A Profile of an EdGlo-19 Student

Avery Holm

Born and raised in a small town in Minnesota, USA.

Educational background

She grew up in the local public school system. In the local high school she joined the Arts Magnet Program where core subjects (English, science, social studies, etc.) were taught as interdisciplinary subjects with art. Across four years she explored creative writing and music, culminating in a senior capstone project. After graduating high school she ventured out of her hometown to attend Cottey College in Nevada (ne-VAY-da), Missouri.

Cottey College is a small women’s college that focuses on cultivating leadership and empowerment in young women. Originally a two year degree school it has started to offer four year bachelor programs in select fields. Avery spent her time there studying international relations, history, and French. Through her experiences in volunteering with after school programs and working as a student representative for the college president she became passionate about education. Through summer programs and her academic adviser she began studying Japanese outside of class hours. She also studied Social Justice on a school trip to Guatemala. Cottey became the springboard into her undergraduate studies.

After graduating with an Associate Degree, she transfer to Long Island University Global College (LIU Global) to finish a Bachelor’s Degree in Global Studies with a focus in comparative education. She studied in Taiwan, Thailand, India, and Turkey with the Comparative Religions and Cultures Program. She completed her independent semester and research project in Sapporo, Japan. For the last semester, Avery returned to Brooklyn, NYC to complete her thesis ‘How We Succeed: A Comparative Study of High Performing Public schools in New York City, Japan, and Finland’.

After university she work in Japan as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) for four years. She gained a lot of first hand experience with Japanese public elementary and junior high school education and that propelled her to find the EdGlo program.

Expectations for EdGlo

I have a lot of expectations for the program and for myself in the program. I’m really looking forward to a community of educators and education-loving people who can bring a lot of different perspectives from their cultures, education, work experiences, and life experiences. I want this program to challenge my views and beliefs in education and how we learn. I expect discomfort and challenges. EdGlo should be a program that forces and guides you to new perspectives and new ways of knowing so that you can build on your own experiences and knowledge.

For myself in EdGlo, I want my academic skills honed so that I can feel proud of my work. I want it to give me a critical lens for research and trends in education in my country and around the world. I expect it to be hard work and that I will work hard. I expect a lot of collaborative work with my classmates and potentially other classes or faculties in the university. I don’t expect (nor want) it to be an island with a choir singing to itself. I believe EdGlo with help me build knowledge and skills that will prove indispensable in my future. An much like my undergrad studies I want it to always be relevant and useless in any context, local or global.

From the Finnish View: Review Part 2

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Teachers and Leadership

In part 1 of the review, I ended with a quote on how Finnish teachers perceive their careers as professional with obligations and responsibility. This does not mean teachers or the general population of say – the United States would claim the opposite for American teachers. Actually, I imagine many people arguing otherwise. For which I am glad. However, teachers are often lauded or demonized in rapid succession by media, parents, governments, and politicians for being great or failing miserably.

But I’ll get into to that in another post. Right now we are looking at how Finland’s teachers act as leaders. Here’s what the article had to say:

No Buzzword

In Finland ‘Teacher Leadership’ in not a common buzzword. It’s probably not going to saturate the media or academic articles as the new ‘cure-all’ to the ongoing and new problems in education. Sahlberg reasons this is due to Finns attributing leadership to the profession because it is the nature of professions.

 Teamwork

 Teamwork is a key part of the Finnish teaching profession. Greenhorn and veteran alike must work as team players so all students and staff learn and grow.Teachers implement and evaluate what and how they teach, but that cannot be done alone. Curriculum working groups help teachers address concerns, develop solutions and activities, and discuss individual student support.

*as a side note: There is little ‘power teaching’ in Finland. Student-Teacher relationships are relaxed and informal. There is little to no stopwatch drilling of core knowledge (I’m looking at you Japan). Teamwork helps teachers to find ways for student-engaged learning to take place.

Work Load

But let us get down to some cold hard facts. The teacher workload is lighter in Finland compared to the USA and Japan (especially Japan). In Finland:

Elementary school teachers teach 4-5 45 min classes per day

Junior High School teachers teach 5-6 45 min classes per day

-and both of these have 15 min breaks between classes every day!

(points to Japan for giving teachers 10-15 minutes breaks between classes – but points deducted for making teachers regularly stay well past 6 pm with few days off even during holidays)

Teacher Education

 One thing that makes Finland’s education system famous is how they select and train new teachers. Finland has created a system where teacher training programs pick from the top 1o percent of high school graduates. Every year only 700 spots are open for primary school teacher education programs. Students earn a rigorous graduate degree (5 years) that is on par with doctors, lawyers, architects, and engineers. It is an academic graduate degree based on research .

Teacher education has equal department status with regular reviews and evaluations, and all university are equipped with clinical training schools (like university hospitals). Finnish teachers-in-training spend more time gaining in-depth knowledge of child development, pedagogical content, creating curriculum, assessment, school improvement, and leadership. To top it off when teachers graduate they have the autonomy to use what they have practiced and studied.

Sahlberg notes that a North Carolina study found that teacher credential had little effect on student achievement. He is quick to counter with the fundamental difference in teacher education (all of the above). Finland has no alternative routes into the teaching profession (i.e. online programs, Teach for America (USA), Teach First (UK), etc.). So there is a higher and unified quality control. Sahlberg says it simply,

It is difficult to become a teacher [in Finland] without a high level of general knowledge, good social skills, and a clear moral purpose.

Teacher credentialing isn’t all there is to student achievement but when it is done with a unified and controlled purpose through a system that recruits the best talent and whose goal is to challenge, engage, and prepare not only teachers but researchers who are instilled with a sense of leadership and responsibility to their students and profession it is impossible to dismiss its effect on the entire education system.

From the Finnish View: Reviewing Teachers as Leaders in Finland article PART 1

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The first reading I tackled for week one was also the shortest. Written by Sahlberg in 2013 “Teachers as Leaders in Finland” for Educational Leadership Magazine,  is an article discussing the idea of teachers are leaders in Finland’s schools and the lessons that can be learned from the Finnish experience.

Since surprising the world (themselves included) with top marks on the first PISA test, Finland has become synonymous with excellent teaching and teacher training, teacher autonomy, and very little standardized testing. This near romanticized teacher’s paradise has prompted many educators and governments to travel to the Nordic country to learn the secrets of their success.

Sahlberg asserts that well-educated teachers benefit the entire education system. For the past 30 to 40 years, Finland worked to reshape its educational system with this in mind. The teaching profession became as sought after as doctors and lawyers. It became a reputable profession where university programs can pick from the top 10% of graduates. And those professionals can expect:

Collaboration > Isolation

 

Autonomy > Top-down Authority

 

Professional Responsibility > Bureaucratic Accountability

 

Professional Practice > Prescribed Procedures

This allows Finnish teachers to exercise, expand, and explore what they learned during their education and training and they won’t be alone or without support. They can put their students’ educational needs first without worrying about next round of test scores. They can implement solutions and practices outside of prescribed procedures they had no input in creating or that don’t benefit their students. These practices and ideas have helped to create a world-class education with a high professional satisfaction. A satisfaction grounded in what Sahlberg calls the ethos of a teacher’s work; where Finnish teachers “[perceive] themselves as professionals with obligation and responsibility to implement, and evaluate the outcomes of their work.”

Introducing: The Ghost Student

Hi! I'm the Ghost Student.Nice to Meet you!

Last year when I started this blog I also stumbled upon the website of renowned Finnish educator Pasi Sahlberg. On his website he talks about his current position as a visiting Professor of Practice at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education. For the first time in my life I wished I was a Harvard student. I wished I was a student again even though I was about to move to Japan to start a new job. So there was nothing I could do – until I found his course syllabus for

HGSEAT103: THE TEACHING PROFESSION AROUND THE WORLD PART 1

Sahlberg had posted his course syllabus free for anyone to see. I had struck gold! It was like finding buried treasure. Not only was there a course description but also a required reading list, and a week-by-week break down plus weekly focus questions and assigned reading. I would miss the lectures, guest speakers, and group discussions, but I had the back bone of the class. I could learn a lot from the resources, theories, and critiques regarding education. I decided to become a ghost student. I was going to follow the syllabus and learn all that I could.

And that is how I came up with this series – The Ghost Student. I want to document and share what I had learned and what I thought about the course. I also want to share more of my educational journey with all of you. I am still working on posting regularly. I dropped the ball these past three months. This is my big splash back into regular blogging.

Here is what you can expect from The Ghost Student:

  1. Two weeks of posting for one week of class
  2. Learn the basics of education systems around the world
  3. Key points from the assigned readings, papers, and movies/videos
  4. Responses to the weekly focus questions
  5. A funny anecdote or two from my time as a student and a teacher

And finally The Ghost Student Series is kicking off on July 15th!

 You can check you Sahlberg’s syllabus here. I will be posting more on the syllabus in the next few days – stayed tuned!

ALT Perspective: NPR ‘How To Be A Great Teacher’

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JET ALTs reside in the limbo of teaching. We are Assistant Language Teachers, the keyword being assistant. Many of us didn’t, and will never, get a TOEFL certification; not to mention the majority didn’t study education or Japanese in college/university. That doesn’t stop us from wanting to be in Japan and believing in the potential of having a native speaker in the classroom. Difficult teaching situations are bound to happen in JET like having unruly/disinterested students, too many/too little classes, being the repeating tape recorder, or being T1 (first teacher) in an elementary school. I have experienced a few of these issues but not all.

If you are a ALT you are probably nodding your head. We are in a difficult and interesting situation. We are teaching but not full fledged teachers, trying to navigate a foreign work place and school system,  trying and our best to adapt and do well.

So when I stumbled on NPR’s  How to be a great teacher, from 12 great teachers by Anya Kamentz it clicked with me. I want to be a teacher, but most JETs won’t enter the teaching profession after their time in Japan. But anyone who works with children (or adults), aspiring teacher or not, can learn a thing or two from this list.

The article itself is short and sweet so I have decided to put my two cents in from a JET ALT perspective. For me being an ALT puts me on the road to becoming a teacher. Check out the article to see the quoted teachers.

 

12 TIPS FROM 12 GREAT TEACHERS (1)

1. Realize teaching is a learned skill

This was a hard lesson for me to learn. In the beginning it felt like I knew nothing or that nothing I tried worked. I had to ask for advice from other ALTs and my teachers. I also had to accept and learn from my mistakes. No one know is perfect the first time, everyone has to learn.

2. Get to the Truth

“I’ll tell you the truth, you tell me the truth. The rest is commentary.” – Molly Pollak

This is the only line under this tip in the article. I think it sums it up well.

3. Build Trust

Oh boy! Isn’t this the truth. If students don’t trust you, good luck. The best way to have a good class experience is for the students to trust you. A lot of trust is built outside of the classroom. For example:

One of my schools is a “Yankee/Yankii” school. It’s my favorite school, but many of the students don’t see the point in studying (particularly English) or paying attention in class. However most of my yankii boys are on the baseball team (that seems to be a trend around here) so when one of the pitchers invited me to the last game of season I jumped at the chance. After the game their attitude towards me and my classes changed. It didn’t magically make them behave or be better students but they did start listening to me and work with me during class. I call that a win.

4. Assume a secret identity

I can see how this works for normal teachers but this is hard for ALTs – if you are placed a small town everyone knows you and probably what you ate for dinner. Even in larger cities with multiple ALTs assuming a secret identity can be difficult, but on rough days you learn to put on a smile and exude energy you don’t have.

5. Be Sparring Partner

When I think of being a sparring partner I image students honing a knife of knowledge on me and I hone my knife of teaching on them. We get nicked, and bruised during our mistakes and failures but we never get dull. We can laugh together or they can laugh at me. I don’t mind.

6. Be Someone to Watch Over Them

When ALTs work in many grades at multiple schools it can be hard to watch over students. Not speaking the language, not being Japanese, and not having a the power to discipline students is frustrating, but asking a teacher for help understanding students, or just being present in situations can help.

Correcting extra work (I have a student who can write in cursive!) and talking to students outside of class has helped me a lot. I got one my yankiis to fill out his vocabulary pages by adding baseball vocab to his list.

And try to learn as many names as possible. Students appreciate it and are usually surprised.

7. Be a Teacher, Not a Friend

Currently I am trying to figure out where I need to draw that line with my students. From my own experience this distinction is vital. In high school I had a new teacher who was smart and talented but acted more like our friend to win the class’ favor. In the end there was less respect and no control in the classroom. It was one of my most difficult and enlightening experiences.

8. Believe in Their Success

Success manifests is different ways. As teachers or ALTs we may not see it during a students time with us. It might be in test scores, class participation, in hallways, how many times a student tries or that a student finally decided to do class work. One of my best English speaking 7th graders doesn’t pay any attention during class, or does any of his work. However if I bring up a topic he’s interested in he’ll start speaking. My goal is to teach students English and encourage them to use it. If they use it with me that is a success.

9.Recognize it Takes Vulnerability to Learn

I never thought of it this way before and now I see it. I see it in my students who won’t try speaking for fear of making a mistake or the students who won’t do the work because they might not understand and fail. Going back to number 3 on the list, to be vulnerable means to trust. If a student doesn’t trust you then it is harder for them to learn and harder for you to teach.

10. Look for the Success Stories

Sometimes no matter how hard you try to engage a class or a particular student it fails. Shake it off and try again but remember the students you have reached.

11. Blow Off Steam, But Remember Why You’re Here

Living and working abroad can cause a lot of stress and frustration with language barriers, culture shock, and general work/life situations just being more difficult/time consuming. Let it out. Vent to a friend, a family member, or go dance it out at a club. Try not to hold on to it. Negativity is a slippery slope. Be honest with yourself and the problems you face but be productive – yes rest or venting can be productive. Remember why you wanted to be an ALT – why you wanted to come to Japan. Reevaluate that, then pursue it.

12. Be Grateful to Your Teachers

As an ALT I have felt old. Often I shake my head at my students wackiness, drama, or lack of common sense. I realized how annoying it was to try and catch chatting students attention. And I realized that someone had to put up with the 7th grade me, too.

And I am eternally grateful.

 

 

 

Blooming Mondays: Get Well Soon

Blooming Mon Get Well

Big thanks to my classmate who brought over these flowers when I was ill.

This Monday’s arrangement is my personal get well card.

The Flowers

I normally take the flower picture on my phone but it died in the beginning so the pics are on my big camera instead. I will update during the week.

The First (and only) Attempt

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I had no idea how to use the ferns so I just stuck them in. I tried to keep the arrangement balanced but I was more concerned about getting the flowers in the water since had had been sitting, wrapped in newspaper in front of my door for more than an hour – oops.

Overall this was my poorest/laziest/sickest attempt yet…looking back I’m not sure what I was thinking.

Results and Lessons from the JLPT N4 Exam

RL Dec jlpt

On a whim I decided to take the JLPT N4 test last December. For those scratching their heads in confusion this is the official Japanese Language Test that is taken in Japan ans around the world. Japanese language programs encourage or require students to take these exams as they are the official certification for Japanese proficiency. The lowest level is N5 and the highest is N1. I tried my hand at the N4 exam.

Over the years my Japanese language instruction (and studying) has been sporadic. To intensive summer programs to self-study to taking one-on-one classes in Sapporo I was determined to understand Japanese but I certainly didn’t make it easy for myself. This test was no different. It has been years since I sat a formal exam. I choose N4 as a safety net. I could probably pass it and it gave me the chance to scout for my real goal of passing the N3 in July. Tuesday was my moment of truth –

The results are in    FAILED  !

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Okay, so I didn’t actually get an F but I didn’t pass. I’m not surprised but I am disappointed. The next step is to learn from my failure and prepare myself for July.

What did I learn?

I didn’t do basic research about the test so I wasn’t studying all of the recommended material or using official study guides (FYI big mistake).

The test was broken into three timed parts – Vocab, Grammar/reading, and Listening.

I struggled in the vocab/kanji section.

In the listening section the questions were said once before the dialogue and once at the end. The dialogue was not repeated.

Obvious Tip: Don’t forget your eraser and extra pencil. I cut it too close with a mechanical pencil with two lengths of lead and no large eraser.

What am I proud of?

While I didn’t pass that doesn’t mean there are not things I am proud of:

I didn’t panic – usually I have test anxiety. Though after my high school pre-calc class that should have been my first warning

I was timely. I finished each section with enough time to double check a few answers. I’m usually the last person to finish (thanks to test anxiety).

What’s Next?

As I mention earlier my next step is to prepare for the N3 Exam in July. Failing this exam showed me that I needed to study harder and use more official and focused material. I have six months until the next exam so stay tuned for a post about my studying goals and tactics.

Until then…

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Returning Results: An Observation of Tests in Japan

*The picture is from the Studio Ghibli film Whisper of the Heart*

Today we returned test scores to the first years at Seaside Junior High. Returning tests is a universal experience for students around the world. Some students are indifferent while others are sending quick prayers and crossing fingers in hopes to get a good score. From my own experience I tended to dread getting tests back thanks to a healthy dose of test anxiety.

In my classrooms in Japan and noticed a few similarities and differences that I would like to share with you.

The Announcement

The teacher stands in front of the class and reveals the top scores. In my experience so far the names have not been read – though the students usually find out during the Share/Hide. The scores are also split by gender.

The Line Up

The next step is the line up. This was new to me. Usually my teachers either walked around handing back the tests or called us up by name. For most assignments this has been the case in my classes but for tests – or Seminar Tests – the names are in order. First the boys line up – in my case a rambling jumbled “line”. In my more energetic classes it’s a swarming free-for-all. The girls are sometimes more orderly or just as rowdy as the boys. The teacher secretly shows the test score and points out the wrong answers. During the line up I have seen boys and girls fall to the knees in frantic prayer and shout in triumph of surprising scores.

The Share/Hide

I couldn’t pick between the two because they happen simultaneously. Friends and classmates compare scores and celebrate or commiserate. Others try to hide their scores. Seaside is a little more respectful of classmates wish for secrecy while Hilltop can resort in a chase as the rowdy students snag tests in the confusion of the line up.

The Review

The last procedure in returning tests is the review. Sometimes the review happens in the beginning where the teacher goes over all the answers and have the students write in red pen on a blank test. If it happens at the end the teacher reviews the questions students struggled with the most.

Overall it is a very normal procedure in schools around the world. Sometimes it is a lot of fun to watch. Sometimes it is stressful with a rowdy class. Either way it was interesting.