When Top Managers Become Teaching Assistants

David McMurray, The International University of Kagoshima

Previous essays in this column have focused on the contributions that team teachers, assistant language teachers, teaching assistants, and student assistants can make to teaching foreign languages and to developing workplace communication skills in the classroom. This issue’s Teaching Assistance introduces company top managers, the senior-level executives within a firm, who provide opportunities to university language majors to improve their communication skills during practical training internships. Internships are offered by an employer to potential employees, called interns, who agree to work at a firm for a fixed, limited period of time. Interns are usually undergraduates, and most internships last between a few hours and 12 months. The student trainees work in these organizations, often without pay, in order to gain work experience and satisfy requirements for an academic qualification.

Senior managers are sometimes called upon to give practical training to university language majors. Although higher level managers can be invited to give guest lectures in the classroom, the main advantage of these specialist trainers is that they can open the doors to actual working environments. These are places that language teachers can’t readily emulate in university classrooms.

In Japan, university administrators and teaching faculty can provide students with a diverse range of internship programs to choose from. Community-oriented domestic internships can be as short as a one-day stint following a top manager around a local company. A popular three-day internship, referred to as “carrying the president’s briefcase” is really just a step up from some city-organized programs that encourage elementary school students to visit their fathers or mothers at the workplace.

Most interns in Japan are not paid, but students receive credits toward their degrees. In undergraduate programs requiring 124 credits of study, internship credits can reach 12 credits or 10% of the total requirements. The on-the-job training students receive from a company employee can’t really be matched by in-class and on-campus instruction from a teacher. Curricula for most medical positions, including nursing degrees, require extensive internship. Veterinary programs can require several months of training on farms and clinics operating in the same prefecture as the university. Teacher education programs require a minimum of a two to four week practicum at the same elementary, junior, or senior high school in which the student studied. Increasingly, business, arts, and humanities programs are requiring students to do fieldwork and take internship courses in a wide variety of companies. Even music majors intern as entertainers in hotels, resorts, and at weddings. The types of companies that offer opportunities to students can literally be listed alphabetically from A: airports; B: banks; C: courts; to Z: zoos.

Typically, universities organize two-week unpaid internship programs during the summer at companies in Japan, but some students take the challenge of university-arranged overseas internships for up to one year. This arrangement is also often popular with foreign students as it allows them to return to their home countries to get work experience at the same time as getting credits for their degree program in Japan. Depending on country visa regulations, salaries in the form of living expenses are sometimes paid in addition to housing and overseas flight subsidies and other cost reimbursements.

For the past six years I have accompanied university students when they participated in internship programs in Taiwan and Korea. These programs run most smoothly when I’m accompanied by a teaching assistant to help accomplish the tasks of helping between 12 and 20 undergraduate students to find their workplace and make introductions, as well as motivating and coaching students who need to make final presentations to company staff.

These internships allow students training to become language teachers to work with language learners in various real-world settings. For example, Japanese students can go to Taipei to teach in a Japanese language school or Chinese students can go to Dalian to teach in English language schools. The interns can apply the pedagogical concepts and theories they have studied in actual teaching situations. Applying JSL and TESOL basic training coursework in real-world situations can develop students’ confidence and satisfaction in teaching languages.

Trainees who major in education on postgraduate degree programs are eligible to assist teaching staff during lectures. Trainees in undergraduate degree programs are invited to interact with students during chat sessions and support lessons on cultural exchange.

Publishing houses in Taiwan also offer excellent internships. Most schemes last for two to eight consecutive weeks over the summer period, providing the opportunity for those interested in a career in publishing or business administration to gain valuable insights into the industry. Students can get intern positions in sales, editing, or production.

This past summer a group of students were given guidance to edit, publish, and print their own small book in the English language. On the very first day, interns had breakfast with the chief executive officer, who later guided them on a tour of the publishing facilities (Figure 1). They visited customers and bookstores on university campuses. As authors visited the publishing house, the interns said they got to meet and interact with very interesting people from around the world.

At a major language school and software production company other students had the opportunity to design applications for use on smart phones. On their final day the interns made a professional presentation together with the company CEO (Figure 2), who later provided a detailed evaluation of the students’ performance.

These interns came back to their regular classroom environment with lots of questions and new challenges for their teachers. I find that interns who successfully complete overseas programs generally return to my classroom with a better understanding of the career path they want to follow. And this enlightenment leads them to set new goals for improving their language and communication skills.