‘Our teachers don’t know how to teach’

People often associate the “teaching English in English” method with teachers talking at their students in the language. It should be noted, however, that it’s more important to get students to speak, read and write in English, according to Prof. Ken Kanatani of Tokyo Gakugei University.

Kanatani is an expert in English education at the teacher-training college in Kodaira, Tokyo. Regardless of whether they are teaching in Japanese or English, he said, educators should know how to take a step-by-step approach to get their students to speak up.

Moreover, to guide the class, he says, teachers should speak with their students and try to get reactions from them. Yet, Kanatani says that many teachers are unable to do this even in Japanese.

The country’s high school teachers often lack the necessary skills to teach in Japanese, much less English, as there is no centralized system to instill in new teachers the techniques and knowledge needed, Kanatani said.

The professor went on to say that high school teachers who received their licenses after undertaking teacher training at specialized schools are in the minority. The more common method, he said, was to acquire a license after studying a particular subject at a university or institution of higher learning. Such students, however, usually take just one course on how to teach their specific subject.

To make matters worse, Kanatani added, once teachers begin to work, it is difficult for them to build on their teaching techniques.

“An on-the-job training approach doesn’t work at school because teachers work alone in their respective classrooms,” he said. “Therefore, it’s difficult for them to observe each other’s classes. Even when they have no class to teach, they’re still busy doing other routine work.”

While there are a few kinds of official training programs offered for teachers during their first 10 years, the professor said these programs do not work well in terms of developing teaching skills because they do not spend much time discussing the issue.

As a result, he said, “Teachers often find themselves just following the way they were taught as students. It’s only natural because they haven’t had many chances to amass new knowledge and experience.”

Kanatani said it is crucial to establish a new teacher-training system, which should require prospective teachers to obtain master’s degrees in education.

In Kanatani’s ideal system, anyone could become a teacher of English, for example, as long as he or she takes graduate-level programs specialized in training teachers of the language. “Students wishing to become high school teachers of English should spend two years just studying how to teach at the level,” Kanatani said.

Whatever a new teacher-training system might look like, he said, it would require the “injection of a vast amount of public funds–i.e., taxpayers’ money…We could realize it only after the public decides to put its resources into developing quality teachers.”  –Midori Matsuzawa

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