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'I jumped at the chance'

Teacher in Japan: 'Once an English major ...'

A teacher of English with the United States' Defense Language Institute, Robert Smith is pictured here with wife Vera and oldest son Misha at Kannonzaki Beach, Japan.
A teacher of English with the United States' Defense Language Institute, Robert Smith is pictured here with wife Vera and oldest son Misha at Kannonzaki Beach, Japan.  


Robert S. Smith


I teach English to Japanese adults in Yokosuka, Japan. It's a very different teaching environment from public schools. Most of my students are apprentices who are working at the United States Navy Ship Repair Facility. All of them are very motivated to learn, since they can finish their apprenticeship six months early if they achieve English qualification.

Years in position

I started teaching English as a second language in Monterey, California, in 1993. Then I moved to Texas and taught at Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos for a summer before getting my current job at the Defense Language Institute English Language Center at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.


I'm 51 and a Virgo. They tell me that's a good sign for teachers.


I graduated from La Porte High School, in La Porte, Texas, 1968; Eastern New Mexico University with a BA in English, 1975; and Monterey Institute of International Studies with an MA in teaching Russian, 1993.

How did you get your current job?

Robert Smith is on a three-year teaching assignment in Japan. What's the longest period you'd be interested in working outside of your home country?

One year.
Two years.
Three years.
Five years.
Ten years.
More than 10 years.
None at all -- no interest in overseas work.
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I was working in San Antonio and the Defense Language Institute asked for volunteers to go to Japan for 3 years. I've always loved to travel, so I jumped at the chance.

How many hours do you work per week?

I work from 7:30 to 4:15, Monday through Friday. I teach 6 hours per day and have 2 hours for lesson preparation.

What's the first thing you do when you get to work in the morning?

Check my e-mail, then my lesson plans to make sure I've got every thing ready for the classes I'm teaching that day.

What time do you have lunch? What do you usually eat?

11:55 and I usually have a calzone or pita pocket at my computer in the classroom.

What time do things get tense around the office?

The Defense Language Institute English Language Center (DLIELC) began as the United States Air Force Language School in 1954. Its mission then was to teach English to Allied pilot candidates. In 1966, the mandate was expanded to include other career fields and was placed under the U.S. Department of Defense. Today, the program is run by the Air Force. Its current headquarters at Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio, Texas, have been in use since 1993. And we met the DLIELC's Robert Smith when he used our submission form here to tell us about his "Day on the Job." Click here if you'd like us to consider profiling your workday at And thanks for reading.

Test days can be trying for the students, but most of my life is pretty stress free. Face it, can you think of any English language emergencies (well, except for international flight control operators).

If you're having a good day at work, what is it that makes it good?

If my students and I have fun and reach our learning goals, that's a great day. Right now, we're practicing Sam Cooke's "Wonderful World" to sing at graduation.

How much work, if any, do you take home?

I never take work home.

What does your work contribute to society?

I have taught English to people from all over the world. English is the language of the Internet and the international language of peace and of business. I believe I help each one of my students individually and also give a favorable, personal impression of Americans and U.S. culture.

Do you expect to finish your working life in this career?

I can't imagine doing anything else.

If you could have two more careers, what would they be?

It would be nice to publish my novel and my play. I wouldn't mind selling some of my travel photography.

What's an unforgivable trait in a colleague?

Lack of commitment to the students.

What do you do to relieve stress?

Take a walk on the beach two blocks from my house -- look at the sea, pick up shells. I'm gone a little over half-an-hour and life is good again when I get home.

What have you been reading lately?

Oh, no! You'll hate me! I'm reading a book about Noam Chomsky's life and ideas. Sorry, can't think of the author. Just before that, I read Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" (1906). Once an English major, always an English major.

When you have one of those days on which you don't think you can face the job again, what is it that gets you out the door in the morning and off to work?

I can't answer this question. I never have days like that and can't imagine having any.


• Defense Language Institute English Language Center
• Eastern New Mexico University
• Monterey Institute of International Studies
• La Porte High School
• Southwest Texas State University

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