30 Years, 30 Stories: Preparing for the Future


2018 marks JCMU’s 30th anniversary since our founding in 1988. To celebrate, we will be posting 30 JCMU stories of 30 different JCMU alumni from 1989 to 2018 every Thursday from mid-February through September!

How did JCMU help shape your future? For the seventeenth installment in our “30 Years, 30 Stories” series, read the story of JCMU 2017 Teaching English in Japan (TEJ) alum Cassie Walker, and discover how JCMU gave her the courage and experience needed to reach her goals.

My goal to work as an educator in Japan did not begin overnight. In high school, I rarely considered where my future would take me, let alone life in a country across the globe. Then, I participated in a two-week exchange program in Shiga Prefecture. After living with a Japanese family, experiencing everyday life with them, and exploring the deeper parts of the culture, I was hooked. This developed into a passion that ultimately led me down a path to teaching in Japan.

The first steps of my journey saw me return to Japan as a college student, on the Lansing Community College Japan Education Internship program in Otsu City. As an intern, my role was to assist the ALT at a public Japanese elementary school for three months. I learned through this experience how much I enjoy teaching children, using games and acting silly to engage them. Helping them have fun while learning was the most rewarding part of the internship. It was not just about the students, though: I also worked with my ALT to plan lessons, and together we were a great team. She and the other teachers showed me what teaching in Japan was like, giving me unique insights into office life, the classroom, and even life outside of school. Thanks to them, I was sure that teaching English in Japan was a perfect fit for me.

With this goal now cemented in my mind, I began my minor in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages along with my major in Interdisciplinary Humanities at Michigan State University (MSU). When I started as MSU, I immediately started taking TESOL (Teaching English as a Second Language) courses to gain the knowledge I needed in order to become an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) on the JET Program.

But as the years went by, I felt that I was missing something. While I was learning about teaching methods and grammar, everything was based on ESL standards in America. Most of my fellow classmates had plans to teach in Michigan—I was the only one planning on teaching in Japan. What I wanted to learn about was what standards and methods specific to English teaching in Japan that I would need to know. Instead, the information in my classes were all presented in a way that assumed I would be teaching within the States.

With my TEJ classmates and some of our Japanese friends

Finally though, I got my wish: JCMU’s Teaching English in Japan (TEJ) program provided me the exact professional and academic experience I was looking for. The main draw of this program was a focus on classroom observations, from kindergarten to university. These visits allowed us to see a large range of classroom management skills along with student language levels. The lectures were far more immersive than those back at MSU—we learned about different ways of teaching English by becoming the students ourselves. I finally had the hands-on, specific details I needed to feel confident in the Japanese classroom.

Our first observation was at a local elementary school. While I assumed we would quietly watch from the back, we were instead invited to participate in the English activity “fruits basket”. The students excitedly ran around while practicing fruit names, fumbling through words and laughing along the way. Experiences like this allowed me to hone my teaching abilities in a practical, hands-on manner.

In August, my knowledge and experience will be put to the test: I will be moving to Japan to finally achieve my dream of being an ALT on the JET Program. While I’m still nervous about this new chapter in my life, I know that I can look back on the lessons I learned while at JCMU to guide me.

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