Connecticut College’s toughest teacher is also one of the best
Surrounded by stacks upon stacks of the Journal of Asian Studies, stiff-backed dolls and posters of Japan, 10 students sit silently, absorbed in their work at a long wooden table in a small classroom on the Connecticut College campus. At the head of the table stands a woman in a black turtleneck and a bright, poppy-red blazer.
She speaks, breaking the silence. She has the students pass their papers to classmates on their right and begins to move about the table, checking in, giving instructions, laughing and encouraging. She is a flurry of contradictions— disciplined yet forgiving, rapid-fire and loud one moment, whispering and methodical in her enunciation the next. For an inexperienced listener, facial expressions and body language are all that can be understood, because she is speaking only in Japanese.
Total immersion in a language: That is the approach Hisae Kobayashi, a native of Japan and a senior lecturer at Connecticut College since 1999, has taken to teaching Japanese. During the 2014 nomination process for Professor of the Year, a program sponsored by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, the letters touting her talents described a professor who gives all students a fighting chance — particularly if they do their homework — and who insists that success depends on following her “Ten Commandments” of Japanese. Those commandments begin: “I, Hisae Kobayashi, am the only teacher of Japanese 101-102. You shall have no other teacher.”
She is smart and charming, but also serious. In fully understanding the culture of today, she is able to clarify for her students what they can and should expect. From her commandments, an admonition: “We live in a climate of culture where everything needs to be solved immediately. When you have a headache, you take a pain-killer; when you are hungry, you heat up a microwave dinner; when you want to obtain certain information, you Google it. Learning Japanese is not immediate.”
For Kobayashi, teaching Japanese is all-encompassing. It is a 24-hour-a-day pursuit, one in which she behaves as an inventor, toiling into each night to discover an even better way to help her students master Japanese, arguably one of the most difficult modern languages.
Kobayashi’s students and colleagues past and present speak emphatically of her teaching talents. She impressed CASE and the Carnegie Foundation, too, and was named the 2014 Connecticut Professor of the Year in November.
That’s quite an honor in a state crammed with top talent from the likes of Yale, Wesleyan, Trinity, the University of Connecticut and many more. All told, almost 10,000 faculty labor in classrooms throughout the state each year, according to the state Department of Higher Education. From crowds of blinding brilliance, Kobayashi emerged a star.
One of the most prestigious awards given to college professors, the CASE/Carnegie Foundation honor is not bestowed every year in every state. A high bar is set and must be met. “It is the only national program to recognize excellence in teaching and mentoring,” says Pam Russell, the director of communications for CASE. “The process is rigorous and the criteria high.”
Equally high are the standards Kobayashi sets for her students — and herself, She has published her research on teaching methods, and has presented at numerous conferences on Japanese pedagogy. Perhaps most telling to her teaching success, though, was her receipt of the College’s John S. King Memorial Award in 2008, given to teacher-scholars who demonstrate high standards of teaching excellence and concern for students.
Kobayashi’s commitment to learning — for herself and her students — has manifested itself in dozens of ways. She developed a technique for combining Japanese scripts and sounds in online materials, and participated
Equally high are the standards Kobayashi sets for her students — and herself. She has published her research on teaching methods and has presented at numerous conferences on Japanese pedagogy. Perhaps most telling was her receipt of the College’s John S. King Memorial Award in 2008, given to teacher-scholars who demonstrate high standards of teaching excellence and concern for students.
Kobayashi’s commitment to learning — for herself and her students — has manifested itself in dozens of ways. She developed a technique for combining Japanese scripts and sounds in online materials, and participated in Haverford College’s Center for Educational Technology workshop to continue developing a Web-based Japanese reading and writing program. She serves and has served on several committees within the College, as the Japanese language program coordinator and as an adviser to the College’s Toor Cummings Center for International Studies and the Liberal Arts.
As the Connecticut Professor of the Year, Kobayashi adds another element to the excellent reputation of Connecticut College’s language programs. Of the 31 state honorees recognized this fall by the Carnegie Foundation and CASE, Kobayashi is the only language professor.
Says President Katherine Bergeron, “Hisae Kobayashi is an extraordinary language teacher who exemplifies the innovative teaching and highest standards of excellence that are characteristic of our Connecticut College faculty."