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Awakening a chapter: Niigata back in the JALT fold

Writer(s): 
David Coulson, President of JALT Niigata chapter

 

JALT Niigata chapter was re-launched last autumn, after a lull of several years. Although the initial official procedures for setting up the chapter were quite detailed, I found the support from JALT colleagues spontaneous and unfailingly helpful, and answers were always available.

Having assembled the required group of five to fill the officer roles, we were able to start planning our new program. Fortunately, our main venue is only a 5-minute walk from Niigata station, in a very new, bright room which costs us the princely sum of 100 yen to rent.

At the time of writing (end of January), we have held four monthly meetings. So far we have focused on presentations relating directly to classroom teaching. These have included a “best of” review of the JALT conference and a My Share event. As a result, we have quickly increased the number of participants: Our latest event (My Share) attracted 20, including members of a local group of Filipino teachers who hold their own independent meetings, but have started attending our meetings also. It is great that the opening of our chapter has brought teachers into contact who otherwise would have remained unaware of each other. We have even had first-year university students attending the monthly meeting on one occasion because they think it is a great chance for them to be part of a lively English-speaking environment.

To encourage further interest from participants who are not yet connected with JALT, we decided to start a local membership fee of only 2,000 yen (JALT guidelines recommend 4,000 yen) to grant access to chapter meetings for our first year, which has been quite popular. We think this is an ideal way to generate enthusiasm for meetings, and give these members a view into the world of JALT, and an incentive for them to keep coming, and eventually take out full memberships. Indeed, we have already had two full new memberships in the first four months, so we feel this is a reasonable course of action. We have our next four meetings planned, so we feel we are providing a stimulating lineup for our members, which may draw in more and more newcomers.

One of the innovations that we are very proud of is the cooperation between JALT Niigata and local universities in launching a new language teaching conference. Niigata is one of the largest cities on the Sea of Japan coast and, increasingly, students view languages other than English as important. In response to this, International University of Japan proposed setting up the North East Asian Regional Language Education Conference. The inaugural conference will be held on the campus of University of Niigata Prefecture on 30 May. JALT Niigata will sponsor one of the keynote speakers: Although this is a considerable expense for our small budget, we feel it is very valuable to be involved in bringing a full-fledged TESOL conference to Niigata. There are many teachers here who, not being JALT members, have never had the experience of attending a professional teaching conference, especially in a provincial city such as Niigata, which rarely hosts such events. Additionally, we have negotiated with the partner universities to be reimbursed from a share of any surplus conference revenues, so we feel the outlay is a responsible course of action.

If you are interested in attending this conference, please visit: <www.iuj.ac.jp/language/conference/near/index.html>. Unfortunately, by the time you read this the deadline to submit proposals for presentations will already have passed, but we would be really delighted to have as many participants as possible, especially from this region of Japan.

In sum, it has been a great pleasure to be involved in setting up this chapter, and bringing teachers together to talk about we do. I would strongly urge other readers in areas where chapters are not currently active to take the bit between the teeth and re-launch their own groups. I have been amazed by what is possible.

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