I’ve been asked by a few people what the differences are between the education system and teaching in Japan versus the United States. This will be the first post of a possible few to talk about those differences. Clearly I am not an expert on either system, but I have worked in both and feel that I can at the very least comment.
Today’s topic is the Japanese system of transferring teachers. Since coming here, I’ve been shocked to discover that once teachers pass certification tests and become full-fledged teachers that they belong to the board of education they tested with. This means that they are guaranteed a job within the prefecture that they certify with. It’s kind of similar to the way some school districts in the States handle alternative teacher certification programs. Once you are accepted, it sort of guarantees a job. Again it depends on the district and the teachers themselves plus of course openings.
After a teacher passes, they are sent out to a school for what you could call a probationary period of a few years. Then the younger teachers will be transferred at some point. No one has exactly told me how many years this might be. I think it depends on your own personal accomplishments and the preference of the school, but you will be transferred at some point.
Here is where things get a little tricky. This process of transferring doesn’t end at some designated point of years or experience, or at least I’ve yet to discover one. For example, six of the twelve teachers in the English department at my current school have been transferred to other schools or programs for the coming school year. Some of these teachers are a good ten to fifteen years older than me and have been teaching for a long time.
To my knowledge, the teachers have no control over where they might be sent. A teacher may spend a few years at a school like mine, internationally minded with fantastic students, only to be sent to a reform or an industrial school or even a school with severe behavioral problems. The teachers go where the board of education wants them or in some cases where they think they will be the most useful. The teachers don’t really have a choice.
I can already hear you wondering about the problem of a teacher’s current living situation. Yeah, they don’t really take that into account either. They might send you anywhere within the prefecture (state for those of you who don’t know). This leads some teachers to only see their families on the weekends, or to need two apartments.
I will say that, while my own personal experiences lead me to dislike this system, I can definitely see the benefits. It does cut out the idea that a better teacher deserves better behaved students. It also spreads the talent around. The best teachers aren’t just reserved for the top schools. They are spread out through every type of school in the area. Students of all ability levels get to benefit from teachers who are passionate and motivated. In the States, we tend to have a problem with good teachers only going to good schools.
Students of all ability and motivation levels deserve good teachers. We often tend to forget that students are a result of their situations and not always of conscious choice. Giving them teachers who are able to perhaps pull them out of a slump is a great idea. It also strengthens the teachers by putting them into situations they might not consciously have chosen to face. Being in a difficult classroom can be just as much of a learning experience as being in a good one. Being in a difficult classroom can make you grateful when you do have the opportunity to be in a better classroom with more motivated students. Believe it or not, there are some teachers out there who take for granted how willing and motivated their students are because they’ve never struggled with difficult children. I kind of feel sorry for them for that because they don’t always appreciate what’s in front of them. Those are just my thoughts though.
Hopefully I’ve managed to focus on both sides of this. I’m afraid this came off a bit on the negative side. The system is what it is. I’m honestly just trying to report what I know or have heard because this is something I’d never heard of before coming here and working here. If you have questions, feel free to ask, and I will do my best to answer. Comments and more thorough perspectives are also always welcome.