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Spring is upon us! And while the weather changes and we look forward to more time outside, it also means that summer is just around the corner, bringing an end to another school year for many of you! We know that things can be particularly busy around this time of year, so we hope you will sit back and relax, and enjoy the latest issue of the Teach Away Telegram.

We are pleased to report that all Teach Away teachers in Japan are safe and sound, though the country continues to deal with the aftermath of recent events. This month, we are featuring a story from a Teach Away teacher who was in Japan during the earthquake. We also look at common misconceptions about living overseas, and try to dispel some of the myths. With report card time looming closer and closer, you may be interested in reading more about assessment practices around the world.

– The Teach Away Team

In this issue:

A Teacher Story: Surviving the Earthquake and Tsunami in Japan

Common Misconceptions about Living Abroad

Student Assessment Around The World

Surviving the Earthquake and Tsunami in Japan

Japan EarthquakeOn March 11th 2011, Japan experienced one of the largest earthquakes recorded in recent history. The subsequent 10-metre tsunami devastated the northeastern coast of the nation, which continues to lie in ruins. The hardest hit prefectures include, Fukushima, Miyagi, and Iwate. This is the story from one Teach Away teacher living in a coastal town in Iwate when the quake and tsunami struck.

Joseph Hinds, a 27 year-old Canadian, departed for his Assistant Language Teacher post in northern Japan in the Fall of 2010. Before the quake of March 11th, Joseph had experienced multiple minor tremors, as is the norm, in fault-line teetering Japan. He had become accustomed to the short stoppages in the workday before returning to the daily routine of teaching English in Japanese public schools. However, the March 11th earthquake was different.


“There were alarms and announcements being played throughout the city, but I didn’t understand them. Shortly after the earthquake, electricity, water, and gas had been shut off.” Usually, Japan’s structural stability can withstand shakes up to around 6.0 without this occurring. “I saw many people walking on the streets going in the same direction. I suspected they were evacuating,” something only practiced with the severest of disasters.

“A random Japanese lady driving past me stopped to see if I was okay. The woman had just seen on the news that tsunami waters were flooding the city, though my area remained largely unaffected. I didn’t understand the rest of the conversation in Japanese. Cell phone lines were busy and I couldn’t get through to anyone.” One remark from the woman that Joseph could understand:

“I have never experienced an earthquake like this in my entire life!”

Joseph decided to bunker down in his semi-safe home for the night. The next morning, he drove to a Japanese friend’s printing company for more information. Other foreign teachers had also congregated on this local print shop, quickly turning it into a refuge from the disaster. Their only access to the outside world was a computer powered by a car battery, allowing them to access the internet and inform family of their conditions. “We all spent the night at the print shop office, sharing what little food and water we had.”

The next day at the grocery stores, “people were only buying a little more than usual and seemed to be mindful if there would be enough left of other people. Everyone inside the store was calm and collected.”

As Joseph left the store, another car pulled over to offer assistance. A teacher from where he works offered him a ride to an evacuation area, making Joseph “feel safe and well taken care of by the Japanese people.” Although dealing with the ordeals of the earthquake, tsunami, and impending nuclear scenario, Japan’s solidarity truly shines in these times.

“The earthquake and tsunami reveal the respectful and polite culture instilled in Japanese people.”

Joseph is now in a safe area, and is eager to help Japan recover from this disaster in whatever way he can. He continues to be humbled and grateful for the solidarity demonstrated by the Japanese people.

Common Misconceptions about Living Abroad

DMZ KoreaWorking and living overseas brings about many questions and concerns, especially for those who have not ventured abroad before. Common questions include: What will a typical work week look like? Will I have a support network? Is it safe?

As every country around the world has its own unique culture, each will have different expectations in the workplace. A Monday-to-Friday, 9AM-5PM work week may not be the norm in many countries. It’s quite common in some countries to work from Sunday-to-Thursday, 7AM-3PM, or even have 4-day workweeks. That is why being flexible and adaptable to new situations is vital for any overseas position. Here, we aim to address some of the more recent questions and concerns in the following regions:

The triple-disasters of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear concerns in Japan have caused alarm with many of those who were recently eager to teach in the country’s public school system. Although a tragedy, Japan’s infrastructure is built to recover from disasters. Much of the country is still unaffected, and teachers are still being sought in those areas.

United Arab Emirates
Although in the Middle East, the UAE is not involved with the recent unrest in neighbouring countries. The affluent areas of Dubai and Abu Dhabi extend beyond the reach of the political issues plaguing other parts of the Middle East. Teach Away teachers have reported no immediate concerns on Teach Away’s Facebook page

Often regarded as a country shrouded in mystery, China is home to a growing expatriate population. Despite being a Communist nation, locals and foreigners in China enjoy many of the same freedoms common in other parts of the developed world. Internet censorship, for example, has decreased significantly in recent years. As well, modern amenities are not exclusive to Shanghai and Beijing. Many of the smaller cities in China are quite large by Western standards, with populations of 2 to 7 million people, and offer the same allure of larger cities with less congestion, pollution, and a reduced cost of living.

Since the Korean War in the 1950’s, tensions have continued to linger between South and North Korea. A 2 kilometre wide demilitarized zone has separated the nations since. However, North Korea continues to cross into the mainstream news and raise concerns. The Western world views any news stemming from North Korea as possible threats of another World War, but this has been occurring since the end of the Korean War in 1953. South Korea is a first-world nation with a prosperous future, stemming from large electronics and automotive markets. Hence, South Korea’s continued need for English teachers to help develop their international commerce.

Southeast Asia is notorious for its low cost of living, making it a popular destination for travelers on a budget. Working in Vietnam or Thailand, teachers do not necessarily make more money, but they can expect their dollar to stretch a little further. As is true of any country, researching the cost of living and the typical costs of groceries, utilities, and everyday expenses can help when trying to budget for your new life abroad.

Student Assessment Around the World

Multiple Choice TestWhen considering a teaching placement overseas, common questions might include what kind of curriculum is used, what can be expected in a typical school day, and how students are assessed.

Recent studies comparing student ability levels around the world have drawn attention to worldwide student assessment methods and their efficacy in compiling meaningful results. Historically, educational assessment consisted mainly of tests and quizzes, as these methods are easy to standardize and quantify. During the industrial age, education emphasized knowledge of basic skills and being on par with baselines.

However, now that more is known and understood about learning styles and multiple intelligences, teachers are able to employ methods such as differentiating instruction and creating student-centred learning models. These different teaching techniques have necessitated the use of different assessment methods, as older models of assessment were proving inadequate.

Indeed, although there is a focus on testing students in order to compare educational outcomes between countries, many developed and developing nations are opting for student-centred models and assessment methods. While some developed countries are reluctant to make the shift to a less teacher-centric classroom style, education reforms in developing countries like Malaysia are demonstrating that assessment is changing rapidly.

While key performance indicators and learning objectives may vary from region to region, the major trend in assessment is creating tasks and opportunities for students to demonstrate their learning. Rather than assessing with standardized testing, which does not allow for multiple intelligences or differential learning styles, educators are making a concerted effort to allow for more non-traditional modes of assessment. Project-based learning, centres and workshops, culminating activities, and performance pieces are increasingly common in both elementary and secondary school settings.

While the use of creative assessment methods is becomming more popular, students are improving in academic achievement. Teachers now have more options, and when teaching overseas, a wider perspective on education can be gained. Teachers with a flexible and adaptable attitude can learn about new assessment techniques overseas – a gain for teachers and students alike.

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