My Alibi as a Professor

My father (Isao Murase, 1904-1981, a high school history teacher) was a conservative man and very strict. When I was a little boy, and misbehaved myself, he always scolded me by saying: “Behave yourself, you are the son of a teacher!” So, when I was a child, I thought I would never be a teacher. Unfortunately, I have ended up being a teacher.

Samurai (knight)

When I first got my teaching job at Rikkyo (St. Paul’s) University in 1972, my father told me: “A teacher must be a good model for students and he should behave like a samurai.” A samurai always carries two swords, a long one and a short one. The long one is for the battle with enemies, while the short one is for hara-kiri, or to kill himself, because a samurai should be ready to die anytime for his honor.

My father said: “The height of the classroom podium (platform) is same as the length of a samurai’s short sword, which means that, if a teacher makes a mistake, he should commit hara-kiri instantly to take the responsibility for the mistake he has committed.” With due respect, I think my father was wrong. I would have died many times, as I made so many mistakes on the podium.

When I first started teaching in China, I felt rather offended to be called a “老師” (old teacher). Why should I always be reminded that I was old! But when I heard that even a young lady professor is called 老師, I realized that 老 meant “venerable” with a sense of respect, in China.

Actually, I have noticed that there is a clear difference between China and Japan, that is, the respect for professors. Students in China have deep respect for their professors. Japanese students are less respectful and more critical to professors. Professors, of course, do make mistakes like other people. Students should sometimes be critical to professors.

Of course, I am the last person to admit my own mistakes! If I made a mistake in class, I would say, “Ah … I was just testing you. I did it on purpose. I am glad that you noticed it. Education is, after all, self-education, as they say, the best education is more often “caught” than “taught.” Keep up good work. Don’t trust anybody, especially your professors!”

Course Evaluation (Grading your professors)

When I was a visiting scholar at Harvard Law School in the 1970s, I noticed that students started the “course evaluation.” As professors give grades to students at the end of the semester, students give grades to their professors. In the questionnaire, there were some 15 questions to which students give their scores from 0 to 5 points. The questions included: (1) Was the professor’s teaching material satisfactory? (2) Was he clear in his lectures? (3) Was he well organized for the course? (4) Was his voice loud enough? (5) Did he use the blackboard properly? (6) Did he give good suggestions for your study? (7) Did you learn a lot from his course? (8) Would you recommend this course to your friends? (9) Any additional comments?

This evaluation is done anonymously, but professors’ grades are made public. I saw that the grade of my professor, Professor R. Baxter, who later became judge of the ICJ, got the average score of 2.63! I thought I would have got better grade. Anyway, this was very interesting to me. When I came back to Japan in 1976, I introduced this system at my university. A group of my students conducted it for all the law school faculty members. I was severely condemned by my fellow professors who had got very bad grades. Some students wrote as additional comments: “This professor of constitutional law has never written a single article for the past ten years. How could he continue teaching us!”

Although this system of evaluation was very unpopular among professors, students liked it very much, as it helped them to choose which courses to take. Students are “consumers” in the educational relationship, and they have all the rights to evaluate the producers! I wrote about the course evaluation in the 『大学時報』 Journal of University Education, by which I received quite a favorable reaction. The Ministry of Education got interested, and now, it is practiced widely all over Japan. In many universities in Japan, this is compulsory. The results of the course evaluation are used for improvement of Professors’ teaching skills. It often affects professors’ promotion, as well. So, I made a small history in Japan.

I think there are two types of teachers: 反面教師 and 正面教師. The former is a teacher of a negative model: students try very hard not to be like him/her, avoiding to follow his/her bad example. 正面教師is a teacher of a positive model: students wish to be like him/her, following his/her good example. From the viewpoint of impacts on students, both teachers are useful, but perhaps, a反面教師 may give greater educational influence for the growth of students.

I am definitely a 反面教師. Some years ago, when I was elected to the ILC, my friend offered me a lunch with wine for celebration. I had a class to teach that day at 3:00 pm. I was drowsy when I started my class. A male student asked a rather complicated question. I did not understand the question, not to mention the answer. So, I said, “Hum … it’s a very good question!” and pointed to a best student in class (always a female student), “Well, how would you answer that question?” While she was enumerating some possible answers, I was able to get myself together. When she finished her short intervention, I said to the male student who had asked the question, “I am sure that you are satisfied, as I am, with the answer that she just gave us.”

Recently, I have found that there was a teacher like me some one thousand and four hundred years ago, in Arabia.

The Arabian Nights千一夜 1001 Stories
Story of the 403rd night on “the man who wanted to be a teacher”

The man was illiterate, and was not able to read, but he wanted to be a teacher. He thought that a teacher could just pretend to be a great scholar, and then students would come along. So he was dressed like a distinguished professor. He lets bright students do the teaching for him, saying: “You know you learn so much by teaching, and I will give you the precious opportunity.” His school was quite successful with many students joining.

One day, a lady came to see him. She was illiterate and was not able to read. She was in a hurry and asked him to read a letter just received from her husband traveling far away. The teacher looked troubled, holding the letter upside down. He looked worried, because he was afraid that his illiteracy might be discovered. He was almost in tears. Watching him, however, the lady started crying, “Oh, my husband must have died!”

The lady went home, crying. Then, her brother came by. Reading the letter, he told her that her husband was coming back soon from his trip. Rejoiced by the news, the lady went back to the teacher. “Why did you say that my husband had died? He is not dead. On the contrary, he is alive and coming back soon!”

By that time, the teacher was back on his feet. He said calmly, “You know, Madam, you were in a hurry and I was in a hurry. I was holding the letter upside down, and that’s why I was reading it in the contrary.

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