Teacher brings Japanese culture to classroom

December 26, 2006|by ERIN JULIUS

GREENCASTLE, Pa. - When Ben Herrmann returned to the U.S. from Japan, he instituted a new chore for his fifth-grade class at Greencastle-Antrim Elementary School: His students now clean the school bathrooms. They're not scrubbing toilets, just picking up paper towels and keeping sinks clean, he said.

The students are excited to tackle the chore, which is part of a new philosophy he is implementing after spending three weeks in Japan as part of the Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund Teacher Program.

In Japan, responsibility is built into the school day, said Herrmann, 32. The schools do not employ janitors, and students are responsible for all of the cleaning. "Work ethic is something that's very valued," he said.

The three-week tour of Japan was fully funded by the Japanese government as a way of helping others understand their culture and education system in Japan, Herrmann said.


"I'm supposed to come back and educate my class, school and community," he said.

When he attended college at Shippensburg University, Herrmann studied math and found that the Japanese consistently scored in the top tier on math tests, Herrmann said.

Traveling to Japan was an opportunity to study the school system that produced top students.

"I wanted to know what I could integrate into my classroom so they could achieve at the top of the world," said Herrmann, who is in his 10th year of teaching at Greencastle-Antrim Elementary School.

Before the trip, most of what he knew about Japan was World War II history, said the Greencastle native.

Before he left for the three-week tour, Herrmann used the Internet to familiarize himself with Japan, and to chat with some of the other educators who were in the program.

He arrived in Japan with a group of 200 other teachers and school administrators from around the United States.

"I felt like I was a rock star," said Herrmann.

The Japanese welcomed the American group with "genuine affection," he said. "I am much more understanding of people who come over to our country without fluent English. We forget that we need to treat them as guests."

The group started in Tokyo, where they spent a week, and then moved to Nakatsugawa, a city of about 86,000, where Herrmann spent two weeks.

He found more similarities than differences between the two cultures, Herrmann said. But the education systems are different.

Japanese classrooms usually have about 40 students, which is more than U.S. classrooms teachers usually instruct. Japan is moving toward more individualized instruction like America's system, Herrmann said. The Japanese spend roughly the same amount of money per pupil that Americans spend, but local taxes are supplemented by the national government so all schools receive the same amount of funding in Japan, he said.

The Japanese government also regulates which textbooks teachers are allowed to use, an idea that Herrmann does not think would work in a country as diverse as the United States.

Herrmann also observed that Japanese classrooms don't usually have computers. "To me, Japan is technology. That kind of made us all do a double-take," he said.

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