Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Education of a Teacher - Part 2

I arrived in Osaka in the early spring of 1987 to find that Japan was booming. Companies like Sony, Toyota, Yamaha and Nikon were recognized as global leaders in their fields. Japanese businessmen were making investments and buying properties around the world: Pebble Beach Golf Course in Monterey; Rockefeller Center in Manhattan; Columbia Pictures. At one time nearly, every major hotel in Hawaii was Japanese-owned. The Japanese economy was the envy of the world and almost every bookstore carried a variety of books celebrating the Japanese business model. The Japanese people were also looking outward. Everyone wanted to travel abroad and taking English lessons became a popular thing to do. For an English teacher – even a middle-aged one like me – conditions couldn’t have been better. Language schools were opening all over the city and many people were looking for private teachers. Studying English was cool.
In Japan, every student must take six years of English in junior high school and high school and many students study considerably longer. But I soon noticed a strange thing. For all their exposure to English teaching, most students spoke the language at a surprisingly low level and were hesitant to communicate in English outside the classroom. Furthermore, few seemed to show any improvement in their English ability beyond what they had acquired in their earlier years. It was all very curious. By the end of 1988 I had established myself. I was teaching 2nd year students at Seishin high school, a prestigious girl’s school in Obayashi. I was also a full time teacher at English Network conversation school in Umeda, teaching one-to-one and also going out to company classes. In what little spare time I had, I taught privately. Yet everywhere I noticed this same phenomena, that most students didn’t seem to make any meaningful progress and eventually gave up altogether. It was a while before the reality of the situation began to become apparent. I’ll tell you what I eventually realized in Part 3.

Booming :ブーム global:世界的 fields:分野 nearly:ほとんど
looking outward:外に目を向ける travel abroad :海外に旅行にいく considerably:かなり surprisingly:驚くくらい
Hesitant:気兼ねする Furthermore:さらに establish:確立する
Prestigious:一流の spare time:空いてる時間 phenomena:現象
Meaningful progress:役立つ進展 apparent:明確

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Thoughts On Education - Part 1

When I was in college at the University of San Francisco, I was an English major. I had no idea what I would do with an English degree but I knew I liked to read and enjoyed writing and, after all, I already spoke the language pretty well. It seemed a reasonable - though not very challenging - choice. I had some vague idea that I would end up as an English teacher somewhere and really didn’t give the particulars much thought. But before I could embark on my glorious teaching career, the Vietnam War came along and I found myself in the navy. I spent two years aboard ship and then in 1968 returned to a very different San Francisco. While I was overseas, my hometown had become the hippie capitol of the world and suddenly standing in front of a group of bored students, diagramming sentences, explaining the difference between who and whom and the proper use of the subjunctive clause, just didn’t seem very exciting. After those restrictive years in the military, I was ready to dive right into this rushing river of young people and let it sweep me off to adventure. I really had no interest in putting on a suit and tie and joining the corporate workforce or the educational establishment. The 60’s and 70’s were a different time; a time of change, a time when anything seemed possible and usually was. It was the great period of youthful experiment in the United States and indeed the world, and I wanted to be part of it. I tried everything…well, at least a lot of things. I made sculptures and sold my work at street fairs and festivals throughout northern California. I ran a little in-home gallery, acted for awhile, drove a cab, worked as a waiter and a restaurant manager and, in general, embraced the creative spirit of the time. My life turned this way and that. It took me on caravans through the mid-west and brought me halfway across the Pacific to Hawaii for a six-year stay in those warm and welcoming islands. And finally, in 1987, fate set me down in the city of Osaka. It was here in Japan that the long rainbow arc of my life came back down to earth with a thump and I found myself in a classroom teaching English just as I had set out to do those many years ago. But it wasn’t what I expected at all. I’ll tell you what I found in Part 2 of my trans-Pacific chronicle.

Major : 専攻 Vague[veig] :ぼんやとした。embark on:実行する glorious:輝かしい(この中では少し皮肉的) aboard:(乗り物、船や飛行機)で hippie capital:ヒッピーの中心地  Diagramming:分解して説明する subjenctive clause:仮定法節 Sweep (someone) off :流れに飲み込む corporate workforce:会社員 educational establishment:学校機関 embrace:引き付ける caravans:キャラバン(馬やラクダで旅をする集団)arc : 弧 thump : 重い物がぶつかるときの擬音語 set out : 計画する