My teaching philosophy 4
Every year I have to write a 300-500-word essay about my teaching philosophy, or my aspirations for teaching in Japan as part of my annual contract renewal process. Every Spring it’s the same thing: copies of my degrees and certificates; copies of my passport, my bank passbook and my Residence Card; plus, an essay. I’ve been working for the Board of Education for years. You’d think they still have all this stuff. But never mind. I have to resubmit it every Spring. About my essay, I am prohibited from resubmitting the same essay year after year. It might take a few months, but someone will read my essay and compare it to previous ones. If they are identical I will be asked to re-write. I know, because it’s happened before. The challenge is to say the same thing year after year in a new way. Over time it has become easier because the longer I work here the firmer are my ideas about what I am doing, what I want to do, and why I want to do it.
I want to teach English in Japan because Japanese society is a welcoming environment suited to my personality, where I feel an affinity for the culture’s social values. Working with young people is a great privilege, and teaching Japanese high school students in particular is a gift of contributing to their lives. I like feeling that I have the chance to help my students become competent English communicators, equipped with a useful skill that they will have for the rest of their lives. Towards that end, it is very important to me that my lessons are designed to be both relevant and functional. I design lessons around a routine that students can expect and rely on. Once introduced as their teacher I feel that I have an obligation to my students, and I don’t want to disappoint their expectations. That feels like failure. So, reliability, perseverance and routine are important values for me.
I design lessons around real-life situations with suitably functional vocabulary and grammar. The last thing I want is to discourage students by delivering an arcane lesson. I always want to focus on function above virtuosity because I believe in “Communicative Competence” which focuses on giving students functional language. The value of virtuosity is over-estimated. I want to strip my presentation down to it’s most functional, useful, real-world applications so that students can leave a lesson understanding something they did not understand at the start, or knowing something they did not know, or being able to do/say something they could not at the beginning. Small gains are a great victory.
I am always aware of the important elements of language acquisition: listening, speaking, reading and writing. "Communicative competence" tries to give students opportunities to study and practice real life situations successfully. That draws me towards regular pair work and speaking games. Do my students understand me and do I understand them? If the answer is Yes, then that’s enough.
It is important to me that I have fun at school and in class. If I have fun then the students are more likely to enjoy themselves.
In today’s globalized world the benefits of being able to speak English should be self-evident. In Tokyo especially, the approach of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games helps emphasize the importance of language competence. I think that expecting English virtuosity from my students is wrongheaded. Being able to speak English and being a competent communicator are two different things. I am more concerned with helping them to communicate effectively in English, than to “speak” like a master of an academic discipline. I disagree with many foreign English teachers’ expectations and lesson styles because I don’t see that they have communication competence in mind. With the choice of mastery or competence, competence is enough.