ECU Professor Leads Local Teachers on Japan Trip
By Christine Neff
New horizons opened to Pitt County school teachers on a trip to Japan led by John Tucker, East Carolina University professor of history and director of the Asian Studies program.
Tucker took 12 public school teachers to Kyoto, Japan, for four weeks this summer. The purpose of the trip was to inspire teachers to infuse Japanese history, culture and language in their classrooms here at home.
“This was a way to internationalize our public school teachers,” Tucker said.
The group toured historic Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, Samurai castles and the grounds of the Imperial Palace in Kyoto. They saw cultural performances, including a Noh drama, visited four universities and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial.
A highlight of the trip was meeting Japanese teachers and students at several grade-level public schools. Anne Tilley of Ayden-Grifton High School noted how happy the schoolchildren seemed. “That was so foreign to our experience,” she said.
“We didn’t see any apathy or discipline problems. We looked in the classrooms and saw kids totally engaged.”
Tucker described some of the differences in education between the United States and Japan.
“Their society places much more of a premium on education than ours,” he said.
Schools in Japan are increasingly concerned with environmental issues. And, they often lack computer technology found in American classrooms, instead emphasizing the basics, including lessons in good living and character development, Tucker said.
“You can’t help but fall in love with the kids. They are so adorable, and happy,” he added.
The Pitt County teachers admitted to feeling more like students at points on the trip, especially when dealing with the language differences.
“Going to a country like Japan teaches you what it means to be illiterate,” Tucker said.
The experience of navigating a non-English-speaking world helped teachers understand the communication barriers their students sometimes face.
Thomas Cooper of C.M. Eppes Junior High School, said he realized the importance of body language and visual cues to communicating. He would incorporate more of those in his classroom to help students that are learning English, he said.
While trip participants had their horizons broadened by the culture and history of Japan, one experience raised their outlook altogether – climbing Mt. Fuji. Several members of the group attempted the climb, stopping short of the summit. Tucker described the sunrise and sunset from Mt. Fuji, as well as a spectacular lightning display the group witnessed from above the clouds. “Not getting to the top was not bad at all,” he said.
A grant from the U.S. Department of Education Fulbright-Hays Group Project Abroad Program covered the costs of the trip, approximately $78,000.
The participants teach a range of age groups and disciplines at Pitt County Schools. The group included a recent ECU graduate and an ECU graduate student.