By David Fleet
Goodrich-On Monday night the school board of trustees voted 7-0 to hire Brandon Kreft as the new middle school sixth and seventh grade science teacher.
A Sterling Heights native, Kreft attended Utica Community School and graduated in 1997. He then attended Oakland University and earned a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry followed by a Bachelor of Arts in Japanese Language and Literature. He recently completed a Master of Arts in Elementary Education also from Oakland University.
The unique degree combination of science and Japanese landed Kreft in the Village of Mihama, Japan. With a population of about 10,000 the small fishing community is about five hours southwest of Tokyo on the Pacific Ocean. Kreft was employed with Nagayo Japan based-Altia Central specializing in assistant language teachers.
“So in April 2013 I was heading to Japan,” he said. “I really did not know what to expect. It was hard the first few days, especially after about 14 hours in time change and flying. But, I adjusted there and made friends—it was amazing.”
Japan’s walking-to-school practice that was implemented in 1953 provides for village like Mihama must have a school within four kilometers or about two and a half miles of students.
“There are schools everywhere—we had seven (school buildings in the town),” he said. “They will build a school for only 10 students.”
Kreft taught English to Japanese students, fifth and sixth grades everyday. He also instructed other grades, both younger and older on occasions.
“The young Japanese were very eager to learn English,” he said. “The older, high school aged not so much. But, all the students were very disciplined in the classroom. They have a lot of respect for teachers.”
The word, “Teacher,” in Japanese means the same as doctor or lawyer and is held in high regard, he added.
“The parents are also very supportive,” he said. “Many understand that learning English will increase their children’s chances to succeed in life. However, students can legally leave school in the ninth grade. Several children will work in the rice fields or out fishing for their family business rather than completing school.”
The Mihama Nuclear Power Plant is near the village and is operated by the Kansai Electric Power Company.
“Because the village is close by they donate to the schools,” he added. “It’s good for education.”
Kreft returned home in the summer of 2016 after meeting his wife in Japan.
“It was an amazing job,” he said. “But not good enough to support a family, there’s really no future working there.”
Kreft is eager to start work in Goodrich.
“I really want to share my love of the country,” he said. “I’d like to help others to learn about the culture of East Asia.
Japan and the area are huge with the auto industry with Mazda and Honda. Many engineers from the United States are working in Asia now and the more communications skills students can learn the better.”
Kreft comes from a long history of teachers. A total of seven in his family, including his mother a 43 year veteran math and choir teacher in the Utica School District.
“Anytime I can squeeze in my life knowledge I will,” he said.