I remember sitting in my college counselor’s office in high school for help with college applications. She went on to ask me what I wanted to do in life. I, being the typical 18-year-old and trying to find any way to get out of my small town, gave her a shrug. She then proceeded to stare at me for what felt like a minute and responded, “You should be a teacher.”
As I finished my first year of teaching in Japan, this statement has come to my mind and forced me to believe that my college counselor was a fortuneteller. However, as I am no longer a young adult, I’ve taken her words into a larger perspective that involves more than just standing in front of a classroom. Teaching isn’t always a money paying career that you have to go to school for. In fact, when you think about it, we’re all teachers in our own way. Think about your mother, your best friend, someone you look up to, even a celebrity. These are all individuals that hold some sort of information meant for you and the world to experience. And while it may not sound glamorous telling people you’re a life teacher, knowing your role in life and giving to others is an important value to help you grow and become a genuine person.
When I first arrived in Japan, I was overwhelmed and quite scared of what I’d signed up for. But it wasn’t the language I was frightened of, or even the idea of living on my own in a foreign country. Being placed in front of a classroom with random (and equally scared) children and asked to teach was a fear I thought would destroy me. And it should have. I had little experience with teaching, my Japanese was decent but not enough to talk with my teachers, and how could I teach a language that has a word with 179 meanings (look up “run”)? The jet lag and job meetings were making me miss the bigger picture of my job description. For anyone interested in teaching English in another country, the most important teaching experience is you. You’ll find it weird at first, but everything about you is an expression of a world people have never seen.
Usually when I teach, I’m using English and Japanese to explain the lesson to my students. With that being said, I don’t think I’ve ever been successful with my use of Japanese. But I’ve used this “flaw” as a way to show my students it is okay to make mistakes. Mistakes should be embraced because it shows our effort and allows us to get closer to improving. My students seeing my approach with their language allows them to interpret a way to approach English without being discouraged. I also give them the opportunity to know who I am.
Going to school every day, I’m asked questions ranging from “what kind of fruit do you like,” to “do Americans use chopsticks to eat?” While some questions may seem quite silly, I’ve started to understand that my reaction and response to the questions are important. A Japanese student asking his friend about a fruit he likes is an easygoing conversation compared to the same student asking me this question in the hallway. It’s impossible to see it on the surface, but conversing with me opens his or her minds to an interaction with someone from another culture, another background, and another experience. A simple answer like “mango” could turn into me talking about my childhood and eating mangos all year round on an island. Saying, “of course we do” to using chopsticks turns into me explaining the difference between having ramen in America in relation to Japan. I give my curious peer the opportunity to know someone from abroad, and open doors to being interested in other cultures.
Personal experiences, cultures and languages are important ideas to share and teach to others. But the beautiful thing about teaching is that you’re also able to learn in the process. Since I came to Japan, I’ve learned so much about myself from interacting with Japanese and international people alike. I’ve given advice to family and friends, and in many instances realized I should take my own advice. My comfort zone has been the biggest teacher throughout my stay in this wonderful country. I open my mind up to things I’m unfamiliar with. I stop fighting the current and go with the flow. But the best idea I’ve learned is self-expression and self-acceptance. Whether it’s my race, my nationality, or even my hair, I’m a unique person that should be able to give my enthusiastic values and experience to people around the world. Inside and outside of the classroom, I hope to teach others I encounter to do this as well, while in the process of learning more about them.
Give it up for those who provide beautiful pictures: