Aiming to be a teacher who can grow alongside children
In 2022, Chihiro Oya, who entered the Department of Education and Child Development in the Faculty of Psychology to study special-needs education, successfully passed the teacher recruitment examination for Kawasaki City in Kanagawa Prefecture. How did she spend her student life to attain that goal? Here she tells us about her learning process.
Chihiro OyaFourth-year student, Department of Education and Child Development, Faculty of Psychology
Committed to learning and experiencing different things, Ms. Oya is currently involved in volunteer work. She has also begun studying fingerspelling and sign language for the future. She loves singing and music, to the point where her childhood heroine was the singing and dancing host of the children’s show “Okāsan to issho” [Together with Mom]. In junior and senior high school, she played clarinet in the brass band. She says that playing an instrument and singing songs are her ways to relax.
A dream that has broadened and crystallized
I always liked to play with children younger than myself. At the park, I sometimes played in the sandbox with children I didn’t know. When I was a child, I wanted to become a kindergarten or nursery school teacher. When I advanced to junior high, my homeroom teacher suggested that I consider teaching at an elementary school, which broadened my horizons.
In my second year of senior high school, however, I drastically changed my plans: I became interested in becoming an occupational therapist. I was attracted to the fact that I could be involved with and support patients one-on-one through rehabilitation. However, when I asked myself if I really wanted to work in a medical environment, I realized I didn’t picture myself working in a hospital. I wanted to help children with disabilities from a professional perspective and was interested in visiting schools to provide occupational therapy, but upon further research, I learned that only a limited number of occupational therapists are able to do so.
When considering the choice of working in a hospital or becoming an occupational therapist, I realized that the idea of supporting children and working in schools was what I loved, and I wanted to work with children one-on-one at schools even more. In choosing occupational therapist as my career path, “support” became an important keyword for me. I have loved helping people since I was a little girl, and I have always wanted a job where I could do so. I think “help” and “support” are very similar. Thanks to that broadening of my perspective, I was able to set eventually becoming a special-needs teacher as the goal to which I should strive.
Entering the Department of Education and Child Development at Meiji Gakuin University
The Department of Education and Child Development website uses phrases that are a perfect fit with what I want to do in the future, such as “specialists supporting children” and “wanting to do work in support of children.” They also offer a special support course to help students obtain licensure for teaching at special support schools. I found that very attractive, because few universities provide licensure for both elementary and special needs schools. At a University open campus event, I was able to experience equipment that demonstrates how people with disabilities see, take a mock class, and witness the kindness of the Department’s teachers, all of which strengthened my desire to enroll.
After entering Meiji Gakuin, classes that left a particularly strong impression on me were “Introduction to Clinical Practice for Special Needs” and “Clinical Practice for Special Needs.” Teams of third-year undergrads and second-year graduate students participated in a program where they grasp the situation of and provide guidance for children coming to the Faculty of Psychology’s Clinical Psychology Center for consultations. The team members worked together to develop and implement instructional goals and content suited to the children in our charge. Since we were working together, we could share opinions regardless of seniority. Despite studying at different levels, we were able to actively exchange opinions as we worked together.
Special needs schools work as a team to consider and implement instruction and support for each child. Special-needs teachers are not the only ones who support children enrolled in special-needs schools and classes. In addition to other faculty and staff, they also work with a team of nurses, doctors, clinical psychologists, occupational therapists, and various other professionals who support the program. I consider this team practice at the Clinical Psychology Center to have been a great learning experience, as I believe I will be a part of such a team in the future.
Experience in educational volunteer work and educational training
Since my first year in college, I got to experience working with children through various volunteer activities. My longest commitment was as an educational volunteer at an elementary school in Kawasaki City. When I learned about this activity, I contacted the General Support Center for Educational Activities and applied to become an educational volunteer. In the field, I participated in classes from the beginning, helping children in special-needs classes with their printout assignments and attending and supporting regular classes for arts and crafts and physical education.
Sometimes my own experience does not apply, and I’m unable to skillfully support a child or communicate my instructions. I sometimes felt inadequate when I handled a situation poorly, but I was always happy when my involvement made a child smile. That made me so happy every time, and I thought that teaching special-needs classes or at special-needs schools would be great and that I would like to be a teacher. They would call me “teacher” with such a cute smile, and that would make me smile too and energize me.
Continuing my studies at school and as a volunteer, in my senior year, I had an educational internship in which I went to an elementary school for four weeks in June and a special needs school for two weeks in September. During my internship at the special needs school, I witnessed daily school life and was surprised at how different it was from a general elementary school. While I had previously volunteered at a special-needs class in an elementary school and observed a special-needs school, this was my first practical experience, participating in classes at a special-needs school where I could provide guidance and support. The school had a different daily routine from that of the elementary school where I had done my previous internship, so I had many new experiences. Unlike general elementary schools, where classes begin after a morning assembly, special-needs schools begin by first relaxing the body and allowing physical acclimation before the morning assembly begins. In addition, class periods are short and lunchtimes are long, so my sense of time felt different from when I was in elementary school. There are no designated textbooks, so curricula are very well thought out from a professional viewpoint regarding learning support for each person.
We even had to be careful of daily activities, such as swallowing food and drink. For our students, that’s something that I had to be much more careful about than when I myself would casually eat and drink. If the food is too hard, for example, they cannot swallow it, and if too soft, there’s a risk of choking. We would therefore have to find just the right consistency for each student, feed them with a spoon held at just the right angle, and otherwise be conscientious of many things when providing support. Of course, the required support varies from person to person, so it is necessary to understand each individual’s circumstances.
Expertise is essential to provide such fine-tuned support for daily life, learning, and education. Witnessing how everyone worked as a team—not only the teachers but also people from various fields—to support children further increased my motivation to teach at a special-needs school.
Toward the Teacher Recruitment Examination
I took on the teacher employment examination with the help of the University’s recommendation system. After a campus-wide selection process, I was exempted from the written portion of the primary examination for Kawasaki City. Although I was exempted from the written exam, I had to prepare documents and study for the secondary exam, for which the staff and instructors at the Educational Career Center were a big help. I made weekly appointments to meet with an educational career advisor to discuss essay corrections and answers to interview questions. In the course of doing so, I naturally made friends through Career Center lectures, and we gathered together to practice mock classes and scenario teaching (an exam in which examinees play the role of a teacher and show how they would teach students in a given educational situation). We were able to give each other advice, because we could each understand things from a shared student’s point of view.
The results of the employment examination were announced online. I was a little scared and nervous to open the page that listed the examination numbers of successful applicants, so took me a while to work up the nerve to see if I’d passed. When I finally did and saw my number on the list, I was so relieved and happy.
My family, friends, and many teachers supported me in the year leading up to the exam, and I am filled with gratitude to all of them. I was so happy to be able to report a happy outcome.
The amazing warmth of Meiji Gakuin
Looking back, the Department of Education and Child Development was a department with strong human connections. There are opportunities to work in teams and groups, and the atmosphere is one of mutual cooperation. Because students take the same classes together, we sometimes became passionate when discussing how to support children. We also had a close relationship with our instructors, making it easy to approach them for consultations and help.
This is my own impression, but it felt very warm. When I went to the Academic Affairs Department or other offices for advice, they listened to me, and when I went to the Volunteer Center, they warmly welcomed me and I could discuss many things with them. When I met my instructors, they remembered what I had discussed with them before when they spoke with me. Those were warm human connections, and I consider them an attractive part of the University.
In the future, I hope to become a teacher who can grow alongside children. I believe every person has good, wonderful qualities, so I will find the goodness in children, praise them, and be there for them when they need me. I also want to learn from children and grow myself. Perhaps that is idealistic. But I myself have received advice and help from many teachers, including those before I became a university student. I want to be like them, and provide as much help as they gave me.