Manners Matter in the Classroom

Q.
I wonder about the difference in manners or customs when teaching English to children. Do you do teach them good Western manners or do you follow good Japanese manners in class? Is there ever a conflict?

M.G, Teacher
Hakodate

A.
I try to balance the two because I respect both cultures. Some
activities may be dominated by Western thinking, others by Japanese.

For example, when I was teaching in the States, I used to toss notebooks and papers back to my students rather carelessly. But here in Japan, notebooks and papers are never tossed on a desk; they are handed to the receiver with care. So I try to do things Japanese style.

I take attendance American style, calling out the first name, then the last. The students are then required to say, “Here” in a clear loud voice.

When I first started teaching in Japan, I would often sit on the desk as I talked. Even though I learned that sitting on the desk is bad manners here, I decided to continue to do so because I thought it would be a good chance to expose the students to Western habits. But one day, while sitting on a desk and talking to a fellow American teacher in the teachers’ room of a private high school, a teacher approached me and told me that everyone in the room was staring at me because I was sitting on a desk. Sure enough, I turned around to find 150 sets of eyes on me. That was a terrifying and humiliating experience. As a result, I have NEVER sat on a desk in Japan since. I learned my lesson, that I should not assume since such a custom is okay in my country, it is permissible here.

I encourage students to use “May I?” questions quite often. They say, “May I come in?”, “May I borrow a pencil?”, or “May I go to the restroom?”

All students learn how to shake hands, standing tall, using eye contact, offering a firm handshake and a smile. They get enough practice so when the time comes to use a handshake, they will not be shy or embarrassed.

These are a few examples of using and combining Western and Japanese manners in class. There is never a conflict; in fact, in the long run, I think they complement each other.