Matthew's Classroom

I have been teaching English to kids in Japan for more than 20 years: public elementary schools in Tokyo for 11 years, and Hello Kids Komazawa for the last 9. For 3 years I have been teaching weekly lessons to students at Tsutsujigaoka Kindergarten. As I tend to stay at the same workplace for a long time, I've been able to see the long-term results of my work. Being able to really see children's English communication ability grow has been very rewarding. I mainly use APRICOT materials in my classroom. They best suit my goal of having students use as much English as possible while developing confidence and self-esteem. I enjoy teaching development, and I love discussing English education with other teachers!
  • 41. Escargots

    There was discussion in our classroom yesterday about snails. My team-teacher colleague turned to the class and said “You know in France, people eat snails”. One of the students gasped audibly and asked “What?? Only snails??”
    It took me a good minute to stop laughing. Children often show comical brilliance that professional comedians would die for.
    But actually even before that student’s reaction, I was already feeling somewhat uncomfortable with my colleague’s remark.
    “You know in France, people eat snails”.
    He was clearly referring to the dish “Escargots” and understandably using the main ingredient (snails) for simplicity, but it was the “In France, people…” part that bothered me.
    I immediately thought of my wife who is an ardent fan of Escargots and will tend to order it whenever she finds it on a restaurant menu – which she does, and not always at French restaurants either. Now my wife lives very comfortably with me here in Japan, not France, so my colleague’s education to the class discounted her – as well as the countless other lovers of the dish in this country, of whom I assume there are many. After all, if there weren’t many, Escargots wouldn’t appear on menus here at all, right?
    “You know in France, people eat snails”.
    After thinking about my wife, my thoughts turned to people in France. My colleague’s declaration strongly implies that in France all people eat snails. I can’t claim to know all the people in France, so I can’t with certainty dispute my colleague’s claim. But I do know many people in Japan on a personal level who don’t eat sushi, so the comparatible “In Japan, people eat raw fish” would be inaccurate.
    Am I perhaps thinking too deeply about this? Wasn’t my colleague simply trying to make an interesting yet innocent point of cultural difference to the class? Yes, I’m sure he was. But if we don’t think about the implications of what we say regarding cultural differences to our students, our education most certainly contributes to unhelpful, misleading and inaccurate stereotyping.
    So let’s consider improving the accuracy of my colleague’s wording.
    How about “In France, some people eat snails.” This is more accurate, but it still ignores the millions of people all over the world that enjoy the dish.
    So we’re left with:
    “Some people eat snails”.
    For many teachers the lesson inside the line “Some people eat snails” would not be a lesson on International Understanding because it omits the country name. I would argue that it’s a perfect lesson on International Understanding precisely because it omits a country name.
    International Understanding has little to with country names, and has everything to do with understanding the people with whom our students share this planet.
    So much of Japan’s International Understanding education is accompanied with lines like “People in this country do this, people in that country do that…” But to understand people on an international level is to understand the similarities and differences of people totally regardless of where they are or where they are from.
    I strongly believe that teachers should make a conscious decision to omit country names when teaching cultural differences of people. The simple phrase “Some people…” is fine. In this way our students can get more accurate information and avoid unuseful stereotyping.
    I’m getting hungry… Escargots, anyone?

    40. SPORTS DAY!

    Last weekend was my eldest daughter’s Sports Day. She attends our local public elementary school and is in first grade, so this was her first big event with her new school. You can imagine how excited she was!
    A question mark had hung over the weather all week, and we had canceled our Sunday plans, totally expecting Saturday rain to postpone the day. But come Saturday morning, the clouds stayed away and a hot sun blazed down. Thankfully a light breeze offered some relief from the early summer heat.
    Among the several things my daughter and I have in common is the fact that this Sports Day was a first for both of us! For 24 years the students in my classes had talked about their Sports Days, but I had never been given an opportunity to actually attend one myself.
    I must say, I was very impressed with the drama and the fanfare of the Opening Ceremony. The two teams (The Red Team and The White Team) were introduced with passionate drum-beating and almost warrior-like chanting. The rivalry between them appeared serious, but with courtesy and mutual respect.
    The support and encouragement given to the participants of each race and event as the day progressed was outstanding. It was the ultimate display of true sportsmanship. As we watched, my family and I got nicely caught up in it all, and I barely noticed the sunburn slowly creeping on my neck!
    I cheered my daughter on during her race, and watched with pride as she finished 3rd place out of four runners (that’s another similarity between us! In my day, that was always my result too!)
    And in between her race and class dance performance, there was plenty for me to cheer because in fact many of my weekly students also attend this school! It was great seeing a different side to so many familiar faces! Students who are usually quiet in class, now appeared on the race-track sidelines cheering their team-mates on with fervor and amazing voice-volume! And those students who are usually noisy in class were now also noisy outside of class! One of my boys was in fact the head of the Red Team Supporters (Ouen-Dancho)! He led the chanting and Red Team encouragement with a voice that I swear could be heard across the whole neighborhood!
    Something else struck me about my students throughout the day. I noticed that just about all of them were extraordinarily friendly and comfortable communicating to a large number of different people; adults of all ages and other kids of all grades. My students displayed great social skills and appeared very willing to exchange words and a smile with anybody at all. Of course, their language on this day was Japanese, not English, still I was amazed at how they made themselves so popular and likeable. I felt myself feeling as much pride for them as for my own daughter!
    On my way out of the school after the Closing Ceremony, I bumped into the mother of the Ouen-Dancho. I congratulated her on her son’s terrific performance. He was the perfect Dancho, I told her.
    Her reply surprised me:
    “Thanks to your lessons, my son has totally changed. He used to be shy and had no confidence speaking in front of a group. Now he is Dancho! Thank you so much for developing his confidence!”
    Her words rounded off a perfect day, and the bath and beer I had when I got home (ice cream for my daughters) were fantastic.
    It would be nice to take all the credit for my students’ progress. But much credit must go to LEARNING WORLD. No other textbook comes close in terms of giving students activities that involve communication and interaction, encourage acceptance and respect for others and at the same time build self-esteem!


    I love the timing of Golden Week. It comes exactly one month into the new school year.
    Every first month of every new school year requires new adjustments, new assessments and new stresses. By the time Golden Week comes we have more or less accustomed ourselves to these and we can briefly relax before getting into the year ahead in earnest.
    By and large I have settled nicely into my new preschool responsibilities and am enjoying it very much. There is much hard work ahead!


    Away from the classroom, the APRICOT Mates Meeting is less than a month away!
    This meeting will celebrate the organization’s 5th anniversary, and I’m looking forward to it very much.
    The program this time includes more activities for participants than ever before.
    Of these, one I feel has particular value is the “Speech Time” activity.
    Here participants share their current situation and past experiences.
    I’m personally very interested in hearing what teachers are concerned about regarding their teaching; the areas of teaching that teachers feel they want more insight on.
    I’m keen to hear this because up to now, the basis of all my presentations for APRICOT has been MY own experiences, and not those of other teachers.

    So if you are a qualified APRICOT Mate and are attending this meeting, please give thought to this segment because it will have an impact on future APRICOT seminars!

    Let’s all have a great first term!





    *The APRICOT Mate Meeting is only open to those who have completed Mikiko Nakamoto’s Children’s English Teacher Training Course, are Learning World certified schools, and have applied to and been accepted as APRICOT Mates.


    I hope all your goals and objectives for yourself and your students come true this year!

    Well the big news from me is that from today I’ve returned to being a full-time teacher!! For the last 8 years I’ve been working only part-time in my school – afternoon elementary school kids classes only. Before that I was full-time as the main teacher in one of the pre-school morning classes. From today I’ve returned to those responsibilities!! It’s Back-to-Pre-School or me!!
    Understandably I was rather nervous all weekend! Over the last 8 years I’ve gained good insight into various aspects of teaching, and my classes had included many preschool aged students, but being responsible for the same group of 3~5 year-old kids every day from 10:00~2:30 requires energy and focus that I’m not used to, and of course I’m also 8 years older…!

    To my great relief it wasn’t as stressful as I was expecting, and I fell right back into the necessary frame of mind!

    My class has 17 kids. 11 of them come every day. 6 of them come once a week. Today there were 12 kids. The very first thing I did was make an effort to remember all of their names!! They were perhaps as nervous as I was, but we worked well together and got accustomed to each other quite quickly. They’re very cute!!

    Going back to preschool full-time will provide many interesting classroom experiences to share with you here!!

    I can already tell: THIS YEAR IS GOING TO BE a BIG, BIG YEAR!!


    Matthew pre初日

    37. End of the School Year…

    Well well well! The cherry blossoms are in full bloom and another school year has come to an end!
    How was everybody’s year? I hope your year was fruitful!
    In truth my year this year was a bit frustrating because I needed to split my energy and attention to a range of issues not related to teaching, and so my blog entries became few and far between…

    To my surprise I learned recently at the LEARNING WORLD Workshops that my blog actually has a fairly substantial readership (- for a long time I truly believed that absolutely nobody was reading it!) so to you out there reading this, I apologize for my slackness.
    In iCloud I have a folder full of ideas I wanted to share with you on this blog, but haven’t yet gotten round to doing so… But there’s good news!
    From April, my work situation will be such that time for my blog can be made! There are some big changes and new challenges waiting for me this year starting from next week – and there should be time to write about my experiences! I’ll share the details of my work situation in my first entry of the new school year, which I’m planning to post early next week.

    In the meantime I’d like to thank everybody at APRICOT for their continued hard work and commitment to supporting Japan’s English teachers. I’m looking forward to working with you again from April! Let’s make some big plans and big changes in Japanese English education!

    I’d also like to thank all those teachers who attended the LEARNING WORLD Workshops in Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya. I hope you were able to take home some ideas and inspiration. And a BIG thank you to Manta-sensei for sharing the presentation responsibilities in the Spring series!

    As always, I’d like to thank Kawahara-sensei for having all the insight and knowhow that she has, and for her tremendous encouragement and support for not just me but for so many of us! I sincerely hope there’s recognition for all of her effort. So many of us rely heavily on her! (Where would we be without you, Hiromi? I hope your future brings you what you deserve and more!)
    And lastly, thank you to you, this blog’s readers. If you’re reading this, it means we share a passion for our work in the classroom. I hope the school year was a good school year for you, and may even more success await you from April!

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