A busman’s holiday with Teachers Helping Teachers

Joseph Tomei, Associate Professor, Kumamoto Gakuen University


A busman’s holiday can be defined as a vacation during which one does activities that are the same as one’s usual work. In that sense, Teachers Helping Teachers (THT) is a busman’s holiday for teachers.

When I first taught at Hue University as part of the THT program, I found myself in an old building in the center of town which had only two or three computers with dialup, teaching 40 or more enthusiastic high school teachers and teacher trainees crowded into a lecture hall with two ceiling fans. Two years later, we were in air-conditioned computer labs, all with high-speed Internet access, teaching another group of enthusiastic participants how to make blogs and work with wikis. In crossing the technological distance of two or three decades in only two years, our Vietnamese counterparts did not get the opportunity in those two decades to create all of the classroom activities and ideas that we take for granted.

Currently THT has programs in Laos, the Philippines, Bangladesh, and Vietnam, with negotiations in the works for programs in India and Kyrgyzstan. As might be expected, each program has been adapted to the local conditions. Here, I’ll discuss the Vietnam program.

The Vietnam program is run with the cooperation of Hue University, and brings from the surrounding provinces high school teachers who participate along with undergraduate and graduate students from the university. The level of English is quite high which, coupled with the enthusiasm of the participants, makes presenting enjoyable. As I mentioned above, the participants are interested in classroom activities and ideas that we might think are old hat. As the age demographics in Vietnam are making acceptance to high school and university incredibly competitive (a trend that will continue, as 25% of the population is under 14), motivation is very rarely a problem. However, teachers also want to know the foundations of EFL teaching, because many of the texts and resources that we take for granted have not been available in Vietnam until recently. This past year, there were several presentations about pronunciation, though one should be careful, as the pronunciation problems of Vietnamese learners of English are quite different from those of Japanese learners.

Hue is located in the center of Vietnam, connected by daily flights from Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) and Hanoi, which are in turn accessible by direct flight from Narita, Kansai, and Fukuoka, with airfares currently between 80,000 and 90,000 yen. The cost of food and lodging is minimal.

The hunger for ideas and materials is palpable, and often not only are all handouts eagerly snapped up (fortunately, handout printing is not a problem), but the presenter is confronted with a line of participants with USB memory sticks wanting copies of the PowerPoint slides.

Vietnam, a country rapidly becoming “wired,” has access to the Internet for teacher-participants and their students, if not at home, then through inexpensive Internet cafés, so ideas for blended learning and utilization of the Internet would also be of interest, as long as they are not tied to particular operating systems or high bandwidth.

But these presentations are only a part of the exchange. Individual university facilitators are assigned to help you during your stay. Vietnamese have very few chances to travel overseas, so the opportunity to spend an extended period of time talking and interacting with a foreigner is highly sought after and the student will assist you in getting around Hueand the surrounding area. This is the fourth year of the program, so there is always a mix of veteran and first-timepresenters. In this way, first-timers can get the most out of their experience.

Bill Balsamo, the founder of THT, felt that giving teachers in Japan an opportunity to bring their experiences and knowledge to other countries would not only make a difference overseas, but also help the teachers who present to develop new perspectives on their own teaching in Japan. The THT Bill Balsamo Scholarship fund keeps his vision alive. For example, it is responsible for providing tuition to four students at Hue University every year (40,000 yen) and likewise provides opportunities for other students in Laos, Bangladesh, Kyrgyzstan, and the Philippines. The THT SIG hopes to extend this program to offer scholarships to graduate students in education departments in Japan as well as to provide junior scholars with opportunities to present. The scholarship fund is currently at ZERO and desperately needs to be sustained. Payment can be made through PayPal or through the postal account system. If willing to support THT, please check out our homepage for details at <www.tht-japan.org> or contact one of our officers through <tht@jalt.org>.

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