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 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
- “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?”
- “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
- “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?”
- “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
- Did you enjoy junior high school? Why?
- What are your plans for high school?
- 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.