Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Kenshu for Me: My First Few Years in Japan by Jessie James Lucky

by Jessie James Lucky

This is the second part of a three part series.
Be sure to check out part one: What is Kenshu? Teacher Training in Japan

Bio: Jessie is an ALT from Portland, Oregon, USA. He got a certificate in TESL from Portland State University and worked as an adult educator as well as technical trainer for a national bank in the US before coming to Japan.


Jessie has lived in Japan for over 14 years and currently spends most of his time working at two schools in the Kumamoto area. He has a wealth of teaching experience. Outside of school, he teaches students of all ages and levels. More recently, he’s been teaching business English for working professionals, students facing entrance exams or TOIEC tests, students preparing for work and study abroad, as well as community English classes for senior citizens and young kids.


Outside of the classroom, Jessie has a lot of hobbies. These include Capoeira, canyoning, waterfall climbing, instrument making, and heavy metal to name a few. 


My employer told me to submit an essay, written in English, which was related to a nonsensical topic they gave me, written in broken English. Each year it changed slightly, but it was something along the lines of ‘How to effectively use the ALT in English lessons to teach X teaching goal’.

I often wrote that the best thing they could do is quit their job, go abroad to learn English/TEFL and let me teach in their stead. I even started submitting the same essay each year, maybe only changing a few passages to make it a little more blunt/silly/funny depending on my mood that year. No one noticed, why would they? The essays may have caused some controversy if any of the Japanese had (or could have) read it.

I often wrote that the best thing they could do is quit their job, go abroad to learn English/TEFL and let me teach in their stead.

As instructed, I brought enough copies of my essay for everyone in attendance to receive one, as did all the other ALTs and JTEs. I received a copy of everyone's essay and they mine. Several days worth of reading (if you bothered, I often did, foolishly) on the same nonsensical topic from ALTs who by-in-large had no training in linguistics or education and had only been in Japan a short while.

The Japanese teachers wrote more on more topics, all in Japanese. Their materials usually were not given to the ALTs unless we asked for them, but why would you? (Why did I?) The topic was always, in truth, how to pass off English classes if you didn’t actually speak English by using someone who did. No professionals or experienced teacher trainers were ever brought in to teach or lecture.

There would be small brainstorming sessions done in groups with JTEs and ALTs and there was always some confusion about how much would be done in English and how much would be done in Japanese. The biggest issue for me was that few to none of the JTEs attending were competent language educators and most of the ALTs were untrained and very inexperienced so there wasn't a lot to learn or gain from the experience. It was a lot of confused people sharing their confusion. At least the prefecture could say that they had given their JTEs training by conducting the fiasco. And that really was the goal of it.

It was a lot of confused people sharing their confusion.

I stopped attending these meetings. I started attending the meetings the ALTs weren’t invited to when I could. The information at these other meetings and discussions were still often suspect and I ended up not attending many of them also. I was, however, able to identify which kenshu actually had new information. Most of this information was about policy changes and other things that weren’t necessarily useful for professional development but meant a whole lot to changes in the job, like increased class hours per week and curriculum changes.

I participated in kenkyu-jugyo. For me, this has been the most beneficial. It has allowed me to engage my co-teachers about methodology and class planning without constraints of time or desire. Since we are presenting a lesson with a specific goal or focus there is every effort made to do the best job possible. I was fortunate to work with a very passionate teacher who was selected multiple times for very large projects and very progressive teaching goals. In each case, I was proud of the lessons we were able to create and deliver together.

I participated in kenkyu-jugyo. For me, this has been the most beneficial.

Although, as I discussed above, I have major concerns about the effectiveness and relevance of the overall Japanese kenshu system, I feel that the experiences have helped me to develop, and if anything, understand the system I work within better.

The teacher I worked with has never fallen short of thanking and recognizing me for my part in his work, although I have never been selected or even contacted by anyone but him to participate and I have only really been recognized by him as a professional in the lessons. I gave up on being ‘seen’ by Japanese educators long ago. Sometimes you can only really have a peer relationship with the Japanese educators you work directly with, and that is good enough for me. One wall at a time, one person at a time.

This is the second part of a three part series.
Be sure to check out part one: What is Kenshu? Teacher Training in Japan. Part three about technology in the classroom will be coming in a few weeks.


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