Monday, May 07, 2012

The past couple of years

I really have all but given up posting to this blog but surprisingly it still seems to get some hints and occasionally I will receive a comment that is actually not spam. For about a year, I have honestly wanted to post but these days I am a zombie after 9PM which had been my time for blog writing. Two kids and advancing in age will do that to you I guess. 

I am involved in English teacher education in Japan. Basically, I teach aspiring junior and senior high school teachers in Japan the ropes about teaching English. Sometimes, though, it seems that after 10 years here I myself am still learning the ropes. In addition to the teacher education classes, I also teach general English classes at a nursing school, a night school for nurses, and another university in my city. Japanese universities are fairly liberal about letting their staff work part-time at other places. 

Anyhow, last year I was teaching at the night nursing school I had a bit of a revelation. I had a class of 20 students who had full-time jobs and were absolutely exhausted by the time they came to my class. They had to study to pass their nursing exam and nursing English was not a priority for them. My goal for the class became not to necessarily teach them English but show them how to learn a foreign language so that maybe when they had the time or the need, they would have some tools to help them learn English. I poured an immense amount of time into this class thinking about how I could reach every individual student. One day, I was lamenting a little about my class on English teaching methodology and students' apparent lack of interest. Then, I thought about the nursing school class and asked myself if I was as dedicated to the students at my full-time job. I realized that I was neglecting a lot of students who were actually interested in English and losing students who had still not made up their minds about whether or not they wanted to be English teachers. I did not want to abandon the nursing students who I had grown quite attached to, but I decided to really devote more energy to my teaching methodology class. I doubled the amount of work, gave them long reading and writing assignments - commenting on the content of the writing assignments as well as having them correct their English, and completely overhauled my lectures. By the ending of the semester, I felt that the students were giving me more effort and showing more interest in teaching English. 

I am supposed to be a researcher. However, I think an important job of a teacher is to give students as much one to one help as possible because I think the feedback a teacher can give, if done right, will scaffold the learners growth. Also, if learners know that the teacher is constantly checking their work, monitoring their progress, and actually cares whether or not the learners are making progress, it will be very motivational for the learners. Spending a lot of time on classes though can limit the amount of research I can do. No matter what though, I do not have the heart to go through the motions with my classes; I think that teaching is what I like to do the most.

The late Randy Pausch gave an amazing lecture on time management. He was able to be a successful teacher and researcher as well as watch his Pittsburgh Steelers play every month and spend time with his family. His secret seemed to be that 1) he was incredibly organized and 2) he made a schedule every day of exactly what he would do and when he would do it. So far, I have partially succeeded with 1) but for me to balance my life better, I have to become better at 2).

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