Two Languages, Two Worlds of Opportunity
Without a specific plan, every path Michael Bostwick (BS ‘75/MA ’82) chose in his educational journey ended up being the right one at the right time. And as he looks back over his career, Bostwick feels he’s been very lucky.
But Bostwick’s luck translates into great fortune for all the students he has influenced over the years, especially those as executive director and principal of Katoh Gakuen Gyoshu, Japan’s first K-12 English immersion school.
“I have a sense of ‘history in the making’ and I have been lucky enough to be in the middle of it,” Bostwick said. “I think one of the greatest gifts a parent can give their children is the gift of bilingualism or multilingualism. It opens up so many new worlds to students and creates so many personal, academic, and professional opportunities for them in the future. I love being able to give that gift to children.”
Bostwick’s professional experience began as an elementary teacher and wrestling coach in Iowa City’s public schools where he worked with students from kindergarten through college.
But a foreign direction intrigued the former Hawkeye wrestler and Iowa City native.
“I wanted to live abroad for a year or two to broaden my world perspective, experience life in a culture as different from my own as possible, and perhaps learn something about myself and my country by looking from the outside in,” he said.
So, with a fascination in Zen Buddhism and the Japanese culture, and a Japanese Ministry of Education Fellowship, Bostwick embarked upon a new life path and fell in love with the country.
“I went to Japan with little or no knowledge of the language but with an enthusiasm and openness to the adventure of what I considered to be a brief detour,” he said. “But after I returned home, I realized my life plan had changed, and that to my surprise, I wanted to stay in Japan.”
As fortune would have it, Tokai University—one of the largest private universities in Japan—hired Bostwick to teach English and English Education. His research focused on content-based foreign language instruction. Instead of teaching a foreign language by using dialogs and grammar instruction, he taught content—using a course from the school curriculum such as psychology—with the foreign language as the medium of instruction, which proved to be a most effective way of acquiring a foreign language.
Because of his work in English as a foreign language, his growing proficiency in Japanese, his prior experience teaching K-12 Japanese students, and his early foundations in teaching elementary school established in Iowa, Dr. Katoh asked Bostwick to start a bilingual school.
“I have the advantage of looking back and seeing that all of my various professional experiences became calculated steps preparing me for what I do now,” he said.
Bostwick’s role has evolved over the years as the school has grown. Starting with just 28 students, the private school now enrolls over 570 students, turning away nearly half of all applicants. In the early years he was a “teaching principal”—teaching classes, creating curriculum, recruiting students and administrating the program. Now, his primary job is recruiting, hiring, and training staff, which includes about 35 foreign staff and an equal number of Japanese staff.
“Running an immersion program is a complicated educational endeavor. It is like having three or four jobs at once,” he said. “Over the years, I have had to explain the program to Japanese parents, write school policies, establish housing for the foreign staff, write student and staff handbooks, develop curriculum, supervise staff, provide administrative leadership, and initiate foreign exchange programs.”
One of the exchange programs brings students to the Iowa City/Cedar Rapids area each year. In perfect English, without a hint of an accent, tenth grader Mikako Tai raved about Bostwick, her teacher and principal, during a recent visit.
“He is friendly and approachable,” Tai said. “Students find it easy to talk to him because he walks around school and gets to know each of us by name.”
Darryl Mann, Katoh junior high math teacher, said he admires Bostwick’s leadership.
“He is a guy with a great vision and a sincere passion,” Mann said. “He is flexible and easy to work with, his ideas are cutting edge, and others are now following his example.”
Colleen Butler, Katoh’s elementary immersion director, agrees saying Bostwick is an inspirational administrator with amazing energy who is always on top of the latest developments in English immersion education.
“Dr. Bostwick’s expertise and reputation are highly sought after,” Butler said. “He is generous and open with his practical ideas. He is a warm and caring school head. He inspires not only the staff at Katoh School’s three campuses, but also the numerous teachers and educators who attend his conferences and workshops.”
The immersion school is having an impact on education throughout Japan. In 2000, Bostwick and the immersion school received a special award from the Japanese Association of College English Teachers—only the second award given in its 50-year history—for the “amazing educational achievement and the significant impact” the revolutionary program will have on English education from elementary school to university in Japan.
McGill University Professor Fred Genesee, one of the world’s leading authorities on immersion education, often cites the immersion program Bostwick created as a model of the highest quality.
“The program is truly innovative and has sparked a kind of ‘revolution’ in Japan,” Genesee said. “It has served as a model of foreign language education to other Japanese schools that seek to promote foreign language learning beyond traditional boundaries and methodologies.”
Last year the school’s first class graduated from the program. Of the 17 students who graduated, nine enrolled in U.S. colleges, including Harvard, Yale, and Duke universities, and eight went on to Japanese universities.
“Ultimately, we hope that they become ‘global citizens’ while maintaining their Japanese identity and a deeper understanding of their own language and cultural heritage,” Bostwick said.
Even though Bostwick’s duties at the school keep his days and evenings full, he still finds time to translate for international events, such as the Special Olympics World Winter Games, on a volunteer basis.
“I think what I most admire about Mike are his commitment to quality and high standards, and his gentle and collaborative style,” Genesee said. “I have the utmost respect for him and what he has accomplished in Japan. Few educators can claim they have accomplished as much and have had such a significant influence on schools and students.”
For more information on the immersion school, visit www.bi-lingual.com/. –by Jill Fishbaugh
|University of Iowa education connections run wide in Michael Bostwick’s family. His father, Robert Ray Bostwick (BSC ’51/MA ’56), went on to get his Ed.S. and retired as superintendent of College Community Schools in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. His sister, Kerry Ann Bostwick (BGS ’88), went on to get her Ph.D. in education and teaches in the Teacher Education program at Cornell College in Mt. Vernon, Iowa.
Michael Bostwick received his Ed.D. in Applied Linguistics from Temple University, Japan, in 1999.