Ms. Joann Kort
Dirksen Elementary School, Schaumburg Community Consolidated School District 54
On June 23 I sat nervously in the lounge at O’Hare Airport, looking forward to my flight to Japan. I wondered about many things: how would I communicate, would I find food that I enjoyed, what would the schools be like, how would I be received in the schools and in my host family’s home. I was excited yet nervous. As I look back on all of the incredible experiences that I had on the trip to Japan I can see that I had nothing to worry about. The trip exceeded any expectations!
I appreciated the variety of experiences we had in the schools that we visited. In our school visit to Hiroshima Gakuen Junior and Senior High School I appreciated the opportunity to sit with students and be able to ask them questions about their educational experiences at this school. The students spoke honestly about the achievement expectations and the work each student is required to do. We were curious how the students handled the stress and they explained that there were home room teachers to talk to if there were issues. They shared that they felt their school and community were safe places for them. Sadly, they were aware of the school shootings that have been happening in the United States. They had a difficult time comprehending that a student could act out in such a way against their fellow students. After we spoke with the students we were able to speak with some of the teachers. It was clear that the teachers knew that the parents respected them as educators and expected their children to their best in school. If there was a need to speak with a parent about a concern, the parents took it seriously and supported the need at home through their support or through after school tutoring.
The next day we visited the Tachiai Elementary School which is where we taught our demo lessons. I was honored by giving a welcome speech to the entire student body. I explained to the students that all of the visitors came from schools in the United States that had Japanese students in our schools. I thanked them for giving us the opportunity to see the schools that our Japanese students come from to help us support students. After the morning meeting we visited classrooms in the building and had the opportunity to teach our demo lessons. The students were so patient with our lack of Japanese. They were attentive and participated in the lesson. The teachers were also very friendly and helpful. It was so nice to see the students helping to serve lunch to their classmates. There was no food choice and every student ate everything that was on their plate. The students in my school all bring their own lunch each day. There are some students who receive a government subsidized lunch which they don’t always like or eat.
For me the highlight of the trip was the home stay in Ikaruga. I stayed with a family with three young daughters. They spoke very little English but we used our IPhones to use a translation program. We communicated quite well! The relatives, neighbors, and friends of the host family came over to meet me. Everyone was lovely! They brought food and gifts. Anyone who had a level of English wanted to speak to me in English. When we arrived in Ikaruga the welcome was amazing. To see all of the families waving flags and signs to welcome us was very touching. I truly felt like I experienced the culture of Japan by staying with my family. We used our translation program to talk about how school in Japan was different than school in America. They were curious about autism and we had a wonderful conversation about that.
During my visit to Japan I noticed many things that helped me to understand my Japanese students better. Education was respected and honored. Parents took responsibility for extra assistance their children needed and for any behavioral issues. There was no question that students knew what was expected of them and complied with expectations. One of the girls in my host family did not finish her homework because of the visitors to the house. She was made to wake up early and sit at the breakfast table to finish her work. When I asked her what would happen if she didn’t finish her homework, she looked at me with a shocked expression and said, “That would never happen!”
The dedication to academic studies and commitment to success was evident.
We had our welcome back to school evening tonight. My Japanese students were so proud to know I had visited Japan and were excited to see my pictures. Thank you for the wonderful opportunity I had to visit your beautiful country!