Sunday, February 10, 2008


Japanese schools are interesting. The teachers will arrive at around six to seven A.M.nine P.M. (on average). Although, don’t feel bad for them, because they’re not being worked rugged like teachers in America. All Japanese school systems are fully government regulated, and the job is as high paying and as cushy as a government job as you can get. Unlike the poor American teachers –which is a pay-check to pay-check job with too many hours of overtime for little to no benefits. That’s the great thing about being a teacher in Japan. and stay until around

Better than this is being an ALT (assistant language teacher) in Japan. As such I make good wages and am not obligated to pull the long hours. My duties are very lax, and I have more free time than I know what to do with, which means I can spend more time doing fun projects and engaging my students in a bit of cultural exchange. Even the regular teachers find they have too many hours and not enough work.

Since the Japan government governs their school systems with a strict series of mandates they officially hand down every textbook, lesson plan, and testing schedule, and so other than the occasional Open Class for the P.T.A., the teachers have very little to prepare for.

This can be a good or a bad thing depending on the quality of teachers at the school. Lazy teachers will chit-chat all day long (if the principal and vice-principal aren’t exceedingly strict), while other more energetic teachers will put in an astonishing amount of effort. This may be why Japan is broken up into low-academic and high-academic schools. The good schools get good teachers and more funding too.

When testing into High school for example, good test scores will allow a student to attend a fancy ivy-league-school-type academic institution. The rest of the knot heads, however, will have to attend the more or less decrepitated and lackluster institutions. It’s no wonder then such emphasis is put on standardized testing in this country. However, this is something I personally think needs to be amended –as it in no way fairly determines the genuine intelligence of a person, but greatly hinders their future opportunities –unfairly so. Also the indeterminate amount of stress on a child can’t be healthy, and truth be told, the amount of studying for test-prep and examination doesn’t seem to improve the students I.Q. efficiency when compared to alternative teaching methods and learning styles.

A good example of teachers who go above and beyond would be my own schools science teacher, Nakawa sensei. I remember my first day as a new ALT here well, because Nakawa sensei was building a real breathing mannequin. In fact, I thought it would end up being a robot. It is this kind effort which I admire.

Of course, with all the hours the teachers are required to put in here… they have more than enough time to do a little more and go the extra mile. Or, at the very least, they get paid for their hard work. Meanwhile, I still find a lot of leeway for discussing the newest issue of my favorite manga, such as Naruto and One Piece, with the really cool lady P.E. teacher Shimada sensei, who sits beside me.

Speaking of cultural differences in school, the first week of teaching in Japanese classes was a little strenuous for me. I thought the children had a major disciplinary problem, because they kept looking over onto their neighbor’s papers and copying the answers or whispering over their shoulders to their friend sitting behind them. It wasn’t just one or two students either, it was everybody! And the Japanese teachers just went on ignoring it as if nothing was going on!

I kept telling students to sit down and do their work, but normally my advice went completely ignored –by everyone. Then when one student would get out of control the teacher ignored that too. I was really shocked, but I was coming from the American system. In America In college the punishment is even more severe often ending in expulsion or academic probation. Of course American children are constantly made to feel a failure because they don’t quite grasp the subject, or else are too lazy to put any effort into studying. But I can’t forget that we’re constantly being taught to rely on ourselves, and nobody will pick up our slack for us. Think for yourselves, make your own dreams come true, but we never question why we’re never told to work together or rely on other’s charity –which without we could not do. during school, if I ever got caught cheating by copying or asking for the answers I would have been scolded and received detention.

Nevertheless, in Japan lazy kids are lazy with no repercussions. And the one’s that just don’t get it will still ask the ones that do for the answers –and the weight of their burden is carried on other’s shoulders. Thus team effort becomes vital in Japanese society, because social solidarity relies on everyone working together instead of just for the self. The selfish ones get left behind –and they have nobody but themselves to blame. In America these types always try to blame everyone else, because why could they –who have been brought up only to consider themselves and rely on themselves, how could they ever be wrong? No child left behind can be a daunting task when you find one child who deliberately wants to be left behind. In Japan the others pick them up and carry their fellow person, no matter how useless, because that’s what they’ve been taught to do. I’m not here to judge which system is better or worse, because I personally feel they are the two extremes. One is too overly focused on the self that it doesn’t have room for others, and the other is so concerned about other’s needs that it can’t even think for itself. A happy medium would be nice, but that’s just my opinion –take it or leave it.

At first I thought all of my students were a bunch of cheaters. But only gradually did I find that they worked communally –as a group. Something which I couldn’t grasp having been raised in a very individualistic mind set of ‘me, me, me… depend on me’. I really didn’t have a clue as to how ‘copying’ could motivate students to do better. Now I know that letting students communicate and share freely in class improves overall class grade averages.

Yeah, I know… that concept sounds weird. But because the kids all work in a communal manner they get to benefit from one another’s general knowledge. That standard never seems to change, however. Unlike America –genius is not allowed in Japan. It’s held back and curbed at every turn –which makes for a very bland yet very homogeneous culture. True genius is dangerous in such a uniform society. Mainly because it would disrupt the general knowledge standard –and the government would be forced to cater to the individual, reissue all of the textbooks to meet the needs of that one individual –thus breaking the communal system and upsetting how Japanese society functions. Sorry, but in Japan you’re only allowed to be genius on your own time. Everyone else is held back or brought up enough to meet the unchanging standards of the education system. Japan literally is the perfect model for no child left behind, but at the cost of never having a Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates, James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, Elvis Presley, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, or any other extremely gifted or unique individual. They can all be moderately genius together, or not, together (of course this doesn’t account for the problem true genius when it arises –because although it can be curtailed early on—it can’t be denied or written out of our D.N.A).

Although there can be instances where a student abuses the system and takes more than what they are contributing to (class &/or society). Never underestimate peer pressure in a Japanese classroom, or in Japanese society in for that matter. It is enormous and unavoidable. Although they may not have eccentric genius springing up everywhere, utter and unflinching conformity is highly valued in Japan. Probably too much so.

For example, if one student constantly bothers others or hinders the class, or disrupts the class too much, the other students will eventually team up on him/her and give that person a brutal dose of their mind. Sometimes this comes in the form of in-class humiliation –a little bit of ego deflating. In these cases everyone can share in a round of point and laugh at the idiot –and this tends to send the clear message of, “Get your act together.” Other times it can come in the harsher form of bullying. Something which teachers are always on the lookout for. In schools with no discipline bullying can run amuck –and peer pressure bullying is often the case for child suicide in Japan. But it generally is just a harmless bit of banter directed at the worst abusers.

Certainly I learned a lot my first few weeks of class. I learned to be patient and not get annoyed when I would ask a student a direct question like, “What did you do on the weekend?” only to find them suddenly turned around in their seat facing their friend behind them asking them the answer to the very same question. In retrospect it’s kind of comical, but it is their way, and so it is a force of habit.

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