Ms. Amy Faith
High School English Teacher
Lake Zurich High School, Community Unit School District 95
Education is the foundation for students to learn to live in a global, multicultural world while also learning the skills to achieve their dreams and pursue their passions. Throughout the IEJ experience it became apparent that Japanese culture focuses on strong academics and community centeredness over self, essentially thoughtfulness. Students are expected to excel in academics, hobbies, and sports all while being mindful of others and the world. This concept really impressed me as I reflected on the similarities and differences between Japanese and American education and culture.
While visiting both public and private schools as well as meeting and speaking with students, teachers, and administrators, I observed an extreme amount of care and concern for the students’ academic growth as well as development of life skills to function in a global world. Education is student centered, so students have choice in determining which course curriculum to follow to help them pursue individual career goals. Also, at Hiroo Gakuen, an international private school in Tokyo, students who have different English and Japanese language proficiency skills are paired together in order to support each other with classwork which also helps to strengthen language acquisition; this further fosters community centeredness and empathy for others, a necessary life skill. While also speaking with students during a panel discussion, they articulately explained the challenges they encounter each day because of a heavy course load and amount of work, but optimistically highlighted how pushing themselves has benefited them as they are well ahead of their peers in other countries; I noticed how this also positively impacted their self-worth. Furthermore, while on an informational tour with the principal of the Tachiai Elementary School in Tokyo, he mentioned that along with academic obligations, students are also in charge of cleaning their classrooms daily. Similarly, in Ikaruga students are also expected to clean bathrooms as well. This focus on cleanliness in schools teaches students to respect their environment and others around them. The students’ eagerness to learn as well as teachers and administrators’ eagerness to teach not only academics but how to appropriately and respectfully live in an increasingly global world constantly impressed me. Also at the Tachiai Elementary School, students take turns bringing lunch to the classroom, dressing in chef outfits, and distributing lunch to all their classmates. Meanwhile, other students in the classroom move desks together, set up place-mats, wash hands, and wait to eat until everyone has been served and a blessing said in unison. I’ve never witnessed this type of community centeredness in any American school cafeteria. It became obvious that the Japanese educational system positively impacts students as they have high test scores, are very rule oriented, and follow societal expectations; for example, Japanese trains are quiet and clean which mirrors that of the classroom environments, thus highlighting the effectiveness of the Japanese educational system.
I also consistently observed Japanese community centeredness, or thoughtfulness and hospitality, throughout the IEJ trip outside of the classrooms. Upon arriving to the Ikaruga Community Center to meet our host families for the weekend, the community had prepared a traditional Japanese drum ceremony (taiko) to welcome our group. The drum show was unlike anything I have ever seen; the energy and excitement the performers displayed infected the audience as everyone wore enormous smiles and wide-eyed expressions. Afterward they even taught us to drum and had the entire group perform and chant together; it was a perfect ice breaker for the weekend stay. Furthermore, my hosts, the Uji family, thoughtfully planned activities centered on my interests and our shared hobbies which also taught me a great deal about Japanese culture, history, food, and family. After a private educational tour of Horyuji Temple in Ikaruga, we hiked the Narukawa pass at the Ikoma mountain area in Nara and saw Senkouji Temple, Hiraoka shrine, rice paddies, bamboo forests, cypress forests, and varied blooming hydrangeas. After a reinvigorating homemade okonomiyaki dinner, the family took me to the Nijinoyu Onsen, another intriguing and relaxing cultural experience. I made lifelong friends during my weekend stay in Ikaruga.
The IEJ Program was a life changing experience, and although I like to think of myself as a good teacher already, I know this experience will make me an even more effective educator. I plan to make even stronger connections with all my students, be even more thoughtful of others, and excel even more in everything I do. I’m excited to share my new found knowledge with students and colleagues this coming school year so that they too can identify with students moving to America from abroad so new students feel as welcomed as I did in Japan.