2008 Teaching Awards

Eastern Winner

National AJET Teaching Award Winner
2007-2008 Eastern Winner – Mr. Tetsuya Nakano
Written by Mr. Tom Mattson

SELHi Program from the Perspective of the ALT
I wish to nominate Tetsuya Nakano for the National AJET Teaching Award. My name is Tom Mattson and I am the JET participant working for Tetsuya (who goes by the “handle name” of Ted to his many English-speaking friends). I had to nominate Ted when I saw the judging criteria for this award because it reads like an exact description of the qualities Ted brings to his job.

Ted is my only teacher (I am an ALT at three schools in northern Ibaraki-ken) who is still powerfully self-motivated to create special English language-learning projects and innovative new tools for the students, even though he has been a teacher now for more than 20 years. In my experience, most English classes primarily move the students though the textbook. This is valuable, and is perhaps the best way to improve their grasp of English grammar and vocabulary. But Ted saw that this learning didn’t do enough to improve their real communication skills. So Ted took the initiative to write and submit a proposal to the Ministry of Education for the budget to create a SELHi program (Special English Language High School). His proposal was accepted and Ted was underway. But next Ted had to work for more than a year to receive funds to buy a Tandberg. A Tandberg system is a television-like internet portal that allows us to hook up with and have real-time visual and speaking interaction with anyone who also has a Tandberg anywhere in the world. We can see and speak to the people we are talking with “through the portal” and they can see and speak to us. So far Ted, myself and our SELHi students have had English conversations with schools and English speakers in Australia, London, Ireland, Germany, the US, and we hope many more schools and countries soon. The Tandberg has been vital to increasing our students’ exposure to other English-speaking peoples and increasing their international awareness and knowledge of the world at the same time. Again, the fact we have this treasure is due only to Ted’s belief in improving the quality of education for our students and his persistence in getting the funding to buy the machine. I believe Ted is the only English teacher in all of Japan to find out about and pursue acquiring a Tandberg to use for his students. I strongly believe there are few teachers out there with Ted’s vision and drive and passion for education.

Ted has also developed highly effective teddy bear exchanges with schools in Nepal and Russia where our students and our partner school’s students simultaneously take a teddy bear home and record their lives from the amusing perspective of the bear. Pictures and accounts written in English are then uploaded to servers on both sides so that the students can view and read about each other in their respective countries. And now, because of the teddy bear exchange, we are doing our first face-to-face exchange when the Russian students, from Siberia, visit Japan and Takahagi in July! This is very exciting for our students as they will get to meet Russian students their same age face to face.

In addition Ted works tirelessly to provide the students with other English language-learning activities. He has organized several interesting field trips for the students such as a recent trip to the JAEA (Japanese Atomic Energy Association) where the students received the privilege of a private seminar on nuclear fusion (in Japanese this time because the subject is very complicated!) and then observed an important nuclear experiment take place at the Max Plank Lab after which they spoke in English with the German scientists who conducted the experiment over a Tandberg at the lab. It was sweet to watch our students speaking very good English with these brilliant German physicians on the subject of the upcoming holidays. Our students also had the excitement of being interviewed and having their pictures and names included in a few of Japan’s top newspapers.

In addition, we are beginning to have the students learn and perform William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” – first comprehending the play in English and Japanese and soon rehearsing and performing the play in English! – as well as planning several more exciting field trips that they will (hopefully) find engaging and will enhance their English speaking ability, such as a potential exchange with American students at Yokoska Military Base through Ted’s contacts as a member of JGDF (Japan Ground Defense Forces). We also frequently invite guest speakers to come speak to the children in English about a variety of topics ranging from corals in the Great Barrier Reef to life in Brazil and a Japanese war veteran talking about his experience as a war captive in Uzbekistan during World War II. Again, these contacts all come from Ted’s network and connections.

In short, the SELHi program is my most special class as an ALT here in Japan because it is a joy to be able to give a select group of students greater individual attention, more practice with their English, and more creative and original activities that capture their imagination and meaningfully engage their English-speaking abilities. All this is only due to Ted’s strengths.

On a personal note, Ted has been a great friend to me, especially when I had problems acclimating to life in Japan on account of my not speaking the language much at all. For example, Ted (who is not my kantoku) has taken me to the doctor and waited for me while I was there several times in December, and he has driven me around Ibaraki and showed me interesting places. Most importantly, he has never been too busy to help me or answer a question when I needed it.

I feel that Ted precisely matches the description of what you are looking for in a Japanese Teacher of the Year.

Western Winner

National AJET Teaching Award Winner
2007-2008 Western Winner – Mr. Akito Hirotani
Written by Ms. Fiona Jenkins

I feel I should start off this essay by saying that, in my opinion, if Hirotani-sensei does not win this teaching award it will only be because I have failed to adequately describe his exceptional teaching abilities. This man has a gift for language, and the most extraordinary work ethic, and it is evident to me that he experiences a real joy in the work he does to further his students’ education. I’ve rarely (if ever) seen someone as well matched to his profession as this teacher. It’s truly serendipitous!

In addition to my own shortcomings in terms of expression, the task of writing this has also been made difficult by the fact that it has been awkward gathering information from colleagues –I have tried to be surreptitious about it because I did not want Hirotani-sensei to know that I am nominating him for this award. I sense that he would find it embarrassing (as such an unassuming and humble person) that I am drawing attention to his work.

I have only been teaching with him for 6 months, on one day every fortnight, so I wish I had more examples to give, but I will try to do his work justice in my descriptions.

He teaches the first grade students –the ‘basic’ learners groups. The first grade English students at this school are placed in small groups of 18 or less, which allows for more teacher contact. As an avid pursuer of information on new teaching methodologies I know that he has had a hand in the decision-making processes on how best to teach these students. He makes the most of having me, the ALT, at school just one day a week by scheduling me in for 4 classes (keeping me busy, but not overwhelmed) –and the last lesson of the day is always delivered with the same amount of enthusiasm from him as the first.

As his students are in the first grade, most of them are new to English. Hirotani-sensei understands, better than any other Japanese English teacher I know, the importance of starting them off on the right foot in English. For example in a recent lesson the learning point was ‘How do you say ______ in English?’ This point was covered in an interesting and effective way (the bulk of the lesson was communication practice) until the students really understood what the question meant and how they could use it. The end of the class had them asking me to tell them how to say things in English, an activity which appealed to all of the students (including the mischievous ones!). A testament to the fact that this lesson really worked is that students have asked me outside of class how to say things in English.

Even at this low level of English ability I rarely hear Hirotani-sensei using Japanese in the classroom. The only exception to this is when it is necessary for students’ comprehension of what an activity entails and to leave them confused would frustrate them and impede their learning.

I understand that he travelled to the US in order to study English, and that due to his father’s job he travelled extensively in Japan. He has used this knowledge to educate his students about the world, teaching them about cultural differences, for example about differences in education. He is very knowledgeable about current affairs and history and this is evident in his work. A teacher who worked with him last year told me that in his homeroom class the subject of Peace Education was chosen for a special option. He taught about different perspectives in the world on this issue and to emphasised the crucial nature of acquiring skills in English to the future world citizens in these classes.

Regarding creativity, Hirotani-sensei uses all kinds of activities and materials and varies them while still being sensitive to what students enjoy. When making a plan for the grammar point ‘Who is this?’ Hirotani-sensei made use of the internet in order to find attractive coloured cartoon pictures of current sports players and media personalities that the students know, thus piquing their interest. These he blew up to almost mask-size and students each had a personality to introduce. They loved the lesson and did not realise that they were learning –they were having too much fun. Surely a sign of a truly great teacher?

While of course it is primarily important to work through the material in the textbook Hirotani-sensei always makes time for teaching about other cultures –when there is a festival or a holiday from my, or another foreign country he will ask me for my input and we will collaborate in order to teach about it usually using pictures and quizzes so that the students will want to know the information. I feel some people with such good English ability might be a little arrogant about it but in this case the opposite is true, if Hirotani-sensei is unsure of something in English he will check with me, the native speaker, and is truly humble in his attitude to lifelong learning and professional development. He is often to be seen listening to English or looking up English words in his electronic dictionary.

If only all Japanese teachers of English were as well organised! Every week without fail a fax arrives a couple of days before we are to teach detailing his ideas for our lesson and asking me for my input. This perfectly organised plan always considers how best to use me as a resource. I feel I am learning so much about teaching and achieving so much at this school, thanks to following such a shining example. I feel I am improving ALT-JTE relations in my other schools, due to this, which will have a knock-on effect not only on my time here, but also for future generations of ALTs.