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Scholarship Allows Teacher to Experience Japan


Thanks to a Toyota scholarship program, Sandi Bullington and 49 other U.S. teachers to traveled to Japan for intensive study of the education system, economy, and culture. Their experiences will bring an international flavor to their lessons this year. Included: Information about the scholarship program.

For two-and-a-half weeks this summer, business education/marketing teacher Sandi Bullington was a human sponge.

Bullington, who teaches at Neosho High School in Neosho, Missouri, was one of 50 U.S. teachers who traveled to Japan through the Toyota International Teachers Scholarship program. The all-expenses paid program is offered to teachers who work in states where Toyota plants are located: Alabama, California, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Texas, and West Virginia. The Institute for International Exchange (IIE) administers the program for Toyota.

Sandi Bullington

Bullington and her colleagues visited Japanese schools, talked with teachers and students, learned about the Japanese economy, as well as participated in cultural activities such as drama, flower arranging, calligraphy, and tea ceremonies. All the participants had to develop a lesson plan for sharing what they learned in their classrooms.

This was Bullington's third scholarship for a study tour. She also received the Missouriana, an economics study tour of Missouri, and studied at Oxford University in England. She is a former private secretary who brings business-world knowledge to the classroom.

She recently talked with Education World about what she learned during her trip to Japan and how she hopes her experiences will help her students.

Education World: How did you learn about the Toyota International Teachers Scholarship?

Sandi Bullington: For the past three years, our principal has sent out an e-mail about the program and the application process. After receiving the e-mail this past year, I decided to investigate the scholarship to see if I qualified. I thought that it sounded like a phenomenal opportunity and decided to apply. Remember, nothing ventured is nothing gained. The application process is on-line with two reference letters and a signature page mailed to IIE.

EW: Why were you interested in making the trip to Japan?

Bullington: We are living in a global economy made easier by our modern communication systems. However, to be a true global community, we need to develop and foster relationships with people from other countries. This should include a basic understanding and tolerance for other cultures and traditions, an understanding of the way they formulate and implement ideas, and an understanding of their business management systems, procedures and protocols.

"I think teachers should go beyond incorporating global activities into their classes. I feel that teachers should be willing to be challenged by studying and visiting other countries," says Sandi Bullington, a high school business/marketing teacher who spent two-and-a-half weeks this summer studying in Japan.

Many school systems are finding it impossible to incorporate classes dedicated to international study into the curriculum due to budget restraints. As a business/marketing teacher, I feel that students should be exposed to the global concept, and one way to do that is to incorporate activities in my classes that require a global perspective.

However, I think teachers should go beyond incorporating global activities into their classes. I feel that teachers should be willing to be challenged by studying and visiting other countries. As an example, if you visit a country where you have limited understanding of the language, your understanding and tolerance of English-as-a-second-language (ESL) students in your classroom will increase greatly and your attitude will transfer to your students.

EW: How did Japanese schools differ from your perceptions of them? How were they similar to American schools, and particularly your school?

Bullington: I expected schools in Japan to be very regimented. We visited public elementary schools and high schools, private elementary schools, and vocational schools. We were able to freely talk with administrators, teachers, and parent organizations. The public schools are very much like the one I teach in, except that students wear school uniforms in Japan. I witnessed a variety of teaching styles [in Japan] and was not surprised to find that there was more student engagement in the classroom with enthusiastic teachers who utilized cooperative learning techniques and classroom projects. Teenagers seemed to be universal. It was easy to pick out those students who wanted to absorb everything, the jokesters of the class, and those sleepy students who were less than engaged.

Some curriculum was different in Japan than in my school. As an example, [in the Japanese schools] there were no separate classes for math. There were separate classes for science in Japan. The Japanese school day was from 8 a.m. to 3:30 pm., and was followed by the cleaning of the school by students and then two hours of mandatory extra-curricular time. For after school [activities,] students could choose two areas of study from a list that included drama, tea ceremony, calligraphy, martial arts, technology club, chorus, and band. Although it appeared that there were many breaks when looking at the school calendar, all grade levels had mandatory field trips during some of this time. Elementary students went on day trips. Upper high school students went on trips that lasted several days.

Students did not wear uniforms at elementary school level, but they did have the same color of rain gear and backpacks. There was a lot of completed work posted in the hallways and in the classrooms. There was a lot of activity, singing, and giggling in the classrooms. We sang along and clapped in rhythm to the "days of the week" song in English. We ate lunch with the elementary students. Designated students brought lunch to the room and served it to students. Afterwards, designated students washed the dishes and returned them to the kitchen. And finally, all students brushed their teeth before beginning afternoon lessons.

The Skills Academy was very much what I had expected all of the Japanese schools to be like -- very structured. Skills academies are often sponsored by an industry and students are paid a salary to attend and offered a job by the sponsoring industry once they graduate. The skills academy we attended was for upper high school students (grades 10-12). The curriculum is designed to develop the mind, body, and soul. So, in addition to mandatory academic and skills classes, there are mandatory activity classes, and mandatory meditation time. The students were extremely polite and anxious to learn about America.

EW: How do you plan to use the knowledge and experiences from your trip in your classes? Will you be doing presentations to other teachers in your school or district?

Bullington: As part of the application process, you must submit an impact plan describing the curriculum you will implement in your classroom. The program has four themes: education, technology, history and culture, and the environment. The curriculum you develop and implement must carry out these themes. This year my primary teaching focus is marketing and entrepreneurship. Marketing students will compare the free enterprise systems of Japan and United States, then determine their economic cycle based on economic indicators. They will analyze the market place to determine effective advertising, communication techniques, and leadership styles. In entrepreneurship class, students will develop a business plan for a global business based on skills learned in marketing.

Several teachers have asked me to present in their classrooms. I currently am working on PowerPoint presentations and activities [in the areas of] international foods, rain harvesting, daily life in Japan, and the impact of the atomic bomb. As school starts, I hope more teachers will take advantage of my adventure.

I also have presented four roundtable discussions at the Missouri American Career and Technical Educators conference. I hope to encourage teachers from Missouri to apply for the scholarship. It truly is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

EW: What did you learn from your American colleagues who were on the trip?

Bullington:All 50 participants where high school teachers with at least three years of experience and ranged in age from 25 to 57. Motivated teachers motivate students. All of us were interested in making sure our students have the best educational experience available, so there was a lot of idea sharing -- not only about activities we already have tried, but also future possibilities. An interesting facet of a study trip is that all participants have different perspectives based on personal past experience. So what one person observed during an activity might be entirely different from another participant's observation. By sharing our observations, we actually broadened our learning experience during the two-and-a-half weeks and reinforced the importance of classroom discussions. IIE and Toyota have done a remarkable job of structuring the program so that all participants have optimal advantage from their time spent in Japan.

EW: Why would you recommend international travel to other educators?

Bullington: Your students see the world through your eyes, and if you live in a small rural community like I do, you want your students to have the optimal advantage when competing in the job market. Your eyes will be opened wide by experiencing international culture first-hand. You will have a deep understanding of the words flexible and tolerance as you broaden your worldview. Hopefully, your experience will open vast possibilities for your students in their personal lives and in their career choices.

This e-interview with Sandra Bullington is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.

Article by Ellen R. Delisio
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