Reflections of SUA & SUJ by Michael Riley GS '96
Looking back almost twenty-five years at my time spent at SUA in Calabasas, I’m reminded of the many experiences that have helped define and shape who I became as an educator in the field of ESL / EFL. First of all, I recall the constant assistance and support I received from the dean of the graduate program, Dr. Tomoko Takahashi, as well as from all faculty and staff. Dr. Takahashi continuously persevered in creating and implementing a successful TESOL graduate program that would rival any in the US, including one that I had participated in years before at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. The small class size, the diversity of my fellow classmates, the opportunities to interact with visiting Japanese students, particularly during Practicum, as well as the isolated beauty of the SUA campus in Calabasas all contributed to my advancement and success in the graduate program. I owe a debt of gratitude to Dr. Takahashi for giving me the opportunity to live and to teach in Japan at SUJ. The initial agreement included a 3-year contract which I eventually renewed six times for a total of eighteen years. Having secured the skills necessary to teach English to Japanese students at SUA allowed me to thrive in the classroom, in a number of fields, at SUJ.
My initial experiences at SUJ included teaching in and coordinating a required course of studies entitled the Freshmen English Program (FEP) which focused on basic skills and communication development. This program was an integral component of the World Language Center (WLC) which was responsible for the instruction of foreign languages at SUJ. The program became so successful that I created a follow-up program for sophomores that wished to continue their English language studies with native-speaking instructors. This program was known as the Sophomore English Program (SEP) which dealt with global issues such as environmentalism, gender issues, peace studies, and conflict resolution. Developing critical thinking skills, while formulating and expressing an opinion were important aspects of this program. For the following fifteen years, I participated in a number of departments that coordinated with the WLC. For example, I taught an academic writing course for students in the Economics department that were responsible for writing research papers in English. I also taught courses in Biology in English to Science department majors. Having researched and discussed the concept of content-based teaching at SUA, I felt confident in teaching these courses. My last three years at SUJ were spent in the Business Administration department where I taught a number of courses that focused on international business practices. I also coordinated a number of instructors in the WLC that also participated in teaching in the Business Administration department.
In addition to teaching at SUJ, I also taught a number of courses at the Tokyo College of Pharmacy for fifteen years. I developed the curriculum for a course in academic writing I taught to post-doctoral candidates that focused on publishing their academic research in international journals. This experience allowed me to witness the unique commitment that SUJ students exhibited in improving their English language skills. Encouraged by the founder as well as the entire Soka community, SUJ students were fortunately in an environment where they were strongly supported in their language studies and success. This was not always the case in other institutions in Japan, or for that matter, in other Asian countries.
In a peer research project undertaken at SUJ, our team looked at the results of a study conducted in Taiwan on the perceptions of English language learners regarding their language learning history, i.e. their feelings regarding a grammar-based approach vs. a more communicative approach. We conducted the same survey at SUJ in order to compare the results. The majority of students at a Taiwanese university, although stating a preference for a more communicative approach, still felt more comfortable with the grammar-translation method of instruction. Unsurprisingly, the students at SUJ, particularly those that had attended Soka high schools, overwhelmingly preferred an English only, communicative approach to instruction.
I’m currently retired in New Mexico where I volunteer in a tutorial program at the Central New Mexico Community College, teaching English to a myriad of immigrants from every corner of the globe. As I reflect on my past experiences, I can’t help but feel appreciative of the opportunities that have been afforded to me. From my time spent at SUA to my tenure at SUJ, I feel fortunate and proud to have been a part of that history.