Nurturing the Dreams and Aspirations of Youth

A Program that Transforms and Empowers Student Teachers

Terakoya Club is an academic support program run by Teach for Japan, an organization dedicated to closing the gap in educational opportunities. Through their experiences as instructors, the student teachers find they have much to learn as well as give.


A Growing Global Network for Training Teachers and Leaders

According to Businessweek, the top choice in the job market among US college graduates with a liberal arts degree in 2010 was not Google, Apple, or some otherblue-chip corporation, but the nonprofit Teach for America.

Teach for America was founded by a young college graduate driven by the vision that all children should receive an excellent education. Since the program’s inception in 1990, recent university graduates and young professionals have been sent for a two-year term to teach in lower-income communities where children lack educational opportunities. The US program has served as a model for other countries and spawned an international Teach for All network with organizations in 26 countries. Teach for America not only supports children’s learning but gives young teachers a chance to grow and mature through their struggle to close the education and achievement gap.

Although many of the Teach for America alumni choose careers outside teaching, whether working in corporations, research institutions, or some other sector, they continue to apply the leadership skills they acquired in the program to their chosen professions, thus enhancing recognition of Teach for America. In January 2012, Teach for Japan joined the Teach for All network.

A New Generation of Teachers and Leaders

Teach for Japan is now preparing for its first Next Teacher Program, which will run for two years, from April 2013 to March 2015. It also runs Terakoya Club, a program launched in August 2010 by its predecessor, Learning for All, to provide children with academic support.

The student volunteers at Terakoya Club teach classes after school and during long holidays to children from families facing difficult circumstances, including those receiving public assistance and families uprooted by the Great East Japan Earthquake. At present, there are about 50 Terakoya programs underway in the Kanto, Kansai, Tohoku, and Kyushu regions, run in cooperation with local governments and NPOs; and the results thus far have been impressive.

Photo Yusuke Matsuda, the founder and chief executive officer of Teach for Japan, describes Terakoya Club as a “mini Teach for Japan” and notes, “By contrast with conventional academic support programs, Terakoya Club gives weight to raising academic achievement as well as encouraging the student teachers’ personal growth as leaders. The students must first attend a training course grounded on the ideal of “teaching as leadership” to acquire basic social and leadership skills. And after they start teaching, they must take part in daily after-class sessions designed to let them talk about what went on in class and learn from their experiences.”

Photo Recognizing the contribution made by Teach for Japan in supporting educational achievement as well as fostering the development of young people, the Nippon Foundation provided the organization with a 22.27 million yen grant in fiscal 2012.

Teachers’ Efforts Pay Off

At the Terakoya Club Kudan office in Tokyo, children’s laughter fills the room. Twelve spirited elementary school children await the start of class. All were evacuated from the Tohoku region after the Great East Japan Earthquake and are living temporarily in the Prince Hotel in central Tokyo. The first six months after their evacuation, the children were not able to study and fell behind their peers.

Photo Mayumi Hiramatsu, who is in charge of the welfare of children from Tohoku in her capacity as a member of the Disaster Welfare Council of the Tokyo Association of Certified Social Workers, praises the contributions of the student teachers. “The children have basically caught up thanks to the Terakoya Club. The student teachers are not just teachers but have become role models to the children. The kids talk to them about confidential matters they can’t tell teachers and students at the schools they’ve been transferred to.”

The classes at Kudan are held once or twice a week and taught by six student teachers. Each teacher is in charge of one to three students, and instruction is tailored to the group’s level. The classes last for a little less than two hours, and the students as well as teachers focus on class work from start to finish. The teachers design lessons and develop teaching materials to make sure that the children do not feel bored. The school’s operations are overseen by three experienced volunteers serving as managers, who observe class and provide advice when necessary.

Photo Yu Endo, a University of Tokyo student who serves as a manager at the Kudan office, explains the motivation of student teachers, who receive no pay: “The work of the student teachers is very demanding, because there is so much they need to be able to do. They don’t get paid—they’re different from cram school teachers and private tutors, and many also have to get jobs that pay and stay up late and lose sleep preparing for classes. But because there is no compensation, the students who come here are all highly motivated. The harder they try, the more progress the children make, and the payback is actually big.”

Guiding Oneself First

After class ends and the children go home, the student teachers spend almost two hours discussing how their lessons went. First, they go over what they covered during the lesson. The other students then evaluate the progress made, ask each other questions, and provide advice.

Photo Yuki Yano, a student at Aoyama Gakuin University, reflects on what he has gained from the program: “The thing that struck me the most was realizing that the question of how something should be taught is more important than the actual thing to be taught. All the knowledge in the world is of no use if you can’t convey it to other people and use it to effect change. Children in particular are honest about the way they feel. You need experience to be able to teach and convey ideas effectively. Hearing how other volunteers view a situation is also useful. I came to Terakoya Club because I wanted to see children change and grow, but as it turns out, I was the one who changed the most.”

The Terakoya Club is a place where student teachers experience personal growth through their contact with children. They also gain leadership skills by providing guidance to younger student teachers, overseeing projects, and serving as regional managers. While most training programs for young people provide scholarships and are geared toward the acquisition of knowledge in lectures and seminars, Teach for Japan exists for the betterment of the young students as well as the volunteer teachers. The interest in the program’s methods is likely to grow in the future.

Matsuda elaborates on what leadership means: “The leadership qualities emphasized by Teach for Japan include the ability to develop a cohesive plan of action, persevere, reach one’s goal, and reflect deeply on what has transpired and what results were obtained. In other words, to be a leader a person must be able to think things through and act on his or her own accord. Once a person has done this, others will naturally follow. In the future, Teach for Japan participants will serve as leaders in a variety of occupation including, but not limited to, teaching. Regardless of where they end up, I believe they will take the initiative in helping to create a society in which children can reach their true potential.”


Photographs by Kei Kodera