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Teacher brings lessons from Japan

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado
Special to the DailyCindy Hester tried calligraphy during a trip to Japan in which she discovered teaching methods that might work at Stone Creek Charter School, where she teaches.
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AVON ” One of the first things you’ll notice about Japanese schools is how clean they are.

Students do the scrubbing ” not custodians. It’s not surprising to find kids washing toilets and sweeping floors.

Cindy Hester, a 6th grade teacher at Stone Creek Elementary, noticed on her three-week visit to Japan how schools take pride in teaching cleanliness, self reliance and respect in everything they do. Hester was one of 200 educators chosen to visit schools, meet teachers and tour the ancient sites through the Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund Teacher Program.



She noticed how “outside” shoes are placed in rows of cubby holes near entrances where you put on slippers to walk around inside.

Students are required to brush their teeth after lunch.



“They put a song on and they all brush their teeth together,” Hester said.

Everything is recycled. You’ll see every student crush up their milk cartons into tiny balls. They do their dishes and clean off their own chopsticks.

Before every new lesson starts, students stand up, bow, and say to the teacher, “Please teach us.”



After the lesson, they bow and thank the teacher.

“We really liked that,” said Hester, who said she has respectful students, but has never seen such reverence in her class.

English

One of the biggest questions Hester wanted to answer was how Japanese schools teach their students English ” maybe they had some tricks that would help here in Eagle County, where teaching English is a daily challenge facing all teachers, she said.

Starting next year, all Japanese schools must have a native English speaker teaching English class, and students at all grade levels will receive English training.

Students don’t spend as much time learning English as she thought before visiting, and not as many people on the streets knew conversational English as she had predicted.

Students do learn a good deal of English though, but lessons are centered more on grammar and testing as opposed to speaking.

“Everything is geared toward the tests,” Hester said.

It’s very likely that most Japanese students will read English and diagram sentences much better than they will ever speak it, she said.

Hester did notice that foreigners learning Japanese as a second language in the schools were taught using many of the same techniques used here to teach kids new to English.

One a strange note, several students in the elementary school Hester visited asked for her autograph. They were quite amused with having an American in their classroom.

“We felt like movie stars,” Hester said.

It also surprised Hester that hardly any technology was used the classrooms at each of the schools she visited.

“They used blackboard and chalk,” she said. “Kids used a computer lab after school, and I did see a video. Not much else.”

You can eat at McDonalds in Japan. Sure. They just serve shrimp burgers. Needless to say, Hester is tired of fish.

She tried octopus, which she didn’t like so much. She ate a lot of sushi, a lot of rice, a lot of noodles. She didn’t expect to see so many pickles.

Tofu in Japan is much better than tofu in the states. Japanese sweets aren’t really that sweet. Salty snacks are popular, like shrimp and fish flavored chips and crackers. She said “no” to the horse meat offered to her.

She liked the portion sizes, which were a lot smaller. “That was refreshing, to have normal portion sizes,” she said.

Luckily, most restaurants have photo filled menus so you can preview your meals. Many restaurants have plastic models in display cases of every dish.

Overall, food was a big adjustment, but she expected that. With all this time spent eating out and soaking up local culture she also discovered that no, it isn’t a stereotype ” Japanese people really do love karaoke.

For about 600 yen, Hester and some other teachers rented a karaoke room for an hour. Hester sang Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer.”

She may not have noticed much technology in the schools, but people were definitely into text messages everywhere else. On long, packed train rides, she rarely heard talking. She just saw masses of people busily punching away at cell phones with their thumbs.

On the less busy side of Japanese culture, Hester visited ancient Buddhist temples, which were filled with tourists but still very peaceful.

Hester also stayed a night with a Japanese family. The grandfather owns a greenhouse, and his wife does tea ceremonies. They gave her gifts, fed her lunch in a beautiful garden, taught her how to arrange flowers, and when she tried to hug them, they didn’t really know what it was at first.

“They were the nicest people. It was sad to leave,” Hester said.

When school starts this fall, Hester hopes to share all her experiences with her students, she said.

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


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