Thursday, May 22, 2014
Japan-U.S. Teacher Exchange: San Francisco Conference Reflection
Lately, I have become very interested in the educational systems of different schools. The media keeps up a constant bombardment of “The U.S. education system is so screwed up” and “x country is doing so much better”. While I certainly acknowledge that there is room for improvement in our system, I also know that I can read a whole bunch of articles about what other countries do but without seeing it in practice, it is mostly meaningless. When I found out about this program, I realized it was a two-for-one deal for me: not only could I explore the educational system of a different country, and being able to explore a topic of much interest to me. I applied, thinking “eh, I’ll get my name out there and maybe if I’m lucky in a few years I’ll get to go”, never dreaming that I would actually get in right away.
I was highly impressed by the caliber of teachers involved in this program. In discussions with them, I realized that for many this is not their first trip, and they emphasized something I had been a little concerned about. Many times on teacher travel trips, you get a handful that are only there for the trip and less so about the objectives and growth as a teacher. I did not get that feeling about this group; they are teachers who love learning and are very committed to sustainable development and professional growth. It was also fascinating to me to see and hear about all of the wonderful projects that different schools are doing. Being a fairly new teacher in a small school, I haven’t really seen what the final result of some of the ideas I’ve had could look like, so that was very inspiring. It was also a little intimidating being the youngest teacher present as well as the only teacher representing a truly rural school the size of mine (180 students in the district Pre-K through 12th grade). It never gets old watching city teacher’s faces when I tell them I’m the whole 7-12 science department, though! While it was a little intimidating, the teachers in this group are very accepting and I never once felt like I didn’t fit in because of a lack of experience. I cannot say enough about the teachers in this group, both Japanese and American.
It was particularly interesting to me to talk to the Japanese teachers and learn about their schools. Some of the more unusual things that stuck out for me was the Japanese love for baseball (I didn’t realize that baseball was a big thing outside of North America), the fact that students clean their own school (the thought of my students’ reactions if I suggested that is amusing), and how much they incorporate the outdoors in their school. From the sustainable development standpoint, it was interesting to me that their views on water conservation were much more laid back, as apparently they get enough rain in the mountains that it is not as big of a problem as it is here. I was really interested by the current energy situation in Japan; the fact that they were 40% reliant on nuclear power before the earthquake and they still have not restarted their nuclear operations nor have they really found a suitable substitute is an interesting situation and really drives home the importance of diversity in resources.
I did not have much of an opportunity to get into much of what I learned back at my school, as by the time I returned from my sister’s graduation on the opposite coast we were gearing up for finals and school is now out. I did try to give them the brief version (it’s hard to condense such a wonderful conference into a few minutes!) and posed some of the questions we talked about, such as the aforementioned energy issue, to get them thinking. I have started to work on plans for next schoolyear, which will include a lot of sustainable development emphasis in my Modern Biology class on top of interspersing ESD throughout my other courses.
I am looking forward to the Japan portion of this trip more than ever. When I first got into the program, I was a little hesitant, not really knowing what to expect or what the program was going to be like. The fact that I know absolutely no Japanese didn’t help much in that regard, either. Now that the conference is complete, I am ready to jump on that plane and get started! I am really looking forward to seeing other schools in action and meeting back up with the teachers in this conference to continue to share ideas. I am excited to figure out what my project will be; I was in some discussion with one of the Japanese teachers about vaccines and I am hoping that my project can somehow incorporate learning about different countries’ viewpoints of vaccinations, given the large and quite honestly frightening movement in the U.S. against vaccines. If that doesn’t work out, I have a few other ideas starting to form in my mind. One thing that I had kind of thought about but never really solidified in my mind was the fact that sustainable development is more than just environmental issues. I feel like American schools lose sigh of the other two key components: social injustice and poverty. (Incidentally, this also helped me understand why my church has such close ties to sustainable development; it makes more sense once those two components are included.) I would really like my project to incorporate one or both of these components, as I feel like I do a well enough job discussing environmental problems with my students but not nearly enough in the other two areas.
Looking forward to June 16th!