There was never a moment in my life where I thought I would be teaching in a high school. Not to say that teaching is bad, its a very respectable job that only certain people can do well. It just wasn’t something I saw myself doing. Yet here I am in Japan none the less, teaching high school students English.
Before coming here I knew working in a Japanese high school would be different compared to working in America, but I wasn’t prepared for how different it would be from my perceptions.
From what I can tell going to school in Japan feels a lot more like going to college. Not in the sense that everyone is drinking, but in the sense of the way that school is taught. For instance homework isn’t all that important. As a matter of fact students aren’t required to do homework at all. Homework is just treated as extra practice, you should do it because it will help you but if you don’t no one is going to chase you down about it.
The only things students seem to be graded on is their midterm and final exams, otherwise than that they have nothing to worry about as far as grades. That’s not to say students don’t work hard. They are very studious and they do put a lot of effort into their school work. I’m pretty sure a majority of students do their homework daily but it’s just not something that they have to constantly stress about.
Life in school is much more community based. At one of my schools (I work at three) students don’t change classrooms, the teachers do. So the students spend all day with the same people.They learn together, eat lunch together, “clean” together, answer together, togetherness is a very important concept for Japan. I often get the best results from students when I allow them to work together in class.
Students also spend a lot of time at school. Some students show up early for club activities, stay late to study or do more club activities, and then some even come in on the weekends for club activities or for a quiet place to study. I was surprised to see students coming in during summer vacation for extra classes but that type of behavior is very normal.
Even as a teacher there is still a strong sense of community. As mentioned before I don’t have my own office instead I work in the teacher’s room with the English, math, Japanese department, and Vice Principal. Every morning we have a short meeting to announce changes to the schedules, absences, etc. All the departments communicate with each other about everything.
This concept probably took me the longest to get used too. Discipline in Japan unless the problem is very extreme is very rarely discussed. Japanese people in general don’t really believe in discipline which was very frustrating at first. Behaviors that would seem unacceptable in America; talking in class, sleeping, being late are not really seen as problems. When these do happen teachers will kindly talk to the student and that’s about it.
That’s not to say that, they let the students get away with whatever they want but, overall Japanese students show a little more respect for their teachers than Americans do I think. I have plenty of loud and talkative students but as the year progressed the problems sort of resolved themselves. The reason for this seems that Japanese people in general don’t like to be singled out. So consistently calling attention to behavior issues eventually causes them to conform. If a student is to disruptive you can talk to the homeroom teacher or their sempai (upper class men) and they might give the student a good yelling but that’s about it. Again community is very important if your classmates, teachers, or principle find you to be a problem then its usually not good.
It’s different but I guess the system works. I haven’t seen any kids get violent or be outright disrespectful to their teachers. At the end of the day kids are all the same everywhere and they’re just looking for someone’s attention.
This is more of a nationwide thing but since I spend most of time in a school I notice it most often here. All of my schools do their absolute best to be sure they’re using as little energy as possible. That means no AC or heat unless the weather is unbearable and all electronics are off (not standby) unless they’re being used.
It’s getting cooler outside but we can’t turn on the heat since it’s not winter yet.Instead everyone is just expected to dress warmly. They also do their best to keep off all the lights unless it’s absolutely necessary. I’ve been caught at all of my school several times having to walk through the hallways in the dark. It seems strange especially when you compare everything to home, but again its just one more thing to get used too.