Slow life. One of the teachers in my school likes to tell me that she wants to live a slow life. Being a teacher in Japan doesn’t exactly lend itself to the slow life… when I first came here, I was shocked at how long and hard the teachers worked. Not to say that American teachers don’t work long and hard… but the school I work at takes it to the next level. The school hours are long, starting at 7AM and ending at 7PM. If that wasn’t hard enough, I would say that almost every day the teachers stay much longer after school, making materials by hand. It is exhausting, time consuming and definitely not a slow life…
The teachers are definitely dedicated, even though they are exhausted. That is just the way things are here, and I suppose they are used to it. To me, it was a huge adjustment to make. When I first came, I wanted to explore a lot of things but it was difficult because my working hours were so long. By the time I got home, it was already dark.
I definitely took advantage of the weekends. I don’t make a lot of plans when I go out here usually, because just walking and biking around leads me to new things. Living here is so interesting. There are definitely pros and cons to going to a country that you have very little experience with for sure… I have a hard time with the language and some cultural things, but on the other hand almost everything I see outside is new, exciting and different.
It is the same with the daily activities in the kindergarten. In a lot of ways it is similar to back home. Although the kids are in kindergarten, I sometimes feel like it is very much like preschool back in the United States. Check out that cute shitake mushroom! It is mostly play-based and very open-ended in the activities that the kids do during the day. Kindergarten here is not part of the elementary school, as they are still considered too immature to start formal schooling. That is something that I’ve thought of often when I see kindergarteners in the United States, it is so hard for them to enter formal schooling!
They are so young once you sit back and take a look at them. In fact, there are a few who I think are still too immature to enter elementary school. Surprisingly, even though the children are not following the traditional kindergarten model they are very bright! I wouldn’t consider this year wasted at all… they are still learning through play and progressing as any normal child would.
The more I have these experiences, the more I think that I am just not suited in a lot of ways for the traditional elementary school model that is used by most school corporations. I’m just not a worksheet kind of girl. I love seeing their little minds at work as they explore things hands-on. It holds so much meaning when the children are interested in what they are doing. After all, children have a natural interest to learn and understand the world around them. Why do we squelch that natural curiosity with boring worksheets?
I’ve had a lot of education on how to be a teacher, so of course I have read a lot about Piaget’s theory on constructivism. It sounded so idealistic and something that could never truly be done, because I could not find a perfect example in the classrooms around me. Coming to Japan was definitely a blessing in that I saw a shining example of a constructivist early childhood classroom. It really opened my eyes to the opportunity of having my own classroom like this.
It really was a blessing because most early childhood centers in Japan are definitely NOT like this. My center is a private center, so they have the freedom to choose their own style. It just so happens that the principal is very interested in constructivist education and studies a lot with her teachers on how to implement it in the classrooms there. It is really amazing to see what can happen when the administration is informed of educational practice and actually requires their staff to be informed as well! The teachers here are required to study, almost like college courses. They write papers and do their own research, which they present at seminars. They actually partnered with two other sister schools who have the same policy. Amazing!
Ah, the freedom of being young. I feel hopeful seeing their faces as they go through their days. I appreciate being able to go with them as well.
I’m sure one of these days I will start feeling old teaching these tiny ones. Since I’m fresh out of college, I’ll give it a few years! 😉