Winners Want the Ball

Recently, I was sitting at my desk when I looked up and saw a caucasian gentleman being escorted around the office by the school principal. In most scenarios I wouldn’t bat an eyelash at this, but at my school, it’s not every day I see someone of European heritage, unless I’m looking in a mirror.

Perhaps due to my impolite gawking, this gentleman came and introduced himself to me. He said his name was Crispin Chambers and that I was sitting at his old desk. Ah, it was all coming together for me: this was a former English teacher who came to revisit some of his old stomping grounds. Yet this was only partly true, as I was to find out.

He was actually here in Japan to give a speech. Apparently Mr. Chambers continued his career as a teacher after his tenure in Japan. He returned to his native Britain and taught the Japanese language to high school students at Tavistock College. He excelled at this evidently, because he was granted the teacher of the year award for 2013. The first time a language teacher has received the award. Wow, to think he started from the same humble beginnings as me!

This award is no small deal. There were over 24,000 nominations for the teacher of the year in 2013. You have to distinguish yourself in several ways just to be considered. Mr. Chambers distinguished himself by being instrumental in establishing Japanese language programs throughout the U.K. He did this by conducting teacher training, and personally helping five schools initiate their programs. Now there are over 300 schools that have Japanese language programs throughout Britain. There’s also a popular exchange program out of Tavistock started by Mr. Chambers, where Japanese and British students visit each others’ countries for a couple of weeks, taking his school to international levels. He also visits up to 16 primary schools that feed into Tavistock as an Advanced Skills Teacher (AST). He even runs a calligraphy club after school for students to practice their Japanese writing.

Impressive. Whenever I read about teachers of this caliber I wonder where they find the time to spend with their families. With so much pressure put on teachers to perform at astronomical levels, it doesn’t surprise me that so many trained teachers leave the profession within five years, probably so they can spend more time with loved ones. Yet some of us simply find a way to make it all work. You must think Mr. Chambers rakes in an impressive salary for all that work, and at an estimated $95,000 a year, it’s nothing to scoff at. (sadly, not the case for his peers across the Atlantic). But, is teaching really worth all the effort?

Whenever I encounter individuals like Mr. Chambers, and I see what a truly elite and dedicated member of my profession looks like, it always reaffirms my passion for teaching. Yes, it is worth the effort. It’s true that over the last few decades the education system has evolved to put a lot of responsibility on teachers. Not only do we impart knowledge in ways that make it accessible, we’re also mentors, role models, legally responsible surrogate parents, coaches, cheerleaders, pillars of morality, we’re a shoulder to cry on, and posts on which to beat out frustration, some of us are all of these things and still manage to be human. But yes, it is worth it.

Maybe you think I’m going to end with a ‘do it for the children’ thing. And yes, that’s a nice thing, but really do it for yourself. You’re not going to last five years if you sacrifice everything for your students. Keep some humanity; be a real person, not a super-human robot; your students will see this and they might even respect it. Mr. Chambers definitely seemed like a real person to me, and if you can pull off what he’s done and still be a real person, then cheers, not everyone can. And for those of us who can and do pull this off, cheers again; all of you deserve the teacher of the year award.

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