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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

New Semester

A new semester has begun. In Japan, the month of September is filled with sporting activities for the students. I was told to expect to have many English classes cancelled. I guess it’s no surprise to hear that sports have precedent over English. This brings up a topic I discussed with a veteran A.L.T. over the summer holiday. He has been in the Yufuin area for the past 5 years. Usually an A.L.T. will teach for a year or two, and then move back to their home country. Anyway, when he was hired, it was assumed that his job would be obsolete after 2 to 3 years. At that time, it was assumed that the main teachers would have a firm grasp of the English language. Thus, the main teachers would not require the assistance of an A.L.T. The assumption has been proven wrong. It has been 6 years since the plan was first implemented. The main teachers are still light years away from being left alone in front of an English class.

I asked the veteran A.L.T., “Why are the teachers having so much difficulty with English?” His reply had to do with senior teachers being unable to cope with change. He also mentioned that their hearts were not in it. He used a personal example. “When I first came to Japan, I was unable to speak the language. I had to get around, pay bills, and live my everyday life. This forced me to learn the language.”

“I see what you mean,” I replied. “I have a similar situation in that I have Erika to hold my hand whenever I face a difficult conversational situation. It’s much easier to rely on her than to take the initiative to learn the language. The main teachers have the A.L.T.’s to hold their hands. So what’s the solution?”

“The solution will take time. The older teachers will have to retire. The newer teachers are required to have an English license. The entire education system will require a change in attitude. They need to have a real reason for teaching/ learning English. Right now, the reason is because Japan wants to be international. If you asked someone from the Department of Education what that means to be international, the answer is vague. Until the teacher has a firm idea and purpose for teaching English, their hearts will not be in it and the program will not succeed.”

“Well, that’s good for us, but that’s bad for the students,” I replied. “Japan is very good at copying ideas, but they fail miserably when it comes to being creative. It would take a creative mind to challenge and persuade the educators to change. I don’t see that happening anytime, soon.” The veteran A.L.T nodded his head in agreement.    George

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