Talking sense with Kitchen-sensei

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Talking sense with Kitchen-sensei

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Stella Huang

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Every morning, Japanese teacher Jeremy Kitchen, known as Kitchen-sensei by his students, prepares for a busy day as he enters his classroom. As the only Japanese teacher on campus, he is tasked with teaching all five levels of the language’s classes, from Level 1 to AP.

Lynbrook Japanese classes foster an appreciation for Japanese culture, and for Kitchen, this appreciation developed during his years as a student at Menlo Atherton High School. 

“I thought that [study abroad programs] would be a good excuse to leave home,” Kitchen said. “So I spent the summer between my sophomore and junior year of high school in this southern village of Japan where nobody spoke English. That was when I first became interested in studying Japanese.”

Kitchen continued his pursuit of learning Japanese at Colgate University, studying the language for the full four years that he attended the college. He eventually earned a degree in Asian Studies and Economics before moving to Japan, where he became an English teacher.

“After being a teacher [in Japan], I then thought about what it would be like to be able to do that back [in America],” Kitchen said.

In Japan, Kitchen was also able to help others by stepping in as a translator. One of his most memorable moments was when he helped one of his students connect with their family that had moved to America before World War II. 

“World War II caused poverty and hunger throughout Japan,” Kitchen said. “The student’s grandparents and relatives were cared for by part of the family that had moved to the US prior to the war. The children of the relatives who took care of them came to Japan to meet them, and they asked me to be an interpreter for their meeting. The value of personal stories within history and learning about the individual experience really impressed upon me.”

In addition to his current role as a full time Japanese teacher, Kitchen has taught history, economics and PE after earning credentials for all of them starting in 2005. Kitchen has experienced a lot of change in his role at Lynbrook, as the fluctuating nature of an elective course like Japanese brought him into other subjects.

In 2017, Kitchen decided to take a sabbatical, returning to Japan for a year with his family.

“I wasn’t as excited as I wanted to be coming to work every day and just wanted to do different things,” Kitchen said. “I wanted to refresh and get re-excited about what I was doing, and I also wanted my children to experience life in Japan.”

When he returned, he had become the sole Japanese teacher on campus, as previous Japanese teacher Kumi Kobayashi decided to teach elsewhere. This proved to be a challenge as all five levels require unique lesson plans and styles of teaching. Despite this, the hard work is often rewarding. Kitchen cherishes the opportunity to be in the classroom providing a safe space for students to grow as Japanese speakers and as people.

“A foreign language is something that you continue to learn throughout your life,” Kitchen said. “You don’t have to be good at it right away, you just have to continue to make progress.”

His efforts reflect well on his students, and many of them look forward to attending his class every day. He is able to connect well with all his students, even if he has not taught them before.

 “I didn’t have him when I first came here because he returned when I was in junior year,” said senior Emily Wei. “When he first returned, he fit in really well. By the end of the year, he made the class really nice and fun.”

Many students see him as their favorite teacher, as he is able to make the classroom environment less strict, and more of a place that students want to be.

“He’s not as uptight as other teachers,” said freshman Kelly Mcleod. “He gets our jokes and has fun with us. It’s less like a teacher and a lesson, and the classroom environment feels more like a study group with friends.”

Kitchen also loves to watch his students take part of and put in effort into homecoming, one of Kitchen’s favorite on-campus event.

“I think the reason that I really like going to games, seeing homecoming and watching all the other activities that happen around Lynbrook is that I get to see different sides of students,” Kitchen said. “I feel like when I am only in my classroom, I get a one dimensional picture of who my students are. Seeing students do the things they love to do helps me to have a fuller appreciation of who they are.”

Kitchen looks forward to each day helping his students learn and grow. With a desire to see his students improve and enjoy studying Japanese, Kitchen appreciates creating strong bonds with his students and teaching his class diligently.

“To be able to see them day in and day out for four years is a special thing that teachers don’t normally get to do,” Kitchen said. “To see them at level one and then to see them passing an AP exam, to see that amount of growth, is a really cool opportunity. So on that level, I’m grateful.”