Halloween Parties

Last week was Halloween party week at Cambridge English. Halloween seems to be an integral part of children’s EFL in Japan, whether we like it or not. It is expected by students, parents, and teachers, whether at public schools or private eikaiwas.

My thinking on Halloween has gone through various stages. I’m going to list them below. You should also know that Halloween has no particular significance to me: I didn’t celebrate it growing up and my main exposure to it has been through Hollywood films.

1. Stage one: infatuation

As a new ALT in a junior high school, I loved the novelty of Halloween: dressing up, talking about interesting cultural concepts, bringing fun material and activities into the classroom. Under the guise of ‘teaching about foreign culture’, I had free reign to dress up as a ghost and do word searches for a week or two. The students, as far as I remember, were mostly bemused.

2. Stage two: numbness

After a couple of years, Halloween became a bit dull for me. Doing the same old activities and explanations just didn’t cut it any more. I looked for more purposeful activities, but found it difficult to justify taking the time away from ‘proper study’.

3 Stage three: business opportunity?

When I got involved with Cambridge English, Halloween became a chance to reach out to potential students and expose them to our school, with the ultimate aim of increasing enrollment. We staged large elaborate Halloween parties, with guest teachers and performers, lots of games, dressing up, and encouraged the students to bring as many guests as they could.

4: Stage four: backlash

Three years later, I realised that after all our efforts, expense, and time, we had a grand total of zero new students from Halloween events. Guests came and had a good time, but none of them came back to have trial lessons or join the school. I also started resenting the amount of time (both class time and teacher preparation time) that was going into Halloween. I felt that our educational goals were not being met. We changed from large Halloween events to doing Halloween parties in each class at this time.

5: Stage five: acceptance

We just finished Halloween week, and did some kind of Halloween thing in each class, ranging from full on Halloween parties with kindy classes to just dressing up and giving out chocolates with adult private students. I have changed my attitude towards Halloween again.

We had a great time this week. The students enjoyed dressing up and having slightly more frivolous lessons than normal. The teachers also enjoyed dressing up, and guests also seemed to have a good time. I guess my take on Halloween now is that it is a bit of a break, a reward for our students for all their hard work throughout the year, and a chance to show off the school for a week or so.

You can see some pictures from our parties here.

What’s your take on Halloween parties for EFL classes in Japan? Worthwhile or a waste of time?

English Teachers -scarily spot on

Something a bit lighter today (it is Saturday, after all). A web-based comedy series with surprisingly good production values came out earlier in the year. They are updating it gradually, and episode four came out a couple of days ago.

Here is the first episode. I used to work in a sleazy eikaiwa school in Sendai, so this rings so true at points…

Summer camp

We did our first day summer camp with our students last year. We joined a camp run by another school, and went off to a nearby island with them to play on the beach, have a barbecue, and do lots of small English games.

We learned a lot from the experience, not least that it is not particularly difficult to organise ‘English’ events. I liked a lot of what they did (putting students in mixed-age teams, having low-pressure competition throughout the day, being active, going outside), but found some of it less effective (forcing English onto students, some of the activities).

We organised our own summer day camp this year, and it was a huge success. Students and staff had a good time, it didn’t take all that much preparation, and I think it will help our schools’ reputation.

I’m going to list some of the things that went well below, in the hopes that it will be useful for other teachers or school owner/operators.

1. We found a company to do most of the work that does outdoor activities for kids’ groups like neighbourhood associations, etc. and they were able to provide a morning activity (making zunda mochi), lunch, bus there and back, and a beautiful outdoor location for a very reasonable price (1700 yen per person). This took almost all the pain out of the experience and meant that we just had to organise our students and think of some games to play in the afternoon. If we had had to provide lunch and arrange transport, it would have been much more work.

2. We had students from various classrooms and classes, so mixing them up was a priority. We made mixed age and ability teams, and had two teachers and fourteen students in each. This worked well, and after about ten minutes into the zunda mochi making you couldn’t really tell which students were in the same class and which had just met for the first time.

3. We had a lot of staff, mostly parents and university student volunteers. This really helped with logistics (helping the students do things and carrying stuff mostly).

4. We had a mix of structured activity and free time, which meant the students had a chance to play soccer with their friends if they wanted, but didn’t really have time to get bored.

5. The emphasis was not really on English (some of the students brought friends who were not studying English) but rather on having fun together and getting to know each other. This removed a lot of the pressure, and resulted in a much more relaxed atmosphere than the camp last year (where there was much more emphasis on English, to the extent of the safety briefing being done in English!).

The best thing about the day was the chance to just hang out with the students and run around outside. I think everyone enjoyed the day and made some new friends.

I am hoping to do more activity days like this, again not based on English so much as having a fun day out with friends. That way we can build our school community further.

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