JQ Magazine: JQ&A with JUSTE Program Participant Kazumoto Takechi

"I would like the duration of stay in this project extended as long as possible. Hopefully, this project will revolutionize Japanese English education just as the JET Program has changed the landscape of English language education in Japan."

By Sierra Soleil (Fukushima-ken, 2000-02) for JQ magazine. Sierra works at an ESL school in Manhattan. He enjoys teaching, writing, and riding his bike.

It’s been called the “Reverse JET Program,” which is a lot catchier than the Japan-U.S. Training and Exchange Program for English Language Teachers (JUSTE Program). A few of the East Coast JUSTE teachers made a special public appearance at the JETAANY Welcome Back Reception in November, and since then there has been some talk about exactly what this program is, and what these teachers are up to.

Recently, Kazumoto “Kaz” Takechi, a JUSTE participant at Rutgers University in New Jersey, took some time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions about his experience as a Reverse JET. Spoiler alert: the program is very new, and its future is not assured, especially with the budget restrictions caused by the problems in Fukushima. However, if Kaz’s attitude is at all typical of the other participants, JUSTE could be every bit as much of a game-changer as JET was.

Kaz got his MA in English education from Naruto University of Teacher Education in 2002, and works at Ishii Junior High School in Tokushima, Shikoku. He was nominated by the program as one of 96 Japanese teachers of English to spend six months in the U.S. through January of this year, and is the only JUSTE teacher from Tokushima. Before he got to my questions, Kaz started with a shout-out to his former ALTs:

“All of my ALTs have been great partners in the classroom. I am a very lucky teacher because I have met very wonderful ALTs during my nine years as an English teacher. I am really glad to participate in this article for ALTs.”

Where did the idea come from to send teachers to the U.S. in order to improve English education in Japan?

According to the Foreign Ministry Advance Institute Workshop held at Tokyo in May 2010, both Japan and the United States agree that the two countries need to foster mutual understanding at the citizen level in order to sustain and strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance. Based on this agreement, a summit conference between Japan and the U.S. was held in Yokohama on November 13, 2010. Details on how to strength our relationships were finalized during this conference. The JUSTE project is a direct outcome of this conference. The Ministry of Education further defined that the JUSTE project had two objectives. One is to foster and develop the English communicative skills of Japanese English teachers. The other is to develop Japanese English teacher pedagogical skills through TESOL classes offered at U.S. institutions.

Has this idea been around for a long time, or was it a recent initiative?

The Ambassador Plenipotentiary has wished that this project take motion for some time. He has consistently envisioned the necessity to give Japanese English teachers the opportunity to seek professional development, in English speaking countries such as the U.S., after they become certified English teachers in Japan. He has consistently suggested this to the government, and thanks to his wonderful efforts this project has finally materialized.

How would you assess the progress so far?

At this juncture, I am focusing on developing the skill sets that will contribute to the professional development of Japanese English teachers and ALTs when I return to Japan. I will be presenting to the English language teacher community as well as conducting demonstration lessons to assist in their professional development. Moreover, I will also write some articles about my experience in this project. Hopefully, I will inspire other English teachers and muster support for this project among supervisors and English language teachers. This is a challenge I am embarking on, but I have conviction that my actions will positively influence other English teachers and the future of Japanese English education.

Is the JUSTE Program intended to address problems or weaknesses with the JET Program?

No, it is not. I have no reason to believe so.

What are the prospects for the next few years? What strengths would you like to build upon? What improvements or adjustments would you like to make?

The strengths of Japanese English teachers are their learning experiences as non-native speakers of English. As such, it is vital that we incorporate our effective learning experience pedagogically while also sharing the feelings and constraints that come along with our strengths.

What will the participating teachers do after they return to Japan? Will they go back to teaching, train other teachers, or is there some other plan for them?

Yes, participating teachers will be presenting as well as training other teachers. There could also be other tasks expected of them. We don’t know for sure.

I have heard that the participating teachers are in a so-called social media blackout. Is that accurate? If so, is there a specific reason for it?

Although I was chosen as a member of the project prior to the earthquake and Fukushima disaster, nevertheless it is critical that we remain sensitive that it is a time of sobriety in Japan.

Because of what happened in Fukushima, all of us thought this project would be postponed because the Japanese government needs funding to restore and support Fukushima and its surrounding prefectures. Therefore, all of us understand the weight of this project and its significance for the people of Japan. This project is funded through taxes. Therefore, if some of us post fun pictures on social media websites such as Facebook, we may provoke unnecessary unrest and criticism from the Japanese people for our insensitivity—a picture speaks a thousand words. To make a long story short, I completely understand and follow the rule which prohibits the use of social media. It is a pilot year for the project, so it is necessary to generate positive commentaries about the project to keep it running as long as possible.

Ideally, what would you like to see the JUSTE Program become?

I want this project to get longer and longer. Also I would like the duration of stay in this project extended as long as possible. The nuances of language require a longer acquisition time. Therefore, an appropriately lengthened stay in the target language country will strengthen the language acquired. Hopefully, this project will revolutionize Japanese English education just as the JET Program has changed the landscape of English language education in Japan.

For a video of the Reverse JETs at the 2011 JETAANY Welcome Back Reception, click here.