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Life at an Agricultural High School

I visit Fukuoka Agricultural High School, affectionately known as Fukuno, two days a week. Fukuno is the only agricultural school in the Fukuoka City region.

Often, when asked where I teach, the reaction to “Fukuoka Nogyo Koko” is disappointing, especially when I proclaim that I love it – “Honto?” (“Really – you do?”). Puzzled faces greet me when I say that the students are kind, funny and individualistic. So this article is to stick up for the school-league underdog and show the JET community that my “extra” school is one to be envious of.

From the first day I visited, I fell for Fukuno. Perched on top of a hill near Dazaifu, Fukuno is a historic school on vast lands with rice fields, animal pens, greenhouses and a tractor course. There is a pet dog barking from one corner, a wizened goat chilling in another, the sound of chickens coming from the chicken pen and cows mooing from the cowshed. Fukuno is the only place I have seen a cow in over a year in Japan with the exception of the Hokkaido butter packet.

Fukuno holds some of my fondest memories, from meeting inspirational JTEs, planting rice with the ichi-nensei, climbing mikan trees in Autumn, eating wild boar caught on the school grounds and of course, some amazing students. I quickly found myself explaining the phrase “down to earth” to describe them.

It really couldn’t be more appropriate – not only are the students learning about agriculture, food, animals and plants, but they are open, honest and accepting teenagers who understand each other. In classes of 20, discipline is rarely a problem. The atmosphere is extremely relaxed and students’ personalities come out. With the diversity of students, lessons are often hilarious.

Many of the students at Fukuno come from difficult and heartbreaking family situations. These students have experienced and seen much more than their mainstream high-academic counterparts. In some cases, I feel they have experienced more than I have.

But students are always working outside for the agricultural classes and have no difficulty working with each other in the classroom, gender aside. Being so relaxed around each other, they are always willing to try and participate in class. Each class builds its own relationships – and some feel like big families.

My supervisor is passionate about helping these students. She recognizes that some have been dealt a difficult hand, and are not the students some picture them to be. On top of this, my supervisor has TT down to – well, a T. She understands the role of an ALT in the classroom, so lessons are always speaking-focused, activity-based, and have goals that guide the students through the semester.

Our most memorable lesson was when the language lab was transformed into a town and students asked for and followed directions on a real-life map. The next lesson, the language lab was a replica of the London Underground; students asked and followed train lines to various landmarks in London. They loved it.

A wonderful student from my first year left Fukuno. I was sad to hear she had quit school, but three weeks ago she visited for the sports festival. She is now, at age 17, living alone and supporting herself with a full-time job. She seemed happy. She seemed genuinely delighted when I told her that she was one of my best students in first year, with such high motivation and great English.

When I asked her if she remembered any of our classes, she replied with “Yes! Go straight, turn left at the corner. It’s on your right.”

This article was written by Rachel Dunn and originally appeared in The Refill.