2019 J-LEAP Report: Riisa Wada


BY Riisa Wada

Maloney Interdistrict Magnet School
Waterbury, CT

“Who am I ?”

Hello, I’m Riisa. I’m from Narita in Chiba prefecture. Narita is famous for Narita Temple and the international airport. Before moving to the US, I lived and taught Japanese in France.  While I enjoyed the culture and art, my favorite part of living in France was the language school where I had a chance to discuss about the variety of topics with people from diverse backgrounds and learn from each other. My teacher taught me how to include culture and philosophy in language classes, and I decided to use the same approach to teaching Japanese.

As soon as I learned about J-LEAP, I wanted to join the program.  In fact, I wanted to join the program so much that when my first application was rejected, I spent a year working  as a Japanese and English teacher to improve my skills so I could apply again.  I feel very fortunate that I was chosen for this amazing opportunity!

“Where do I work?”

I work at Maloney Interdistrict Magnet School in Waterbury, Connecticut (CT). Connecticut is the southernmost state in the New England region of the northeastern United States. Connecticut is much like Chiba. There are many great places to visit, like New York City and Boston around the state, but few outsiders visit Connecticut.  In fact, the only tourist attraction is the historic house of the author Mark Twain.

“Who learns Japanese?”

Maloney is an elementary school that has pre-kindergarten through fifth grade students. There are 590 students from ages 4-10. It is located in an urban district where there is no Japanese heritage speakers. All kindergarten through fifth graders take 25 minutes of Japanese classes three times a week and pre-kindergarten takes 30 minutes class once per week. There are 4 classes of 18-23 students per class depends on the grade. Because Japanese class is required for all students, there are two full-time Japanese teachers in the program.

“How do I work?”

I work as an assistant with my lead teacher, Kazumi-sensei. I work from 8:05 to 15:05 from Monday through Friday.  Together, we teach five to nine 25 minutes classes per day. Kazumi-sensei teaches 1st, 3rd, and 5th grade classes. Because each grade has four classes, we need to teach the same lesson four times. This is very helpful for me, since it allows me to watch my lead teacher for the first class, teach with her for the second and third classes.

I deeply admire how Kazumi-sensei teaches. She uses many of the methods and approaches I learned in trainings, such as using multimodal learning techniques, authentic materials, Total Physical Response(TPR), and so on. She also has a variety of classroom management techniques to attract and engage students. But it is not just her techniques I admire, it’s also how she strives to help her students learn.  For example, while teaching about city names in Japan, a student asked about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Though she knew that this discussion would delay her lesson, she explained in detail because she knew it was important for the students. She thinks deeply about the needs of her students, and as a result the students love her classes.  

I usually team teach with Emiko-sensei  for pre-K. One month after the school year started, we switched roles and I started teaching pre-K as the lead teacher with Emiko-sensei assisting. I was nervous about teaching as a lead teacher, but I am glad I did it because I learned many things. The two most important things I have learned are the value of making eye contact with each student and how to predict what the students will do next. In addition, teaching the pre-K classes taught me how to handle classroom responsibilities and to apply the teaching techniques I learned from Kazumi-sensei.

“What is a magnet school?”

Though magnet schools are public schools, they offer more enriched curriculum than ordinary public schools.  Many have a unique theme, such as art, global studies, STEM, Montessori Education, and so on.  At Maloney, our theme  is  Multicultural Education. As the name “magnet” says, it is built to attract students and families from all over the place.  In CT, Magnet schools were first started for the purpose of creating schools with students from diverse socio-economic backgrounds.  It is not always easy to teach students from many different backgrounds. However, as a multicultural magnet school, it is our school’s mission to celebrate the diversity and learn from each other. For example, first graders learn about the celebrations in the world. They learn if Christmas is celebrated in their heritage county, if it does, how it is celebrated. If it is not celebrated, what celebration they have and how it is celebrated. Through these activities, students learn their differences and similarities, and learn to respect and accept them.  We use the small world of our classrooms to teach kids about the big world outside.

“What are my goals?”

1.  Make a Unit 

My school does not use textbooks. Instead, we create thematic units. Each unit’s theme is determined by our students’ interests, age appropriateness, other subject areas’ standards, and/or our program goals. The units are designed through the backward design in which objectives are set first, then assessments, and finally a series of activities to achieve the goals. Since our curriculum is based on the World-Readiness Standards for Learning Languages, the five goal areas of standards; Communication, Culture, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities are included in each unit.   

My goal is to create a new unit for Pre-K; Recycling.
The objectives for Communication are to identify objects to recycle such as plastic, can, bin, paper, and so on...  Objectives for Culture is to learn recycling culture in Japan and for Comparison is to compare differences and similarities between American and Japanese recycling practices.  The Connection to other subjects are; to sing recycling songs (music), count recycling objects (math), and understanding environmental issues of waste (social studies) at their level.  Finally, students will practice their Japanese with their parents through Interactive Activities and share the knowledge of recycling as Community goals. 

2. Learn about the school system

Though I enjoy teaching at my school, because it is a magnet school, it has different aspects from other schools in my area.  In addition, the US does not have a single national curriculum like Japan does.  Every states, or even districts, manage their schools differently.  In my remaining six months, I would like to learn more about other school systems in the US and bring the best ideas back to Japan.

3. Interact with students during non-Japanese classes

Because each class is only 25 minutes, it is hard for me to truly get to know my students.   I would like to get to know them as much as I can, therefore, I plan to observe the students in their other classes, talk to them at lunch, help students’ dismissals and find other ways to see their  lives outside of Japanese class.  I hope this would help me create more meaningful lessons for my students.


I will always be grateful to J-LEAP for providing me this beautiful experience. It has helped me grow so much as a teacher.  I’ve learned how to engage with students of different backgrounds and manage a classroom. I have learned valuable teaching methods and resources.  Most importantly, I have learned why these teaching techniques work, and when they should be used.  I am excited to take what I have learned in the US and bring this knowledge to classrooms in Japan.  Thank you to J-LEAP and everyone who supports it!

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