Teaching: A World View
Perspectives: What Florida teachers have learned teaching abroad
Patrick Whelan's observation: “My impression about Japan is it’s one of the most technologically amazing countries in the world. Yet the schools have blackboards. The lowest-tech school in the United States is at about the level of these Japanese schools. Teaching is done very traditionally. As a teacher, it is amazing to go into a classroom and have everyone stand and bow to you. The respect is there. You are treated much more like a professional. Parents are deferential, in Korea even more so. … Japan is kind of rethinking its system and realizing their society is working too hard, putting in too much effort, and not seeing enough reward. They want to emulate American flexibility.”
Ex-pat Floridian Anastasia Letcher teaches in Japan. “My husband (also American and fluent in Japanese) and I met here in Gunma, and we are quite happy with the life we’ve made for ourselves. We both enjoy the pace of daily life in Gunma. On a practical note, I enjoy the benefits afforded to me by my working and living in Japan. I have health care. If my husband and I choose to have a child, I can take maternity leave and up to three years’ child-rearing leave (per child) and be guaranteed my current job back. Medical expenses are waived for children under 16 years old in Gunma.”
“The OECD puts the average Japanese teacher’s salary slightly lower than the U.S. average, but teacher salary varies greatly, so I don’t feel this is an accurate reflection,” she says. “My mother has been a teacher in Florida for over 20 years, and our salaries are not so different despite me only being in my fourth year of full-time teaching. Japanese teachers also get bonuses of a month and a half’s pay twice a year.”
Visiting a school in southeastern China in 2018, what struck Jennifer Rosoff, a dance teacher from Florida, was the size of the classes — 70 to 80 students to a class with one teacher — and how out of hand the students were. “How do you know 80 students are even learning?” she wondered. “How are you even assessing they’re learning?”
Rosoff visited China with 60 teachers from Tampa Bay. She worked with local teachers during China’s annual school break, doing activities like dance, art and physical education. It was similar to a U.S. summer camp, except it also provided the students with English-language education. The facilities were rundown, but Rosoff was told they were good for the region. Kids and teachers put in long school years — summer break is only about a month — and long days. School ran from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Teachers also worked six and sometimes seven days a week. “The teachers I talked to seemed very frustrated,” she says.
One reason: They had trouble managing their students. Rosoff observed that the most motivated students took the front rows so that they could absorb the lessons. Aside from them, there was a din through the rest of the room. Those in the back ran and threw things. “You would have to use a shouting voice,” she says. “I would have left my first year.” It led to a de facto system — perhaps a promising future for those in the front, a dim academic future for those in the rear and, when it came to special-needs learners, the neglect that special-needs American kids would have experienced a couple generations ago.
Rosoff and her fellow Americans on the first morning told their Chinese host teacher about classroom management techniques, such as raising a hand until all the students are quiet or calling, “class, class” and instructing the students to respond, “yes, yes” as a signal for everyone to be quiet. The Chinese teachers did the equivalent of an eye roll. But it worked. “They had never seen kids get quiet,” she says.
Rebecca Green Bew's observation: “Class sizes can go up to 100 kids. Here 20 kids can be a full room, but there the motivation toward academics was very intrinsic. The students were very driven. Teachers were going on periodic strikes because they weren’t getting the same type of cost-of-living increases that other civil servants were getting. The students were so upset with the government and their teachers that they went on a peaceful strike. They felt they were being deprived of their education. It made me rethink how I taught. Our students are so fixated about getting a grade, they lose track of the importance of learning. You’re not there to gain points; you’re there to gain knowledge.”