James W. Porcaro

In this issue of Showcase, veteran educator James Porcaro offers five pearls of wisdom to sustain one’s passion as a teacher.

James W. Porcaro

I’m 68 years old and in my 30th year of teaching English in Japan. I currently teach as a part-timer, having had to retire from my university professorship at 65, yet I teach as many classes per week as ever. On the authority of the consistent responses of my students on course questionnaires, I can say that I teach with as much or more passion and quality as I ever have. For teachers, even a generation younger than I, who may find their fire flickering, I offer five ways to keep it burning well into later years. 

First, continually seek and accept new challenges. In my early years in Japan, at a premier foreign language college in Osaka, I became the academic supervisor, in charge of ten full-time teachers from several countries. I had never intended or expected to have such a role and had no previous experience of that sort, but circumstances compelled me to take the position. The challenges and accomplishments, both professional and personal, were many and rewarding. 

At that time I also took over a course in Japanese-to-English translation though my Japanese proficiency was limited and I had no background in that area. I educated myself and developed a unique course of literary translation which I taught for 14 years. In 2000, 28 years after I had completed a master’s degree in African Studies, came an opportunity to teach it. I re-educated myself and developed and taught for ten years perhaps the only African studies course taught in English at a Japanese university. 

With no previous background in teaching English for science and technology (EST), I took up teaching the university courses English for Earth Science and later English for Electrical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering. I’ve also been teaching a weekly course at high school for the past ten years and served as an advisor in the SELHi program for six years at the same school. 

Second, be creative. Throw away any textbooks you use, create your own lessons and produce your own lesson materials. In none of the courses named above or others have I used a textbook. Creating your own lessons and materials enables you to teach with the passion you feel for your work. 

Third, publish. I started at age 52, in 1998, with my first article in TLT for My Share. Since then I’ve had 22 more articles in JALT publications and 66 in total in print. I have written multiple articles about each of the instructional areas mentioned above and many others. The critical reflection required for writing for publication has clarified the meaning of my teaching. This has been vital for reaching a clear identity of myself as a teacher and for “the development of a personal system of knowledge, beliefs, and understandings drawn from the practical experience of teaching . . .. [and] the development of a personal teaching philosophy” (Richards, 2011, p. 5).

Fourth, treasure every interaction with every student in every class. That’s what it’s all about. By the way, there are great advantages to teaching at my age. I’ve lived a longer life in Japan than any of my students. I’ve been through a cycle of life in Japan with my family. I know the lives of my students. I bring that personal experience and understanding to the classroom and my relationships with students, and to the meaningful lessons I prepare. I believe students sense all that and readily trust me, as I respect them in turn. 

Finally, be in it for yourself, because for teachers to sustain their efforts, their motivation must go beyond simply a strong desire to advance students’ learning and personal development. Often that is not enough when teachers encounter frustrations, disappointments, and failings. There must be something more to it. A teacher must have “fire in the belly” and simply love to be in a classroom and the process of teaching itself. Do it for yourself as much as for your students. 

Indeed, meaning for me as a teacher is drawn from and defined by the daily classroom experience itself. Each teacher must construct that meaning for him- or herself. It is an existential process as we make choices based on our experiences, beliefs, and outlooks, and take full responsibility for the teachers we are. I’m proud of being the teacher I am. I feel fortunate to have had this success in Japan and look forward to many more years in the classroom. May you, too, keep your fire alive. 


Richards, J. (2011). Exploring teacher competence in language teaching. The Language Teacher, 35(4), 3-7.

James W. Porcaro teaches in Toyama. He can be contacted at <porcaro@tuins.ac.jp>.

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