Offbeat Matsuyama

Writer(s): 
Robert Oettel, Chapter President

This column shares information about the many vibrant chapters in JALT. The co-editors are looking for 900-950 word reports (in English, Japanese or a combination of both) that describe chapters' activities, challenges and solutions. This month, Bob Oettel analyzes some of the features of his Matsuyama Chapter.

Offbeat Matsuyama

An English language daily newspaper recently published a travel article on Shikoku headlined "Offbeat Attractions of the 4th Island." Some of the offbeat features in M-JALT (Matsuyama-JALT), located in the largest city on Shikoku, can be summarized in seven words or phrases: MALT; first off Honshu; two-thirds; over 50 percent; The Big Three; continuity and changes; and challenges. Let's examine these ideas and their relationship to M-JALT.
1. MALT: At the annual chapter business meeting in December 1990, many members were up-in-arms about some of the issues then controversial in JALT. Members seriously considered (and came within a whisker of) withdrawing from the National Organization and establishing MALT (Matsuyama Association of Language Teachers) as a go-it-alone local organization. A decisive factor in not pulling out was that some members felt they would have to belong to both organizations, and pay two sets of dues. Chapters need and benefit National and National needs and benefits Chapters.
2. First off Honshu: M-JALT was pleased to host the 20th JALT International Conference, the first (and so far, only) one to be held off Honshu, in October, l994. At that time, and shortly thereafter, M-JALT's membership peaked at over 120, as many members joined, or re-joined, to assist at the conference. This is a good example of mutual benefit; hosting the conference led to the highest-ever M-JALT membership; and M-JALT in turn assisted national in a successful conference.
3. Two-thirds: Approximately 65 to 70% of the chapter members are native Japanese speakers and 30 to 35% are native speakers of English or other languages. We have one of the highest percentages of native speakers of Japanese among the chapters. Moreover, as a rule about 2/3 of our officers are native Japanese speakers and 1/3 native English speakers or other languages. Many native speakers of Japanese say the main benefit of JALT for them is contact and interaction with native speakers of English since Matsuyama is a smaller city, with fewer opportunities for inter-cultural and inter-language contact than in larger metropolitan areas.
4. Over 50%: Unfortunately, M-JALT leads JALT in membership and attendance decline. Sadly, our chapter has lost over 50% of its members since the 1994 International Conference and average attendance has also fallen to about 28 participants per meeting, from a previous average attendance in the 40s and occasional 50s. One unusual reason some native Japanese speakers give for ceasing to attend is that there are now fewer native speakers for them to interact with (the main reason they attend and, indeed, are even JALT members). This decrease in membership and attendance has happened in spite of a well-balanced schedule of attractive programs and publicity in Japanese language newspapers, as well as by newsletter, posters, post cards, e-mail and word of mouth.
5. The Big Three reasons for the decline mentioned above are relevance, burn-out, and the dues increase. Inactive members, former members, and never-have-been members say JALT programs and publications are not or are no longer relevant to their needs, that they gain more in a discussion with a colleague or friend over a beer or in other informal situations, or that they needed JALT when they started teaching, but not anymore.
A number of very active, former members and leaders have stated: "I ain't comin' no more!" or "I gave a couple of years of my life to JALT. I've had it." Or something similar, in a tone that indicated I had better drop the subject if I wanted to remain friends. Why would these good people and former JALT members and leaders make such comments? The answer is "BURNOUT!"
M-JALT has traditionally drawn its members from a considerable number of housewives or others who teach English on a part-time basis. After the dues increase, many of these part-timers chose not to renew. In addition, various members who teach full-time decided during the dues increase that JALT was no longer relevant and also did not renew.
6. Continuity and Changes: One of the continuing factors that traditionally has led to M-JALT having a higher percentage of potential members as actual members than in some larger cities is that we are "the only game in town" (with the exception of a recently established, seemingly not-yet-too-active JACET chapter). Therefore, if people want what we offer, we are the only place to get it.
However, one condition which has changed in M-JALT is that, while over 1/3 of our members teach at a college or university, few tertiary-level teachers are currently regular attenders or officers. At the present time, of our 14 chapter officers, 12 are high school, language school, or private teachers, and only 2 are university teachers. In the past, M-JALT had more tertiary-level teachers as leaders and officers, and I imagine it will again.
A second change was the recent establishment of a chapter newsletter, edited by Past President Kimiyo Tanaka. The Newsletter is distributed at the International Center, ALT dormitory, and Chapter meetings.
7. Challenges: Probably, the most important challenge facing M-JALT is to make our programs and activities relevant to the full range of language teachers, across the entire spectrum of interest, levels taught, and experience. Then, when presenters arrive from other areas, they will once again say, as in the past, "Man Alive! Matsuyama has the friendliest, liveliest, best JALT chapter in all Japan".
Robert Oettel, Chapter President

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