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From Vail to Japan: Where teachers are revered

Matt Terrell
Special to the DailyTara Goike lived for a while with Yuke, 5, and her family in a small town in Japan that had recently been hit by an earthquake.
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AVON ” In Japan, the students stand, bow and thank the teacher after every lesson.

It’s not that American students are out of control, but there’s a level of respect and reverence in the Japanese classroom that was unfamiliar to Stone Creek Charter teacher Tara Goike.

“You would never see that here,” Goike said.

Goike was one of 160 educators chosen for a three-week visit in June to Japan through the Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund Teacher Program. She visited schools, met teachers, stayed with a Japanese family, toured the ancient sites and came back with a better understanding of what makes their culture tick, especially in their schools.

Goike spent about a week in Tokyo attending education conferences, getting oriented and sightseeing. Goike was able to visit some ancient Buddhist temples, watch the monks chant and perform their ceremonies, as well as take a yoga class.

There was a lot of karaoke involved, as well as eating a lot of Japanese food, which didn’t set well with everyone in her group.

“Not everyone is used to eating fish at every meal,” Goike said

Goike learned that eating on-the-go in Japan ” like the time saving practice of eating a bagel while walking down the sidewalk ” is considered rude. Meals and snacks are meant to be savored, so you always had to sit down and eat your meal. To-go coffee cups seemed nonexistent.

She then spent a week visiting schools in a small mountain town called Ichinoseki, where, just before she arrived, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck.

Many of the students had lost their homes, things in the school had been broken, and news reports said a few people had died, she said. Goike herself felt several tremors while she was there and experienced a 5.3 magnitude earthquake.

Despite all the hardship, the people in the town were very kind and went out of their way to make her trip wonderful, Goike said.

There are quite a few differences between Japanese classrooms and American ones, Goike said.

The first big difference ” all the kids do the exact same lessons at the same time. American schools are increasingly customizing lessons based on a student’s ability level, their strengths and weaknesses.

Japanese schools put a bigger focus on paperwork and testing, while creative lessons involving hands-on projects seemed nonexistent. Japanese students do, however, consistently rank in the top five in the world on standardized achievement tests, Goike said.

Everything seemed a lot neater, a lot more quiet. Middle school and high school students all wore uniforms.

“It’s definitely more regimented,” Goike said. “They drill them and drill them, and they get really good test scores.”

The schools though seem to balance that big push for excellence in testing by also pushing arts and athletic programs. Music programs are highly emphasized in Japan, and it seems like everyone plays a sport.

In a middle school she visited, every student was required to be involved in two-after school activities, which kept the kids busy, and allows parents to work late, Goike said.

Everyone walks or rides their bikes to school. Goike visited a so called “eco” school, which was equipped with things like solar panels and rainwater collectors to flush toilets.

Goike stayed a few days with a Japanese family. There was a husband, who described himself as a “public official,” a wife, who was a preschool teacher, and three school-age kids.

They had a beautiful, very traditional looking Japanese house, hand-made with wood and with those paper sliding doors.

Communicating was difficult. The family knew very little English, and Goike knew very little Japanese, so they drew pictures, made hand signs and used dictionaries often.

Goike gave the kids some baseball cards as a gift, and one of them was incredibly excited to see an Alex Rodriguez card, she said.

“They prepared a hand-rolled sushi meal for me, which they usually only do on birthdays and holidays,” Goike said.

Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 970-748-2955 or mterrell@vaildaily.com.


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