Teaching English in a rural community in Japan is challenging. Lots of kids at my school, Shiga Prefectural Maibara Senior High School, question the need to study English because there’s actually very little opportunity to interact with people from English-speaking countries. My job is not only to teach them grammar and syntax, but also to let them experience foreign cultures through the joy of communicating in English.
My typical weekday starts like this: I get up 5.30am, prepare breakfast and wave goodbye to my 8-year-old son who walks to school with his friends. Then I jump into my car and drive to school for 50 minutes.
Arriving at the school, I check my schedule and prepare for classes, and then I head to see my tutor group, who are second year English students. When I’m free, I review my teaching plan and consider how I can make it better for students’ learning. In my school, each class holds approximately 40 students and teachers teach them with chalk and blackboard. To make the class more fruitful, I bring my own laptop or iPad and a projector to the classroom, showing students the slides I made, pictures or YouTube videos related to the topic they are reading in the textbook.
To try and enthuse them about English, I organise Skype sessions with other teachers and students across the world. When we read a story about the issues of deforestation and palm oil plantations in Borneo a few years ago, my students had a video call with students on the island. This way, they get a precious opportunity not only to share their opinion in English, but also to hear real voices, something that can’t be learned in a textbook. Last year when we read a passage about water issues in South Africa, we connected with a teacher in the country and she shared her story about the issue. After the lesson, one of my students said her stereotypical views of African countries was broken. She used to feel pity for people in developing countries. However, watching the South African teacher speaking cheerfully made her realise that the images and impressions she had gained through the media were not always true. This is what I love most about teaching: the moments when we break the barriers of the classroom walls and open the door to the real world through English.
By the time I’ve finished school and finally relax, it’s often around 8pm or 9pm. Sometimes I skip my lunch to have a talk with students who have some worries about studying, and even after school students visit me to ask questions. When they all go home around 6pm, I do some paperwork and prepare for the next day. Starting all of this after the end of an already long day is exhausting, but I strongly believe that communicating with students is very important: it’s the foundation of better relationships between teachers and students.
Currently in Japan, a programme of education reform is underway due to the rapid changes in the world. As it is an island country, people in Japan have been said to be less globalised, poor at English and overall less competitive in global society. In our country, it’s believed that you often need special facilities or financial support to participate in globalisation. In the past few years, the Ministry of Education has offered some programmes including huge financial support for global education. However, it is only for those selected by the ministry and the reality is that most schools don’t have such support and have no chances to connect with the outside world. This is one of the reasons why students in rural communities tend to have no motivation to study English.
I believe we should ensure every child the same quality of education wherever they live. Even though the school is not equipped well and doesn’t receive enough financial support – it is the teachers that can bring changes to the situation.
People sometimes suggest to me that I should work in a big city because they offer better education with more resources and a higher salary, but I would still rather work in the countryside. Teaching English here is challenging, yet rewarding. Even if the issue seems overwhelming, someone should try. If nobody tries, then how will we ever change things for the better?
Mio Horio is an English teacher at Shiga Prefectural Maibara Senior High School, Japan