Thursday, 25 May 2017

Over-worked Teachers


A few weeks ago the Asahi Shimbun published an article reporting that public school teachers are now considered at risk of death from over work (karoshi). The article opens with
The minister of education, Hirokazu Matsuno, expressed shock at a survey that shows teachers at public elementary and junior high schools are regularly putting in 11-hour days, placing some at risk of dying from overwork.
The General Union also wrote on the topic recently, pointing out that teachers are not given over-time pay for these hours:
33.5% of teachers in elementary schools and 57.6% in junior high schools perform overtime work for more than 80 hours a month - far beyond the level of recognition of workers' accident.

"Club Activities On Weekends" take an average of 2 hours and 10 minute - almost double that of the 1 hour and 6 minutes from 10 years ago.

The entire document (and its results) can be found (in Japanese) here:

It's also important to remember that there is no overtime pay for teachers working at public schools.
I don't want to minimise the really awful reality these statistics are revealing. Public school teachers in Japan do work ridiculous hours. However, because I always like to take a slightly different view here (otherwise, why would you bother reading my blog?!), I'm going to point out that in my experience teachers work in ways that are very unproductive and time wasting. This may sound like victim blaming and I hope it will be clear by the end that I am talking about the work systems, not individual practices, so stick with me. Long time readers may remember this post I wrote back in 2012, Teachers Don't Spend a lot of Time Teaching. In it I wrote:
If a teacher wants to make an original worksheet rather than copying one from a resource book, nine times out of ten they will painstakingly draw it up by hand with a pen and a ruler, then photocopy clip art from a book, trim it to the right size and glue it to the worksheet. I had always assumed that this was a result of the pervasive inability to use computers (until two years ago teachers in public JHSs in my city shared one PC per school, and that PC ran Windows ‘95). A fellow ALT one day made a worksheet on his laptop, though, and the teacher asked him to remake it by hand because the computer version was “cold” (impersonal or unfriendly). So it may be that it is a preference and not just technological incompetence. This preference extends beyond schools. I once spent three hours working at the board of education making an index for a big folder of documents. I was given stickers, stamps and ink pad, a cutting board and a box cutter. I had to stamp numbers on either side of the sticker, cut it in half and then match the outer edges neatly while sandwiching the page margin between the inside edges to make an index tag. The kind you can buy in packs of fifty for a dollar that would also look much neater than my ink smudged, crookedly cut ones (but lacking the heartfelt warmth of all the swearing I did while making them). 
 Doing everything in the complicated, inefficient way possible seems to be considered a virtue in the school system, and I think part of the reason is the glorification of overtime hours that extends into Japanese working culture more generally. I'd like to illustrate what I mean with a personal example.
One Wednesday at my then JHS I had an insanely packed schedule. I was at school from 8 for a staff meeting, taught all six periods and marked literally hundreds of test papers in my lunch "break". I was running the whole day, and because my desk was directly in front of the VP's desk I know he saw how hard I was working and how huge the stack of papers I was marking was. I left for the day about fifteen minutes after the end of my official working hours, having been in half an hour early and not had a lunch break. "Must be nice to leave so early" he said.

The next day my naginata club happened to be using the gym at that same JHS for training (we usually used the police dojo but it was temporarily out of action while they tried to recreate the crime scene from an incident with a car driving off the roof of a shopping centre, using tape and cardboard boxes up, true story). Naginata was at 6 but there wasn't any point is going home so once my much less busy day was finished I pulled out my laptop, did some blogging, made a round of coffees for everyone in the staff room, fed the school turtles, and generally bummed around doing nothing in particular. Come 6 I fare-welled the VP as I headed off to the gym and HE said... "Thank you for your hard work today. I'm so impressed." I'd been doing nothing related to my job at all, quite openly too since I was off the clock, and he praised me. The day before I had completed a monumental workload and half killed myself in the process, and he'd had a jab at me. That's what the work culture is like. It doesn't matter if you sleep at your desk half the day, spend another quarter slowly making drip coffee (a favourite past time of many of my JHS colleagues), and do your work halfheartedly for just the remaining quarter. It's the hours you are physically present that count, not what you achieve.
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Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Life After Institutionalisation

Copyrighted by Human Rights Watch

Tiger was telling me last-night about an orphanage trip to USJ. They'd gone on the Jaws ride, but he didn't know what a shark was so he didn't really understand it. His main impression was that it smelled funny. Despite the well intentioned efforts of the orphanage staff, the system is filled with these strange gaps where things most children simply absorb through daily life remain unknown. At 11:39 in this video a young woman talks about being alone in her apartment after 'graduating' from an orphanage and having no idea how to switch the lights on. In Tiger's orphanage, too, the lights were centrally controlled.

After ageing out of the orphanage system, Japan’s institutionalised children face extraordinary challenges in their adult lives. The 2014 “Without Dreams” report commissioned by Human Rights Watch highlights some of these challenges, including lack of access to higher education, emotional and cognitive development problems resulting from institutionalisation, and lack of basic life skills. The report contains a number of informative vignettes from orphanage graduates with concrete examples of how the lack of preparation and support they received for independent living resulted in homelessness and welfare dependency. These are all issues we were aware of when we became a foster parents, yet awareness of these macro concepts did little to prepare us for the micro-issues that arose on a daily basis when our eight year old son, institutionalised since birth, first came to live with us.

Within an hour of getting home, for example, we discovered that he had never peed in a western-style toilet; the orphanage and his school both had urinals. Having driven to his (few) off-campus excursions in the orphanage bus, he was beyond excited about the power windows in our car. "You push a button and the window opens!" He raved about them to some neighbourhood kids, who laughed at him. He asked our permission to cry when he was hurt or upset, and also before passing gas (I am not sure what he would have done if we’d refused it!). After living in an institution of 100 kids and a large staff, he was terrified of silence, darkness and of being alone for even a few seconds. He woke several times each night, always checking that I was still beside him. He had never been to a friend’s house to play, nor had a friend over. He reflexively called every adult he met “sensei”. He had never been inside a supermarket, bank or post office. The more new experiences we facilitated for him, the more I marvelled at the idea that children growing up in such hermetically sealed environments are expected to find their own way at the ripe old age of 18 (or younger in some cases). As the “Without Dreams” report explains, obtaining a drivers’ license is prohibitively expensive for institutionalised young people, and not having a license limits employment opportunities. This is easy to understand and empathise with. What is harder to understand from the outside is the additional challenge of getting a drivers’ license when you may have had no experience of even being inside a car.

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