by Helene J. Uchida
Even though I was a veteran English teacher before I came to Japan, my teaching expertise dramatically expanded as a result of my doing judo and teaching Japanese EFL students. Now I can say, without hesitation, that the most important element in my classroom evolves around the concept of respect. I have judo and my early Japanese students to thank for teaching me that.
When I initially studied judo from Sohei Uchida at the Waseda University judo dojo, he told me, “You can’t do judo alone; you need a partner.” He also said that since one cannot do judo alone, one must respect one’s partner. In essence, because one has a partner, one can do judo. If one’s partner is stronger, then one learns from that partner. If one’s partner is weaker, then the stronger partner helps the weaker one. This was a revelation for me because I had always been a very independent person; I had never really thought much about partnership or “give and take.” This philosophy changed my life in terms of my adaption to judo (I became a black belt), my international marriage and my English teaching in Japan.
Our students cannot speak English alone; they need a partner. So our curriculum, classes and lessons are all geared to interaction between two people. Just like judo, our classes encourage constant practice, warm-ups, trial and error challenges, and question and answer scenarios between partners. We believe in orchestrating activities whereby our students can experience English with each other. Even though we don’t say it directly, our students know inherently that their partners deserve respect, namely because they could not do any of these fun activities alone.
Respect is a win-win situation. My first job as a teacher is to respect my students in such a way that they will feel it. If I respect my students, like a mirror, they will reflect that respect back to me. And once that relationship has been established, they will almost certainly respect each other, the subject matter and in the final analysis, themselves.
And this is my goal in teaching English, to plant the seeds of self-respect and self-confidence so that students can take the strategic step of speaking English to someone else. Isn’t that what it is all about?
I think respect is the most important element in the classroom. If it is absent, I don’t think any real learning will ever take place.