For the past few days it feels like I’ve been flying along in a Ferrari doing 200mph, talking with all sorts of people about all sorts of amazing projects. All the education stuff was a given and we were talking about really leading edge stuff.

Then what happens today? I’m back in Japan and I feel like the breaks have been applied and we’re slammed into permanent first gear….

After taking the midnight flight and arriving at 6AM, I got a quick shower at kansai airport then took the shinkansen bullet train to Okayama. They were having an open day for hundreds of teachers around the country. I was supposed to speak but because I couldn’t guarantee the flights I cancelled it. It’s probably just as well as I don’t know what I would have said to them. Well, here was what I saw when I arrived…

Well maybe I was too harsh on them? But then again am I just covering stuff up by saying that? Just look at the kid at the front, does he not look seriously bored or what?

We know what works in primary school, we know how to engage kids and make curricula and we know what ages to start. But just look at the results here. And it’s even harder for me to say because I’ve actually taught demo classes here and have given training to the teachers! In the other grades they were apparently also using lots of Genki English. But… it seems they were just using them for the songs and not really taking any of the important points and it all just falls apart. They were handing out a DVD today of “chants”. They’d taken the Genki English songs, stripped the melody, the rhyme, the music, the fun and just zapped the life out of them. It’s such a shock and disappointment after seeing the results we’ve been getting in the other countries. The sad thing is that the teachers are trying hard. But still…

In the afternoon we had a few speeches about what they were doing. There was nothing the teachers could really take away to use in class, it was just going over information we already know, such as kids find English more enjoyable in lower grades etc. They were even handing out materials on floppy disc! Dude it’s 2008!

Everyone was, as usual, super paranoid that elementary school English shouldn’t be like junior high school where the kids hate it. That’s the biggest worry of everyone here. But we already know that! We know how to make it fun and so the kids learn and we’ve known that for 10 years!

Everything is “difficult” they keep saying. Like what? Not having electricity? Not having clean water to drink? Kids being tired from biking 12 kms? Afraid of a war or landmines? They need some perspective.

There was also a guy doing a speech about the Eigo Note. He was really distancing himself from the content, I guess he knows how bad it is. Then again, maybe not, because he didn’t seem to be able to speak a word of English himself. The main thing he was saying is that the content should be used as a “common ground” of material that kids have covered before entering junior high school. Which is fair enough.

The guy did go on a bit and was seriously boring though. I hadn’t slept, had just come off an aeroplane and was really tired, but I kept listening. Which is more than can be said for the teachers around me, they were fast asleep!

If anyone knows the guy in the photograph and wants me to take it down, then I will, but not after he’s told me what he’s doing sleeping when he was being paid with my tax money to be there, and more importantly entrusted to teach the children of people I know!

It really, really makes me appreciate all of you who read the blog and help on the forum, as well as all the other teachers this week, even more when I see things like this. Thank you! ๐Ÿ™‚

Richard Graham

Hello, I'm Richard Graham. And when I was a kid I found school to be sooooo boring... So I transformed my way of teaching. I listened to what the kids were really wanting to say and taught it in ways they really wanted to learn. The results were magical. So I'm sharing it all with you now...

25 Responses to “Japan is sooo bad!”

  1. Julian

    “Riotous!” indeed.

    And so horribly familiar…..

    After 7 months of me doing Genki English style teaching with the predictable lively reactions from the kids, I had to be the ‘assistant’ in one of those observed lessons last week. The HRT – a nice, well-meaning, genki kind of bloke – led the class through some tedious Eigo note stuff. We listened to a patronising CD, ticked some boxes (where there was absolutely NO challenge) and discovered that a penguin can swim but can’t fly. The lesson finished with a round of applause. At no point did we find out what the kids themselves can or can’t do….

    You could probably count the words I got to say on one of the penguin’s flippers.

  2. Julian

    Oh I forgot to say: Richard, you are possibly a little unfair on that bloke. I’m sure you are well aware of the respected Japanese tradition of appearing to be asleep while really listening intently to the speaker. No, really, it’s true! There’s a whole bundle of etiquette tied up into it, like not snoring and not falling off your chair. The further you get up the corporate ladder the more convincing you are entitled (expected, even?) to be.

    He is clearly a very important person.

  3. richard

    I think we had a whole gym full of really important people, well until they did start snoring! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  4. Julian

    Ah, yes there are so many at those events.

    I forgot my ๐Ÿ˜‰ in the last post!

  5. Julian-k

    Yeah, Japan’s attitude is a little on the depressing side isnโ€™t it. Maybe the government should take away their fat pension schemes, then start over with the teachers who donโ€™t quit.

  6. Yumiko

    The guy is not one of our school’s teachers. Ours left the place before speeches started.

    They all wasted our tax money …

  7. Gumby

    You can’t really blame the teachers. I have tons of respect for teachers in Japan. They put in hours of unpaid overtime and are expected to do much more than teach.

    What more can you expect? The government is taking teachers who never learned English during their own education. Most teach how they were taught or what they observed in other classes (most times the blind leading the blind) and then given a horrendous book and required to teach from it. Can you really blame the guy for sleeping when it probably was a better use of his time? I’d blame the people giving the presentations.

    I still have faith. I’ve met many teachers who are trying to come up with better materials and who have been organizing, meeting, and discussing in order to help the elementary teachers. It’s just not going to down from MEXT’s ladder. It’s said ‘cuz I really believe there are a lot of people in MEXT trying to make good decisions but somehow it’s like the game of telephone. By the time the teachers get the info, it’s turned into a garbled mess!

    Don’t give up on us, Richard. We need you!

  8. richard

    Hi Gumby,

    I appreciate what you are saying here and normally after a while in Japan I would agree with you.

    But from my current view I think I have to disagree and say that it is totally the fault of the teachers.

    No public school system has a really good system, they all have real problems. But the great teachers rise above this, they go out and learn and find ways around the system. Just look at the extra work you have put in, or Yumiko or the other teachers here. But where are all the other Japanese teachers? Why are they not asking for help or making suggestions?

    It’s fair enough to say they put in overtime, but one of the first rules of work is to work smart not hard, I’m just amazed at how many teachers who waste time on paperwork or don’t use computers or the internet to make them more efficient.

    The system at the moment is totally free and great teachers can rise above any of the problems. But there are far too few of them actually doing it. Working late or putting in face time isn’t what matters, it’s results that count. MEXT is in a total state and isn’t going to get better any time soon, so the teachers are all the kids have. If they don’t go the extra mile, which all of us who care about our work do, we end up with the system like in India or other places where parents just give up on public education and start doing it themselves!

  9. Margit

    Wow! This is a hard one to comment on. As a parent I completely agree that teachers do their best, and (I’m from Germany) am happy that my kids go to school here in Japan.

    BUT I also agree with Richard, overtime isn’t everything. Last year in my daughter’s kindergarten class there was a big problem, and many kids suffered. The reason wasn’t the teacher, it was the system, but the teacher completely suffered, lost a baby for overwork…When I talked about this to one of the leaders she just said, “maybe you can start a movement”. I don’t know wether she was serious, but I was. Starting to formulate letters to the ministry of education…Until I broke together. It cost me my energy I need for being a parent, and finally I just stopped fighting for a better system , wondering why the teachers aren’t fighting for it themselves. Well I guess it’s the SHIKATAGANAI mentality.

    This year I’m happy that I could start teaching some English at our elementary school. And so far I’m able to keep being positive and blowing some new ideas and ways of thinking in here and there.
    So far I only could use GENKI ENGLISH in my small private classes and it’s just great to see how wonderful it works with big classes. The room is filled with happy eyes.

    As far as English education is concerned we are definitely at a beginning but in general I must say my kids enjoy school much much more than I did, and also more than their cousins in Europe do.

    Still, Richard I think it’s good that you see the system now from a different perspective. There are many people now, being able to see it from the perspective you did so far, so maybe it’s necessary you go out there. this keeps things active and going. it’s lots of learning for all of us!!!

    Thank you.

  10. Rosebud

    My daughter has just started university this year having attained excellent grades (proud mama speaking) and so I’ve been made more aware of what requirements various university courses need. She had to fight hard to get a place for her chosen degree as there is a NC (numerus clausus)in place. Almost all of her friends with low grades decided to go into teaching. It seems to be there is no minimum requirement to study to be a teacher although the dropout rate is quite high. I have to admit I find that shocking!

  11. Brad

    The teachers are responsible for the students’ success. Why don’t more school systems accept this?! Why don’t they give credit where credit is due…to people like you, Richard?

    Too many of the teachers I work with blame their students for having a bad attitude in class, especially this year. This is also the first year that I have been teaching elementary English where it is “taught” and not experienced through the GE curriculum. The Ss have no say as to what they want to learn. It is so so frustrating. Needless to say that I will be moving on to teach privately next year where I have the freedom to use great materials like GE!

  12. Yumiko

    Gumby,

    I understand you.

    But if you watched the DVD and the handouts they prepared, which they say were the results of their 9-year study, you would think in a different way.

    And this is the school which moved me greatly only a year ago by showing a great kids show with Richard.

    Where has all that genkiness gone? What they have done instead was to break up Genki English, that is, great effort of Richard’s.

    They have used all kinds of materials in their lessons; Eigorian, Dr.Kageyama’s cramming method, Matsuka Phonics, Benesse’s theater set(I watched their playing Three Little Pigs in the local TV news), etc.

    And the result of their nine year’s experience and research was what Richard saw there and what I watched in the DVD, I’m sorry but I have to say they should have spent their precious time for something else.

  13. Brad

    Just wanted to add that I sat through a social studies demonstration class last year (in school ๆ กๅ†…็ ”ไฟฎ) where the principal dozed most of the lesson and started to snore so loudly that he woke up some of the Ss who were sleeping in the back! ๅ†—่ซ‡็„กใ—ใ‚ˆ๏ผI kidd you not!!1

  14. Flossy

    I feel sorry for the children. Of course some of the teachers are completely out of their depth and others are trying really hard. Would I try to fix someones car if I wasn’t a qualified mechanic? I just looked at the faces of the children. The two female teachers were trying so hard to make it fun but a lot of the eye contact seemed to be between them and not with the children . The young man who sat down at the front of the class looked totally disengaged and bored stiff. I could not understand the commands either,even with the gestures sorry!

    Of course I know nothing about Japan and how hard it must be with so many government enforced issues. We all know GE works! Thats the hard part reading this blog. Why do the government not try to work with GE instead of creating more confusion for the teachers.

    My husband also travels, like Richard does. He can never stop being amazed by how resourceful people in countries like India for example are. Japan seems to have wonderful schools, smartly dressed children and lots of teachers. So what is going wrong??!!

    Richard you made me smile with your wicked british sense of humour during your commentary!

  15. Gumby

    Yumiko,
    Yikes, I thought it was a demonstration class of a school that just started with Eigo Note. I had NO IDEA that it was the result of 9 years of study! In that case, what a waste!

    I am in no way saying that this kind of class is acceptable and shikataganai. I am VERY frustrated with the system and very afraid that Japan is on the wrong road.

    What I meant to say is that there is a severe lack of teaching materials out there. Teachers can be more creative on their own, but when they have to think of a school/city based curriculum and 35 lessons per year, they become tied to Eigo Note. I think with the right materials there will be enough good teachers to make some progress. The trick is getting the materials out there. That’s why I’m hoping that Richard doesn’t give up on Japan just yet.

  16. Basanti

    I wish we could show them some of the video of our kids doing the songs.May be they do not realise how much fun it can be?
    just wondering if they have all the material that we have or is it less?

  17. richard

    Everyone, I would like to introduce you to Basanti who is our genius trainer working miracles with the teachers in India. Welcome to the blog!

    Yes, they have everything here and more, I even did them a DVD series a few years back!

  18. Yumiko

    Hello Basanti,

    It’s so nice to see you here!
    I’ve read all the great job you are doing in Richard’s blog. You are making changes there, and that is great!

    May I ask if you are involved in the school lunch project of Genki English? Our 6th grade kids are going to take a video of our school lunch today.
    I hope our kids could exchange with your kids in India through the project.

    Sorry it’s not the topic here, but I’m too excited to see the teacher in India on the very day we make ready for the project.

  19. Liza

    Hi, I’m new to this blogging stuff but feel I must point out that in my experience not all elementary teachers want their lessons “interrupted” by Native English Speakers, especially those of us who bring loud games or music into their classrooms thereby “challenging” the authority of the teacher….. I’ve just finished reading an inspiring book by Erin Gruwell of Freedom Writers fame called Teach with your Heart. Well worth a read for anyone in education – teach the child not the test! There’s also a website of the same name if anyone is interested. As for me personally, buying into the Genki package was one of the best things I’ve done in my ESL career.

  20. Cesar

    Wow! Richard you hit a nerve with this subject. I am doing a bit more research on Power Teaching and hope to be able to train my vonunteer group in a simplified version to enhance “English Land” here in Okinawa. I am going to recieve a copy of the our last show from the TV station on Friday. I hope to post it on my blog sometime this weekend! Will keep you updated on my GE Revolution!

  21. daidougei

    I think it’s quite metaphorical, what they did making the songs into “chants.” That’s what so many schools have done to the language. If you take out the fun, it looks more like work, and “hard work is what gets you into Todai, not fun.” Well, you try to make them understand that fun learning is effective learning, but this breaks from thousands of years of flogging each other…

  22. Basanti

    Thanks for the introduction Richard!
    Yumiko, thanks for the welcome.I am really excited about the project thing.I think we will be starting that soon…..and it will be great having the exchange.

  23. Yumiko

    Basanti,
    I’m really happy to hear from you and extremely happy to be able to report you that we are also ready to start the project soon. I had some problems to get OK from our principal, but now he understands the project and trusts Richard.
    I think having the exchange will be great too . Let’s make it happen!

  24. gumby

    Talking about music. I know of one very talented high school teacher. He loves music and even published a book about English pop songs as a tool for English learning. He is now at an academic high school. He played a song one day for his class and was immediately called into the principal office. He was strongly criticized for daring to play music during a lesson.

  25. Christopher Glen

    Yes, I have to agree with much of what you said, Richard. Change moves at glacier speed here in Japan. Still, I bought CD, and there is now eager anticipation of its use at my current e.s

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