【Faculty Voices】 Episode 9: “The Good Encounters” – Professor Kenkoh SATOH

You may have seen the faces of our faculty members, be it in a face-to-face classroom, an online classroom discussion, the university brochure, or possibly, through their professional outputs. But do you know how they really are as an individual?

This Faculty Voices series aims to acquaint you with some of our unique faculty members in the form of a relay essay by the faculty themselves. You will have a chance to get a glimpse of the faculties’ personal agenda, concept on life, philosophy, and memories, as well as their area of profession and research theme.

The ninth episode of the Faculty Voice Series is from Professor Kenkoh SATOH.

Professor SATOH was born in Akita, Japan and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Literature from Hirosaki University in Aomori Prefecture, in 1977. During his 38 years of career as a high school teacher, he taught English at eight high schools in Akita and worked as a member of the prefecture’s Board of Education while successively holding various management-level posts, such as school principal. After his retirement in 2015, he has become Professor and Head of the Teacher’s License Program at AIU. Professor SATOH dedicates himself to training young students to become high school English teachers, as well as support students’ internship activities, gap-year activities, and serves as adviser for outbound AIU students to United Nations Youth Volunteer programs. He is also involved in helping AIU students through serving as supervisor for FROM PROJECT Akita, a non-profit organization where students take initiative to provide Problem-based Learning to local junior-high and high school students in Akita.

Profile picture of Professor SATOH

The Good Encounters

There were many students with previous careers at the university that I went to. “S” continued to write novels to become the next Dazai Osamu,* “K” was feeling conflicted between student activism and his academic life, and “Y” was absorbed in reading books in a karate dojo. Such students were found especially in the literary program and I was always around them. They did what they were interested in after graduating from high school. For them, university was a place to go after finding something worth pursuing more deeply. They were different from me; I entered university soon after high school. Just as our university professors encouraged us to read many books and encounter intellectuals in Japan and the world, my friends also inspired me to a lot of things, including what to read and think about. I think of myself as very fortunate to have had them as friends at that time, especially when I felt alone while worrying about my future.
*A famous Japanese novelist

Attracted by new linguistics and universal grammar by Noam Chomsky, which was popular in those days, I decided to major in English linguistics with the ambition to teach at a university in the future. The professors in charge, however, were very strict and I found myself to be the only student remaining as the other 20 students in the major left one after another. In that situation, however, I decided to persevere and continue, thinking this was my turning point in my life. Thanks to the passionate guidance by two professors in a cramped laboratory, I successfully passed the examination for high school teachers’ recruitment, which I was unexpectedly asked by my parents to take. I wonder what would have become of me if I decided to go on to graduate school without taking the exam. I remember persuading myself to grasp the teaching opportunity rather than to narrow my opportunities by clinging to that ambition.

Picture of Professor SATOH teaching in a classroom in his first year of his teaching career

Professor SATOH in the first year of his teaching career

When I told my wife that I would write about my hobby for this essay, she said, smiling, “Your hobby is being a high school teacher, isn’t it?” To be sure, I left home for work early in the mornings and got back home late every day, and I was busy with club and other activities even on holidays. Until retirement, I did almost nothing else except being a high school teacher. What my wife said was to the point and I could not find any words to say.

At first, I had some difficulties with supervising club activities, but I learned a lot from meeting many students. For example, I let students create their practice plans every day. In the tennis club which I was in charge of, after students revised plans with small achievement goals, the effect was remarkable: their concentration increased and the practice time became shorter. In the track and field club, what was expected by students of me, an amateur at track and field, was to videotape their running, throwing, jumping, etc., technique. They checked their form on the screen and adjusted their practice menus respectively. Both in tennis and track & field, luckily, the students qualified to participate in the Tohoku regional and national tournaments almost every year. Thanks to their efforts, I visited a lot of places all over Japan with them. My hobbies are few, but eventually tennis and jogging have become my hobbies.

The best part of being a teacher is having the opportunity to be directly involved in the lives of students. Students are always in the midst of a challenge and learn through success, and even more through failure. In this growing process, what is required of teachers is to listen attentively to each student, comprehend their feelings, and offer them appropriate advice. Teachers should thereafter allow students to decide what to do on their own and give them independence. I began to think this way in the latter part of my career as a teacher. I sometimes wonder, when I was younger, if I had listened to their opinions to the end instead of imposing mine on them. Every time I encounter my former students, I feel as if I am in a cold sweat.

Picture of Professor SATOH's teaching at his final class at high school

Professor SATOH’s final class as an English teacher

When there were several months left until my retirement as a high school English teacher, I was stimulated by students studying hard for university entrance exams and other teachers encouraging them, and decided to make my last contribution to them: teaching English early every morning. I created study documents and prepared teaching plans on blackboards, and went to bed early in preparation for classes every morning. It was only for a month, but I clearly remember all the smiles and even tears of regret of students when they shared with me the results of their entrance exams.

Looking back now on my 38 years of teaching at high schools, I feel a few regrets, but it is not possible to get on a time machine and apologize for my inexperience. Now I realize that I am blessed with the opportunity to teach at a university, which I had dreamed of when younger and gave up once, even though my dream major and current specialty are different. What I am expected to do now is to listen attentively to students, offer them a lot of intellectual stimulation, and create enough time to think freely and deeply with them. I wish for prosperous encounters to all of my students.

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