Monday, December 26, 2011

ALT issues in public schools

This is an experiment to check how effectively this blog functions for us. To do so, let's keep discussing ALT issues in public schools (particularly, with Amy), which I happened to pick up in our last email exchange.

Let me continue my vignette. Like I said before so many times, I used to work in a public junior high school in Kawasaki. Kawasaki city was a special district with independent educational board of committee. In addition to that, my former school was chosen as a base school (拠点校) to deal with intercultural understanding issues (国際理解教育). I was so happy to be assigned to work in this school as a new teacher a few years ago, because I felt like I could utilize my skill as an M.A. holder in English education.

When I actually observed how things were going in the discourse, I was a little bit frustrated. I still remember the day when I was scolded by an experienced woman teacher (or, she might say she gave me OJT) while I was trying to communicate with an ALT who was also new to this school. The new ALT, Jonny (pseudonym), and I were having a small talk over a cup of coffee after our class standing near his desk.  This is a side issue, but for those who are not familiar with how Japanese worksites look like in general. Unlike high school or college settings, teachers in most public junior high schools in Japan do not have their own independent office. And, they need to stay in the same space where they gather their desks to make an island-like shape. This island-making is rather appreciated in Japanese worksites (even in private companies of nowadays) because it is believed to enhance their communication and thus maintain discursive harmony among the workers. I do not know whether this is good or bad, but anyway this was what my context looked like. Under that circumstance, Jonny and I were trying to break the ice and get to know each other in order to prepare ourselves to work while maintaining healthy atmosphere. And, I still believe this was the right decision to make in English-speaking discourse.

However, things were slightly different from the experienced Japanese woman teacher's standpoint. She saw us talking in that way, came to us, and problematized our communication style, saying "何ですか、神聖な職員室で立ち話だなんて!お話があるならちゃんと座ってなさい!(What is this? How dare you two have a talk while standing in such a sacred place as a stuff room! Why don't you sit down and discuss the matter?)" Jonny and I did not understand what was going on, and decided to leave the place for the time being. (And even now, I have not even begun to see what was wrong with this...) Actually, the very cause of this is, at least I believe, is misunderstanding. I am still trying to interpret this event in both Japanese-speaking and English-speaking discursive norms to figure out the underlying cause. From very Japanese perspectives, talking while standing in a work place is not even counted as a small talk, unless it was within one minute or so. Our talk continued for about three to four minutes. So, it was partly my fault. Besides, the point is that we were new to the school, and it might have been quite impolite as a new teacher like me to relax so much in the room and have a small talk. So, like I said before, she might have done OJT on me, not on us two. Moreover, the function of small talks in western and eastern cultures may be slightly different, as it is generally to break the ice and maintain discursive harmony in western while it is often misidentified as ムダ話 (talks without any meanings) in eastern settings. What do you think? Has this ever happened to you? If so, how did you solve this problem? How do native speakers of English see this issue? Looking forward to hearing from you.

Yoichi Sato

Sunday, December 25, 2011

First post

This is the first post to the Komaba Language Association Blog. More posts welcome!

Tom Gally