Research and Teaching

Each year JALT receives many more proposals for pres- entations at the annual conference than there are places. Consequently, many good proposals have to be rejected. Although there are several criteria for vetting a proposal, one of the most important ones is its interest and utility to the JALT membership. Practically speaking, what this means is that JALT is looking for ideas that will be of use to teachers in the classroom. Of course, there is room for other topics related to teaching in Japan, but by and large, what JALT is looking for are presentations that will inform and improve language teach- ing.

Determining which proposals are of greater utility is a very subjective endeavor, however, and what one person believes to be cutting-edge action research for the classroom another person might consider esoteric psycho-babble for the barroom. While it’s a humbling experience to have what you consider to be a rather sizeable jigsaw piece of the answer rejected, John Stuart Mill’s “the greatest good for the greatest number” is not for the faint of heart.

Whether or not you are interested in presenting at a confer- ence, however, there is still the more general issue of the rela- tionship between your research and your teaching. As teachers who are interested in improving our teaching and furthering our careers, we know that we have to develop our profession and ourselves if we are going to be successful. Each of us has only a finite amount of time and resources to devote to re- search. We must choose wisely so that what we have learned in the classroom and confirmed or expanded upon in the library (or vice versa) will not be wasted.

In an article entitled “Learning and Teaching” in Profession 2004: A Journal of the Modern Lan- guage Association, Scholes (2004) wrote about the connection between scholarship and teaching. Because what Scholes has to say on the subject is very direct and clear, I would like to quote it at length:

Scholarship is learning in the service of teaching. In the humanities, we learn in order to teach. It is as simple as that.

We also, of course, teach in order to learn. Nothing in our academic lives concentrates the mind so wonderfully (if I may borrow a phrase from Dr. Johnson) as preparing to enter the classroom. Organizing a course, preparing a lesson, we become acutely aware of what we need to know to do that job properly – and the gap between that blessed state of perfect knowledge and our actual situations. Teach- ing drives us to learning – and to the learned who can help us join their company. When we publish the results of humanistic study, we are teaching. That is my main point. We are teach- ing one another, teaching teachers. If our work is accessible enough, teachers may direct their students to it, but that need not be the case. What must be the case, however, is that our scholarship should be of use to teachers. I would never wish to assert that all learning happens in classrooms or that all teaching occurs there. But interaction between teachers and learners is at the heart of humanistic study. Our studies are often lonely, but we must ultimately share the results of such study – which means that we must produce something worth sharing.

What is worth sharing? Whatever enhances the lives of those with whom we share it. As teachers we must take our students as they are, here and now, and help them increase their textual pleasure and their textual power. We must help make the past accessible to them and the present intelligible. Our scholarship, our learning, must pass this test. Can it help enhance the lives of those who are trying to understand this culture and how to live in it? It is incumbent on each one of us, when we teach, to bring as much learning and pedagog- ical skill as possible to our efforts. And when we study, it is important to ask what pedagog- ical purpose our studies will serve. My whole effort here is to close the gap that the notion of research has opened between learning and teaching and to bring these two aspects of our professional lives into harmony once more.

We also, of course, need to give teaching a more serious place in our professional evalua- tions. If we humanists learn in order to teach, we need to think more carefully about what we teach and how we teach it. And we need to improve our methods of evaluating the work we do as teachers so that we can, in fact, value it more highly. (pp. 123-24)

Although Scholes was writing for a different audience, all of us can benefit by asking ourselves similar questions to the ones he poses: “What is worth sharing?” For those of us teaching English in Japan, what is worth sharing? To extrapolate from Scholes, it is whatever will further our students’ proficiency in the use of the English language. “Can it help enhance the lives of those who are trying to understand this culture and how to live in it?” This second question is also worth asking. Can our scholarship help our students to understand Japan? Judging from the recent exchange of letters in the op/ed sections of The Language Teacher and The Daily Yomiuri, there may be some difference of opinion here. Never- theless, a continuing dialogue on the relevance and the appropriateness of our research and our teaching is in the best interest of our students, our profession, and ourselves.

References

Scholes, R. (2004) Learning and Teaching. Profession, 2004 (1), 118-27.

The author would like to thank Professor Robert Scholes of Brown University and Ms. Rosemary Feal of the Modern Language Association for per- mission to publish the excerpt from the article.

Charlie Canning is an assistant professor of Eng- lish at Konan Women’s University in Kobe, where he teaches courses in English communication, writing, and American culture.

“Research and teaching.” The Language Teacher 30.1 (2006): 15-16.

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