A thousand tiny paper cranes and books full of letters from my Oi Elementary students. Usually students write short messages on shikishi, but my 5th and 6th grade classes insisted they needed more space. Instead they wrote me letters which the teacher bound up into little books.
After bursting the flood gates during my last day at the Beautiful Mountain School, I knew my last day at elemntary would be tough. When I first came to Ena as an ALT, I visited 16 different schools. Usually I went to a different school everyday, which made getting to know the teachers and students very difficult. I mostly visited elementary schools, which was fun at first, but soon became very taxing. Often the teachers at the school forgot to prepare for my visit, without asking me to prepare something, and I was thrown into classrooms of almost 40 students with minimal Japanese and no teaching ability. Many times the teachers walked out, sat down and read a book, or stood in the corner , completely detatched from the chaos that would ensue.
For the past year and a half, however, I have been assigned to 3 main schools, including one elementary: Oi Sho. I've always loved it there. The teachers are kind and cheerful, helpful during and interested in the lessons, and the students are genki and adorable. Before I began my lessons there, the students would see an ALT maybe 2 or 3 times a year. I was fortunate enough to begin teaching there once a week, and the incredible progress the students made before my eyes astounded and encouraged me. I learned a lot during my first year as an elementary ALT, and from the start at Oi I planned my own lessons and activities. I was always in charge of the class, and the students always participated and enjoyed the lessons. I really began looking forward to my visits, even though I would continually stress about the lessons and activities I planned. Students would often come talk to me during free time, recess and after school, trying to use the English they had learned. I realized that just having an ALT in the school on a regular basis makes a huge difference to the students, motivating them to speak in English and giving them a genuine chance to do so. The relationship the ALT has with the students is the biggest motivating factor of all. If the students like the ALT, and feel close to them, regardless of how little interest they have in English, they will try to learn and use it.
My experiences at Oi Elementary have been some of the most challenging, rewarding and fun of my JET career. I'm so grateful to have had the opportunity to get to know the children there and to make so many beautiful little friends. I will never forget them.