Saturday, March 14, 2009

Criteria for selecting a teacher

I was recently writing about whether native speakers of a language are necessarily better teachers than non-native and some of the advantages and disadvantages of both. In the process, I came up with some criteria for prospective learners to ask about their non-Japanese teachers. The majority of these questions would also work for our Japanese colleagues as well.

What is your teacher's commitment to the community?
Let's face it, not all people who hang out their shingle and say they are teachers are really teachers. The word is out all over the world that Japan will hire any native speaker of English as an English teacher, and truth be told, that is pretty much the deal. English conversation schools will hire nearly anyone on one-year contracts in a bid to mass produce English teaching. Your chances of finding a good teacher there are good, because people who say they want to teach are usually good people.  However, your chances of finding less than that are also good. Some teachers come here as a way to see the world, and schools hire them because they will work for cheap, they don't need to pay to support them like they would a Japanese teacher, and foreign teachers are often ignorant of Japanese labor laws, so schools can easily take advantage of their teachers. Examples of this are not hard to find.

Here are some things to find out about your teacher and his or her place of work.
    The Teacher
  • How long has your teacher been here?
  • Is he or she married to a Japanese person? If they are it is a good sign that he or she is invested in the area.
  • How long has your teacher been teaching English anywhere? It does not really matter where they have been teaching, just whether they have the interest in teaching or not.
  • Are they a member of any professional organizations? Professionals work with professionals. When I first came to Japan, my employer strongly discouraged me from getting involved with a professional group in my area. I should have been much more skeptical of that suggestion.
  • Does your teacher participate in any community activities like jikeidan, women's groups, or volunteer organizations? If not they may have a tendancy toward a condition where a foreigner thinks that he or she will only be here for a short while, so why contribute to their community?

    The School
  • Does the school pay for their teachers' memberships to professional societies? If they do they are investing in professionalism, a good thing.
  • Does the school give their teachers time off to attend conferences? Also a good thing.
  • Is there a labor union at the school? If there is, then the school works with the teachers to build a successful learning institution.
  • What are the maternity and paternity leave policies? If people, humans, are invested in a place, want to build a home and raise a family, they need the security to do that.

If your teacher is committed to their community, it is a pretty good bet that he or she will stay around for a while, and has good reasons for doing the best job that he or she can in helping you learn a foreign language. If the school that your teacher is working for is committed to their teachers, then it is a good bet that your teacher will be with you for a while and has the encouragement necessary to teach the best classes they can.

It is in everyone's best interests to have people invested in their profession and in the community which also invests in them. It is not in our best interests to have a psuedo-professional class of vagrants that end up costing everyone in the long run.

2 comments:

Iluska Ikeda said...

I completely agree with you on all of your questions. I would also add that a good teacher tries to stay up-to-date and constantly seeks to improve and develop as a professional.

I have say though, I know some Americans who went to Japan for one or two years only (colleagues in the grad program), but they really wanted to teach. They didn't necessarily want to become part of the Japanese community for the long term, but while they were there they tried their best.

Daniel said...

Thank you for making those points. I agree with them both. It is hard for learners to decide who will help them make the most of their study time. Your colleagues are obviously well trained professionals who would have been a benefit to any learner, and I hope their experiences were fulfilling for them. Those kinds of people are real treasures.