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Week 2: Teaching Thoughts

This week, I wrapped up week 2 of teaching in Kyoto, which is also our second week out of quarantine.  Living in a new country and trying to get along in a language that is not my first has been exciting, challenging, and tiring, even with the help of technology and the kind understanding of my students and pretty much everyone I have interacted with.  I have a considerable amount of worry and fear (of failure, of being rude) even for something as simple as getting lunch in the campus cafeteria; on the flip side, the joy and pride I feel when I am able to accomplish simple tasks in Japanese (buy groceries, pick up baseball tickets, successfully obtaining a ridiculously delicious lunch in the campus cafeteria) is almost immeasurable.  

Color photograph of an incredibly delicious bowl of noodle soup from the Doshisha University cafeteria
I do not have the words in any language to express how delicious these noodles and chicken were. From a college cafeteria!!!!

In this sense, I feel like I’m getting the tiniest taste of what so many of my CUNY students experience- as of 2019, 29% of KBCC students reported speaking a language other than English at home, and 35% of KBCC students were foreign-born (though it is important to note that this data doesn’t disaggregate between recent immigrants and those that have been living in the US for a long time).   If it’s nerve-wracking or tiring for me, even with all of the considerable benefits I have here as a tenured professor on a Fulbright fellowship (stable employment and a comfortable, reliable income), how exhausting must living in a country that does not speak your first language, while pursuing a whole college degree in a language that is not your first, be for students who lack those privileges?  This is yet another fact that I knew intellectually before I came to Kyoto, and tried to plan for in my classes (this is one of the many “stressors/challenges” students might face that make me favor flexible due dates and letting students choose between a variety of assignment options according to their interests), but the sympathy vs. empathy thing continues to teach this old dog new tricks.  

This week, I tried incorporating some basic Japanese words for specific terms (state, anarchy, sovereignty, civil liberties, etc) into my slides- as a way of connecting to students who might have trouble following all of the discussion in class.  Students seemed to appreciate it, even though I had to preface with “I’m sure these translations aren’t quite right.”  The student reactions made me think that it might be a useful thing to do back at KBCC.  Unlike at Doshisha, however, I cannot readily assume the language of a majority of my students at Kingsborough.  But that actually might be inspiration for a new assignment option when I go home.  I already share my slides with my students, and I have been offering a big “translate a chapter” option (but I’ve encouraged students not to take it on during the pandemic, and no one has so far).  Maybe fewer points for translating some words on slides might be worthwhile to students to do, and helpful to future students? 
Final observation for this week, once again, I learned how awesome blogs are for students to get comfortable with their writing, and for getting to know students and their interests more than I would in just class discussion. Blogs (and less formal writing) definitely hasn’t come naturally to me, but even I can’t argue with the results.  Because my students this semester are not CUNY students, they don’t have the option of setting up CUNY Academic Commons logins/sites, so I gave them the option of setting up a blog on the platform of their choice, or just setting up a google doc that is set to “Public- anyone with the link can comment.”  (yes, I know this is not technically a proper blog, but it is a way for students to quickly and easily create their own space for sharing their writing with our class, so it’s blog enough for me).  Some students have made their own WIX or Blogger sites, but many are choosing the google docs option, and it’s working well so far.  I like the idea that students retain complete control of their own work, and can include several layers of anonymization if they choose (using only their given/first name, or even using a pseudonym if they prefer, as long as they tell me who they are); they also retain complete control to delete their work at the end of the class if they so choose.  I will definitely be including this as a day 1 option for my KBCC students when I go back.  I had already been offering this option for students who had fallen behind or struggled to make a site (because of time or device challenges), but I’ll offer it from the start from now on.  And because I’ve so appreciated the “sample forms” available at many of the places I’ve had to deal with (the municipal ward office, the bank, campus IT),  I made a quick visual guide for how to set up a google doc for sharing as a faux blog, which I can reuse back at home.   

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