Ms. Yamaki was assigned as a kindergarten/ preschool teacher for St. Matthew, Niles, Illinois, when she graduated in 2002. But in 2006 her role was changed to the director and teacher at St. Matthew’s Japanese Preschool. “This includes promoting my school to Japanese families in the greater Chicago area,” she explains. “It is a great honor to reach out to these families with the gospel. I also coordinate community events with the local Japanese families. Finally, I teach the 5- and 6-year-old students in the Japanese program.”
Minori’s day is very busy. “It starts with a faculty Bible study,” she says, “and continues with welcoming the students and their families to school. Once the students arrive, everything is done in Japanese: the Bible study, the guided play, the ongoing learning, and everything else too! After school, I meet with the families again before making notes in the parent’s language about the student’s progress during the day. Finally, I update our website so that Japanese relatives living far away can see the students’ daily growth too.”
Minori loves the connections she makes with her students and their families. “I get very emotional when my graduated students show up at school with their old grade cards in their hands,” she says. “They still feel they have a place to come back home to.” These relationships are especially valuable because she deeply misses her own family back in Japan.
She also notes another distinct joy: “Since most of the families I’m serving aren’t Christian, they look up to me for my faith. I’ve been invited into homes and asked to lead the table prayer—moments like these are humbling opportunities to share Him with the whole family!” She shares the gospel with some urgency because many of the families are only in this country for a limited time due to business.
Although Minori is very busy, she still finds time to take pictures, listen to music (Simon and Garfunkel, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin), go thrift shopping, socialize with her friends, and read Japanese novels. “I can’t remember the last book I read in English,” she says. “Maybe To Kill a Mockingbird. I am a big fan of Atticus.”
Her interest and expertise in education for Japanese children has expanded into other areas as well. “I write articles about school and children for a midwestern Japanese newspaper and a monthly magazine. I also teach traditional Okinawan dance to a local group of Japanese children between the ages of 3 and 8.”
Her busy schedule did not deter Minori from pursuing her master’s degree, with a leadership emphasis, at MLC.
“I wanted to be a professional,” she says. “To me, to be professional is a verb—it is to keep moving forward, to continue seeking to be the best one can be. Being involved in the master’s program has definitely helped me as a professional as I work with families, lead the Japanese program, and work with the Illinois Department of Child and Family Service. I also have a much greater appreciation for how to make a healthy school culture at St. Matthew’s.
“I still feel uncomfortable with calling myself a 'professional' educator," she adds, “so I keep trying to improve.”