Category Archives: interview

Bananas are yellow in Osaka, or an unusual interview with Naoko Amano

This post feels very warm to the author of this blog, because (1) it does not revolve around the author of this blog; (2) it puts an exceptionally kind, friendly, open-hearted, sincere and devoted teacher and friend centerstage.

Wait no more and read what Naoko Amano had to say in the conversation we had in the living room of her apartment in Kishiwada, Osaka, Japan, late in the evening on Saturday, December 6th.

 

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Hello, Naoko! The first time I saw you was at JALT 2013 and you were one of the few Japanese English teachers that I met there (or maybe the only one?). Why did you decide to come to JALT? It was great and refreshing to see you among so many English native speakers.

Hi Anna! It started from a small mistake. I was looking through my friend’s Facebook posts. One of them was about a teaching workshop. I was interested in it but I already had plans for that day and also it was far from my house. So I looked at another post. Soon I got a message from Marco Brazil: “Thank you for joining my workshop”. OMG I did click “GO” by mistake! Then he suggested I should come to JALT 2013 to see his presentation.

I thought only a professional can join so I didn’t think about going there. I thought not yet … But another day, Barbara (Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto) also suggested for me to go to JALT. Then I thought that I should go. I was really scared but it was great to meet lots of wonderful teachers, and I could learn a lot.

 

I see. As you said to me in our conversation a couple of days ago, small things lead to big things. I believe it to be true! But why did you think that you couldn’t go to JALT at first?

I didn’t have any great experience like studying abroad or graduating from a famous college. I can’t speak English like a native speaker. I didn’t have much teaching experience. So I thought “not yet”.

 

Well you were teaching English in 2013, right? What kind of teaching experience did you have by that time?

I’d been teaching children for 5 years then. But the first year I had only three students. In these three years I had more than 30 students. So I felt like I’d been teaching for only two or three years.

 

I see. You mentioned in your answer before the word “professional”. Do you connect this word with teaching qualifications? I know you had some back in 2013.

No, I don’t connect those. I think qualifications are like a ticket to the teaching world. I want to connect experience with professionalism.

 

I agree with you on this. And even then, in my view, you had this ticket to the teaching world: you’d taken a course for teaching English to young learners. You had every right to be at JALT (if one needs to have that). Anyway, I think your story of how you started teaching is fascinating and inspiring. Can you tell it, please?

I met lots of people because I studied English and could speak it. I wanted to keep using English after that. So I changed my job to use English, I went to an English school, I watched movies, I wrote letters and called my friend in the USA. I tried to use the language. One day, my friend in Miami gave me presents for my daughters. They were workbooks for English used in the US (my friend is an elementary school teacher). The workbooks were colourful, cute, not like Japanese ones. I felt excited and I really wanted to show them to children in Japan and to use those books to teach. So I told my friends that I wanted to teach English and some of their kids started to study English with me.

 

Oh really? I didn’t know about that. That must have been fun and also pleasant to feel your friends’ support in this way. I also know that when you got your teaching certificate, you didn’t go to work at a public school or a language school, like the majority of people would do. Instead, you went your own way.

I thought about a franchise but they have their own educational system and I would have had to follow it: textbooks, schedules, everything. I don’t like that. I didn’t feel excited about that. I can’t imagine that I’m teaching English with their curriculum. I think that I can teach in a more fun way.

I made a list of things that I wanted to do with kids in English and looked for music, books, teaching ideas… Then I talked about it with my friends and some of their kids started to study English with me. There were 3 at first. Then I did an English summer program. I made 4 posters to advertise and 15 kids joined the summer program, 6 of them later stayed in my school. “It was fun!” – their feedback made me really happy.

 

That’s really interesting and unusual. So, small things have led to big things – and now you have your own school?!

Yes!! But there was a time when I thought I’d close down the school because I didn’t have many teacher friends. I didn’t know what other schools were doing. It was then that I decided to go to a workshop. It was an Oxford workshop and there was the name “Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto”, who is the author of the book I was going to use. I was surprised to see many teachers there and the workshop was interesting and meaningful for me. On my way home my friend and I came up to Barbara to thank her for the workshop, and she said: “Why don’t you have a cup of coffee with me?” Who would say no?! I was shy and could not speak a lot (my friend did though). Barbara suggested to start using Facebook for professional purposes and she introduced some teachers to connect with me.

And one more thing that I decided to change to keep teaching was my school name. Initially, my school name was “Nao’s English Studio”. We were talking about how important it is to know that English is not just a subject but also a communication tool, and communication is important. It is ok if it’s not correct. “Hello! How are you?”  – “Yellow Banana.” This conversation is ok if it makes you smile. That’s communication. I was inspired from this conversation and then decided to change my school name into “Yellow Banana Kids English”. I felt excited about it and didn’t want to quit teaching anymore. Students love this name and people know it!

 

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Yellow Banana certainly feels positive and makes you want to smile =) I’ve been lucky to see your lessons. I saw how dedicated you are, your passion and concern about making your lessons enjoyable for kids. It seemed to me your students feel very comfortable and “at home” in your class. Their parents smile as they bring their kids to your class, which I think is a good sign. They know you care for their children.

Thank you very much Anna! I’m really happy to teach English. “Teaching” for me is not just teaching… It is teaching a person, having a relationship with students and their parents, relationship with other teachers. How wonderful it is!

 

I thank you! This is, by the way, the most extraordinary post I’ve done in the #livebloggingparty series (note: we were, as I’ve said above, sitting in the same room and having this dialogue in real time on a real piece of paper, in actual writing). One last question in this interview is strange but I want to ask it anyway. How did it feel to you to be having this conversation in writing? It was the first time for me personally. This is the kind of an interview that I’m really interested in for my blog.

It was very interesting and also it was a very good writing exercise for me. I could read your question many times and I had time to think what to write. It was fun!! Thank you very much, Anna!

 

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It is certainly me who has to be thankful. Naoko enthusiastically picked up my *nerdy* idea to spend an evening conversing with each other in pen and on paper, and I doubt it is something many teachers would agree to doing as their Saturday night pastime. For me, this experience was eye-opening in how much I really value the presence of a person I’m talking to. These 90 minutes and 9 pages had (and indeed have) a genuine feel of care, interest, and bonding. Thank you for this, Naoko.  I wish your school to prosper and your energy to be ever-present!

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Actual discussion with @MichaelChesnut2

This post is a largely spontaneous but very welcome follow-up to my observation notes I blogged a couple of days ago (Let’s discuss how to discuss this (c) in @MichaelChesnut’s class). As Mike and I were having our post-observation feedback session chat, more questions registered in my mind and I thought it’d be great to have the teachers whose classes I dissect actually have their say here, too. It’s only fair, and, more than that, gives another angle to look at the same experience. So here they are, a couple of questions from a curious “observer” and thoughts on that from Mike Chesnut.   

 

Q1: Do you think your students will remember you or the English/ the material they learnt with you?

I’m sure some will and some won’t. I think most students will remember some of the vocabulary I highlight and discuss in the articles we work on in class, at least for the quizzes. Whether they remember that language or actually further develop and expand the ways they speak over a longer amount of time I’m less sure about. I’m pretty sure most students will understand, after a semester in my class, the importance of using academic or business-like language in certain settings. I think they’ll be more conscious of how context can shape language use, and in some cases this might be a relatively new realization.

I’ve had some students who really improved their language skills over a year in my classes but it’s tough to say any of that had to do with my classes. Of course other students don’t seem to improve that much over the time they spend with me so there’s that.

“Remember” is a complicated word as well. I think some students may learn a lot during the semester but over the winter and summer breaks a lot can be lost, or students spend a semester or two focusing on another area of study and so when I see them again in different, more advanced class a lot of what we studied earlier needs to be reviewed.

Yea, “remember” and “learn” can be two complicated words or concepts in my opinion, even if in practice they are easily used and understood.

 

Q2: How often and actually how do you contact with other teachers in your department (especially Korean teachers)?

I have almost no contact with Korean teachers who teach English. Actually, that’s wrong. I have no contact with Korean teachers who teach English because there are none in my department and I have no contact with anyone outside of my department.

I’m in very regular contact with different Korean academics who teach interpretation and translation classes, language education classes (SLA or materials development classes for example), and applied linguistics classes, but we mostly talk about research or classroom activities that could be part of research.

I have done some work or co-teaching with Korean academics who teach interpretation and translation, coming into their classes to act as a naïve observer of their interpretation work. In some department meetings, we also talked about integrating language development classes with interpretation and translation classes so that the content would overlap, something like reading about global warming and then discussing that topic with me, and then going into an interpretation and translation class and translating documents related to global warming, but the logistics proved too complicated.

I don’t talk about my classes with the other foreign faculty in my department. It seems like every instructor just teaches their classes how they want, with the hope that by having a wide variety of approaches being used students will have many opportunities to learn in different ways. This is a pretty reasonable approach in my opinion.

 

Q3: How much of the same thing you feel you teach? How much of the same language do you feel you use when talking to students?

I think I use a lot of the same basic language during the most fundamental of my classroom routines: starting class, moving from one activity to another, ending class, and giving homework. However, I don’t recycle much content vocabulary or language more generally from class to class. This is probably something I should do but don’t right now. There are many things I should do but don’t for various reasons.

 

Q4: As the first class started and you introduced me and explained the reason I was in that class, you mentioned it was “for your professional development”. So what did it feel like and how useful (if at all) for “professional development” this experience was for you? 

It was interesting having you in my class. I initially thought I wouldn’t really care or even notice, although I also knew that in some ways I would, but several times I caught myself looking over to almost check with you to see if you were taking notes, nodding along, looking at me or the students. A few times I slowed my speech, focused more on certain students, or asked myself if I was missing anything or anyone more than I would in a regular class, and when you left early I did relax a bit!

I also thought that despite some of my academic interests, and the classes I took on how to teach, I wasn’t really using much of that “heavy teaching stuff” in this class. Instead, I was just going along with the general focus of the department which is having students read a lot outside of class and then “work on” language in class. There are various reasons for this, but again it’s not like I’ve really gone through and built these classes on solid principles, they just kind of came together over time. I also thought of this one academic I know who, while being a really interesting researcher in applied linguistics, said once he just didn’t find language teaching that interesting, so yes he teaches language classes, but generally he doesn’t think about them, talk about them, do research on them, or do much beyond just walking in and doing the class. I guess I thought about how close I was to someone like that…

I’m not sure how this experience is shaping my professional development. Perhaps I’ll just have to wait and see…

 

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Thanks again to Mike for taking the time and being honest about the feelings regarding the experience.

Thanks for reading, too! Stay tuned for more, I hope))

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