Programs in Peril:
14 Steps Teachers Can Take to Prevent A Japanese Program Phase-Out
(Modified from the original document written by Madeline Uraneck and Paul Sandrock.)
Start a committee and tackle these steps one at a time as a group! Choose the steps that suit your situation and timeframe.
1. Be proactive (Don’t wait until your program’s in peril)
The best way to prevent cancellation of an elective is to run an excellent program in the first place. Become proactive long before the first signs of decreasing class enrollments. For Japanese language classes, here’s a sample checklist for program building:
Create Professional Support Networks:
- Are you a member of a Japanese teachers’ professional organization? Do you attend annual conferences or regional workshops? Do you offer sessions, or offer to be a part of panels? These are excellent places to find or create supportive networks.
- Do you have a mentor? Work with another experienced teacher, even if she/he teaches another language or elective area.
- Is there a world language “department” in your school? If not, can you create one that’s district-wide or can you meet with world language teachers in neighboring districts? Pool your resources.
- Do you attend faculty meetings? Don’t think of yourself as “apart from” the regular staff of so-called “core courses.”
- Does your district have a K-12 Japanese language or world language plan? Help create one.
- Do you have a feeder program at the middle- or elementary-school level? If not, can you help get one started?
Student Motivation and Interest:
- Do you do projects to integrate student learning with (for example) social studies, music, art, theatre, or technology education classes?
- Do you support activities offered by other social studies / world languages teachers to build student knowledge of the world (Culture Day, United Nations Day)?
- Do you organize an annual trip to Japan?
- Do you have an after-school “Anime Club” or “Japan Club?”
- Do you participate in National Foreign Language Week (usually in March)?
Advocacy (Public Relations, Promotion)
- Community: Do you keep local media informed of student activities or accomplishments? Do you occasionally forward them copies of articles about why world languages are important or how your state ranks as an international exporter, etc?
- Administrators: Do you apply for grants or serve on other programs that bring credit and publicity to the school as a whole (language-based sports programs, technology initiatives, video or international festivals)?
- School Board: Do you go to the school board once every year to show slides, schedule student presentations, and thank them for their support of international student programs, student exchanges, or world languages in the curriculum?
- Parents: Do you involve parents? Parents and other community members don’t have to speak the language to help you with your classes. They can talk about their global travel, about their volunteer work with multicultural communities, or about international aspects of their careers. They can make snacks; they can provide transportation; they can sit with students while the student is doing homework. Start and maintain a committee of involved parents.
- Newsletter: Do you send home an occasional newsletter to update parents on classroom activities, summer language opportunities, and ways to help students become “global citizens”?
- Social Media: Do you have an official twitter account and/or Facebook group for your Japanese program? Tweet out articles, news, and photos to keep your community up-to-date!
2. Don’t take it personally.
Yes, you already do these things, and many more! What is happening is not your fault. Budgets, scheduling, politics, and enrollment fluctuations are out of your direct control.
Although it’s extremely difficult at this point, try to be upbeat, positive, and professional. Avoid rumors or accusations, “us vs. them” positions, or “worst case” scenarios. Use understatement rather than exaggeration. Avoid placing blame, including self-blame.
If a situation becomes heated or controversial, it is important for you to be careful when corresponding with parents or making statements in class to your students. Try to review your actions with an outside eye: Are you asking people to take a role that advocates for learning and for what is best for students, rather than merely asking them to advocate for “your” job or program?
3. Understand why the class or program is being considered for elimination.
Understand the district’s decision-making process. Make an appointment with a key administrator and try to get a clear idea of the timeline and when decisions will be made. Ask how parents, teachers and students can share their opinions. Ask how you can provide data that would be informative to the decision-making process.
When you attend these meetings or provide data, talk about the district's areas of concern: overall district budget issues, declining enrollment, or the perceived value of having a world language program in the district. Listen!
Give the administrator a sense of the importance of the program. What investments has the district already made in the Japanese program?
- teacher development
- student achievements
- grants that have been awarded
- textbooks and other materials that have been created
- technology the district has invested in
- sister school links
- successful alumni
- community goodwill
- school promotion
Make it clear that you will be seeking opinions from others, and say that you look forward to working with him/her on resolving the “crisis.” The administrator will then be not as surprised when he or she later begins to hear from parents, students, and others about the value of the program.
4. Make an action plan.
Make a list of things you can do to be proactive. Here is an "Action Plan Handout" that will help you begin.
Draft a timeline:
- What are your objectives?
- What can you do to achieve them?
- When will you do what?
- Who can help you?
- How can they help?
- What resources do you have?
During the process, remember that it is important to keep up your emotional health. Your plan should include opportunities to relax, to spend time with your friends and family, to laugh, and to renew your own energy.
5. Realize that you will need to be a leader.
Advocacy involves taking risks. For most of us, this is scary. When you are in a position that requires bravery, conjure up an image of Nelson Mandela in South Africa, or Malala Yousafzai. You are worthy of this challenge, and the challenge is a worthy investment of your time and energy.
Don’t be shy. You are not maintaining the program for yourself, you are working on behalf of your students and their future global competency, and for students of future generations.
6. Keep parents and students informed.
Start communicating with parents as early in the process as possible: Create a mailing list or newsletter. Remind them about the value to their children of learning a world language. Mention student progress and upcoming events that students are looking forward to. Send copies to your immediate supervisor so that he/she is always in the loop. Tell parents that you will keep them updated on the current situation.
As the “crisis” ensues, try to keep your communications to parents non-emotional and non-exaggerated. Present facts and give them the dates and places that key decisions will be made. Parents have to make their own decisions about participating in the process.
Likewise, inform students. International job fairs, Foreign Language Week, International Education Week, or world language club activities may present special opportunities to involve students and to showcase the program.
Know your district’s policies and precedents. Some districts do not allow staff to make direct appeals to parents.
7. Involve other teachers.
Meet with other world language teachers. Be honest about the pros and cons of program cancellation. Enlist their support. Listen to their ideas. Include teachers in other schools. Elementary and middle school teachers, community speakers of your and other world languages, and other colleagues have a stake in the continuance of this program.
8. Update state education agency consultants.
Your district and/or state probably has a supervisor for foreign language education. If contacted, they would be happy to clarify issues or program requirements and to advocate for global competencies to key administrators or before a Board of Education.
9. Connect with leaders of Japan-related and education-related professional organizations.
- The president of your local Japanese language association may have advice.
- The advocacy chairperson of the state foreign language association may be able to speak at a board meeting.
- The director of the Japan Foundation, Los Angeles could send a support letter (email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!)
- The Japanese business association president may want to hold a fundraiser to help maintain the program.
- Members of your state’s Japan-America Society may come volunteer at your events.
10. Inform the teachers’ union.
Keep your union representatives updated on the program situation. They may or may not be able to do something for your program, but knowledge of its status may link to other on-going negotiations.
11. Get on the agenda of the next Board of Education and/or committee meeting.
Bring additional speakers or read support letters from people like:
- a leading Japanese business exporter in the community
- a state education agency consultant
- the principal of an elementary school that has recently started a world languages program
- a successful alumni who worked in Japan or speaks Japanese at work
Be positive, not accusatory. Speak of your “concerns,” of “opportunities,” of “critical timing,” of “crucial points for decisions.”
Emphasize the benefits to students who study a world language, benefits to a community that is connected to global programs, and benefits to a district that has a reputation for being progressive and proactive. Find relevant research at our Useful Resources Page.
Propose steps that will delay the decision-process by asking for time to do a student or parent survey. This gives you time to gather support. Change.org is a great website where a student could start a petition, for example.
12. Involve the media.
Make an appointment with a writer, editor, or reporter of the local newspaper or news website. Talk about different options for covering the developing situation. You may need to write a draft yourself, but try first to talk to someone about the article, to guarantee it will be published.
If you do a board of education appearance, ask the media to come too and tell them what is at stake. Ask the local or regional newspaper to send a photographer to your class. Once the newspaper has invested staff time in taking a photo, they will be more likely to run a related article you submit or to follow-up on the initial story.
Media means more than newspapers.
Consider updates in the local PTA/PTO newsletter, teachers’ union newsletter, and professional organization mailing list. It is better and easier to target a specific audience, than to cast a wide general appeal.
13. Decisions can change.
When a board or administrator starts hearing from a lot of different people and organizations, they might change their decision. Even if it looks like the program is ending, explore all the avenues (parents, professional organizations, administrators, media) one last time to see what actions may be in process. An elementary school may be beginning a language program, for example.
14. When one door closes, another opens.
Don’t be so focused on or frustrated with the program ending that you fail to see other opportunities that are opening for you. This is one more reason for your positivism and professionalism throughout the “program phase-out” process. The very colleagues, administrators, parents and friends whom you are asking for help will be thinking about you and considering you for other positions they know of that are opening. You win their admiration with your committed advocacy for students and with your eloquence for something in which you strongly believe.