Beyond the Books: Coin flip leads Cedar Rapids teacher to national award decades later

    Washington High School's Julie Cain is in her 20th year of teaching Japanese at the Cedar Rapids school.

    The flip of a coin was the first in a series of dominoes leading to one Cedar Rapids teacher earning a national award.

    Washington High School Japanese teacher Julie Cain was undecided on which foreign language to pursue when she was a teenager -- Japanese or Italian.

    Like any well-reasoned child, Cain thought it best to let a flip determine her fate.

    "I flipped a coin and Japanese won," said Cain. "Then I just fell in love with the language because of the teacher I had."

    More than two decades after the flip, Cain is earning one of the highest honors in the profession.

    Cain was awarded the 2017 K-12 Level Teacher Award by the Association of American Teachers of Japanese, given annually to one educator for contributions to the language and its growth.

    Admittedly, Cain said she felt a bit conflicted over earning what amounts to national teacher of the year, as she splits time as a teacher and instructional coach.

    However, she said the award "validates past years of work."

    When Cain first became an educator at Washington High School in 1998, she was the only Japanese teacher in the district.

    Now, the district has four teachers, who collaborate to provide quality instruction for interested students.

    Cain understands the challenges of Japanese, adding even she is still learning what she calls "the lifelong language."

    Still, she hopes the difficulties don't deter students for Japanese, or any other foreign language.

    "Paramount is just learning a language," said Cain, who elaborated about the one she teaches. "[Japan is] the third largest economy in the world. As a primary ally of the United States, I think it's vital that we have people who can speak the language and who know about the culture and can engage in a positive way."

    Cain said she hopes the K-12 Level Teacher Award serves as a tool to recruit the next generation of Japanese speakers at the school.

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