Cedar Rapids Japanese teacher Julie Cain takes top national honor

District officials praise Washington High School instructor

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Enrolling in a high school Japanese class is a scary decision for many students, says Washington High School teacher Julie Cain.

“There are so many people who want to take it, but their parents are afraid, or they are afraid, that it’s too hard,” Cain said.

So she dedicates her time at the Cedar Rapids high school to making the language “less scary,” she said, by using research-based teaching methods that make the language more approachable and emphasizing aspects of Japanese culture to students.

The American Association of Teachers of Japanese recognized Cain’s work earlier this year by naming her the national Japanese teacher of the year and giving her the “K-12 Teacher Award.”

Although Cain said her subject matter can be intimidating, district spokeswoman Akwi Nji, who used to work with Cain as a teacher at Washington High School, said Cain is a welcoming figure at the school.

“After school, she had one of those classrooms that was always full of students doing homework because her classroom was a safe and comfortable place to be,” Nji said. “ ... She excelled at building relationships with students.”

In an email, Superintendent Brad Buck said Cain “cares deeply about her students as individuals and their preparedness in the language and culture of Japan, and at the same time she also works hard to support other teachers at WHS.”

“I can’t think of anyone more deserving than Ms. Cain,” Buck said.

Washington High School Principal John Cline said Cain is a model teacher in the school.

“I would like to see all teachers everywhere be as committed to lifelong learning as Julie is,” Cline said. “And to constantly be seeking ways to improve teaching and learning in their classrooms as she is, and willing to collaborate with other teachers like she does.”

During her 19 years teaching, Cain said she’s worked to expand the Japanese language program in the Cedar Rapids Community School District. Cain was once the only Japanese teacher, but the district’s three comprehensive high schools now offer Japanese classes.

Cain also organizes student trips to Japan and visits to Cedar Rapids for Japanese students. On a notable trip to Japan last year, Cain stayed by the side of a student who was hospitalized and then diagnosed with leukemia.

Cultural immersion, Cain said, can be a driving factor for students as they learn any language.

“If students love Japanese food, or animé, or comic books, that will motivate them to study,” Cain said. “ ... I really truly believe that kids just need to learn a language. Americans need to learn a language, and whatever language they’re willing to put the work in for is the language they need to take.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

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