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Interview with Andrew Zitzmann

Andrew Zitzmann Andrew Zitzmann works as an English instructor at 3 different universities in Kitakyushu and is also the Business Manager for the Japan Association for Language Teaching (JALT). He has worked in Japan for 16 years, and lives in Kitakyushu with his wife and 2 children.

This interview was conducted by John Lowe on 27th June 2009.

John:
Thank you for leaving your JALT meeting here at the Yoyogi Olympic Youth Center to talk to ELT News. Could you start by telling us a little bit about your background?
Andrew:
Sure – I’m originally from Montreal, Canada and I grew up with a trilingual background - French and English of course, and as my parents were originally from Germany, German was spoken at home. I spent one year in Switzerland, and then went to university in Canada, where I studied Sociology and Human Geography. I graduated in 1991, spent one year traveling around the world, and a year later returned to Asia decided to live in Fukuoka. I wanted to avoid Tokyo, and decided that either Kyushu or Hokkaido were the places to be – but Hokkaido reminded me too much of the cold Canadian climate.
John:
So is that when you started teaching?
Andrew:
I had taught at summer camps before, and had always been interested in teaching, but, yes, my first real teaching job was in Japan I arrived on a working holiday visa, and initially worked for an English language school which was also affiliated with a juku. I worked there for 3 years, but as I got more and more interested in TEFL, I gradually made the transition to university teaching, until I became a ‘full-time part-timer’. Now I teach around 30 contact hours per week.
John:
When did you become involved with JALT?
Andrew:
I joined in 1995, but really became active around 1999, when I became the local branch treasurer. In 2001 I helped organize the national conference, and then in 2004, when Alan McKenzie moved on, I became Director of Programs and organized the next few national conferences. When that term came to an end in 2007, I was appointed Business Manager. With JALT being around for more than 30 years now, I see my role as helping the organization move on and move upwards – not only with increased membership, but also as a professional organization.
John:
What do you see as the main role of JALT?
Andrew:
Primarily the focus of the organization is to support teachers in improving language teaching and learning in Japan - helping them stay up-to-date in the field, giving them outlets for their research, and providing networking opportunities. Although online technology has brought us all a lot closer, JALT still provides teachers with ever important face-to-face opportunities to explore and exchange teaching ideas.
John:
How do you see your role as Business Manager of JALT?
Andrew:
As Business Manager I deal with publishers concerning the exhibition space at the national conference, and set up opportunities for them to display their products and interact with teachers at the local level. Publishing companies are essential to the success of the JALT national conference is, and without them JALT as an organization would suffer financially. At the same time, we help keep the publishers in touch with teachers and market trends. It’s a two-way relationship. Another aspect of my role, is to try and increase benefits to JALT members, and I have also been looking at ways to increase revenues for JALT. To illustrate this point, let me tell you about the recent deal we’ve done with Lexxica to make the JALT Word Engine (http://jalt.wordengine.jp). Lexxica are an online company that helps learners increase their general English vocabulary or vocabulary for specific areas such as tests – either on their computers or mobile phones. For every student that uses the JALT Word Engine, Lexxica donate part of their fee for JALT research purposes. Lexxica also support our publications with advertisements paid for by some of the revenue generated by the JALT Word Engine . The deal was signed at the beginning of June, and announced at the JALT CALL conference the following weekend. Currently there is a promotional offer to launch the deal, and we have 50 free cards for 100 teachers. This is the equivalent of ¥5 million worth of promotion, and we are very grateful for their support. The best way to show people that the Lexxica program works well is to try it out yourself and with your students, so please try it! This is an important deal for JALT, and we also hope that Lexxica and their customers will benefit. I’m looking for more deals like this, as around 40% of JALT’s annual revenue comes from the National Conference. Print advertising revenues from magazines such as the Language Teacher, and the JALT Journal is in serious decline, so other revenue sources are essential if we are to fund new initiatives.
John:
What is the current membership of JALT?
Andrew:
We’ve held steady for the last few years, and now have around 2,800 members. This is a far cry from the ‘bubble period’ of the early 90s when we had close to 4,000 members, but times are very different now. We do have membership drives, and send out a lot of information about our events. Of course the regional JALT chapters are critical for new membership and we have around 40 chapters – roughly one chapter for every prefecture.
John:
What does a teacher get from joining JALT?
Andrew:
If you’re interested in developing your career professionally in Japan, then you should consider joining JALT. For a one year membership fee of ¥10,000, you get 12 issues of the monthly publication, The Language Teacher, and 2 issues of The JALT Journal. A member gets reduced conference fees, and benefits from deals with companies such as Lexxica, and Apple Japan. They can also participate in any of the local chapter and SIG events at member rates (often free). And of course we provide teachers with the support they need to keep up-to-date in their field, by making research grants available, and creating networking and publishing opportunities. Anyone interested in becoming a member should go to http://www.jalt.org.
John:
Do you think JALT will be around in 10 years time?
Andrew:
Definitely – the activities of the organization might be different, but I believe our structure will generally be the same. The national conference may change – we’ve noticed that in recent years we have been receiving many more presentation submissions, as universities expect their staff to make presentations and publish research. In recent years we’ve also seen a lot more mini-conferences around the country – regional conferences and special interest group conferences. Teachers find the mini-conferences have a much more personal feel to them. At the national conference, there are up to 25 presentations happening at the same time, so it can be a bit overwhelming.
John:
Will there ever be a paid CEO of JALT?
Andrew:
That depends on finance, but I do think it would be a good idea to create some paid positions. A volunteer organization has its flaws, and a paid CEO would certainly bring continuity and quick decision making. At the moment there are a lot of people putting in double-digit hours on a weekly basis, and juggling this commitment with work and family can be difficult.
John:
Going back to the national conference, has anything ever gone wrong, and what have been the successes?
Andrew:
Many of the problems in past JALT conferences have unfortunately taken place outside the conference, and there have been one or two incidents involving teachers – a big story going around some years ago was that a conference participant caused a fire in a hotel. And I guess it doesn’t come as any surprise that there have been occasions when too much alcohol has led to problems. But I emphasize this is post-conference. As for successes, we’ve had some outstanding speakers, such as Stephen Krashen at the conference in Nara, and Mike McCarthy is always a very popular speaker.
John:
Where is this year’s conference?
Andrew:
The 2009 conference will be in Shizuoka from 21-23 November, and we have 5 plenary speakers – Christine Pearson Casanave, James Lantolf, Aya Matsuda, Merrill Swain, and Scott Thornbury. All details are on the JALT website.
John:
Do you have any specific areas of interest?
Andrew:
I’m not a specialist in any area, and I like to know a little bit about everything. I don’t want to concentrate on any one area and become locked into that. As a result I probably put my finger into too many pies, but that keeps things interesting. In my free time, I like to get my hands dirty and do some gardening.
John:
Thanks for the interview, and on behalf of teaching professionals in Japan, many thanks for giving up your personal time for all your efforts with JALT.
Andrew:
Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.



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