Teach English in Japan
Be the "Western Culture Authority"
and the teacher
By Susan Miles
A month ago I was hard at work in the IT department of a major Australian bank, attending to the countless emails, reports, meetings and teleconferences that my job as a Business Liaison Manager demanded.
I was a typical middle management type, in my navy blue suit, sensible court shoes, workpad in one hand, styrofoam cup of "Skinny Decaf Cappuccino" in the other.
Today I am
wearing the same blue suit, but Ive swapped the workpad for a stick
of chalk, the cappuccino for a glass of iced tea and the court shoes have
been replaced with a pair of running shoes.
The JET program was the brainchild of the current Japanese Prime Minister and introduced by the Japanese government in 1987. It was felt that there were too few opportunities for Japanese nationals, particularly children, to engage with and learn about other countrys and cultures. To remedy this situation, a program to bring overseas college graduates into Japanese schools to teach English (and other languages), share their own culture and in turn learn more about Japanese culture from the students and teachers.
My official title as a "JET" participant is "ALT" or "Assistant Language Teacher". I am employed by a local prefecture (equivalent of a county) and assigned to various Junior High Schools in my area to assist the Japanese English Teachers with their classes.
This "assistance" is many and varied. I may run a "greeting game" at the beginning of the class, demonstrate English pronunciation of various words and phrases, conduct conversational exercises with the students or assist/check their written work. As an "assistant" I am not solely responsible for a class, but can find myself preparing and then implementing a teaching plan with the help of my Japanese English teachers.
Waver" to speak English
I am also the resident "Australian and Western culture" expert for my school. I give presentations on Australian history and general knowledge, my own life in Australia and that of my familys. As I have traveled quite extensively I also find myself comparing and contrasting various cultures with Japan for the benefit of both the students and the teachers. The idea that there is diversity and differences between western countries is often a revelation to my pupils and the teachers alike.
My schools social studies teacher now has a firm grasp of the nuisances of Australian politics, its similarities and differences to the American and British democratic processes. I have also enlightened him to the fragile and sports-focused relationship we share with our closest neighbors, New Zealand.
I am also
the recipient of countless questions and inquiries. As my students range
in age from 12-14, I have been stunned by the sophistication of their
questions. From my opinion on Iraq, to my forecast for the American economy
and my thoughts on the recent meetings between the Japanese and South
I have also
been enlightened to nuisances of my culture and language that I was unaware
until I became an English teacher. When trying to teach students the art
of giving an audible greeting, I discovered that no matter how loud they
say "Good morning" the sound is lost when they couple it with
a traditional Japanese bow.
I have learned that my own language is not just words, but hand gestures and facial expressions that are not used in Japanese conversations. To see shy downcast-eyed teenagers come to life with newly taught handshakes, gestures and eye contact as they practice their conversational English has been one of my most joyous experiences to date.
Amongst all these strangeness and newness, I have also felt surprisingly at home. I have witnessed situations and comments that are as common place in an Australian IT department as a staff room in a Japanese Junior High School. My young male colleagues wear their nicest clothes to work on a Friday in preparation for a big night on the town, a summons to an extra meeting is adhered to with a grumbling resentment and a hug transcends all language barriers when you fall and cut your hand.
Even new habits and practices have been quickly absorbed into my own behavior. I am thinking of starting the ritual of standing and bowing at the beginning of each team meeting when I return to my IT job, a ritual that occurs at the beginning of every class and staff meeting in my school. I know I will miss the politeness of waiting for all to be served their lunch before starting to eat.
time I was in a high school was 16 years ago. My nighttime dreams since
this time have often cast me back to the classroom to revisit this stage
of my life. Courtesy of the JET program my dreams have become my reality,
and its not half bad!
to Do It
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