This article originally appeared in the winter 2013 Harker Quarterly.
Lower school English teacher Heather Russell had the great opportunity to travel to Japan as this year’s exchange teacher with Tamagawa Academy K-12 School & University, Harker’s sister school in Tokyo. While at Tamagawa, she observed several classes and taught English to students in grades 1-3. She also used her English lessons to teach the Tamagawa students about the American “Wild West,” including lessons about desert plants, wildlife, cowboys and how farm animals make sounds in English. Students from each class also contributed to a mural that followed the “Wild West” theme.
Russell was impressed at the sense of community among Tamagawa students. “From the start of the day when the whole school would gather on the field for morning exercises, singing the school song and marching to class together, there was a sense of community,” she said. “Teachers would gather in a circle to sing, share announcements and then gather by grade level to connect before the day began.” Russell also was inspired by the community effort to keep the school campus clean. “This act of service also showed great care for their school, teamwork and independence as students cleaned their school grounds together.”
In addition to her time at Tamagawa, Russell also visited a shrine in Tokyo and saw a traditional Japanese wedding procession, stood atop Tokyo Tower to take in the wonder of the city’s skyline, attended a kabuki play and enjoyed a wide variety of Japanese cuisine.
One of the highlights for Russell was a tour around the Tamagawa campus with a teacher nearing retirement after 45 years at the school. “We hiked through the gardens where the students would harvest vegetables. We saw giant spiders, a variety of trees and sculptures, as well as the original and new buildings on the sprawling campus,” she recalled. “Seeing the school through his experienced eyes gave me a new perspective of the history and culture of an amazing school.”