Saturday, June 10, 2006

The way I see the current state of teacher education

Background: What has made me re-examine teacher education?
Lately, I have been feeling a little down. Here is the reason why:
Last week I watched a television show in Japanese titled "If the world were 100 people". At the beginning, the program mentioned that if the world were 100 people, 50 people would suffer from malnutrition and 14 would not know how to read. Then the program documented the lives of two brothers, aged 9 and 6, from Ghana, who were working on a chocolate plantation, a 12 year-old HIV positive homeless boy in the Ukraine, and a 15 year-old single mother of two children in Argentina. These children were without a family, adequate shelter, and education. It was one of the most heartbreaking stories I had seen (on television, at least). The program reminded me how blessed I have been for receiving a good education and having a supportive family.

How I see the current state of teacher education
After watching this program, student apathy really started to bother me much more than before. The Japanese Teacher Education Curriculum requires that students take certain classes in certain subjects and undergo a 3-week teaching practicum to receive a teaching license in their field of interest. Students can get a teaching license to teach all subjects at an elementary school, or a license to teach specific subjects (for example, English, History, Math etc.) at a secondary school (there are no separate teaching licenses for junior and senior high schools).
Students take from 9 - 14 classes a semester. As you can imagine, because students take so many classes a semester and also have part-time jobs as well as club activities, the amount of work they can do outside of class is limited. It seems to me that students seem to be taking classes not because they are interested in the subject but because they need the credit for their license. So, students sit through 15 - 22 and a half hours of lectures per week (if they go to all their classes), and if they do the bare minimum to pass their classes, they can get their credits and their licenses. Classes are seen more as a burden a students has to undergo to get his/her license than learning opportunities.

Why this bothers me:
What concerns me the most is that aspiring English teachers these days are not showing any intellectual curiosity. Education for students seems to consist of sitting through classes they are not interested in and doing what is asked of them. How can you become a teacher if you are not curious about anything? How can you become a teacher if you think that learning is just doing what is asked of you? To me, learning is not a passive activity where you listen to someone speak for an hour and a half. To me, you learn through a combination of experience, interacting with your classmates, interacting with your teacher, listening to presentations from your teacher or classmates, reading, and analyzing all of the former through writing or speaking. I work very hard to stimulate learners' curiosity in the subjects I teach. I know that my classes could be a lot better; I am disorganized and a little inconsistent in my approach. Nevertheless, I try my best. I think back to the two boys in Ghana working from dawn to dusk on a chocolate plantation and who dream of having an education and I think that maybe I am not where I should be.

Concluding on a Positive Note:
Although I believe everything I wrote above, I also think that the students I teach at this university do a commendable job of doing everything they must to become teachers. I do not think I could handle 15 (or even 10) different classes as well as a part-time job, club activities and out-of-class study. Overall, I am lucky to work with the students I work with. However, sometimes I worry that students' busy schedules make them forget that they want to be teachers because they are interested in their subjects and want to show their students how interesting their subjects are.
In the English Teaching Methodologies Class I am teaching this semester, we are writing blogs. Recently, I realized that I might have been giving the students too many detailed blogging assignments and the blogs became more of something that students just had to "get out of the way" rather than an interesting means to express their thoughts about English education and their own education. This week, I asked students to write about anything they wanted to. Pinch Hitter , who majors in junior high school English education, wrote about his experience teaching English in a city called Kitakami. Happy Days, who majors in Elementary School education, wrote about her once in a lifetime chance as nursing home volunteer (a requirement to get your teacher's license) . Happy Days also has asked for some advice on how she should prepare to teach all subjects for her elementary school teaching practice. Maybe some students who have already done her elementary school teaching practice can give her some advice!
Reading these two blogs have given me some hope for teacher education. Despite the problems, we have many dedicated aspiring teachers who will some day make wonderful contributions to education in Japan.


aNne said...

i really enjoy reading your blog. im a teacher in the States and the major differences in teaching philosophy have scared me into not re-contracting next year. its unfortunate Japan gets ALTs, myself included, who really want to TEACH, but the Japanese school system's inability to adapt to a NEW style and philosophy impedes the full utilization of an ALT. its disheartening, but hopefully you are making a difference by changing the future English teachers of Japan's mindset!!!

aNne said...

i replied to your comment on the "culture clash" posting on my site. thanks for reading! please pass my site onto future JTEs. also i have several questions for you, could you please email me @ my personal address and i will write you when i have some time...