Member’s Profile: Steven Herder


In this month’s Member’s Profile, Steven Herder discusses the benefits of collaboration and shares his EFL experiences, insights, and accomplishments.

Member’s Profile

Steven Herder

First we have to connect… the rest we just work out day by day.

Not an auspicious start
The bubble economy was still thriving when I arrived at Narita airport in the fall of 1989. As I got off the plane, a woman in uniform was waiting for me, holding a sign saying, “Steven Herder.” Yikes! Did she know that I only had a tourist visa but was hoping to eventually work here? She had been sent by JAL to tell me that my big green backpack had abandoned me and was in Hawaii. Even worse, five days later I drove a friend’s van into a truck parked on a narrow street. After four hours in the local police station, I was wondering if Japan was “right” for me. Thankfully I stayed, because I eventually stumbled into a great career as an EFL teacher.

Nagging questions
Even after 17 years of “solo classroom teaching,” I still hesitated to share in public all I had learned. Having just a BA in English, I always secretly questioned my lack of a real teacher’s license. Recently though, completing my MA TEFL through the University of Birmingham has helped immensely because those studies added theory to my years of practice, and left me feeling complete: well prepared to finally “join the EFL conversation” and share with others.

So in August of 2006, I helped to start a network of teachers who wanted to do more and grow more. We created an organization that we call MASH Collaboration (Meet, Ask, Share & Help). We are interested in making good things happen for each other and for all like-minded colleagues. While working full-time, and studying in all the remaining time, we have accomplished a lot together in the past three years:

  • An online weekly study group (2 years);
  • Six MASH events around Japan focusing on Professional Development through Collaboration;
  • A homepage that facilitates our collaborative efforts and records our projects;
  • An ongoing book project defining our EFL context, Innovating Teaching in Context: Asia;
  • A column on Professional Development (PD) on the ELT News website;
  • A MASH building (headquarters) in the Second Life virtual world;
  • Collaborative events with Kyoto JALT Chapter and with Curtis Kelly;
  • MASH Online Statistics Course with Gregory Sholdt (Kobe University);
  • Nakasendo 2009 participant.

What I’ve learned through PD
Two MASHisms that have evolved over time and sum up what I’ve personally learned from collaborating are, “Anything I can do, we can do better.” Once I learned to be more open to feedback and the collective opinions of people I trusted, I noticed that my own work got much better. Even more importantly, I now know that “Collaboration creates just the right kind of tension to get lots done.” I have grown used to letting myself down at times, but I continue to fight to never let my cohorts down.

Calling a spade a spade
Unfortunately, teaching is an unregulated profession that IMHO produces blue-collar and white-collar attitudes. This metaphor simply separates teachers who understand that being a teacher means a never-ending commitment to personal and professional development from those teachers who don’t see teaching that way. I’ve seen white-collar attitudes at NOVA and ECC, and blue-collar attitudes at famous universities. If we foreign teachers are ever going to get the responsibility and respect that many of us deserve, we are going to have to work extra hard to differentiate ourselves from teachers who just do the minimum.

Message to colleagues
The deeper you go, the better it gets. The more you reach out—earnestly, to ask questions, to connect with others, to get involvedin JALT, JACET, ETJ, MASH, etc., the more meaningful each day becomes. My MASH and JALT friends will be friends for life. As a foreigner in Japan, these connections are my lifeline. If any of this resonates with you, I hope we meet someday. My professional interests include:

  1. Extensive Writing (EWr)—my dissertation is on fluency writing practice in Japanese high school writing classes.
  2. Professional development through collaboration withEFL teachers.
  3. Defining the unique nature of our EFL context: raising our voices beyond ESL ideologies.
  4. Debunking the “English Only” myth for all levels and all contexts of teaching in Japan.
  5. Promoting a balanced four skills approach to teaching English.

Steven teaches Writing II & III, and Oral Communication at Seibo Jogakuin in Osaka and Intensive English in the International Relations Department at Kyoto Sangyo University in Kyoto. 

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