Written by Abe Kim
Photo by Aditya Varma
It is with sadness that we at St. Mary’s must say goodbye to the teachers leaving this year, among them Mr. Blair. This 8th grade history teacher, has a history himself, teaching here since ‘83. We had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Blair regarding his past before he came to St. Mary’s, his time here, and what he’ll miss most (along with his future plans).
Perhaps not known to many people, Mr. Blair did not begin his career as a teacher here at St. Mary’s, but rather back in his homeland of Northern Ireland. Due to a decrease in demand for teachers in the school, he then traveled to America with a rugby club on tour, and stayed afterwards. Working mainly as a waiter in restaurants, Mr. Blair continued to live in America for roughly another two years with a friend, when in Los Angeles he happened upon a job offer for teaching English in Japan. Subsequently, he came to Japan and began teaching English in language schools and company classes; he expressed that in these classes, the students were often not very enthusiastic.
In comparison, he said that the students at St. Mary’s are quite the opposite, which has provided for a more rewarding and meaningful teaching experience. The overall environment here serves as a learning opportunity in itself, says Mr. Blair, the students and faculty being so diverse and international.
“St. Mary’s is a great school; most of the students are motivated, the parents are supportive, and my colleagues are excellent people to work alongside.”
Mr. Blair’s long career here was interrupted for a year when he tried the life of a businessman importing goods from Ireland. The unsuccessful business venture allowed him to realize teaching suits his personality better and how good a fit for him St. Mary’s has been as a place of work. Over the course of the many years at St. Mary’s, the memories and experiences Mr. Blair has had has left him very satisfied with his time here. To be more specific, he coached soccer for 30 years at both the MS and HS levels. In the early years of coaching, he would take the soccer teams on field trips to local matsuri festivals in Chichibu and Shimoda. As well as history, Mr. Blair also taught English, Current Affairs, Algebra, and Latin at the MS level.
“Class was always fun, and there were always a few students every year that would add some humor or challenge to the mix,”
recalled Mr. Blair.
In terms of his philosophy for teaching, Mr. Blair remains steadfast in his belief in the fundamentals–reading and writing. He also expressed his concern and worry about the dependency of students and society as a whole on technology, and how it may affect their education and dictate too much of their lives.
The small onsen town of Ikaho in Gunma prefecture about two and a half hours away from SMIS will be a drastic change from the busy city life of Tokyo, with much more open space and greenery as described by Mr. Blair. As his wife teaches elementary grade students there, Mr. Blair has already spent considerable time at Ikaho, going on most weekends and holiday vacations. When asked what he’s most looking forwards to there, with an elated grin he replied, “playing tennis.” Of course, his time will be consumed by a myriad of other activities, including farming and promoting the use of bamboo as a bamboo enthusiast; nevertheless it will undoubtedly be a period of relaxation and taking it easy, with plenty of long nature walks in the mountains and calming sightseeing.
As for any future long-term goals, “to stay alive and healthy,” was Mr. Blair’s response. He also has a dream that his “Fallen Phrases” website, an original puzzle game that he made with the tech help of Mr. Sirkka, will take off one day and become famous. He hopes that someday when he’s sitting down in a plane or bus next to someone he’ll find the person playing his Fallen Phrases, he’ll be able to say with pride that he made that. Having had Mr. Blair for a teacher myself, I think I can speak for all of us when I say that his earnest yet firm approach to teaching made his classes something students could look forward to (and not just because of the jelly beans!).