New School Year

As I stated in a recent post, spring in Japan signals change and new beginnings. It’s for this reason I suspect that new school year begins during the first week of April. In fact, many contracts (oh, the contracts in Japan) start around April. It seems to be a pretty common time for changeover throughout the country.

Teachers in a Japanese school change in the end of March and beginning of April. While some may move before the date, all teachers must report to their new schools on April 1st. Japan has a weird system of teacher placement. The school system in Japan is overseen federally and then divided by prefecture. Teachers have absolutely no say in where they will work or in what position with a few exceptions. Specially licensed teachers teaching at a junior high may stay in that certain field. However, their placement is still not their choice. For example, there is a teacher here who used to teach English at junior high. Had she wanted, she could have choose to remain an English teacher, only moving schools.

There is no set time frame when teachers will move to a different school. There are some time frames one might come to see as normal, but they are still far from set. New teachers will get 1-3 years at their first school. After this they might get another 3 year stint somewhere again. They will then be set into the merry-go-round of the system where the length of time is completely random. Of the teachers who left after last year the four with whom I interacted the most had years of 4, 6, 7, 8 at this school. It is rare to get above 6 or 7, and extremely rare to enter the double digits.

Furthermore, not every teacher is licensed in Japan. Or, I should say not every teacher is fully licensed. Some hold a partial license that allows them to teach but does not enter them into the system. I’m a little fuzzy on this system but from my understanding these teachers are allowed to teach at schools but receive less pay, do not build up a pension, and generally move schools every 1-2 years. I’m told because of the constant moving and bad pay it’s a very stressful life.

Speaking of licenses, the Japanese teaching one is different. There seems to be very little emphasis placed on learning how to teach. This is instead taught as an on-the-job skill. From what I’ve noticed students (prospective teachers) do only a few weeks of observation for “classroom hours”. For their final test they are required instead to show that they have a bunch of different skills to give to a school. What kind of skills? They have to be able to swim a certain distance in a certain time, they have to exhibit a certain proficiency in at least one instrument, they have to be able to run a certain distance in a certain time, they may or may not have a kanji and math test. Furthermore, I’ve yet to meet a teacher who isn’t specialized in something from college, which leads me to believe the way the system works is that you go to college like in the west, choosing what you want to learn (history for me, music for others etc.) and only at the very end of everything decide teaching is going to be your profession.

Many teachers don’t receive the full license because they can’t pass this test. For instance, they might not have a proficiency in a musical instrument.

So, the big kicker here is how teachers are chosen for what schools and for what they are chosen. As I said teachers have no say in this (I reserve the right to be wrong about this, as there might be some very back-room things going on where they have a LITTLE influence). Teachers find out they are leaving their current position and moving about 2 weeks before the end of the school year. They find this out by reading it in the paper. Yes, that’s right. The only way a teacher finds out they are moving is by reading it in the morning newspaper. They then get a few weeks to prepare mentally, during which time they are prohibited from telling students.

As for what class and position they will have in school, I believe this is partially random. The principle will decide, with some input from the teachers themselves, where teachers ultimately sit at school. I have some teachers who taught 6th grade one year and then 1st or 2nd the next. Music teachers, science teachers, and sometimes a math teacher for the upper classes are set positions. However, like everything else I believe the government helps decide this for them as well. I say this because there is one teacher here who prefers to be a music teacher but is “stuck” being a normal teacher. From what I understand it’s just that she got placed as a normal teacher and not a music teacher. Bad luck. Maybe next time.

The education system in Japan is mandatory only through junior high. High school is optional. Teachers (at least in Nagano prefecture) are eligible for either post when being assigned a new position. I have many teachers currently who used to teach at junior high in their last position. I can’t imagine how odd that must be to teach 9th grade one year and 1st the next. How is this even a good system? These require two completely different skill sets.

So there you have it, the quick, dirty run-down of the new school year shuffle. It’s not a perfect system nor the system I would choose to run, but it’s the way it is.


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