12 Jan 2017

Inside Classrooms: Japan

Japan is consistently high in the PISA rankings and is often seen as a top performing education system. So what are its teachers doing?

Net teaching time per year – approx 600 hours (OECD ave is 700)

Estimated average class size at lower secondary – 33 (OECD average 22), over 40 is common

Salary (initial/after 15 years) – £16,700/29,500 (OECD average £17,500/25,300)

Salary: Starting salaries are below the OECD average but rise year on year (for 36 years on the regular teacher scale) so at the mid-level and the top of the scale, teachers are paid above the OECD average, and above most other civil servants in Japan.

Career progression: There are no ‘heads of department’ in Japanese schools. Other responsibilities exist, but aren’t paid extra, so all teachers in Japan with the same years of experience are paid the same. The only exceptions are principals and head teachers, who have to pass a test and be appointed.

Teaching time The official figure of 600 hours a year is an underestimate according to the teachers I met, and also does not include the ‘voluntary’ (in name only) leading of extra curricular clubs, many of which run most evenings, Saturdays and holidays. Teachers have to come into school throughout the holidays anyway, with only 5 days off in the summer.

A day in the life of a teacher

5.30 Wake up. Shower, drink coffee, drive to school.

7.00 Morning duties. I stand outside the school and greet the students as they arrive. At the primary level, parents are expected to do these duties on a rota basis.

7.50 Silent reading for the students, while I check the attendance and uniform. If students from my form are absent, it is my responsibility to chase this up, and go and visit the student at home in the case of persistent absence.

8.00 Teacher’s briefing in the staffroom, before returning to my home room, where the students have been reading, quietly, unattended (Editors note: !). I go through what is happening that day and tell the students to do their best.

8.25 English grammar with grade 2.1. The class begins with the students bowing to me, led by the class monitor, and me bowing back. I explain the topic of the day and do some examples on the black board, and then the students get on with the exercise in their text book, asking me or each other for help if they need it.

9.15 Break. We have a ten minute break between every lesson, but I stay in the student block this time rather than going back to my desk in the staffroom so that the students can ask me questions on topics they struggled with.

9.25 English communication with grade 2.6. I’m focusing on trying to get students to speak spontaneously without following a script.

10.25 Free period. Head back to the staff room to check students’ homework. One of my colleagues is having a little nap; that isn’t taboo here, but instead shows that if you’re that exhausted you must be working really hard.

11.25 English communication with grade 2.2. I only teach grade 2 (13-14s) this year. It’s common in Japanese schools to teach one year-group at a time and get to know them well, so last year I taught the same students in grade 1, and next year if I’m still here I will teach them in grade 3.

12.25 Lunch ‘break’. Interview 3 students, making notes about their interests, what they’d like to do in the future, what uni they’d like to go to, what their worries are and so on.

– Eat lunch as quickly as possible.

13.00 Grade 2 homeroom teachers meeting to discuss life planning lessons, and talk about how individual students are doing.

14.00 Free period. Make handouts and homework and prepare for lessons.

15.00 Homeroom activity. This week we are discussing class aims for the cultural festival that is coming up. Before every event, the class decide what their goals are for that activity.

15.50 Cleaning time. Teachers and students clean the school together.

16.10 Homeroom. We have homeroom at the beginning and end of every day. We discuss practical matters, and get to know the students. Today some of the students wanted to show me their impressions of Japanese celebrities.

16.35 More interviews with students….

18.00 Table tennis club. Every teacher supervises an extra curricular activity.

19.00 Back to the staff room to catch up on work. Official school working hours are 7.55 to 16.25, but there isn’t time to complete everything we need to do in the school day, so most people work at least four hours overtime.

20.00 Finally, home time! I’ll be back in tomorrow though (Saturday) to supervise some national exams.

Editor’s note: This is not a real day in the life of a teacher, but is based on real days from real teachers, with some added notes for clarification.

This article originally appeared on edapt website

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