Story of a Teacher

By: Insha Yousuf

Michael Cullinane is a 39 year old Journalism teacher at Senn High School, living in the North Center neighborhood of Chicago with his wife and kid. He likes to travel to different countries so before he got married, he went Japan to teach English from 2009 to 2011. Teaching in Japan was a life changing moment because he realized that he had to learn more about life. So I interviewed him about this to learn more.

Insha: Tell me about your life before you went to Japan.

Mr. Cullinane: I was a high school teacher in Lombard and I taught in a school called Montini. They were very nice to me, and I was given the opportunity to move to France in 2007. At that point I didn’t have wife and a kid, so kind of it made sense that I could get up and move.

Insha: What made you decide to go to Japan?

Mr. Cullinane: When I lived in France, I was working with a women that was in the program that I got accepted to, the JET program. She told me that Japan was so much better. You have a full time job, and they pay very well. Her words stuck with me. I didn’t know much about Japan. I like Japanese food, but I didn’t know much about its culture.

Insha: How did you feel teaching students in Japan?

Mr. Cullinane: I was a professional English teacher so I was use to being in charge. I use to get along well with my students, they were very friendly, very personable. When I moved to Japan the students didn’t speak English. Their English was very limited, so I couldn’t have any easy relationship with them. I would just stand there holding a textbook and would maybe read a few words from it. Now all of a sudden I have this job where I felt anyone could do and it was a little bit humbling to be put in this position.

Insha: How did you manage communicating with them?

Mr. Cullinane: I acted things out. I would act like a bird or something and I would still be able to accomplish goals even with the language barrier. Before I moved to France, I took a class in French and the teacher who was there only spoke in French. I took a lot from there so it was good for me. The students said that when I’m in Japan the English classes are 90% taught in Japanese, so I was taught in Japanese to get used to it.

Insha: How did you feel on a typical day?

Mr. Cullinane: I had lots of bad days but I also had many good days where I would get to leave school very happy. More than at any point in my life, I think I had a bigger percentage of hard days where I just felt exhausted, I would question what I was doing with my life. Was this was a bad choice? But then you have good days. I feel like this is so great. I am so happy that this happened and I am here.

Insha: How you feel about the people in Japan?

Mr. Cullinane: They were great. They were different than the people in the U.S. Where I was living in Chicago was very diverse. There’s lots of people around. I would spend lots of time at the grocery store. I looked at the weird food and try to grab some. People would stop me and try to talk with me, they had never seen an American, so they were curious about me. Some of them were very kind. They would take me out to the dinner and teach me Japanese.

Insha: How did this experience change your life?

Mr. Cullinane: I think I became more brave because of it. I was very shy when was in high school and college, so I realized that I have to be bold and brave to find success in the world. A lot of nights I just stayed at home on my computer, but I realized that if I want to live life and make the most of these years, I had to go talk to people and interact with them. Maybe do crazy different things. This made me brave and it made me appreciate other cultures. Japan is so different from the U.S, I realized that the whole country is different in its own ways. I appreciate that these moments changed my life. Also before I came to Senn, I became very sympathetic for the immigrant population in the U.S. because I realized how tough it is for them to live here. If I see someone who looks lost, I ask them if I can help them to find something. I want to be helpful.

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