Teaching: A World View
Overworked: Teaching in Japan
Good pay and benefits
Teachers do have society’s respect — though teachers say that is eroding — and take satisfaction in their work. Says Takahito Sunaga, a junior high school English teacher in a prefecture where teachers move at least every eight years, her time spent with students is the best time of her day. “I really like children,” Sunaga says. “I love to see their effort and how they improve their skills. I feel really happy when my students achieve their goals.”
Teachers in Japan teach in classes that are among the largest in the developed world, but Japanese children are so well disciplined that teachers spend little instruction time on maintaining order. The kids also are homogenous. Only 0.2% of Japanese 15-year-olds are foreign born. In Florida, the figure is nearly 10%.
Pay and benefits are good. Maternity leave is up to three years per child. Japan teacher pay is below the global average — adjusting for currency and local purchasing power — for starting teachers but by year 15 eclipses it.
On the surface, says Kei Lino, 28, a part-time teacher and university student, Japanese teachers earn well and have good benefits, but there’s a “hidden” story. “If you go inside, there’s a lot of depression for teachers, early retirement.” According to an OECD survey, only 58% of Japanese teachers say they would choose to teach if they had it to do over again — compared to 78% in the rest of the OECD.
Lino is from a family of educators. After graduating from a university with an education major, he became a second-grade homeroom teacher. He says he wasn’t one who desired to be the last to leave but even so usually got to work around 7 in the morning and left at 8 at night. “The teacher-principal relationship was the biggest stress for me,” he says. His principal came into his classroom daily, stood in the back for several minutes grimacing over how he managed the class, and then left. She scolded him but gave no advice. Indeed, Japan’s principals, in international surveys, score low against global averages in providing leadership in instruction and are less likely to help teachers improve their teaching. Lino quit after one year in public school, completed a one-year English language program at the University of West Florida and then a master’s at Florida State University in education in 2017. He returned to Japan and is at Sophia University in Tokyo working toward becoming a university professor with expertise in international and multicultural education.