Mix JALT and a “Seeker” and what do you get? Activation!

Writer(s): 
Kent Hill, Ex-president, Wakayama Chapter

 

Hello to everyone of JALT, both in Japan and throughout the world. It is now two months since I left Japan to start an MA in TESOL at the University of Washington in Seattle, and this after 10 years of university teaching in Japan!

Ten years… When I first got that university job, it was only part-time, but exactly what I had hoped for in Japan: a classroom experience to complement the small group tutoring that is a part of life for most every language teacher in Japan. I was looking to reach more students, yet soon felt overwhelmed: large classes, mixed levels, part-timers uninvited to department meetings, and not a skeleton of curriculum to guide me. The silver lining was freedom in teacher creativity; the downside was no peer group and not knowing where to begin.

At that time in my area, there was no affordable Net access, and no tradition of regular language teacher meetings other than in Japanese (it is common that NS foreign language teachers are expected not to know or use any Japanese, yet this truly limits professional exchange). I did not yet speak Japanese well enough to join meetings in Japanese (and with technical language this is still true) and thus my first few years teaching, the hardest for most all teachers, were quite lonely and not very satisfying. If it was this hard and time-consuming to help students experience something better than non-communicative, multiple-choice language exams, I would not last long.

And then, JALT appeared... Cliché though it may be, it really was that simple. I had heard of its annual conference and was desperate, and 6 years ago finally decided to attend one in Shizuoka. I found myself surrounded by positive teachers seeking to improve their skills and to share. It was just what I needed. I was so stunned I even volunteered right there to help with JALT’s Job Info Center, the JIC. This put me in semi-regular contact with dedicated JALT volunteers, people who care enough to give of themselves and work to improve language teaching and learning. Why hang out anywhere else?

Bliss? Yes, but the closest chapter to me was still 2 hours away. I needed a more regular fix. After that first conference, my attitude changed, and (magically?) people around me began to talk about also having an interest in sharing and improvement. We began to discuss how to start our own chapter. Of the original seven members, only three had been to a conference, and only one had JALT volunteer experience, me. Still, this was enough to create a forming chapter: Welcome the Wakayama chapter of JALT, affectionately—WALT!

Has WALT taken a lot of our time? Yes and no: just a lot at certain times (especially if the year is not planned out at least halfway). As president/manager of a new chapter, I had extra work helping the new officer/volunteers. For such a small chapter, it’s amazing how much we have learned: How to organize, plan and run events (and plan 4 months or more in advance!) Slowly but surely, we have been learning the ropes. Website creation, monthly accounting, and online banking were our first hurdles, complicated as JALT was changing its own website and bank at the time. Thankfully, that’s past us, yet all the while we averaged a meeting every 2 months. Two years later, the chapter had doubled in size and another volunteer stepped up so that I could move on. Now they are facing new challenges of a growing chapter, which will lead to the further, healthy “trouble” of maintenance as a matured chapter.

A chapter is an administrative, professional entity serving a local need, yet run by giving volunteers. Chapter development is ongoing, and is what makes volunteering locally or nationally so special—you will always learn something new. An NPO is a business, just one not out for profit, a fact that makes it all the more of a challenge, and all the more worthwhile: volunteer-driven, for the good of us all. Call me naïve, but it seems that altruism is alive and well, and it feels great!

So, JALT has made all the difference, through helping me gain focus, providing numerous models and mentors, and in MA and Teaching Assistant applications made successful by skills and experience from service to the greater good. It amazes me: one weekend trip to Shizuoka. Who knows, this year, it could be you!

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