Interview Test

Last week, I interviewed my entire school. There are about 400 students, and I had 2 minutes with each of them. Two minutes to get a sense of their personalities. Two minutes to realize their potential.

I love interview tests.

I interviewed every student at my school last month.

I told my supervisor this a few months ago, and that I wanted to do them more often. I also asked him to make the interviews longer, since last semester they were only one minute each.

Mostly, I love interview tests because it gives me a chance to connect with students. The students here are so diverse; some enjoy talking with me, and want to talk for longer, and others are so afraid I can see them shaking.

My school asked me to think of the questions myself, and to judge them after the interview. However, it was really tricky to decide their score! As soon as one student left, the next student was coming in, so there was no time in-between to think about it! I judged them on 3 categories: communication, pronunciation/intonation, and attitude. I really enjoyed giving some of the insecure students high scores, because many exceeded my expectations.

Here’s what I asked them:

Ichi-Nensai (First-years) Age 11 and 12 Equivalent to American 7th graders

  1. “What time do you get up? What do you have for breakfast? What is your favorite subject? What do you do after school? What time do you go to sleep?”
  2. “How many sports can you play? What is your favorite sport? When do you play it? Who do you play with?”

Talking with ichi-nensai is fun because they haven’t lost their youthful spirits, so they’re quite げんき (genki; it means enthusiastic.). I can’t post pictures, but just imagine Japanese kids in their school uniforms answering these questions excitedly with exaggerated gestures – so cute!

Ni-Nensai (Second-years) Age 12 and 13 Equivalent to American 8th graders

  1. “Tell me about your family. Do you have any brothers or sisters? Who is the smartest person in your family? Why? What do you do for your family?”
  2. “Which is more interesting, playing outside or reading a book? Why?”

The second question gives them a chance to talk about their favorite sport, which is easy for them. Especially for the students who struggle at English, I like to give them the chance to say anything, even if they always say the same thing over and over. One of my biggest goals here is to raise their confidence and compliment them often, especially the students who are insecure about their English ability.

San-Nensei (Third-years) Age 14 and 15 Equivalent to American 9th graders

  1. Did you enjoy junior high school? Why?
  2. What are your plans for high school?
  3. Who is your favorite person? Why do you like them?

The questions for the older students were broader, which gave them the chance to speak uninterrupted about a single topic for longer, if they could. Alternatively, it gave me the chance to ask a lot of follow up questions. Since I studied journalism, I really like asking questions!

Some interviews were particularly inspiring, but my favorite one was with Yuya*.

Taiki’s Interview Story

There is one very rowdy ni-nensei class at my school, and their teacher is a soft-spoken young woman about the same age as me. I really enjoy working with that class because the students are wild and outspoken, which is quite a stark contrast to some of the shyer and quieter classes, which makes it more challenging.

In that class, Yuya started off this year as the biggest troublemaker. He was clearly the craziest student. During class, he would be constantly talking in Japanese, distracting other students, and he never engaged with the material. Oftentimes he would just ignore his worksheet. Yuya’s tests were always blank. It seemed as if he had made up his mind not to do anything related to English.

When I tried to talk with him about it, he would jokingly respond, “English, no” and he wouldn’t say anything else. He would blabber at me in gibberish and pretend that he was communicating. It was definitely rude, but he did it with a smile, so even though he was making fun of me, I actually appreciated his energy because it was so abnormal in my quiet school.

In his class, there is also a boy named Kaisei* who is basically fluent in English because he lived in America for the first 8 years of his life.

So I often talk to Yuya through Kaisei, with Kaisei translating for me. “Yuya, I think you’re really smart, but you just don’t try,” I’ll say.

Kaisei translates, and Yuya immediately has a snappy comeback: “I hate English. Why should we learn English? I’m Japanese!”

Laughing at his wit, I’ll think of another quick response: ‘People all over the world speak English! Japanese is only spoken in Japan!

He’ll reply: “But I live in Japan. I won’t go abroad. I like Japan!”

It’s hard to argue with him, but I keep trying: “But many people in your class like English! You should try!’ Again, he’d laugh and offer a witty retort. I think I lost the argument.

It was through these interactions that I think Yuya realized he liked talking with me.

So I was really looking forward to two minutes with him. On purpose, he demanded to be the final student from his class to be interviewed by me.  With a ridiculous smile and exaggerated gait, he stomped into the room, waving at his laughing classmates as he entered.

I was amazed that he was able to answer each question, even if it was with his slightly mocking English. Soon the two minutes were up; but he didn’t seem like he wanted to leave, and since he was the last student I kept asking simple questions until the bell rang.

Later, his teacher told me that before the interview, Yuya asked her to translate some of the questions so he could answer them. Coming from a student who was so disengaged at the beginning of the year, I felt really good about his change of attitude.

Another success story related to this is his recent English test: he didn’t leave it blank! He answered more than half of the questions! I almost cried when I saw his test; I was so happy.

Ultimately, my goals with the interview test are to help students realize their potential. Even if they hate English, most of them are capable of a simple 2 minute conversation. I want them to discover that speaking English is actually really fun! Also, I want to open their minds to the outside world. For most of these kids, I’m the first foreigner they’ve ever met. My supervisor said that he didn’t meet a foreigner until he was in high school.

I think I can make a difference to some of them. I can spark something in someone, and make a change, just like my teachers did for me. Ms. Imel in 3rd grade told me I was a good writer. I still remember when she said that to me. In high school, Mr. Lee encouraged me to apply for a short story contest, which I later won. Later I decided to study creative writing and journalism. So our teachers can make a difference.

I hope to be that person for someone.



I can’t post pictures of student’s faces, but I hope you enjoy this random assortment.


15 thoughts on “Interview Test

  1. Tracy

    You are very tenacious teacher! You have a wonderful ability to draw out even the most rebellious students. Don’t ever give up and keep imparting your beautiful spirit to these lucky students!!

  2. Harumi (Yamada) Hood

    Hi, Amber! Great! I hope you share this experience of yours with teachers in other schools, too, not only with ALTs but also with JTEs.

    1. youngforever231

      Thanks Harumi! I think most JTEs are too busy to read this, let alone talk with me! I’m not sure how to find time to talk to them because they seem busy all of the time.

  3. Harumi (Yamada) Hood

    Great, Amber! I hope you share this experience of yours with teachers in other schools, too, not only ALTs but also JTEs.

  4. I agree one teacher can change a student’s mind about themselves. My HS math teacher Mr. Solig convinced me I was smart in math… I thought I was dumb in it! My HS track coach helped convince me to run and I still do 45 years later. You can only be yourself and have as much fun as possible. Keep up the good work and work/life balance, I think we Americans could teach the Japanese a thing or two about that.

  5. susan tuttle

    Wonderful blog, super writing, great insight! You’re a treasure, Amber! Harumi suggested I check out your blog and I am really glad she did. I can relate to a lot of what you say, and I am amazed that teens are teens the world over, even here in Switzerland where I teach EFL. We are currently doing a penpal Exchange with Koshi and Hokuriku Jr HS in Fukui. And you were spot on with the role a teacher can play in a studen’ts future. Like you, a few teachers encouraged me to write more when I was in School, they made me feel like I could be a writer. I did a lot of things, including writing, but finally a book of my humorous essays on my integtration into Swiss culture was published in 1997. And last June I did my MFA in creative writing – 35 years after my bachelor’s. Some dreams never go away! Keep up your blog and I look Forward to seeing more!

    1. youngforever231

      Thanks for your comment, Susan! Is there anywhere I can read some of your writing? It would be interesting to hear about your integration into Swiss culture! I wonder how it compares with Japan?

      1. susan tuttle

        (I just reread my comment and was horrified by all the typos! Part of the problem is I’m working from the school computer which autocorrects to German… and then I didn’t proofread).

        Do you ever see Harumi? I could give her a copy of my book to pass on to you next time. Or perhaps she can mail it to you when she is back in Japan. Unfortunately after so many years the book is no longer available through normal channels, but I have some copies. I’ve heard that Japan has been called “the Switzerland of Asia” so perhaps you would find some resonance in my stories. I’m curious!

      2. Harumi (Yamada) Hood

        Yes, I enjoyed reading your book very much. I’m sure Amber will enjoy reading it, too. I’m seeing Amber this weekend back in Japan. Will you provide me with a new copy next time as I’ll give her the one you have given me? Martin has a copy, too, but both of us want to keep your copies. 🙂

  6. When I read the story of Yuya above – well told and well written, by the way – I wonder if this blog author hasn’t found a dual vocation. Teaching and writing, or writing and teaching – the order doesn’t matter…

    1. youngforever231

      Your comment moved my heart and gave me hope for my future. I really appreciate that you take the time to read and comment on my writing. (I forgot to approve this but I read it months ago!) I would love a dual vocation of teaching and writing! Any advice or tips you have for me are greatly appreciated! You and Harumi are among the people I most respect in this world, even though I haven’t met you! I sincerely hope to meet you one day and climb a mountain with you!

  7. Sayuri

    I really like to read your writings!! You make me realize one of the most important thing that all children have their infinite possibilities and are full of potentials. Children all already have them. What teachers can do is to just lighten them up although we have so many things to teach. We should keep that in our mind. Thanks for reading!

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