September 2008: JET Effect Spotlight

It is election time again in the U.S., and in southern Nagano it is not just opinionated ex-pats that are discussing the issues. This past May, at Nakagawa Junior High School, Japanese teachers were discussing their views on this year’s presidential race with their American coworkers.

On May 28th, a Wednesday afternoon, three Junior High School JET ALTs; Jesse Sargent, Jon Reimer, and Matt Little; organized an English workshop for the Japanese Teachers of English in their areas. This event is held each year on an afternoon after the students have left the school. This year’s topic was the U.S. Presidential election. Co-organizer and spokesperson Matt Little discussed how the project’s topic took shape, “We wanted something that would be interesting for both the JTEs and ourselves, and a topic that would stimulate some discussion. Last year we looked at the prospective threats from China and North Korea, but this year we decided on the American presidential elections because they were receiving a lot of publicity in Japan at the time.”

The three organizers planned a multi-media presentation to introduce the candidates and the issues. They used TV news clips, newspaper articles, and pictures to create a full picture of the election and give the subject matter some context. The lesson began by viewing NBC news clips about the candidates. Images of smiling charismatic orators and a parade of hot button issues gave the JTEs a good idea of the atmosphere and overarching issues involved in this year’s presidential race. The video was followed by a discussion of general comprehension questions; “Who is a Democrat?, Who is a Republican?, What is one key point about each candidate?”

Then they broke into smaller groups. Each ALT was assigned to one group and one candidate. In these groups, they discussed the candidate in more depth and generated discussions among the JTEs. The discussions included some of the sociocultural factors such as race and gender that were big topics of debate in the U.S. Of course, international relations was the major issue on the discussion palette. “It was clear that U.S. assistance in confronting North Korea was their main concern,” the organizers noted. The afternoon continued with JTEs rotating between the groups before reassembling for a final discussion and mini-vote. (Obama won.)

One of the major factors in this project’s success is that it is easy to repeat. The JET ALT organizers were able to learn from their experiences and improve the program the second time around. For instance, the organizers felt that the JTEs were “very reticent to actually discuss matters in English.” In response, they put participants into smaller groups for discussion to put them more at ease, and the ALTs came armed with many guiding questions to keep the flow of the conversation going. They mentioned that this was a challenge that will still need to be worked on in future workshops, but nonetheless, the event’s continued success and improvement has gained it respect among the local community. Time has earned it a place on the school’s yearly calendar.

Overall, both ALTs and JTEs were enthusiastic about the outcome. According to Matt Little, “The JTEs said they were happy with the lesson, and that they had learned a lot about the subject matter…both JTEs and ALTs learned a great deal.” This was more than an opportunity to practice English; the success of the event lay in its ability to connect people from different cultures so they may learn from one another about culture and politics by sharing their opinions about important and relevant topics.

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If you would like to know more about the event, you can also contact the project organizers or National AJET at