When Alice Foltz began to sweep the floor of a Japanese elementary school, she realized she was not in Potomac Falls High School anymore.
"Students have responsibilities to clean their school buildings for a half-hour a day," Foltz said. "Teachers, too."
Although Foltz was surprised by some Japanese customs, she soon realized the many similarities between herself and teachers across the world.
THE POTOMAC FALLS High School social science department chair participated in the three-week Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund Teacher Program, founded by Japanese Fulbright scholars, in November.
Foltz attended classes in Tokyo, Kyoto and Okinawa. She described the classroom environment as a rigid one.
All Japanese schools follow a national curriculum, where teachers teach from national lesson plans geared toward performance tests given at several grade levels.
"All middle-school and high-school students wear uniforms," Foltz said. "The classrooms are not as interesting as ours. There is little evidence of student projects on the walls."
FOLTZ HAD two objectives while there, to observe how standardized testing affects education and to learn how World War II is taught in Japanese classrooms.
"Standardized testing definitely affects the way students are taught there," Foltz said. "Their performance on exams determines what job they will get. Our students have so many more options here."
The U.S. History teacher visited the World War II museum in Okinawa.
"I had the opportunity to talk to Hiroshima survivors and teachers who live in Hiroshima and teach about World War II," Foltz said. "I will definitely take that experience back to my classroom."
Potomac Falls High School principal David Spage said he would encourage any teacher to travel abroad.
"Alice has already brought back a number of ideas and different perspectives. She has a new attitude on her own professional growth as a result of her trip to Japan," Spage said. "I have already talked to a half-dozen teachers about traveling abroad."
WHEN FOLTZ stepped off the plane, Japanese teachers greeted her.
"Any culture shock I experienced was reduced by the fact that I was with a wonderful group of teachers," Foltz said.
After spending hours talking to her fellow teachers about different aspects of education, Foltz realized they shared many of the same concerns. The teachers discussed the difficulties they have with teaching students with disabilities and dealing with student problems at home.
"Even though there are many differences between us, we deal with the same problems," Foltz said.