Messages from Former IE Teachers on the 25th Anniversary of the Program

Barnaby Ralph

Clark Richardson

Joyce Taniguchi

Attractive things about the IE Program

Quite a long while ago, I was already working for Aoyama when I asked to be transferred into the English department’s I.E. program. I had heard that its smaller class size made it more possible to be the kind of teacher many would like to be. I have always been especially interested in the teaching of writing, and small classes are best suited to that skill. This emphasis on small class size is one of the strengths of the I.E. program. Teachers can take the time to give meaningful feedback to students, which will facilitate them in achieving the goals set for each class.

Constant faculty development opportunities

Early on in my I.E. teaching days a special workshop was given (if my memory is correct, I think it happened at lunch hour, which was longer than it is now, at the Atsugi Campus). An expert in the field of writing came and talked with us about ways to improve the writing portion of the I.E. program. I was impressed that on-the-job guidance was thought about and given so as to make a fine I.E. program. I’ve always enjoyed learning and that encouragement made me want to do my best!

Teacher orientations and encouragement to do action research

Over the years, orientations have concentrated on ways to improve the program and acted as “teaching days” for teachers new and old so as to help them keep up with technology used in the classroom, as well as sharing fine ideas that could be used in classes, and setting out the guidelines so as to make for greater integration in students’ learning. Fellow colleagues made presentations at these orientations which influenced everyone present to work to keep up professional standards. Research was encouraged so that Aoyama teachers might give presentations at professional conferences as well. Teacher development is one of the strong points of this I.E. program. All of the strengths geared to developing teachers becomes a strength for students who enter the I.E. program. They can know even before they begin that their teachers are aiming for quality.

IE Seminars

The part of the program from which I learned the most was the seminars. A variety of topics—often of special interest to that teacher—offers students a chance to learn content and use their English as a tool, not necessarily just as a subject for study. My students and I learned about communication between cultures through my seminar class. The highlight each term was a “candy” game, which we used as a means to discover communication, economic, and political problems in the “world” of our classroom which we created by the results of our game.

Each year’s students worked in a variety of ways to try to create a “fair” world via use of communication skills. That was our goal. The losers of the game were almost always the winners in terms of learning. One group still stands out in my memory. They had no economic resources as losers, but one member of that group was in reality a musician. By his influence, the members decided that they would all train as musicians after receiving some aid from a neighboring group who had more resources. Then, they would work to hold a world charity concert for the benefit of not only their “country’s” needs, but also for others in need. They presented their ideas with enthusiasm and confidence. This is what fine I.E. program students can do, I thought!

Students learned the difficulties of governing, of determining a budget (most were rather incomplete but had a beginning), and of communicating with other groups in an economically diverse “world.” Most reported they had never given much thought to the difficulty of these problems. They added that the game made them more aware of the problems in the real world, and they welcomed the opportunity provided by this game. Seminars allow students to stretch in their learning.

Best wishes for the future of the IE Program

I’m proud to have been a teacher in the I.E. program for many years. Retirement was sad for me, but I felt valued by all in this program, and my hope is that it will continue on at Aoyama for many years to come.

Yoko Wakui

First impressions of the IE Program

I was surprised at the IE program at first because every part of it was well organized. Students had no way to escape if they wanted to survive, and even experienced teachers had to work hard for students since ordinary textbooks were not used in most cases. Once the system was grasped however, things went smoothly. I realized that it was systematically organized and we just needed to follow each instruction given.

Strengths of the IE Program

The strength of IE program is that the program directors collect ideas from teachers who volunteer every year to give presentations at the IE teachers’ orientation. They select some of the best ideas to implement in the program. As a result, the texts have been improving year by year.

What should the IE Program continue to do

The IE program should continue three things. One is the Media Discussions in the IE core classes. They encourages students to speak and listen actively. They must always think about their own ideas, which do not come from textbooks. Another good thing is the Interactions in IE Active Listening class, for the same reason above. Lastly, I would like the IE Program to continue to encourage theater going. Not many IE Core teachers want to take their students to the theater because it is an extra job. However, after going to the theater, the class atmosphere transforms radically, so the rest of the semester can be dramatically better. Students become more motivated than before, and above all, they come to enjoy using English.

What is your message for new IE teachers?

This is the right place if you want to learn lots of new ideas. When you attend the IE Orientation (or teacher conferences outside of AGU), you learn just a part of each teacher’s practices, and you may not be able to implement their ideas for a whole course, but new ideas are worth trying because you will stretch your abilities and get out of your comfort zone. It’s also useful to learn about the best ways of teaching in other settings since we don’t know where we might end up teaching in the future.

What experience in the IE Program stands out for you?

I had a humorous experience with one of my IE core classes. Even though their level was not very high compared with other IE classes, they worked very hard. Since I never spoke Japanese in class, they did not expect me to speak Japanese, but they desperately wanted to hear my Japanese. One day, a person from the Educational Affairs Division came to our class, so I had no choice but to speak Japanese. They thought they were not allowed to eavesdrop, but they tried anyway. I spoke softly, but they hid behind me and tried to catch what I said. We had a big laugh afterwards. As Core is a two-period class, we became like a family. We enjoyed funny moments like this many times. I am still connected with some of my former students.

What are you doing now?

While at teaching at AGU, I ran across some students who needed mental support. Therefore, I started attending seminars for therapists. After five years, I finally began to practice. I kept gaining new skills and information useful for therapy while I was teaching, which was tough, but rewarding. Thanks to these newly acquired skills, I could create a better class atmosphere. Since I retired three years ago, I have been giving therapy sessions and teaching English as well.

Brant Hardgrave

Thoughts about teaching in the IE Program

I was in Tokyo from the mid-90’s, and began teaching in the IE Program back in 2005, commuting out to the Sagamihara campus. By the time I moved back to Australia in 2014 we were based at the Shibuya campus. Teaching in the IE Program was a pleasant and rewarding experience. Most of all I miss the students, who were well mannered and polite.

The greatest strengths of the IE Program

The greatest strength of the IE Program is the flexibility of the curriculum to allow teachers to tap into their own particular strengths. During the annual IE Program Orientations, and in the adjunct lecturer staff rooms, I noticed that each teacher had a different passion and even a different view on how to have students achieve better English communication skills. The IE program provided a certain degree of structure and uniformity across classes, however the program also acknowledged—and even encouraged—teachers to pursue, develop and share what worked best in their own classrooms. So it’s more bottom-up in its structure, rather than top-down as it is working with the Australian Curriculum.

Something the IE Program should continue doing

The IE Program should definitely continue to permit teachers to stray a little off the path and experiment with different TEFL approaches and technologies. When I began in the IE Program in 2005, YouTube was new and the Japanese media was quite skeptical due to copyright issues. However as a teacher it was a refreshing change to not have to deal with outdated VHS cassette tapes, audiotapes and CD players. Prior to YouTube it was not unusual for EFL teachers to walk around from classroom to classroom with a bulky cassette player. Then came the 60GB click-wheel iPod with a colour display onto which we could download audio-visual content to play in class.

A decade later, towards the end of my time at AGU I was studying externally for a GradDipEd and had to take a classic film course to supplement my total units of study. I developed an interest in old black and white films, and discovered that Tokyo Story (by Ozu Yasujiro) was voted the 3rd best film of all time according to the British Film Institute (BFI). I discovered other great films too, and was able to share this newfound interest with students, and even developed a small-group assessment instrument based around recreating a scene from a classic film. When the students can see that the teacher is passionate about something, they also become interested.

Message of encouragement to new teachers in the program

Now that I have grown a little older and transitioned to a teaching career in Queensland Australia, Macklemore’s song ‘Good Old Days’ is how I feel about teaching at AGU. Although you don’t realize it at this point in time, perhaps your time at AGU will one day be the ‘good old days’ of your teaching career, so make the most of them! And if you’re studying Japanese, I highly recommend Risa from the JapanesePod101 YouTube channel.

A bit about what I’m doing now

Essentially I am doing the reverse of what I was doing in Tokyo. I am now teaching Japanese to Australian students. Since moving back to Australia in 2014 I have been through the process of doing my teaching practicums, then graduating, then clocking up 200 days of teaching under provisional registration and finally becoming a fully registered teacher in November 2017.

My employment situation isn’t so stable, but it means I get to move around different areas of southeast Queensland, and get to experience teaching Japanese in different contexts: state Vs catholic Vs private / primary Vs middle years Vs senior years. I am currently teaching on the Gold Coast in the lead up to the Commonwealth Games (which starts April 4th), filling in for a Japanese national who has returned to Japan to visit family.

I am still into photography, and was based up at the Sunshine Coast last year. If I’m in the right place at the right time (or the wrong place at the wrong time) I submit photos to the local paper and they get published on the Sunshine Coast Daily website. For my health I have been keeping fit with a combination of intermittent fasting (IF) and have been experimenting with the Wim Hof method, mainly cold outdoor showers & deep breathing at the beach, even in winter.

Rachael Barat

Thoughts about the IE Program

What an inspiration. I came from the generally muddled and incoherently linked sets of lessons which were, erroneously, called English programmes to Aoyama. I joined Aoyama because the poor teacher before me had fled in horror at her inability to teach the Academic Writing course. Having been teaching in other Japanese universities, I was also aghast at having to teach this course but …. I had a stab at it. As I had; good materials; supportive peers and superb bosses, (Greg and Joseph), I managed. I say managed because without the wonderful work of the teachers in the IE programme the students would never have been able to succeed with my poor efforts. team, we can do marvelous things. Don’t worry. Every teacher thinks that others are doing a wonderful job and that they are the only one lurching from crisis to crisis, In truth, teaching is crisis management. So don’t worry, you are on course.

What I learned from working in the IE Program

It was working at Aoyama that showed me what an English programme could be. Not a scattering of unrelated classes that leaves the less able floundering in panic and fear, but a cohesive step by step development of skills. Students get good input with the knowledge that they are on a path to improvement; teachers know they are members of a team and developers (Hi Greg) know that their work will be put into action.

Strong points about the program and the AGU English Department

The strongest point about our Aoyama English Department is the student body. Teachers do their best, but without enthusiastic students we are lost. Students bring their energy, hope and laughter into the classroom. Students are the reason we are there and they are the most important component of the university. Aoyama kids are noisy, active and fun but can get down to work when they have to.

The writing program

The writing program was always what enthused me. Giving a chance to the quiet and the shy students to show their worth. It was often the students who thought they had poor speaking skills would work extra hard and produce absolute gems of academic writing with wonderful research. What a joy!

Developing listening skills through IE Active Listening

I know that the most difficult and important of the skills is Listening but that with the wonderful world of the Internet we can get students hooked on listening. I think it might still be an area that needs monitoring. I know that our super intelligent students will find ways to NOT listen when we ask them. It is much more fun to find a way out of the school task and into a computer game.

My most cherished memories

I have so many memories of Aoyama and most of the best of them involve slightly illicit parties. In one Core English party my students had smuggled in six large Dominoes pizzas, in another I had given permission for a cake but had forgotten that it was to be held in the computer room – lit candles, computers and overhead sprinklers. Luckily, nothing happened and I kept my job. My dearest memories have been of students who came into my courses filled with fear and seeing them slowly relax. Having a talk with students who were paralysed with fear and seeing how they managed to blossom. A thousand little victories add up to a lovely whole.

What I’m doing now

I am in Phnom Penh Cambodia trying to put the things I learnt in Aoyama into practice. Many of our students came from rural backgrounds and are competing with the urban elite. I am having a lot of fun doing similar work to that which I was doing in Japan. The big difference is that it is a Buddhist university so I get to tease monks and we do a lot of outreach and volunteer work. It is such a pleasure to see students from rather humble homes going out to the countryside to donate books to the children.

Message to new students

Welcome to the best program in Japan. I know you think everyone else has great English, is super cool, calm and better than you. Do not worry about it. This is just the outside image. Everyone is afraid of not being the best. Just remember that you have managed to get into one of the best universities in Japan and that Japan is a leading nation. Compare yourself to a farming woman from Mali, to a motor mechanic in Yemen, to an unemployed girl in Bolivia. You are one of the luckiest people in the world. Now enjoy your university life.

Eiko Asoh

My thoughts on teaching in the IE Program

A VERY GOOD PROGRAM. So I count myself lucky that I could teach in the IE program. It was a place of learning for me, where I have learned how to teach and how to prepare myself to teach.

The greatest strengths of the program

OPEN AND RECEPTIVE. IE coordinators and colleagues were generous and have always been open and receptive so that I could receive appropriate supports from them wherever it was needed. Also, all the materials and information were open to us, so that I could access to them as needed basis.

What the IE Program should continue doing

ANNUAL ORIENTATION AND WEBSITE. Both of them were invaluable sources of information for me.

Message of encouragement to new teachers in the program

“Don’t seek to be liked by your students. Also, even if you give the best lessons to your students, surely there is the least one student who hates your approach to teaching. Never mind the student.” This was a message from the late Dr. Luther Link, a professor emeritus, and Prof. Thomas Dabbs. They both gave me the exact same message when I started my career as a teacher here. Isn’t it interesting? This message was helpful to me. On the other hand, my students were my teachers. I think that they have moulded me into the teacher I am today. In the course evaluation by students I learned a lot from bad evaluations rather than good evaluations. I did not learn anything from good ones. But the bad ones always gave me good opportunities to improve the quality of teaching.

Best memories related to teaching in the English Dept. at AGU

I have two memorable students: a highly motivated student and a student with high aspirations. I was very impressed with the former’s unremitting diligence to enhance her English skills, whereas I was surprised very much at the latter who seriously thought of contributing to the world at the age of 18. Both of them made me straighten up. I have come to feel strongly that I wanted to become a highly skilled teacher who could satisfy such students’ different needs.

What I’m doing now

Beginning this April, while resuming my career as a freelance translator, I will work on my uncompleted projects. I could not work on them in these years, so it is exciting to be able to go back to them.

Kathy Reimer

My precious experience in Japan had teaching at AGU as its highlight

When I left Japan in 2004, I knew I left the most wonderful place I had ever lived in. There are so many things I loved, I can’t even begin to list them. But I will put my experience working in the IE Program at Aoyama Gakuin at the top. It was a program where I could be creative and the students were extremely receptive. I still communicate with some of them.

My life after returning to Canada

After leaving Japan, I needed to come to Canada to prepare for retirement. Fortunately, I got a job in Calgary at SAIT (Southern Alberta Institute of Technology), teaching in their ESL Department. Several years later, I moved to Edmonton and was able to teach at Grant McEwen University in their ESL Department. Then I moved north of Edmonton to be with my partner who teaches elementary school. She is teaching for one more year and I am happily retired and living in our cottage on Okanagan Lake in B.C.

Mariko Yokokawa

Teaching writing in the IE Program

I began teaching Writing in the IE Program in 2015, and taught IE Writing I during spring term and IE Writing II during the fall term. It was an entirely new experience for me to teach a structured course in which each step in the process of teaching writing was laid out in detail in advance, with specific exercises for each skill.

Gradually getting the hang of things

In the beginning it was difficult for me to use the textbook to guide the students, but gradually I began to see the value of leading the students following a carefully laid out set of exercises. It was encouraging to see how students who had trouble writing coherently at the beginning of the term began to be able to write a paragraph, and later on an essay, with structure and a more sophisticated vocabulary.

Strongest features of the IE Program

The structure laid out in the IE Program was helpful in guiding the students by giving them a clear program to follow. Since the students followed basically the same format in the other classes, it was easy to pick up where they left off the first term and teach an entirely different set of students the second term. This structure and consistency are probably the strongest features of the IE program, something which hopefully will be continued in the future. Giving individual feedback on writing is another effective feature of the program, especially as the students are asked to rewrite their essays until they are acceptable.

Students…the greatest asset to the program

The greatest asset, of course, was the students themselves. Of all the students I have taught at other universities, the students I taught at AGU had the most solid knowledge of grammar and structure. During the individual coaching sessions, all I had to do in most cases was to ask students what part of speech was missing and what word would best fit the sentence, and they could provide the answer.

Some innovations I made in my writing instruction

One thing I started doing the second year was to have the students write their first paragraph or essay in class. This ensured that the writing was original and not a copy of someone else’s writing. Students were allowed to bring in handwritten notes on their subject of choice, but were not allowed to bring in text or to access the Internet while writing the first draft. Since the setting of this in-class writing exercise resembled an exam, the students took this assignment quite seriously. Another benefit of this method is that since everyone was forced to write the first draft during class, there were no cases of students not handing in the first draft and subsequently failing the class from failure to hand in their assignments.

Best memories teaching in the IE Program

Besides working with competent motivated students, my best memories of teaching in the IE program are the support and exchange I had with the coordinators of the program and with my colleagues. Throughout the year I felt like a respected and valued part of the program. The opportunity to present my own research and experience as well as to listen to the innovative ideas of others made me feel like I was an important part of the program. The party at the end of the school year added to the impression that all of us were necessary and valuable in the program.

What I learned through teaching in the IE Program

Through teaching in the IE program, I have learned a lot about teaching writing to second language learners. Actually until then I had avoided teaching writing to those who were not already fluent in the language, fearing that the task would be hopelessly difficult. Teaching writing using the structured textbook of the IE writing gave me the confidence that it is possible to teach writing, at least with well-prepared and motivated students.

Words of encouragement to students

Lastly I would like to encourage future students and tell them that if they follow the program, listen to the feedback of their professors, and write and rewrite over and over again it is really possible to learn to write English well, especially given the strong background in English that most of the students have. I continue to hope that it is indeed possible to learn how to write well using the methods outlined in the IE program.

Melvin Andrade

Thoughts about teaching in the IE Program

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to teach in this program. The coordinators and my colleagues have been an inspiring group of people and a pleasure to work with. Over the years, I have been fortunate to have taught some of the best groups of students of my career.

It was always a pleasure to see the progress that the overwhelming majority of students made each term. To be honest, not everyone in my classes was a model student, but I took it to heart to apply my repertoire of teaching knowledge–tempered by experience–to address whatever challenges those individuals were grappling with, academically or otherwise. All in all, I can truthfully say that I will miss teaching here in the future.

Linguistics, Applied Linguistics (TESOL), Communication, and English Literature are the foundation content disciplines of the IE Program. Through this content, students receive well-balanced training in academic English. Yet, it may be fruitful to reflect on and discuss how other frameworks/models tacitly underpin the program’s rich content and diverse methodologies.

For example, consider the following questions: To what extent does the program reflect the six Can-Do levels (A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2) of CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference)? How are the seven levels of cognitive learning specified in Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy (Remembering, Understanding, Applying, Analyzing, Evaluating, and Creating) distributed throughout the curriculum? Which Critical Thinking skills are specifically addressed and how are they taught and evaluated? For example, the Foundation for Critical Thinking proposes a three-stage model: ten Intellectual Standards (e.g., Clarity, Accuracy) applied to eight Elements of Thought (e.g., Assumptions, Implications, Consequences) in order to develop 10 Intellectual Traits (e.g. Fair-mindedness, Empathy, Humility, Courage). How can de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats model be used to promote better discussions and debates? Greatly simplified here, the Six Hats indicate the following: Blue Hat: Purpose; White Hat: Information; Yellow Hat: Benefits: Black Hat: Drawbacks; Red Hat: Emotions; and Green Hat: Creativity. Lastly, and not to be forgotten, is the growing array of “21st Century Skills.”

The frameworks and models above overlap to some extent, and elements of each are included in the current IE Program. Nevertheless, we can make an already excellent program even better by examining more closely—perhaps through action research—where and how they are introduced and practiced.

Greatest strengths of the program

What benefits the students: (1) Theme-based learning that integrates listening, speaking, reading, and writing. (2) Task-based, active learning that allows students choice and provides students with opportunities for meaningful interaction with their peers. In particular, I am referring to the IE Core creative projects, news reports and oral book reports, as well as the peer editing activities in Academic English. (3) Depending on its implementation, Xreading (Extensive Reading) has the potential to be a major strength of the program, provided that it encourages interactive learning such as oral book reports and active listening through note-taking.

What benefits the instructors: (1) The extensive “Reference Guides for Teachers” and teacher-contributed materials available at (2) The annual orientation and faculty development symposium at the beginning of the academic year. (3) An earnest attempt to foster collegiality and enthusiasm for ongoing professional development through action research and awareness of opportunities for publishing and sharing professional knowledge. Here is a quote I think captures a particular strength of the program: ““I like a teacher who gives you something to take home to think about besides homework” (American actress, comedian, and producer Lily Tomlin, Good Reads Quotes).

Something you think the IE Program should continue doing

Briefly put, the program should continue promoting the strengths mentioned above, modifying and refining them from year to year to reflect advances in language learning research, educational psychology, and neurosciences, for example, see The Mind, Brain, and Education SIG (JALT):

A message of encouragement to new teachers in the program

Where are my students? If you teach during 1st Period (9:00-10:30), don’t despair when many of your students show up late every week (late trains, etc.). Try starting off with warm-up, small group tasks that latecomers can join without feeling lost and without feeling guilty about disrupting a teacher-led whole-class activity: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget, how you made them feel” (attributed to American writer Maya Angelou and others, Quote Investigator).

One, two, three—Eyes on me. Want to keep your listeners’ attentive and focused? Watch Julian Treasure’s How to speak so that people want to listen (TED Talk, 2014). In an engaging and humorous talk, he explains the values and mindset that underpin effective oral communication (honesty, authenticity, integrity, love) and dramatically illustrates how to use one’s voice (register, timbre, prosody, pace, pitch) so that your message will resonate in the listeners’ hearts and minds.

When something is not working for you. The IE program’s “Reference Guides for Teachers” mentioned above can be a big help; yet, there may be times when something doesn’t click with your class. It’s not always necessary to reinvent the wheel. Bear in mind that, generally speaking, “It’s much easier to improve on something that someone else has created than to create something from scratch” (organizational psychologist Adam Grant, The surprising habits of original thinkers (TED Talks, 2016). Nevertheless, with the goal of creating an all-around worthwhile educational experience, don’t hesitate to improvise and innovate. Or as a quote attributed to Thomas Edison put it: “”I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”

My best memories related to teaching in the English Department at AGU

Effort rewarded. One of my students once remarked, “I want to be a teacher like Mr. Andrade.” I was happy to receive explicit feedback suggesting that there was a good match between that student’s expectations and the way I structured and managed the course. A thought: A teacher may invest considerable time and effort ensuring that a course is successful in terms of objectively measured learning outcomes, but if it falls short in some way of what the students expect, they may not appreciate how much they have actually learned.

Fanning the creative spark. Another of my best memories (actually a series of related memorable occasions) was seeing the extraordinary effort and passion that many students put into converting their research essays in Academic Writing and IE Core III Writing into visually rich PowerPoint presentations at the end of the course. My observations of these students reminded me of the lessons to be learned from Daniel Pink’s outstanding YouTube animation The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (2012).

— What I’m doing now

Having reached the age limit of 68, I retired from my adjunct position at AGU at the end of the 2017 academic year. Although I will not be a member of the faculty, I will continue working on a joint research project on Xreading with members of the IE program during 2018. In addition, I will continue teaching courses part-time as Professor Emeritus at Sophia University Junior College Division, (TOEIC Preparation, Academic Writing, and Literacy Education and Social Justice), as well as adult education classes in communicative English in the community college program. Although I will miss teaching at AGU, I will be able to devote more time to my writing projects: a series of CLIL-themed textbooks based on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals with a coordinated series of self-study materials in e-book and on-demand formats.

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