really good kid. He wrote me a thank you note that said ‘You are a genius, but I am better!’. It brought a massive smile to my face. But you have a lot of students in the class, so keep them in check, and remember who they are when you can’t get an answer for a question. They’ll be the one to have a go. Sometimes they are complete class clowns. Then you have your work cut out for you.

3/ The positive, helpful student. You’ll find these students are some of the best in your class, they don’t always stick their hand up, but they know what’s going on. When I correct exercises or ask for answers, I think it’s best to most of the time get the right answer first time. If the question is really hard, you can look to these students to help you out, to do a practice dialogue for you, if it’s an exercise where you ask a question of many students, you can ask this student first and the others see how it’s done.

Japan, 7english, 1

Writing Exercises

The two main ways you learn about the students are when they speak and write. A lot of my classes would end with a writing exercise to sum up the class, and for the student to express dislikes, likes, loves, favourite this and that’s, or an opinion on a topic. I try to leave a message when I can, and sometimes there’s the chance to have a little written conversation with the students. Try to give the students a chance to express something or tell you what they think about something where you can. If you can interact, then you are forming a relationship and saying you, pardon my French, give a shit!


By interacting outside class you also can build the teacher-student relationship. Be friendly and accessible in the corridor, high-fives and the like. It’s ok, you’re a teacher, a sensei, but you can be a friend at times too. You’re the foreigner at the school. You’re not expected to be a clone of the Japanese teachers.

Also – learn a bit of Japanese and use it from time to time. Not too much. In the classroom I was always mispronouncing words, and I used a bit of Hirgana on the blackboard, making a few mistakes. The kids laughed at me, I pretended to be hurt, but really it created a fun situation in the classroom and the students saw I was human too.


There’s a million things I could suggest, but that’s enough for one blog. Next week I will talk about driving, the week after about the Japanese language. One reader asked specifically for that but it’s going to take a bit of work. Eventually there will be a post about ideas for activites and games in the classroom, probably 3-4 weeks. There’s still a lot of things I want to cover in the Japan Survival Guide. Tomorrow is Sunday Spotlight time, and I’m heading to Iran for a look at Shiraz. Until then, May the journey never end!


  • I personally feel being friendly is a good start. I remember being scared of my fierce teachers because i can be scolded for getting some things wrong. That’s the asian style i suppose but this was years ago so i expect the school system here has changed a lot as well. 🙂

    • Well at my school I thought the majority of teachers were pretty approachable. But I also hear that that isnt the case at every school. I really only noticed 2 teachers ever really doing their ‘nana’! (thats an aussie expression). I actually think we had a good, friendly bunch of teachers at the school that really cared about the students. And you can’t ask for much more than that!

  • Ok, let me say I’m happy to teach in China, not in Japan. Everything seems to ODD and COMPLICATED here 🙂

    • it totally depends on what company you work for and the school you get placed at. Strike lucky and it can be you just helping the teacher out in the class room, doing what they ask. (thats most common for elementary and Junior High). Or, it’s a proper ‘job’ and you’re the one planning etc. which means more work, but not necessarily more control. teaching is an important job, and in Japanese society, a sensei is in many ways a respected position, Which isnt a bad thing.

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